Mutant foods: 16 mashed-up snacks, cereals, and fast-food menu items
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1. Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco
It’s not easy keeping the average consumer well-fed and full of sodium and preservatives. In the face of an over-saturated marketplace, fickle palates, and healthy-eating scolds like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama, “innovation” is the watchword among snack manufacturers and fast-food chains. More often than not, however, “innovation” translates into “altering or combining existing foodstuffs into brave new foodstuffs.” “Mutant foods,” if you will, like Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco, a feat of reverse Tex-Mex engineering that assumes that, if tortilla chips come from larger tortillas, then Doritos must surely begin as fried flatbreads coated in cheese-flavored dust. The chance to wrap taco fillings in a giant Nacho Cheese Dorito captured the United States’ collective imagination in early 2012, and Taco Bell’s benevolent overlords at Yum! Brands responded in kind, reportedly ordering 85 million Doritos Locos shells for the Doritos Locos’ nationwide rollout—translating to roughly 425 million orange-stained fingertips.
2. Denny’s Grand Slamwich
A longstanding staple for the after-hours crowd, Denny’s suffered a few setbacks in the ’90s. In addition to finding itself on the receiving end of a series of racial-discrimination lawsuits, the decision by several fast-food chains to shift to 24-hour schedules meant that Denny’s famous slogan (“Always Open”) wasn’t as impressive as it once was. But late in the next decade, Denny’s CEO Nelson Marchioli revealed to the Orange County Register that he was declaring war on the drive-thru competition. His opening salvo: The Grand Slamwich, a to-go creation that takes the predominant ingredients of Denny’s famed Grand Slam meal—two scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon—adds shaved ham, slathers all that protein in mayonnaise and American cheese, and slaps the whole thing between two pieces of potato bread (glazed with maple syrup!). The current Denny’s menu indicates that the sandwich and a side of hashbrowns together top out at a total of 1,520 calories—that’s a whole lot of mutant food right there.
3. Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger
Like many in the casual-dining field, America’s “neighborhood bar and grill” has heeded the call of the nation’s expanding waistlines and given calorie-conscious customers their own Under 550 Calories menu. At 1,240 calories—and sporting 215 percent of a day’s recommended saturated fat—not even half of the chain’s Quesadilla Burger could sneak into the Under 550 section. Which makes sense, seeing as the sandwich is two entrees in one: A burger with South-of-the-border accoutrements—a spicy “Mexi-ranch” sauce and pico de gallo—stuffed into a Jack-and-cheddar quesadilla. But even if it weren’t a public-health hazard with a side of french fries, Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger would be an abomination: There are plenty of reasons burgers are traditionally served on buns rather than tortillas, not the least of which has to do with the latter’s inability to soak up grease.
4-5. Denny’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies and Arthur’s Christmas Cookie Pancakes
Depending on your outlook, a pancake is really just a flatter cake. Or a slightly less-sweet cookie. So why not combine one of our most dessert-adjacent breakfast foods with actual dessert, especially under the pretense of a special-edition menu devoted to the most gluttonous time of the year? Released as part of Denny’s limited-time, Arthur Christmas tie-in “Taste Of The Holidays” menu, Red Velvet Pancake Puppies and Arthur’s Christmas Cookie Pancakes can be considered breakfast food only by virtue of their placement in the Denny’s menu: The Puppies are balls of red-velvet dough impregnated with white-chocolate chips and served with cream-cheese icing for dipping, while the Christmas Cookie Pancakes are silver-dollar pancakes with sugar cookies baked right inside, topped with whipped cream (of course) and crumbled bits of more sugar cookies. (Why not?) With 47 grams of sugar in the Puppies and 59 grams in the cookie-cakes, these items combined should be enough to keep Santa sugar-buzzing through his deliveries on Christmas Eve—and sugar-crashing for the remaining 364 days of the year.
6. Reese’s Puffs cereal
To be fair, there’s plenty of breakfast cereal that only barely avoids classification as candy through the addition of milk. (Looking in your direction, Messrs. Chocula and Boo Berry.) But General Mills closed the gap entirely in the mid-’90s with the introduction of Reese’s Puffs, which makes no bones about its raison d’être with the tagline, “Candy? For breakfast? It’s Reese’s Puffs!” Consisting of a mix of Hershey’s chocolate corn puffs and Reese’s peanut-butter corn puffs, lightly glazed with a film of pure diabetes, Reese’s Puffs are a whopping 41 percent sugar and 100 percent delicious, due to the fact that they taste almost exactly like Reese’s Peanut-Butter Cups… only slightly drier. Add in some milk, let it sop up some sugary goodness, and you have a bowl of candy floating in liquid sugar—basically every kid’s dream breakfast. It’s no wonder the advertisements for this stuff tout it as “part of a good breakfast,” not a “balanced” one.
7. Oreo O’s
Children of the ’80s may remember a famous commercial jingle that claimed, “Oh, you can’t have cookies for breakfast, but you can have Cookie Crisp!” Oreo O’s followed the same principle: Responsible parents should balk at a bowl full of Oreo cookies in the morning, but the idea was that they’d be fine with the same sugar and cocoa content repackaged into cereal form, with some added vitamins. It was just one aspect of Post Foods’ ongoing attempts to transform Oreos into every possible form of snack food, including ice cream, pudding, graham crackers, regular snack crackers, Pop Tarts, cake mixes… and the list keeps growing. As with Reese’s Puffs, Post didn’t bother claiming Oreo O’s were part of a “nutritious” breakfast, but apparently American parents balked at a bowl of breakfast cookies even in disguised form, and the sugary cereal was discontinued in the States in 2007.
8-9. General Mills Milk ’N Cereal Bars/Kellogg’s Cereal & Milk Bars
Even as candy and cookies were transforming into cereal, food companies were transforming cereal into candy bars. General Mills and Kellogg’s have each rolled out their own line of packaged bars that smoosh their existing cereals into brick form for easy transportation in a lunchbox or purse, including the milk in the product name, and sorta-kinda in the product: General Mills advertises that the sugary white filling in its Milk ’N Cereal bars is made with real milk—but reading the ingredient list, it looks more like it’s made with real high-fructose corn syrup. Kellogg’s cereals like Frosted Flakes, Honey Smacks, and Cocoa Rice Krispies were once available in milk-and-cereal bar forms that are no longer around, but the company still has an extensive line of Special K-based snack bars, and a few Cinnabon cereal bars as well. (For the record, that’s cinnamon rolls in cereal form, pressed into bar form. Next up: chopping up the bars into chunks and marketing them as a cereal, to complete the circle of food life.) General Mills, on the other hand, still sells “Milk ’N Cereal Bars” made from Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Cocoa Puffs. For those who prefer their sugary cereals glued together into a clump with more sugar, and think milk should be a sticky marshmallow-like substance rather than a liquid, they’re the perfect snack.
10. Kellogg’s Cereal Straws
Sometimes, tipping a bowl of sugary, colored, leftover cereal milk is just too much work. Enter Kellogg’s, which, starting in 2007, encouraged a world of breakfast eaters to “dip, sip, and munch.” Working from the blueprints of such kid-friendly Kellogg’s products as Fruit Loops, Cocoa Krispies, and Apple Jacks, the cereal straws were meant to encourage milk-drinking because, obviously, milk without a grain straw is just undrinkable. After a heavy marketing push at summer street fairs and on kids’ TV channels, Cereal Straws opened the market to other plain-milk-hating products like Kraft’s Oreo Sippers, which don’t even purport to be in the service of nutritious snacking.
11. Eggo Cinnamon Toast Waffles
Every breakfast-eater has been there: “I ordered cinnamon toast but what I reallywanted was waffles.” There’s also that age-old conundrum, “Why can’t my waffles be more like cinnamon toast?” And who hasn’t said, “How come my cinnamon toast/waffle hybrid takes so long to make?” Thankfully, Eggo has a solution: Cinnamon Toast Waffles, which have the function and ease of the brand’s signature toaster waffle, with the added benefit of coming in the shape of four miniature pieces of cinnamon toast. Of course, this still raises the question, “How can we put a man on the moon but not create a cinnamon toast/waffle/pancake hybrid?” Perhaps a future generation of mad food scientists may one day realize that dream.
12. Frankenberry and Boo Berry Fruit Roll-Ups
General Mills introduced these mash-ups of two of its cereals and one of its most popular fruit snacks for the Halloween season of 2011, while the Big G’s once-popular, now-seasonal “monster cereals” were allowed to stalk back into supermarkets. While those who bought the treats hoped for the stale, dusty, marshmallow-y taste of Frankenberry and Boo Berry flattened into a fruit-like substance, instead, they received Fruit Roll-Ups in their usual strawberry and blueberry incarnations, covered in spooky decorations of ghosts and bats and the like. They weren’t a bad snack, but they were nowhere near as amazing as the packaging promised—and seemed more like an attempt to burn off spare Fruit Roll-Ups General Mills just had lying around. No news on if Count Chocula will join the crew in 2012, but who wants a chocolate Fruit Roll-Up anyway?
13. Hershey’s Take 5
In the ’80s, Hershey’s marketed its Take Five bar as an antidote to the go-go lifestyles of yuppies trying to have it all—a light, wafer-y, chocolate-covered comedown for working men and women hopped up on New Coke (or, you know, coke) and the latest Wham! single. What a difference a couple of decades make: In 2004, the Pennsylvania-based chocolate giant debuted the more SMS-friendly Take 5, a candy for a multitasking age. Never again would a sweet tooth have to choose between chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter, caramel, and pretzels—they could have them all in a single bite of a Take 5. It’s a savory-sweet sensory assault (albeit one where the saltiness of the peanuts and pretzel tend to overpower the sweetness of the chocolate and caramel), the confectionary iPhone to Take Five’s dull Zack Morris model.
14. Coca-Cola BlāK
For those unable to decide between their waking-up beverages—or perhaps caught at that perilous crossroads between breakfast and lunch—for a short period of time there was Coca-Cola BlāK, an unholy coffee-flavored soda. Many of those who tried BlāK reported conflicting feelings: The drink tasted unpleasant, to be sure, yet something about its resemblance to two beloved drinks (a cup of joe and a bottle of Coca-Cola) made it strangely appealing anyway. Perhaps not surprisingly, a drink rolled out to such an ambiguous response wasn’t long for this world, and after being introduced in 2006, BlāK was discontinued in 2008.
15. Keebler Town House Flipsides Pretzel Crackers
It can only be assumed that the decision to fuse the barfly’s favorite salty snack tothe back of the buttery, flaky cracker preferred by dinner-party hosts was made by some Dr. Jekyll type holed up in the hollow tree with Ernie and company. Then again, the brand-jumbling mouthful “Keebler Town House Flipsides Pretzel Crackers” suggests no one wants to take responsibility for this crispy chimera. Unlike Nabisco’s sadly discontinued Mr. Phipps Pretzel Chips, however, the pretzel quotient of Flipsides is negligible—it tastes more like one side of the cracker was baked longer than the other. Maybe that’s why no one wants to own up to this unnatural creation.
16. Frito-Lay Munchies Snack Mix
Of course, combining familiar foods into a new treat can be as much of an art as a science. Case in point: Frito-Lay’s synergistic Munchies Snack Mixes, blends of Cheetos, Doritos, Rold Gold pretzels, and Sun Chips available in indulgent flavors like Cheese Fix and Totally Ranch. Throwing a bunch of favored snacks into a single bag seems like a lazy way of synthesizing a fresh product from pre-existing ingredients, but the original Munchies combo was culled from several mixes created and voted upon by employees in Frito-Lay’s Canadian offices. The result is a popular mixed-media collage (now available in more than 25 countries) that resembles the impulsive creation of a stoner with a pantry full of junk food.