Taste Test: Snack Imposters
Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As explored in previous Taste Tests, there's been a recent, Wonka-esque trend of condensing entire meals—or at least appetizers/side dishes—into bite-sized comestibles. Whether this is simply a fleeting tangent in the long, undistinguished history of gimmicky snack foods—think clear colas and multi-colored popcorn—or the harbinger of a utensil-free, plate-free, artificially preserved food future remains to be seen. Our money rests on the former, as these charlatan snacks almost always taste like slightly crappier versions of their original-flavor snack-food counterparts, and immensely crappier versions of the foods they're trying to imitate.
Perhaps we're just being naive purists. Maybe the more forward-thinking snack-food visionaries see some redeeming logic that we can't grasp in reducing every menu item from the local family-dining establishment down into chip/cracker form. Maybe the crunch makes these familiar, all-American staples more "dynamic." Or maybe it's more practical than that. Perhaps consumers have grown weary of all that burdensome chicken mucking up their preferred Buffalo-sauce delivery device: hence, Pringles' Extreme Blazin' Buffalo Wing flavor. And why should we have to place unnecessary stress on our atrophied wrist muscles in order to dip our fries in ketchup when both Herr's and Burger King will sauce up and chip-ify our favorite side dish for us? And pizza? You're just asking for trouble there, what with all that dripping sauce and oozing cheese waiting to stain your crisp white Oxford shirt. Thanks for helping us dodge that bullet, Pringles Pizza flavor! And don't even get us started on macaroni and cheese, which actually requires diners to use—get this—some sort of utensil in order to consume it. Not only do Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Crackers do away with that silly precondition, they come in a nifty, animal crackers-esque carry-along case, meaning macaroni lovers can plop down on any old curb and shovel handfuls of crackers into their waiting maws whenever the urge strikes, sans fork, plate, or dignity. Truly, it is a glorious future.
Taste: Reactions to the five products we tasted ranged from "Ugh, dear God why?" to "I might eat that again," with most testers tending toward bemused indifference. Sure, pizza-flavored Pringles taste okay, but not especially different from pizza-flavored Combos or pizza-flavored Doritos. Same goes for the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Crackers, which, aside from their wilted-pasta shape, aren't very different from Cheez-Its or Nips or the gabazillions of other cheese-flavored crackers lining the aisles of the local mega-mart. The Extreme Blazin' Buffalo Wing Pringles were the closest we had to a hit; most tasters were impressed with the accuracy of the Buffalo-sauce flavor, and we're always in favor of anything that's "extreme," because it makes us feel more extreme in turn. The biggest taste-controversy (or "tastroversy") resulted from the two variations on ketchup-flavored chips, which were almost universally despised with the exception of one brave soul—okay, me—who was willing to stand up and say, "Come on guys, they aren't that bad ." Most people would probably be put off by the chips' sweetness, but the Herr's version at least had an interesting vinegar-y aftertaste that might appeal to some palates. Still, neither approximation came even remotely close to recreating the simple, all-American appeal of a plain ol' French fry dipped in ketchup.
— "Yeah, I would eat this."
— "In a blind taste test I don't think I'd say it was pizza."
— "It's kinda like pizza Combos—that same artificial pizza flavor."
— "Any pizza-flavored chip kinda tastes the same. Some sort of pseudo-tomato, pseudo-oregano taste."
— "All pizza-flavored foodstuffs taste the same. I think these companies all use the same recipe. It's not bad, but it's nothing I would pick up to eat."
— "An unholy alliance of sausage pizza powder and a Pringles chip. Freakishly accurate taste, however."
— "Pizza sauce, cheese, meat flavors. It's got everything a 'za has to offer except warmth and fulfillment."
— "If pizza-flavored Pringles are the best tasting food on your table, you should get a new table."
Extreme Blazin' Buffalo Wings Pringles
— "It doesn't look like it tastes extreme."
— "They smell like vinegar chips."
— "Wow. That really tastes like Buffalo wings."
— "It's not extreme, though." "For Pringles it's extreme." "So it's relatively extreme."
— "It's no Death Rain."
— "I had a second helping of these, though I'm not sure why. They taste okay, but I think I'd seriously regret having more than a few of them. They don't have much of a flavor, but it's pleasant enough."
— "Strong vinegar aroma and initial flavor, gives way to sweet spiciness. Kinda miss the chicken."
— "Exactly like Louisiana Hot Sauce. Probably worthy of a lawsuit."
Burger King Ketchup & Fries Flavored Potato Snacks
— [Grimaces, makes thumbs-down sign.]
— "They smell like the tomato vodka." "Oh, then I'm not touching that."
— "It kinda bothers me that they're sparkly."
— "They have a gingerbread exit flavor."
— "It almost tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch."
— "Yeah! They taste like rotten on the way in and Cinnamon Toast Crunch on the way out."
— "Why do we need this in chip form? French fries are readily available everywhere. These taste as unnecessary as they are."
— "It's a long chip like a flat Frito. Light salty-sour dusting does remind me of ketchup. Hardly an accomplishment. Great if you like ketchup but it's not like you can't buy ketchup."
— "Doesn't accurately recreate the Burger King fry experience. Why would BK put their name on something like this? If this is what R&D; thinks French fries taste like, they must be shoving the fries in the wrong hole."
Herr's Heinz Ketchup Flavored Potato Chips
— "Oh, UGH!" [Makes angry face.]
— "I'm trying to swallow it without tasting it."
— "Dear God, these are awful. My stomach actually cramped when I started chewing. More would induce vomiting."
— "Of all the bad things we've eaten, nothing has made me actually want to vomit as much as the Herr's ketchup chips."
— "I don't actually hate these. They're definitely weird, and it wouldn't be something I'd want to eat every day, but I could see me getting a craving for these once in a while."
— "The sweetness is a little off-putting, but if you eat it in a 'ketchup' mindframe instead of expecting a potato chip, it's pretty accurate."
— "Just plain awful. Dull tomato flavor and overly sweet overtones makes it difficult to finish. Yeech."
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Crackers
— "It's like Cheez-Its in a macaroni shape."
— "No, they're goldfish crackers. They taste exactly like goldfish crackers."
— "The cheese taste really kicks in as you chew."
— "That's delightful."
— "I don't know, I'm not getting much of a cheese taste at all. Tastes more like I'm eating undercooked pasta."
— "These taste like nothing. The cheese flavor is so minimal as to be non-existent. What's the point?"
— "You'd expect this to taste mostly like cheese but it doesn't. The cheese flavor doesn't even arrive until a few seconds after you pop it in your mouth, and it's super subtle."
— "I think Kraft spent more time on packaging and shaping the crackers than they did on taste."
— "Maybe if the chips were served wet it would taste more like the real thing. How about Kraft Mac & Cheese cereal? I'm just throwing out ideas."
Where to get them: They're potato chips and cheese crackers. Where do you think you get them?