Sunday, July 31, 2016

Benton's Double Filled Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (Aldi)

Slightly different than the name brand, but still every bit as good.
Who hasn't had the national brand version of these cookies when they were growing up? I wouldn't say it was a staple of our home, but I remember having them on more than one occasion, learning to twist them off and dip them in milk to “improve” the flavor even more. They were one of my favorite cookies as a youngster, but I tend to avoid buying them today (simply because they're unhealthy and don't serve much of a purpose, beyond unnecessary sugars and fat).

Well wouldn't you know it that during our three-day inventory at work, one of the snacks management bought for us were the national brand cookies. I had just recently had myself removed off Adderall, because it wasn't working in the ways it should, but it was working in the ways I didn't want it to (focus might have been improved somewhat, and it was keeping me awake and giving me energy during work hours, but I was losing upwards of five pounds a month because I was losing my appetite). The “medicated” me (I was on the upper for about four months) wouldn't have even thought twice about eating them, but with less of the drug in my system, and a “recovering” appetite, I ate more of these than I should have.

Then, that translated to home. My wife had just purchased Benton's version a couple of days prior during a shopping trip to Aldi. At first, I wasn't really interested in them (although they are great with ice cream and hot fudge), but as my sweet tooth was coming back, I started eating more and more of them. Not a whole lot, mind you, but way more than I normally would have. And since I had just eaten the national brand, I can more or less compare these with a greater lucidity than I would've been able to at any other point in my life.

And all I can say is that the taste is pretty much spot-on. I never compared them directly side-by-side (one was at work and one was at home), but Benton's cookie has that same semi-sweet chocolate taste, while the cream is ridiculously sugary, but oh-so-good. This was probably the first time in a while that I'd even tried them plain—just like the national brand, swirl these around in milk for a softer cookie that melts in your mouth, and that even adds some decadence to the otherwise dry texture.

About the only difference, besides the price, is the appearance: Although Benton's version features cookies that are roughly the same size, theirs have five holes, as well as a “floral” design that is missing from the national brand. But you know the saying about judging a book by its cover: this very product is one of the reasons that quote is still so relevant today. Outside of its slightly different appearance, the taste is so similar that I'm convinced they are made in the same factory as the national brand. And the “double stuffed” in the title is not just a catchphrase: there is a noticeable increase in the cream filling, making these even better than the “regular cream” version.

Overall: 10/10. Aside from some minor differences in appearance (these have holes in them, along with a “diamond” design), these are pretty much exact in taste to the name brand. The chocolate wafer itself is slightly bitter, but with a nice chocolate flavor, while the dairy-less cream is very sweet and, as the name alludes to, is in plenty of abundance. Dipped in milk, they take on the same, soft characteristics of their brand name counterparts, with the cookie soaking up the milk and making these ten times better. If you're into this sort of thing, you're doing yourself a huge disservice by not giving these a may never pay bloated, overinflated prices of the "real stuff" ever again!

Benton's Fudge Mint Cookies (Aldi)

Ever wanted Thin Mint cookies, without the hassle of actually supporting anything?
These little guys snuck up on me by surprise, showing up at Aldi out of nowhere one day. I peruse the ads constantly, so it's rare that there's a product I'm not expecting, but my eyes captured the word “mint”, and I had to move in for a closer look. No way...could these possibly be the world-famous Thin Mint cookies, as peddled by Girl Scouts everywhere at certain points throughout the year? It sounded way too good to be true, but the entire package was a ridiculously-affordable $1.25 so I could spare the expense of finding out.

In short, yes, these are Thin Mints, so run to your nearest Aldi immediately to stock up! My wife says they look slightly different (she thinks the sides of the “official” cookies are smooth, whereas these have a little more texture), but we both agreed that the taste was about as exact as physically possible: they feel light, with a rich chocolate coating that gives way to a perfect little blast of mint, and they even melt in your mouth just like the original cookies...I honestly feel like this is one of the best discoveries I've ever made at an Aldi store!

Curiously, these showed up under the “New at Aldi” section online (something I saw after the fact while checking to see if I had somehow missed them), but there was nothing in-store indicating this, so I'm lucky to have spotted them. I thought these were the first time they've ever been available—I've shopped here for over a decade and had never seen them before—but a little research revealed that they've been available as far back as 2011. They seem to be a seasonal thing, but again, there was no mention of that on the sign, so I would stay on the safe side and load up on these while they're still here.

I'm also a little baffled as to what the Girl Scouts are thinking by allowing other companies to sell private label versions of their products (Aldi also has Tagalongs, which I don't care for much, and Walmart also sells a version of Thin Mints, if not others). I mean, I'm assuming they own the rights to these and have some kind of say about who copies them...or maybe it's just some proprietary formula that the Girl Scouts “lease”...? Sorry, just thinking out loud here. Either way, it must not be hurting their bottom lines any, because these seem to have been available off and on (probably during off-times for the Girl Scouts fundraisers) for at least a few years now. I'm sure there are those loyal people that will still pay $4 a box (or maybe it'll go up even more this next season?) to get the real thing, but I won't. I mean, look, the Girl Scouts are no doubt a great cause, but at the end of the day, these are just cookies. Cookies that I get sick of pretty quickly. And if you're telling me I can grab three packages at Aldi for less than the cost one box of the “official” stuff...well, sorry to sound like a dick, but our money is tight, and I'm going to go with the cheapest option.

Then again, this will probably end up being the only package I get all year anyway.

Overall: 10/10. These don't just look or taste like Thin Mints...these are Thin Mints. My wife assures me that the appearance is slightly different, but we both agreed that everything else, from taste on down to texture, is completely the same. And best of all? They're only $1.25 a package. I'm assuming these are available during “down-time” from the Girl Scouts fundraisers (a quick glance on the Girl Scouts website revealed that my zip code is 188 days away from cookie season), so this is a great way to stock up on these while you're eagerly waiting to pony up $4 a box to raise money for your granddaughter, or to support the daughter of a friend's friend. Or, you could just buy a ton of these, freeze them, and not have to declare bankruptcy. The choice is yours!

NOTE: I have noticed the price fluctuates on these; maybe it has something to do with the time of year? Following the publishing of this review, they dipped to $.95, and now, as of June, 2019, sit at $1.45. They're stupendous at any rate, but keep an eye out for potential price drops in colder months.

DOUBLE NOTE: There are other varieties available as well, all that knock off the popular fundraising cookies, including peanut butter, and one with coconut, so if these aren't your thing, they should still have you covered. Personally, I don't really care for the other flavors much.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Priano Roasted Garlic and Cheese Risotto (Aldi)

Proof that some amazing things can come out of a box.
I’ve had risotto once in my life; ironically, it was at a fancy restaurant that specialized in “small plates”, and their risotto (bacon risotto with an egg cooked exactly to 62 ½ degrees) was ironically one of their most popular dishes. I figured that would be as good a way as any to get my first taste, so I plunked down $11 for the right to try it. It was easily the worst plate of the evening. But since that was my first try, I thought that maybe I just wasn’t into risotto.

This prejudice toward the food continued when my wife informed me she was buying a box of Priano’s Garlic and Cheese Risotto, an Italian Special Buy at Aldi stores. I merely scoffed, told her that risotto sucked, and that it was a waste of money, and then we continued our shopping trip, never speaking about it again.

Flash forward to about a week later, when my wife informed me while I was at work that she had made it--and that it was incredible. Again, I scoffed, but I did make sure to have her hold me a couple bites of that “incredible” risotto, which I knew would disappoint me and simply confirm my suspicions that risotto is simply not for me.

Now, before I go on, I must make a couple of slight disclaimers: 1.) My wife “livened up” this dish by grating fresh Asiago cheese into it, which no doubt heightens the flavor in its favor, and 2.) I ate it cold. I could have microwaved it to approximate the flavor right off the stove, but I was hungry and didn’t feel a need to necessitate such drastic action. But none of this stuff really matters, because this risotto is absolutely stupendous.

It really is. It’s salty, like all risotto is, but the balance of cheese and garlic is perfect, to the point that both leave their mark on the taste buds, but neither one overwhelms the other. This is a tough line to walk, especially with a flavor that can be as strong as garlic, but it perfectly walks that line. After one bite, I was addicted, and I lapped up the rest like a pig eating from a trough--it goes without saying that I would purchase this again without any hesitation.

I’m also speaking from actual experience when I say that we thought this was better than $11 risotto we’ve eaten from a fancy restaurant. We might be the only two people in the world that think that, and we’re certainly no experts on risotto, but taste buds don’t lie. If you like or love risotto, you should really give this a try. It won’t disappoint.

Overall: 9/10. My first (and only) previous experience with risotto was as a small plate from a fancy restaurant, that cost $11--and neither my wife nor I cared much for it. So I figured if high-end risotto didn’t do anything for me, then maybe I just wasn’t a risotto kind of guy. Well, at the urging of my wife, we picked up a box of Priano’s Garlic and Cheese Risotto--and it knocked our socks off. The balance of cheese and garlic is flawless, and after one bite, I was addicted. Neither of us would hesitate to get this again. For the sake of full disclosure, my wife livened it up by adding fresh Asiago cheese, which no doubt helps add to the flavor, but there’s no way the simple addition of cheese would make a bad product this good. If you like risotto, don’t hesitate to pick this up.

Specially Selected Pesto Macaroni & Cheese (Aldi)

Bland and salty.
I would say that I’m not that big of a fan of pesto, though the only times I’ve ever had it, involved buying it from the supermarket.  And that can be enough to ruin just about anything.  Yet I have reviewed both of Specially Selected’s other gourmet macaroni and cheese products (you can see those reviews here), so I figured I might as well go ahead and complete the trifecta.

True to form, I wasn’t really a big fan.  There’s just something about pesto that doesn’t do anything for me, which is certainly odd, considering I like just about all of the ingredients separately.  Of course, like I said, I’ve never had the fresh stuff, and I’m sure something is lost in the translation of shoving it into a boxed, factory-made macaroni and cheese product.

The pestos I’ve had can best be described as “bland and salty”, a combination that you don’t hear of too often; this one is certainly no different.  There’s definitely a cheese flavor, courtesy of the accompanying cheese powder packet, but this it gives way to a pesto flavor that consists largely of salt, maybe a hint of basil, and then that’s about it.  Maybe I’m just expecting too much from pesto; maybe it’s supposed to be a lighter flavor that just kind of shows up and just as quickly disappears.  I thought maybe Specially Selected would have the antidote for that kind of thought process; that they would have the first pesto recipe to truly wow me, and turn me into a believer.

They didn’t.

Overall: 4/10.  Take this review with a grain of salt, because I’m not a huge pesto fan, but I was not at all impressed with this dish.  I should mention I’ve only had pestos a few times, and all of them were in supermarket products; I was hoping Specially Selected would make me a believer of pesto, but they failed in the same regards as other ones I’ve had.  There’s some cheesiness, courtesy of the sauce packet, and then saltiness, followed by a hint of basil, and then…nothing.  That’s it.  Maybe it’s supposed to be like this, and I’m just expecting too much, but I was not a fan at all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pueblo Lindo Rice Pudding (Aldi)

Same as the Senor Rico rice pudding, only with a private label name.
Prior to trying Senor Rico's rice pudding, I had never tried that particular dessert before.  Well, maybe I’ve tried a couple spoonfuls at some point in my life, but it wasn’t enough to have any sort of profound effect on me; when I saw Aldi started carrying it at their stores, I shrugged and went on about my day.  My wife, on the other hand, is a huge fan of just about any kind of pudding (chocolate, rice, bread, etc.), and jumped at the chance to try it.  I will say, it was her extremely positive reaction to taking her first bite that initially piqued my interest; I tried a bite myself, likened the texture to tapioca pudding (ironically, one of the few puddings my wife has never tried) and that was that.

A couple weeks later, after sending her to purchase just a couple things from Aldi, she of course came back with a bag full of extra things that were not requested: chief among them, were several more cups of this rice pudding. At first, I was annoyed; after all, there were several more useful things that our money could have gone toward, besides six cups of dessert.  However, I calmed down because I knew, unlike the vast majority of things my wife buys and then lets sit around for several months, she wouldn’t let these go to waste.  Sure enough, that evening, she cracked one open.  And once again, I asked for a bite…and then another.

Another view of the private label version, which is cut by a full ounce and still retails for the same price as the Senor Rico brand...
Only with this batch something was a little different. It wasn't the flavor, which was pretty much exactly the same as I remember it, but rather the brand name: Pueblo Lindo, which is Aldi's private label brand name for their Mexican line of food products.

Outside of Senor Rico's, which this rips off to a "T", I‘ve never tried another kind of rice pudding, but this one perfectly matches the name brand's texture.  Sure, you get plenty of rice bits, which are kind of weird to me, but the pudding itself has a ridiculously milky creaminess that stops just on the edge of sweetness.  But if you like sweet, like I do, don’t worry, because that comes in the form of a generous sprinkling of cinnamon that sits on the top.  Once you mix that in, this becomes an almost perfect dessert, as the cinnamon adds a much-needed dose of sugar that makes the whole thing absolutely mouthwatering.

I must say that the standard 8 oz. cup is too much for me. At the expense of sounding like a whiner, I must confess that I get sick of it by the time I reach the bottom; the excess I either save for later, or pass on to my wife, who‘s always more than willing to finish it off for me.  But this is definitely a sweet dessert that doesn’t disappoint, and one that I’m highly recommending to just about anyone with a sweet tooth.  And at 89 cents a cup, which seems kind of steep upon first glance, there's really a lot more in here than you think.

The main drawback, is that these used to be carried at Aldi stores under the Senor Rico label, which is a national brand distributed by Lakeview Farms (and based out of my home state of Ohio).  Now, they are carried under the Pueblo Lindo moniker, which is Aldi's new private-label line of authentic Mexican snacks and foods.  Okay, so there's nothing new with the idea of the national brand making a private label version specifically for Aldi--that's the case with a lot of the products in their stores.  What I have difficulty grasping, however, is that these are being offered for exactly the same price ($.89 per cup, up from $.85 earlier in the year) as Senor Rico's was, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  Why not just keep offering it as Senor Rico if you're not going to be able to lower the price any?  Maybe it's some kind of business agreement, and somewhere down the road we'll see some savings, but as of now, this whole switch from national brand to private label just seems completely pointless.

Another casualty of the change is apparently one whole ounce.  Apparently, Senor Rico cups are 9 oz., while Pueblo Lindo's tip the scales at 8 oz., making it even more questionable that it's being offered for the same price as Senor Rico, even while being shorn of an ounce.  What's here is good, don't get me wrong, but it almost has the curious feeling of a bait-and-switch tactic, coming from a company that usually presents itself as being more open and honest than others. And that might be the biggest disappointment of all.

Overall: 8/10.  In terms of the product itself, this is closer to a 10, but recently, Aldi started offering this under the Pueblo Lindo brand name, its private label umbrella for authentic Mexican products.  It replaced the same product available under the Senor Rico moniker, which was also available in Walmart stores nationwide.  Yet during the switch to Pueblo Lindo, the cup size was dropped from 9 oz. to 8 oz., and yet the price remains the same ($.89), making the switch seem doubly-bizarre.  Outside of that, though, this is a fantastic treat.  Unlike American puddings, or, to be more specific, popular American puddings, this isn’t really sweet at all on its own, with a taste that I can only best describe as “milky”.  But for those that are looking for some extra sweetness, it comes in the form of a generous sprinkling of cinnamon that sits at the top-- simply mix it in for a perfectly-balanced taste that quickly becomes addicting!  Aldi's bait-and-switch tactic, odd and uncharacteristic as it is, only slightly detracts from my overall enjoyment of it...these are absolutely fantastic, and a delicious treat I like to have on hand more often than not.

Specially Selected Chocolate Mousse Cups (Aldi)

Quite a bit of money for not a lot of substance.

I generally don’t eat a lot of sweets--unless they happen to be in front of me.  To lessen the odds of that happening, I don’t often buy desserts (although I do tend to get in the mood for ice cream every couple of months, or so).  This is true especially when we’re forced to keep a close eye on what we spend on groceries--which we were doing on a recent shopping trip.  Still, you only live once, and so when I stumbled on Specially Selected’s Chocolate Mousse Cups, I decided to appease my wife by getting them.  Well, the fact I was shopping absolutely famished (a well-known no-no) definitely worked in her favor, as well.

How else can I justify paying $3 for two small cups of what is basically chocolate-infused air?  But it looked so good that I didn’t care if it put us in the poor house, and so we took these home, and eagerly finished our dinner in order to give these a shot.

Prepping them is insanely easy: leave them out to thaw, then serve.  Our thawing process was pretty quick, considering my wife just set them near the stove she used to cook up supper, and so by the time we were done eating, they were perfectly cool and ready to enjoy.  I dug in…and have to say that these did not ravish my taste buds the way they did my wife, who absolutely loved them.  The top layer, which is a milk chocolate mousse, was kind of bitter--chocolate fans will probably love it, but I like my chocolate on the sweet side, and so it didn’t appeal to me.  Or maybe it’s just that I don’t like mousse…maybe that could be the problem.  The white chocolate hearts that adorn the top are a nice touch, as these are clearly marketed as a Valentine’s Day treat (which also happens to be my birthday…the only time I will ever mention that depressing fact); as can be expected, they are too small to really contribute anything to the flavor.

It does get better as you go down…there’s a small layer of chocolate cake, some white chocolate mousse under that (which is better than the plain chocolate), some crunchy chocolate candy pieces under that, and the bottom is a plain chocolate mousse that rounds everything out.  I really enjoyed the sponge cake and the candy pieces, and while the white chocolate and plain chocolate layers were better than the milk that started everything off, it still didn’t have me craving any more, as I thought it would.

For $1.50 per cup, I’d file this away under “splurge”, and I would also be fine never getting these again.  I’m not going to say I “never” will, because my wife really loved them and so I could see myself surprising her with them at some point, but if this were the case, I would let her eat both of the cups--they just didn‘t do much for me.  Again, I’m not huge into sweets, so if you’re a chocolate connoisseur, like my wife is, then you will certainly like them a lot more than I did--it just becomes a matter of whether or not you want to pay $3 for two small cups of chocolate.  It's also a matter of finding them, as they are a Special Buy and only made available a couple of times a year.

Overall: 5.5/10. I wasn’t a big fan of these, though I would imagine chocolate lovers everywhere would love them more than I did--in fact, now that I think about it, it would have probably been smarter to have my wife review this as she likes chocolate more than I do.  Oh well.  The cup gets better as you go down, with the chocolate candies and white chocolate mousse layers my favorite, but these weren’t nearly as delectable as I was expecting them to be, considering they cost $3 (for just two small cups that an average adult will have gone in about five bites).  I thought they were overpriced and underwhelming, but if this is your kind of thing, and you don’t mind the price tag, then you might as well give them a chance.  They are a Special Buy, though, and thus only available occasionally.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Winking Owl Moscato (Aldi)

Couldn't have taken a gaudier pic of this if I tried.
Winking Owl has always had a wide variety of wines, but the wife and I were never that interested, because they never offered a Moscato.  My wife will drink other kinds, but never reds, and it seems that Winking Owl’s main offerings were of the red variety.  So despite the cheap price tag, we stayed away.  Well, until I saw in an Aldi ad that they would start carrying a Moscato after all.  Then I was first in line to try it!

I’m not sure if my local store was just getting ready for its arrival, or if it was popular right off the bat because the first few times I looked for it, there was a sign there, but no wine in its place.  Finally, after two or three weeks of this, they had a measly three bottles left one morning.  I decided to return later to buy it, when they were down to just two bottles.  Either our store doesn’t get much inventory, or they seem to be blowing off the shelves!

Unfortunately here in Ohio, state minimums seem to be incredibly high, compared to the rest of the Midwest, so a bottle of this stuff retails for $3.99 (I’ve seen Winking Owl go as low as $2.49 in other states, which honestly makes me a little jealous.)  But it’s all relative…since all wines are more expensive in Ohio, a $4 bottle is almost as cheap as it gets around these parts; I’ve heard great things about some of the other varieties in the line (my grandparents always seem to have some around, and even made a ridiculously cute ornament out of a Winking Owl wine cork) but have never tried them myself, and so I was eager to dig in.

One thing that pleased me right off the bat is that this wine has an ABV of 8%.  While that’s not really high, I’ve seen other sweet wines even lower than that, so there’s a decent bit of alcohol in the bottle, especially for under $5.  The packaging for all the wines in the Winking Owl series have been redone, and look more contemporary and modern, without sacrificing the cuteness of the titular animal doing the titular action.  I’m not a graphic artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to say that the color schemes and label design actually make it more enticing.

Another thing I love about Aldi wines are the information-packed labels.  As I’ve said a million times before, my tastes skewer heavily toward the sweet.  I hate dry wines, and won’t go near them, unless I’m looking to get a buzz at any cost, and something dry is all that's around.  The labels on most of Aldi’s wines rate the wine based on “style” (from light to full-bodied), “flavor” (from dry to sweet) and also mentions foods that it pairs the best with.  I usually like to separate my alcohol from food, but it’s still relevant information to have.  I immediately got excited when this wine was as “light” as possible, and also filled up the “sweet” meter…it was as down my alley as it gets!

Once we got it uncorked, just taking a brief sniff hinted that it was going to be super-sweet, and that got my mouth watering.  Sure enough, this wine is, maybe even moreso than most Moscato’s I’ve had.  It’s very fruity, with a slight carbonation if you let it settle on your tongue (according to my wife; I was too busy drinking it to play around with it like that).  In short, I absolutely loved it, and will be keeping a bottle of this on hand, as long as the supply will allow it.  As much as I enjoy liquors, sometimes all I want is to relax with my wife and a glass of wine, and for $4, this is excellent stuff, without the headaches caused by other cheap wines.

Overall: 9/10.  It’s super-sweet, but this is my kind of Moscato!  It’s very light and very fruity, making it the perfect wine to wind down over after a long day at work, or to just chill and drink on weekends, or to…hell, who am I kidding, I’ll be drinking this stuff all the time!  And for $3.99 a bottle (in OH; less most everywhere else) it tastes like a splurge without having the price tag of one.  This stuff will have a constant presence in our home, assuming our local Aldi can keep them in stock.  Excellent wine for the price, though the sweetness, which is even more blatant than other Moscato’s I’ve had, will no doubt turn some people off.  Very glad that Winking Owl has finally added Moscato to their ever-growing list of wine varieties!

Spring Bubbles Sweet Wine (Aldi)

Sounds delicious, but a little bland straight out of the bottle.
A while ago, at the start of the spring season, my wife purchased a bottle of Spring Bubbles from Aldi.  The plan was to get it nice and chilled, and enjoy it with our dinner, so to expedite the process, she put it in the freezer instead of the fridge.  We forgot all about it, and I came home from work the next day to an exploded bottle and frozen wine all over the place.  Needless to say, I was not too happy, given the $9 per bottle going rate.

Fast forward three months.  I really was curious to see how it tasted, so I decided to suck it up, and plunk down another $9; at the very least, we’d make sure we didn’t make the same mistake that we did last time!  Already learning our lesson, we placed it in the fridge instead of the freezer, gave it a good chill, and poured it a few hours later.

When they call it Spring Bubbles, they’re not exaggerating…this stuff is ridiculously carbonated.  This is an attribute I like with my wine, but we're talking that this is about on par with most sodas.  In other words, be careful, and be sure to pour it slow, because the faster you pour it, the frothier the head gets at the top--I ended up overflowing the top of a wine glass with the bubbles, and there was only about two inches of actual wine on the bottom.  Tastewise, I was really expecting something a lot sweeter, especially given the fact it’s billed as a “sweet wine” according to the bottle.  I would call it more tart than sweet, and I even caught a hint of dryness in there, though that might just be my taste buds, whose motto is “The sweeter the better”.

To liven it up, I plopped in a strawberry and a few blueberries, which gave it a nice taste.  It’s also cool to see the bubbles attack the fruit as it gets dropped in…it’s literally like dropping an Alka-Seltzer tablet in water, which is a pretty neat effect that you won't get with a lot of wines.  As a dissenting opinion, my wife, who prefers things a little dryer than I do, absolutely loved this stuff.  So I guess at the end of this all, the moral of the story is that taste is subjective, and these reviews, much like life itself, ultimately mean nothing.  

Overall: 5/10.  “Spring Bubbles” is right, as this is wine is aggressively carbonated--pour too fast, and you’ll have a glass full of bubbles with little-to-no-wine!  I was honestly expecting something much sweeter, given the fact it’s billed as a “sweet wine” on the side; I found it to be more tart than sweet, with a surprisingly dry finish.  On the other hand, my wife, who enjoys such things, thought it was one of the best wines we’ve ever purchased from Aldi.  So I guess this review, like every other review for everything else in the world, is rather inconclusive; it can go either way, depending on your tastes.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Nature's Nectar Multi-Vitamin Orange Smoothie (Aldi)

"Multi-vitamin" isn't just a catchphrase...this bottle is loaded with good stuff!
I just reviewed the Tropical Boost smoothie from Nature's Nectar, so now it's time to turn our attention to the other one available during the same Special Buy cycle: Multi-Vitamin Orange. I have yet to try this in the national brand, and so I really didn't know what to expect of it before trying it. I mean, even amateur sleuths can see that it's going to have something to do with orange, but given all the different fruits that go into these drinks, along with the assertion that there are “multiple vitamins” in the title, that can sometimes skewer the taste into something that's only vaguely like the title suggests (just look at the tropical mess that the Tropical Boost turned out to be).

This one took me a few servings to really sink in and allow me to wrap my head around all that it has to offer. The first serving was all about taste, though that was kind of unfair, because I tried it right after sampling the Tropical Boost one above, which I really did not care for all that much. With this knowledge now bestowed upon you, it's no wonder that I was ready to rave about this after nothing more than my initial tasting.

The next one took place the following day, as I was just casually perusing the refrigerator for something to drink. Remembering that this was pretty good, I took another swig...and without the fresh failure of the Tropical Boost in my mouth, was far less than impressed. I felt that it had a similar pepper aftertaste to the abomination that was Nature's Nectar's Mango smoothie. It wasn't nearly as overwhelming (that stuff was undrinkable because of it), but I felt like it was still lingering unnecessarily in the background, and it was enough to kind of turn me off to this drink, relegating it to something I'd throw down once every other variety of refrigerated liquid in our house was gone. And in the refrigerator it stayed, untouched, for, like, three whole days.

Then I was starting to come down with a cold, which my wife had just gotten over.  I felt the stuffed nose coming on, the sniffling, and even slightly feverish, even though hers did not come with a fever. In an attempt to fight it off, I brought a carafe of orange juice with me to work...then forgot to bring it home with me. Still feeling like slight junk, with much more junk about to pile on, I aggressively started pawing through the fridge, looking for something with enough vitamin C to fight it off. And that's when my wife suggested this.

We made eye contact, then I looked away, favoring some other beverage that I was using as mixers for alcohol. Not wanting to waste a mixer while sober, I decided to take a closer look at this Multi-Vitamin Orange that I had cast aside. Just how many vitamins did this thing have in it, after all?  I realized that I hadn't even looked.  I expected the typical: loads of Vitamin C and maybe small amounts of a handful of others, but after just one glance at the label, I was blown away. 150% of Vitamins A, and C; 100% of Vitamins B6, B12, D, E, and K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, and Biotin. Less than 5% of calcium and iron. 32% fiber, 12% potassium. And all these numbers, of course, are per 8 oz. serving, meaning a whole bottle will multiply this by four. This wasn't something that was just masquerading as a healthy literally was. I downed the rest in the hopes that it would completely stave off my cold, or at least knock it down to a manageable level, which it seemed to do.

So the moral of the story, it might not have the greatest taste (although the taste is predominantly orange and nothing bad), but what it lacks in flavor, it more than makes up for in vitamins and nutritional content. Even the sugar content (19g) is relatively low, especially when you consider that none is added. I think I would prefer this to something like Emergen-C, simply because it tastes better, has a more-rounded amount of vitamins, and is far cheaper, at $2.49 per 32 oz. bottle.
Moral of this long-winded review: taste isn't always everything.

Overall: 7/10. At first I was turned off by this stuff, dismissing it as just an average-tasting orange smoothie. Why drink this when I could just drink orange juice? And after feeling the pings of an early cold coming on, that's exactly what I did, taking my orange juice with me to work. Only, I forgot to bring it home. Frantically searching for something in the fridge that could fight this off, I kept ignoring this, until my wife suggested I give it a shot. Only then did I read the label, and only then were my socks completely blown off...this isn't just a product that throws the word “vitamin” on the label to trick you into thinking it's healthy when it's not. It's a full-on vitaminal attack, with at least 100% of 13 different vitamins, and lesser quantities of several others. All this, for just $2.49 per 32 oz. serving? That's quite a deal, no matter which way you look at it. Despite my initial misgivings, I would definitely buy this stuff again. It works great as a vitamin drink, and to combat colds, and tastes good enough to do it without tasting like a medicine. I'll get this again any time it's available.

Nature's Nectar Tropical Boost Smoothie (Aldi)

It's an accurate replica of the national brand...which in this case is rather unfortunate.
All thanks to Aldi, I've gotten into Bolthouse Farms smoothies: they started carrying their Green Goodness flavor over a year ago, for a ridiculously good price, and so I made a point to buy them frequently. Even now, with the price having gone up a full 40 cents (from $2.95 to $3.35), it's still a pretty good deal for the 32 oz. drinks; while looking for them at a supermarket, I was appalled to find that the typical retail price of the large bottles is around $4.50.
Well the main plus to when Aldi parades around a name-brand product, is that we can generally plan on seeing an Aldi-brand version of it arrive sooner or later: true-to-form, they began rolling out their own private-label recreations of these smoothies late last year. Perhaps a little surprisingly, the flavors have been largely hit-or-miss, with some tasting very similarly to their name-brand counterpart (and keep in mind, I'm assuming that Bolthouse is the supplier simply based on both the similar packaging, and only a vague idea of how they work as a company), and others failing rather wildly. As of now, all of their smoothies are Special Buy's, meaning that once they sell out, they're gone until the next cycle, but maybe that will also change in the future.

Since I go crazy for these (the Aldi versions sell for $2.49 per 32 oz. bottle, which is ridiculously cheap for this kind of stuff), I perked up when I saw two more would be available about a month ago. Either my store never got them in, or I completely missed them over the span of a few trips, because I never once saw them. Flash-forward to this past ad, when the adverts revealed two additional flavors being offered: I was a little nervous, since I never saw the last batch, but found these relatively easy, and about a week early. Without hesitation, I bought both of them to try them out.

First up we have the Tropical Boost, a flavor that I've actually tried in the national brand, thanks to Aldi offering those as a Special Buy at some point last year. I've mentioned before that one of the easiest ways to get me interested in something, is simply to throw the word “Tropical” on the label somewhere; that's what suckered me in here.

The base scent is strongly of coconut, along with a lot of other vague scents that I guess smell a little tropical-y. It's still inviting enough, so I threw it back. The flavor is pretty heavy on coconut, but overall it tastes very similar to how it smells: like a mess of indistinguishable juices. There's also something about the whole concoction that tastes kind of...watered-down on the back end, like it's building up to an epic flavor that just isn't there. Looking back on it, this was actually the exact same problem I had with the national brand, so it's not an Aldi-specific problem; the taste itself is highly accurate in comparison to the main stuff.

Basically, if you enjoy Bolthouse's version of this, you will like this one, because it's pretty much an exact replica. I, on the other hand, am not a huge fan, so I didn't really enjoy this all that much. It does get some extra points for value, because 32 oz. are a mere $2.49 (a price that you generally can't even get the smaller bottles of the national stuff for), but even at that price point, I probably won't pick this up again.

Overall: 5/10. It tastes just like the national brand, which I'm pretty sure it's also made by, but even by those standards, this is one of my least-favorite flavors. The coconut comes through in both the aroma, and the taste, but all the flavors surrounding it are pretty indistinguishable, in my opinion (without cheating and reading the ingredients, anyway). By having the coconut come through first, which is a pretty weak taste on its own, it hints at a stronger blast of flavors that never come, making the end result taste kind of watered-down and disappointing. The $2.49 price point for a 32 oz. bottle makes this an excellent deal in terms of price, but what's value if the taste just isn't there?  Not one of my favorites of Nature's Nectar's smoothie line, but it's drinkable in a pinch, though I would never intentionally seek it out.