When entertaining, you have to make certain choices. Low-end or gourmet? Brie or Cheez Whiz? Grey Goose or Smirnoff? Hand-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries, or Oreos still in the package? One way wins your friends’ respect and admiration; the other way leaves a lot more beer money lying around at the end of the party.
Which is why we decided to do a Taste Test face-off of two possible desserts, at the far ends of the quality-vs.-economy spectrum. After all, cost isn’t the only decision metric involved. Maybe strawberry-crème Twinkies are far more delicious than anyone would expect. (The banana ones weren’t bad, though they couldn’t hold a candle to banana Oreos.) Maybe fancy gourmet dark-chocolate-enveloped wine-reduction gels are totally narsty.
And maybe I’m full of shit, and this particular Taste Test pairing didn’t actually have anything to do with philosophy. I picked up three packages of Sweet’s Wine Gels at the 2009 CandyExpo because they were some of the most interesting-and-different things I tried there, and we’ve been meaning to taste them ever since, but other, more urgent products kept nudging them aside. (No surprise there; Sweet’s Wine Gels are thin fingers of gummi-like gel coated in chocolate. They’re slim and delicate, the 98-pound-weakling among the more robust Taste Test crap that’s been sitting on Josh’s desk this month. It’s no shock that a tough, meaty contender like bacon could knock them to the ground and kick sand over them.) And the night before we were finally going to get around to them, I spotted Strawberry And Creme Twinkies and Ho-Hos in my local supermarket, emblazoned with the “New!” and “Limited Edition!” labels that in modern mass-market language, means “This is an experiment in whether you, the buying public, want to put this stuff in your collective faces. If not, pretend these were never here!” There was no way we were going to wait an extra week to find out what Strawberry Twinkies tasted like.
Taste: As it turns out, the taste of Strawberry Twinkies isn’t nearly as profound as their smell. When we broke the first individually-wrapped Twinkie open, we were assailed with such an intense wave of confectioner’s sugar and artificial berry smell that everybody in the Taste Test labs recoiled. Sugar doesn’t seem like something that should attack the senses, but there’s something more than a little revolting about the feeling that you’re gaining pounds and losing tooth enamel just by breathing the air around you. Strawberry Twinkies have that probably patented Twinkie artificial flavor, color, texture, and smell, plus a bunch more sweet added in. By comparison, Strawberry And Creme Ho-Hos smell blandly inoffensive, a bit like carob-infused plastic.
As a complete rabbit trail here, I feel compelled to point out that way back in college, some friends and I discovered that among those present, there was a perfect gender split on the question of whether Hostess Ding-Dongs or Hostess Ho-Hos were the superior product. Without exception, the men preferred Ding-Dongs and the women preferred Ho-Hos. And this in spite of the fact that they’re essentially the same dry cocoa-ish spongecake and lard-frosting, coated in the same waxy chocolate-like product; the major differences are the cake-to-cream ratio and the shape. We therefore theorized that Hostess cleverly modeled their products into abstract but subconsciously pleasing versions of human genitals: a stubby cylindrical tube for the ladies, a curvy flat surface for the discerning gentleman. I brought this up during the Taste Test and was nearly drowned out by male Taste Testers insisting that no, dammit, they all prefer Ding-Dongs because they’re just, you know, better in some abstract way. Uh-huh. You’re not fooling anyone, boys.
Doubtless there are many people out there reading this right now who don’t fit the profile, and prefer their Hostess products gender-aligned rather than the opposite-gender confection. I would like to invite those people to carefully re-examine their sexuality. And also to re-examine why they’re still eating Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs, which all kinda taste like lard and cardboard, regardless of gender. And also to notice that while my local store stocked froufy pink-fillinged Strawberry And Creme Ho-Hos for the ladies, there didn’t seem to be any Strawberry And Creme Ding-Dongs for the men. Dismissed as coincidence? Oh, I think not.
At any rate, Strawberry Twinkies smell strongly of plastic and strawberry, but only taste marginally berry-ish. They might actually be a little sweeter than regular Twinkies, but at that level of sugar, who can tell? Strawberry Ho-Hos were even less remarkable, since the thin layer of strawberry crème filling is so spread out among the roll of cake and covering.
Sweet’s Wine Gels come in three flavors so far—Champagne, Port, and Cabernet—which do taste distinctly different, and markedly like their respective alcohols. Sweet’s packaging points out that they’re all made with real alcohol as an ingredient, though it’s boiled off in the manufacturing process so that the finished product has a 0 percent alcohol content. Presumably it’s concentrated in the process as well, because the port flavor in particular tastes very strongly of the kind of booze one normally consumes in an oak-paneled study while moodily contemplating a fire and resting one’s hand on the head of one’s favorite wolfhound. The port and cabernet flavors are both strikingly bitter, which complements the dark chocolate nicely, though the bitterness went over poorly with our notoriously picky Taste Test Labs crew. The champagne is much sweeter and milder. All three have a distinctly strange texture, like chocolate-covered gummi bears, but smoother and with a more sophisticated, complicated taste. Still, the combination of dark chocolate and springy, chewy jelly that tastes like bitter alcohol is very strange, and decidedly not for all tastes.
Strawberry And Creme Twinkies
- “Man, that looks like sadness in a tube.”
- “It smells like a packet of dried cherry Jell-O.”
- “It smells way too sweet. Just a little piece, or I’ll throw up.”
- “The taste is exactly what I expected.”
- “I’m not getting any strawberry. Just sugar."
- “It smells like cotton candy. It’s way too strong.”
- “It smells like old Strawberry Shortcake dolls.”
- “It’s really difficult to taste the strawberry. I wouldn’t know there was an extra flavoring in here without all the strawberries on the packaging.”
- “Strangely enough, it contains actual strawberry purée.”
- “The buttery flavor of the Twinkie doesn’t mix with the fruity flavor of the center.”
- “The floral bouquet isn’t terrible, but it’s even fakier than normal Twinkies. Like a perfume for 7-year-old girls.”
- “You could make this at home with a regular Twinkie and one drop of strawberry extract. There’s no sense that it really tastes like strawberry, it’s just that we’re smelling it so strongly that the power of suggestion kicks in.”
Strawberry And Creme Ho-Hos
- “There’s a strawberry taste there, but it’s really faint and really false.”
- “I took one bite, and I definitely don’t want to continue. It’s really not good.”
- “Tastes like chocolate Quik plus strawberry Quik.”
- “I can taste strawberry fine in both.”
- “The chocolate’s so waxy, it’s like eating strawberry Chapstick.”
- “There is nothing even remotely organic in this at all. It’s like eating two flavors of candle wax rolled together.”
- “Won’t these anger the Ho-Ho purists?”
- “These aren’t so bad, but the really overly sugary taste, you’ll either like or you don’t. I think it’s a little much.”
- “It tastes like strawberry cereal.”
- “Yeah, like stale memories of Frankenberry.”
Cabernet Wine Gel
- “The packaging is nice. These are fancy.”
- “The texture’s really odd. Chocolate-coated Jell-O.”
- “It’s like cranberry jelly.”
- “It tastes like a chocolate-covered cherry.”
- “Like someone coated a Jell-O shot with chocolate.”
- “There is not an ounce of cabernet in that.”
- “This should be better.”
- “If it doesn’t get me drunk, it’s no good.”
- “Surprisingly bitter. The bitterness of the wine pairs well with the dark chocolate. But I guess that’s sort of the point.”
Port Wine Gels
- “It smells a little like nail-polish remover.”
- “I’m a little wasted from the smell already.”
- “Awwwwww. This is not good.”
- “It does taste like port.”
- “It’s more chocolatey than the last one.”
- “This one doesn’t do it for me.”
- “You really get the sensation of the wine in there.”
- “This pretty much is like drinking a glass of port with a stick of chocolate in it. A chocolate swizzle stick.”
Champagne Wine Gels
- “This one doesn’t smell strongly like the others. Not nearly as much.”
- “It has no taste whatsoever.”
- “It’s basically a chocolate covered gummi bear.”
- “These taste really good. Like white gummi worms.”
- “They should do Mad Dog 20/20 of these.”
- “These taste like bad grapes.”
- “The chocolate is stronger than the champagne.”
- “Not bad at all.”
- “You’d sit home alone on a Saturday night and eat a whole box of these, wouldn’t you?” “Oh yeah. I’d miss the popping sound of the cork, though.”
- “These are easily the best. They’re sweeter and not so bitter. The alcohol isn’t as sharp.”
Where to find them: The Hostess stuff is available in grocery stores everywhere—remember, for a limited time only, unless they sell like gangbusters. For more about Sweet’s candies, visit the company website.