Wednesday, April 11, 2012

FMF Power Hydration + Recovery: Citrus Lemonade and Fruit Punch (Big Lots)

Good drink, and great value at Big Lots.

I was browsing the beverage aisle in my local Big Lots store (my favorite aisle in the entire store), when I came across this little guy.  I used to be a huge energy drink connoisseur back in the day, but a combination of heart palpitations and warnings from others about how bad they are for your long-term health made me kick the habit well over a year ago.  Needless to say, I no longer drink them daily like I used to, but I don’t see any problems with enjoying them occasionally (as in, once a month, if even that often), especially when you can find a bottle for well under $1.  And especially when you have to be at work at 6 a.m. and are nowhere close to being a morning person.  While I’ve been putting up with it for five years now, there’s no doubt that there are some mornings where waking up is next to impossible to do, so a little jump start is needed.

Big Lots offers two flavors: Citrus Lemonade and Fruit Punch, which a quick internet search has confirmed are the only two flavors that they currently make.  Though I originally was only going to try one, I figured the price tag was low enough that I might as well get one of each to test them out.  Notes follow.

The Citrus Lemonade is light and refreshingly crisp.  The product description says that it’s lightly carbonated, but the carbonation was a little stronger than I expected (for an example of truly light carbonation, I went back to the good ol’ days of All Sport, back before it succumbed to what I’m assuming was all the negative talk that carbonated beverages dehydrated you, rather than the opposite; bad news for what was supposed to be a refreshing sports drink).  This isn’t a knock at all:  I actually found the extra bit of fizz to be rather enjoyable.

As for the flavor, the first second or two reminded me of a Sprite, but then came a flood of richer citrus flavor.  It still has that typical taste quality found in just about all energy drinks (that slight metallic flavor), but there is a solid balance between the citrus and lemonade that makes it pretty refreshing.  I will say that it’s rather sweet.  I happen to enjoy my beverages on the sweet side, but where there’s sweet, there’s sugar, and FMF has quite a bit:  25 grams per serving, with each can holding two servings.  So you’re looking at 50 grams of sugar per bottle, or 3.12 g/oz.  This is actually on the lower end compared to most name brand energy drinks, but it’s still really high, so those watching their sweet tooth might want to stay away.

However, in the world of energy drinks, obviously taste is secondary to--well--actual energy.  On those grounds, I am pleased to say it succeeds really well.  I only downed half the bottle, and got a noticeable increase in energy, signified by some rather random adrenaline bursts.  If I was doing something besides walking around at work, I probably could have put it to better use, but the drink did its job.  As a side note, I don’t drink coffee, and generally have limited caffeine intake, so that no doubt helped to heighten the drink’s effects within a quicker time frame. 

While very similar to the Citrus Lemonade in terms of ingredients and nutrition value, the flavor of the fruit punch reminds me a lot of cough syrup.  Even then, the flavor is more akin to cherry, with a syrupy, artificial aftertaste.  Being a huge fan of fruit punch, this was a huge disappointment for me, as this was the flavor I was most excited to try. 

Overall: Citrus Lemonade: 7.5/10.  Fruit Punch: 6.5/10.  I was pretty impressed with the FMF Power energy drinks, though most of it probably comes down to value.  I’ve always looked for such drinks without taurine and guarana (as I‘ve heard negative things about taking these ingredients in high quantities), but with a high level of B vitamins, and this is actually the first one I’ve found.  The fact that it works so well is just another positive.  As I understand, these bottles retail for around $2.49 each, so the fact they’re currently at Big Lots for just $.60 a bottle (in Ohio; prices subject to vary from location to location) make them a bonafide steal.  The Citrus Lemonade was by far the better flavor, with a strong fruity taste that was refreshing and not too artificial.  The fruit punch, on the other hand, was more reminiscent of cherry cough syrup, with a similar aftertaste.  Both have quite a bit of sugar (though a bit less, on average, than most of the identifiable major brands), but did provide a pretty long-lasting kick of energy.  Definitely worth the Big Lots asking price, though with so many cheaper options out there, I would never pay regular retail for one.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Meijer Toasted Oats Cereal (Meijer)

Average at best, average at worst.
Though I do like the place, I rarely go to Meijer.  And when I do go, it’s even less often about groceries.  But while my wife was on a recent grocery expedition with her parents, I asked them to pick me up a box of Cheerios.

What she came back with, was unexpected:  Two dwarfen boxes of Meijer Toasted Oats cereal, which were handed to me along with the information that they were $1 each.  “Not bad,” I initially thought…more on that later.

From the moment you pull them out of the box, you can tell that something is not exactly the same.  Whereas Cheerios, and even other private label brands, appear smooth and almost “airy”, Meijer’s Oats look a little rough.  They are also a little darker, as well, which gives them an even more “menacing” vibe, when compared to the light, inviting look of other brands.  Not that you feel like this cereal is going to attack you, but it definitely doesn’t look quite as appetizing.

But who cares about looks, right?  A food should be all about taste…and even on those grounds, Meijer’s Toasted Oats fall quite a bit short of other private label brands.  While the taste isn’t super far off, it’s definitely noticeable, as it tastes slightly more bitter than other brands (again, not enough to make you pucker, but enough to notice it).  What really gets to me, however, is how far off they are on the texture.  Even if this tasted EXACTLY like Cheerios, the way each piece just falls apart in your mouth is incredibly off-putting.  Rather than the aforementioned “airyness” of other brands, where each piece feels so light that it seemingly just melts in your mouth, these Oats almost “crumble” to pieces in your mouth.  While that may not sound like a big deal, it honestly bothered me quite a bit.

You see, I like eating my Cheerios with a cut-up banana (honestly one of my favorite snacks in the whole wide world), and one of the reasons it works is because of the light texture of the Cheerios matching up almost perfectly with the smoothness of the banana.  Here, you don’t get that.  The unbalanced flavor also did little to compliment the light flavor of the banana, thus rendering my favorite snack rather unenjoyable.

These Oats won’t get any extra points for value, either, so ignore the sales tactic:  Each box is 7 oz. and, like I said, retail for $1 each.  Aldi’s own version of Toasted Oats cereal, which comes in at 14 oz. (hence, exactly two boxes of Meijer’s version) retails for under $2, and tastes infinitely better.  So even if you are brutally broke, Aldi’s is both cheaper and a better deal taste-wise.

Overall: 5/10.  While not horrible by any stretch of the imagination, Meijer’s version of Cheerios has a very bizarre texture and a stronger flavor that seem to go against everything that makes the original cereal so great.  Ignore their sales pitch, too--while Meijer offers 7 oz. boxes for “just” $1, the fact that Aldi offers 14 oz. boxes for under $2, while still maintaining the right taste and texture, negates any kind of points for “value” that this may have had.  My suggestion:  You can do much better elsewhere.

Excitemint Arctic Blast Chewing Gum (Aldi)

Pretty intense flavor while it lasts.
I can’t really pinpoint why, but when I’m at work, I chew gum all day.  I originally attributed it as an alternative to smoking (my mother quit years of tobacco abuse cold turkey by substituting gum, so this is probably where I got the idea), but I don’t smoke all that much, and only get cravings to do so on the rare occasions I drink heavily.  So in other words, whether I chew gum or not, the thought of smoking rarely crosses my mind.

This introduction was not meant to reveal my occasional smoking and drinking habits, but rather to explain that chewing gum is actually a pretty big part of my life.  I always make sure I have some on hand to bring with me to work, and on the rare occasions I forget, I feel naked.  My brand of choice is generally Wrigley’s Doublemint, but every once in a while I like to try something new, so that my main choice doesn’t get old, and in the off chance I might be missing something that’s even better.  So on a recent trip to Aldi, I picked up a three-pack of their Arctic Mint Chewing Gum to see what it was all about.  Some direct notes on the experience follow:

1-5 seconds: I crack into the piece and start to chew.  The flavor is pretty strong and tastes pretty good.
6-15 seconds: Whoa!  Mint overload!  Now, the flavor has crossed the boundary into bitter; all of a sudden, this experience has turned not-so-enjoyable.
15-30 seconds:  The flavor once again dies down to roughly what it was around the first five seconds.  The lingering effects of the mint burst are still contained in the mouth, and it results in a “just brushed” kind of feeling.  This can come in handy when you’ve just downed a tuna sandwich, or ate a whole onion.
31 seconds to 30 minutes:  The flavor gradually starts to lose its power, and also tends to become more “medicine-y” as it wears on.  Generally around the 30-minute mark, it’s time to spit it out and replace it with a new piece.

As you can see, it’s definitely a strong piece of gum, but something isn’t quite right with the flavor.  Even once it dies down, it’s still more bitter than anything, and the fact it reminds me of medicine definitely isn’t a good thing.  The one positive about its strength is that there is no doubt it will cover up the flavor to anything you’ve eaten, so it couldn’t hurt to pop one of these in before a date, or another situation where you don’t want to run the risk of offending someone with foul-smelling breath.  The “fresh mouth” feeling also lasts a little while after you spit it out, which is another plus.

But I’m a little disappointed that its flavor runs out so quick.  Although thirty minutes seems like a decent length of time, I’m a marathon-chewer, and can get over an hour with the same piece of gum in other brands.  In fact, it seems like just about all ‘major brands’ of gum these days have much longer-lasting flavor, making this gum almost obsolete.  And in what can only be chalked up as a matter of personal preference, I always tear pieces of ‘stick gum’ in half, thus effectively doubling the amount of gum and flavor (I tend to get two hours of chew time per stick of Doublemint in this manner).  But since the Excitemint brand only offers “chiclet” style gum, in which the pieces are fairly small to begin with, doing so is rather impossible.

Overall: 6/10.  Did you just down a tuna sandwich and need to cover up your breath fast?  This gum definitely has you covered, but at the expense of flavor, which comes off as a little too “medicine-y” and bitter.  The lingering “fresh breath” aftertaste also lasts a bit longer than most other gum brands, and makes you feel like it’s still working even after it’s been spit out.  But for a casual chewer like me, this gum is just too intense to chew on a daily basis, and the flavor runs out much quicker than most other brands.