Friday, March 31, 2017

Little Journey Organics Apple Sweet Potato Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

I hate sweet potato. I love this.
I am quite an open-minded individual, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables, in that there are very few that I don’t like. On the fruit side, you have coconut—and that’s seriously the only one that springs to mind—while on the vegetable side you have…well…sweet potato. I don’t know why, because my mom likes it, and my wife likes it (and her tastes frequently rub off on me), but no matter how many times I try it (and it’s not often), I just can’t even force myself to like the taste. 

So, needless to say, I wasn’t too enthused to come across Apple Sweet Potato in Little Journey Organics’ baby food line. I was dreading it so much, that I almost broke my vow to try every single flavor, just to avoid having to force this down my throat. But you know what? This is America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. And what better way to prove my bravery to the fine people of this country, than by drinking something I normally don’t like?

And boy am I glad I did, because not only is this way better than I was expecting, it’s actually very good. Unlike the other varieties we’ve taken a look at up through now, this doesn’t have an added ingredient like rice or yogurt…it’s just straight up apple puree, sweet potato puree, lemon juice concentrate, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), all of which are organic, save for the acid. The apple comes through front and center, like one would expect, and about halfway through the sweet potato joins it. But rather than clashing, or at least grossing out my taste buds with the raw taste of sweet potato, it harmonizes really well. You can definitely taste something else in there, but there’s no way I would have known it was sweet potato if I didn’t read the packaging.

The consistency, and the overall flavor, is almost exactly like applesauce, so if you enjoy apples, chances are you (or your child) will really like this. And for $.79, and 110% vitamin C, the value is extraordinary. This might just be my favorite one yet, despite my initial hesitation.

Overall: 8.5/10. I hate sweet potato, making it about the only vegetable that comes to mind that I don’t like (Just thought of another! Beets). So imagine my hesitation concerning an apple and sweet potato mix. As it turns out, though, it was all unfounded: this is an excellent food…er…drink. The apple takes front and center, while the sweet potato joins in about halfway down the tastebuds; even with the addition, though, it all remains sweet, and you can’t specifically make out that it’s sweet potato (at least I couldn’t). Texture is exactly like applesauce, too, heightening the appeal. Probably my favorite of all the organic baby purees that Aldi offers!

Little Journey Organics Banana Apple Apricot with Rice Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

This is an excellent, affordable baby food line right here.
By the time I came to grips with the fact that I was going to be the World’s Most Reluctant Father (I had, for 32 years, scoffed at the idea of children), I learned that Aldi would be carrying its own line of baby items, under the adorable Little Journey moniker. One of the ways my wife and I wanted to prepare for the incoming bundle of joy was to get a little taste of the foods he would be experiencing in his young years. No, I’m not talking about formula, but rather the next step up—baby food.

What kickstarted this interest is simple: Aldi carries no fewer than 10 different flavors of baby food under their Little Journey Organics label, and we wanted to try them all. These don’t appear to be just typical baby foods with an “organic” label on them for the sole attempt to drive up the price—in fact, to the contrary, each 4 oz. pouch is a mere $.79. While that price definitely adds up over time, it’s still comparable to other non-organic offerings in that category, and much cheaper than the brand name pouches.

The ingredient list in this one is sparse, as it is with the other ones I’ve tried: organic banana puree, organic apple puree, organic apricot puree, organic brown rice flour, organic lemon juice concentrate…the only non-certified organic ingredient is the added ascorbic acid, which contributes a whopping 130% of baby’s daily vitamin C needs. And that’s everything in it. Pretty healthy roster of stuff, if you ask me (which no one did)!

The main thing that really stands out to me about everything I’ve tried so far in this line, is that, for the most part, all the different flavors get their chance to shine. A lot of times, food and juice products will list four or five different fruits, but you can only taste one or two of them, while the rest just kind of disappear into the background (or are only included to add color or texture). Take this very one, for example: Just because apricot is listed last in the name doesn’t mean that it’s unnoticeable…it is evenly blended with the banana and apple to form a delicious, sweet combination of all three.

It tastes like it starts with the banana and apple mixture before finishing with the taste of apricot. The latter fruit is nowhere near my favorite, but it does provide a great counter to the very sweet apple and banana purees. The rice flour adds nothing to the taste, instead providing a slight “lumpiness” that probably thickens it up a bit, making it feel more like food than juice.

This one isn’t one of my top choices out of the ones that I’ve had so far, but honestly, you can pretty much pick up any one of them across the board and be satisfied with your choice.

Overall: 7.5/10. The sweetness of apple and banana is matched up with the awkward taste of apricot to deliver a pretty tasty flavor combination. This isn’t one of my favorite offerings from the Little Journey Organics line, but it’s still really good, while the $.79 price tag is affordable on almost every budget, and far less than the name brand baby food pouches. Very few ingredients, too, making it very healthy for growing children (and grown adults). Well worth this if you have a little one, or just want a little snack for yourself!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Friendly Farms Light Sour Cream (Aldi)

About 95% as good as regular sour cream, but with 50% less fat. Consider me 100% impressed!
Sour cream is delicious.  While I don’t get to use it very often, my wife likes to make tacos every once in a while, and they are a required condiment for those.  I also like to put some on Aldi’s own Mama Cozzi’s Taco Pizza, which is one of the best frozen pizzas I’ve ever had two dozen times.

Like a lot of people these days, though, I try keep an eye on what I eat.  Now this doesn’t mean I won’t down a whole frozen pizza occasionally, or I won’t slather some ice cream with unhealthy chocolate and cookie toppings; it just means I try to at least make up for the extra calories by cutting back somewhere else, whether it be limiting my soda intake, or drinking more water or healthy juice--anything to try to offset the added calories at least somewhat.  But when I stumbled on Friendly Farms' Light Sour Cream, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  The term “light” always tends to make me very nervous, and other light sour creams that I’ve tried were…well…disgusting, to say the least.  But for the same price as regular, I decided that we could give it a shot.

It’s now all that we buy.  Now, let’s be clear here:  Of course, a lighter sour cream doesn’t mean it’s at all “healthy”, or that you can slather it all over everything with no health consequences; this is still some pretty unhealthy stuff.  But it does manage to cut just about everything back in half; whereas the “full flavor” tub has 5 g of fat per 2 tbsp serving, the light version has just 2.5.  Ditto for saturated fat (3.5 g “full”, versus 1.5 g light), and cholesterol (20 mg “full”, versus 10 for light).  Even calories are cut down by one-third (60 vs. 40) which can be a help to those counting calories.

How does it taste?  I’d love to set up a blind taste test, because it’s so close to the real thing that I’d say it’s virtually indistinguishable.  Others I’ve tried had a gross “diet” taste--you know, that terrible fakey sweetness that is so repulsive, I wonder how people even attempt to drink diet sodas--but Friendly Farms somehow almost packs full flavor flavor into a lighter package.  Now, I did say it’s “virtually” indistinguishable:  I’ll admit that I can taste a bit of a difference just taking a sample straight out of the tub, but I truly hope you’re not just going to be shoveling this into your mouth by the spoonful.  On the other hand, when it’s used as a condiment, I really can’t tell this apart from the “full flavored” version, which is more than enough reason to keep purchasing this.  One of our staples, and a hidden gem!

Overall: 9/10.  While eating it straight out of the tub reveals that the taste is just slightly off from the “full flavored” sour cream, I can’t detect a difference at all when using it as a condiment on, say, tacos.  And who the hell eats this straight out of the tub, anyway? It’s not like this stuff is “good” for you, but it does cut back on the fat, and sometimes every little bit helps. As a result, this has become the go-to sour cream in our household, especially since it's the same price as the regular stuff.  Unless you're a sour cream snob, you probably won't be able to tell the difference!

Little Salad Bar Caesar Salad Kit (Aldi)

Without hyperbole, one of the best Caesar salads I've ever had, bagged or otherwise.
My wife used to eat these quite frequently, often as the main course for dinner.  I never understood why.  What’s so special about a bagged salad?  How can a salad be filling?  As a member of the male species, I refused to try it for the longest time.  Then, one day, I took a bite…and then I immediately understood.

I’m probably going to go into a hyperbolic rant, so please forgive me for a while, but this salad is hands down the best bagged salad I’ve ever had.  It’s ridiculously good.  I’d go so far as to call it “restaurant quality”, only that brings me thoughts of this being served at chain restaurants…it’s even better than that.  It’s a rare occasion that we don’t have at least one bag of this in the house at any given time.

Probably the only “underwhelming” component of this kit is the lettuce, which I guess is pretty understandable, considering the whole point of a salad is to make the lettuce taste good.  As with most such salads, the bag contains a large helping of Romaine.  Next up is the Caesar dressing, conveniently contained in a little pouch with a tear-apart opening.  Now I certainly didn’t have much hope for this, expecting it to be a watered-down, cheap dressing wannabe, but I was blown away…this is a full-flavored Caesar dressing that doesn’t mess around.  It’s almost tart it’s so strong, and it’s what kept me coming back for more bites.  Perhaps most importantly, however, is that there is plenty enough to coat every bit of lettuce in the bag, so you won’t have to deal with dry bites as you get toward the bottom.

The parmesan cheese, contained in a separate pack, was also a surprise.  I expected dried-out cheese, but it tastes just like the grated parmesan Aldi sells in the tubs.  It would probably be a stretch to say it tastes like freshly-grated cheese, but considering it’s a component in a bagged salad mix, it’s closer than you would ever think possible.  Last up are the croutons, which are usually my favorite part of a salad.  That they are very good, yet somehow end up being my least favorite component, should tell you just how good this salad is as a whole.

It gets full marks from me for taste, but gets just as many for value, as a generous 10.5 oz. bag is just $1.99.  That might not sound like much, but considering most of the kit is made up of lettuce, which is pretty much light as a feather, means you really do get a lot of salad for your money.  I have a pretty big appetite, and even I have problems finishing this by myself.  Also works excellently as a side dish, which is generally the way we enjoy it.  If you’re eating it alone and can drag it out to two servings, that’s only a dollar per serving, which isn’t bad at all.

Overall: 10/10.  Flawless salad perfection in a bag.  The Caesar dressing is super strong and full-flavored, the croutons are delicious, and the parmesan cheese tastes surprisingly fresh.  There’s a lot of lettuce in here, but plenty of the dressing, cheese, and croutons to cover it all.  Making it taste even better is the price:  $1.99 for a 10.5 oz. bag that’s easily enough to feed two adults, or one person over two days.  We also tried the national brand, and it didn’t even come close.  See why this has become a staple in our house, and make it one in yours by giving it a shot!

UPDATE (8/2019): The price has recently gone up (to $2.29 in my neck of the woods; prices may vary by location), but besides being slightly disappointing, it is not enough to affect the score. This is still a fantastic product for the money.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

No Fear Sugar Free Super Energy Supplement (Big Lots)

Misleading title: I was still terrified of heights after drinking a can.
Unlike other products that are generally “one and done”, these seem to pop up from time to time at Big Lots stores. I generally avoid them, mainly because the tacky “edgy” graphics are annoying and don’t appeal to me whatsoever, but our local store had been out of energy drinks the last few times I’d gone, and so I felt like I had some making up to do.

Even before I bought one, I was faced with one of my biggest pet peeves: Packaging that gives you no clue as to what the hell the product inside is supposed to taste like. Sorry, but I don’t think a lack of fear has a default flavor, so I hate not knowing what to expect going in. Normally, I just assume it’s going to be a standard energy drink flavor, but oftentimes that isn’t the case. Is it really that hard to summarize the taste SOMEWHERE on the packaging? I’ve noticed this seems to happen with a lot of Big Lots beverages, and I’m wondering if that’s one of the common themes: People don’t buy shit they know nothing about. Let that be a lesson to all you future entrepreneurs and manufacturers.

Anyway, I’ve thankfully done the legwork for you, and my limited palate can tell you the flavor reminds me of standard energy drink blended with raspberry. It even has a dullish pink color that seems to corroborate these thoughts, as well as a strong fruity scent once cracked open. Surprisingly, there is some “fruit juice” in here, but it’s only listed as “for color”, and nowhere does it specify what the percentage is, leading me to believe it’s probably less than 2%.

As dumb as the graphics and “No Fear” label are, this is actually a pretty decent drink, especially for the price ($.50). It does finish more with the standard energy drink flavor, so there’s a bit of weird aftertaste that lingers for a while afterwards, but it’s not all that off-putting compared to others. The fruitiness also provides a welcome change from the norm, with the sparkle of the carbonation making it feel refreshing…paired up with the “standard” flavor, it prevents things from being too sweet, so there’s a great balance on the tastebuds.

Also a plus: it’s sugar free, which eliminates most, if not all, of the typical crash after the energy rush wears off. It did give me a noticeable kick for a little while, which is all I ask of my energy beverages, so I can’t complain in that regard at all. Caffeine content is pretty weak for a drink of its type (140 mg per can…many of the name brands have a minimum of 160), so if you’re looking for something strong, this definitely ain’t it. It’s a good little beverage, but aside from a little fruity kick, doesn’t have much to distinguish it from the rest of its competition.

Overall: 6.5/10. This has a nice fruity flavor (that I think is raspberry, but I might be way off base) that finishes with a more standard energy drink taste: as far as combinations go, it’s pretty good, with the finishing taste preventing the fruitiness from being too sweet, and the fruitiness preventing it from being too standard and boring. It does have that annoying aftertaste prevalent in a lot of “standard” energy drinks, though, which lingers on for a while. Caffeine content is also pretty weak, at 140 mg per can (most of the name brands have at least 160 in them). The main draw here is the price tag: $.50 at Big Lots stores, which makes it a great value, though I would hesitate before spending anything more than that (even a dollar would be pushing it). Overall, it’s just different enough to be acceptable. I wouldn’t be against getting it again in the future.

Bomba Citrus Energy Drink, or The Cool-Looking Energy Drink in the Glass Grenade Bottle! (Big Lots)

If only cool packaging could guarantee a good product inside.
I actually saved the citrus Bomba for last out of the five flavors that were available at my local Big Lots, because it was the one I had the most hope for. Citrus is one of my favorite flavors, and also broad enough in scope that it can cover a wide range of fruits and tastes, from lemon, to lime, to oranges, and a ton more in between. Given the relative deliciousness of Bomba's other flavors (the only one I really didn't like was the coconut), my mind raced with the possibilities of where it would land in the “citrus” spectrum.

Instead, it settles for a flavor that is almost exact to the “classic” flavor, which is itself just a standard flavor for all “regular” energy drinks. Seriously, there's very little to differentiate between the two once it hits your wife probably explained it best by saying that it tastes like a “sugar free” energy drink, one that is slightly different and maybe slightly smoother, but otherwise so similar to the classic, that there's no reason for both of them to exist. Only it's not sugar free, instead loaded with the same amount of sugar (28g) as all of the other varieties.

At the end of the day, this was by far the most disappointing of all of them. Coconut is technically worse to me, at least flavorwise, but I don't like coconut, so I wasn't expecting to get much out of that flavor. By saving this one for last, I was hyping it up to be the best of the bunch. It would be one thing for it to be bad, but for it to be so completely un-citrus and so similar to another flavor just makes it that much worse. No thanks.

Overall: 3/10. The flavor in this one isn't bad on its own, but it's nowhere near a citrus, and it tastes almost exactly like the “classic” version. In other words, there is absolutely no reason for this to exist. If this is the only kind you stumble on, and you really want to give Bomba a shot, then that's about the only scenario where I can recommend picking this one up—otherwise, just grab the “classic” and call it a day.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Thai Smile Tom Yum Thai Rice Noodle Soup Bowl (Big Lots)

I'm just going to assume "Tom Yum Thai" is the name of the guy who invented it.
A while back I made the tough decision to ignore the terrifying brand name “Thai Smile”, and purchased their Sweet Onion noodle soup bowl. I had no expectations going in, since the bowl was only $1, but it ended up being pretty good, much in the same way that ramen noodles are good: they are dirt cheap, and edible. I would definitely get that variety again, but then I saw there was another option: Tom Yum Thai. Unlike “sweet onion”, which is pretty straightforward, I had no idea what Tom Yum Thai even alludes to as a flavor; even after trying it, I have to say I still don't. As with all of these cheap soup/noodle bowls, the main flavor you're going to get is that of excessive salt forcing its way into your body, where it will attempt to slowly kill you from within. The next sensation caught me a little off guard, and that was of my mouth immediately catching fire. At first I thought I had just neglected to stir the seasoning packet thoroughly, and all I was getting was a mouthful of salty seasoning, but future bites proved my initial thoughts: this stuff is pretty hot, especially if you aren't expecting it.

Now, I'm very weak when it comes to tolerating heat in foods, so for the experienced, or the hot sauce enthusiasts, this probably wouldn't make you bat a lash. But for those that aren't, this packs quite a little punch. Even for me, it wasn't overboard to the point that I needed to frantically drink cold liquids to extinguish it, but it did make me wait a little bit between bites just to let the tongue naturally cool down. The effect was a little worse for my wife (who, ironically, is a hot sauce junkie), as she coughed and started chugging on some kind of beverage right away, only to continue her coughing fit for a little while afterwards. So I guess it's not just me after all.

Once you get passed that, you're met with a...sour taste. Again, I wasn't really expecting that. My wife, who hated it, said it tasted “spoiled”, but I didn't think the taste was that offensive. It reminded me of a soup that I had at a Chinese buffet once, a comparison that's rather poor to use because, a.) I don't remember what it was (maybe it was called “hot and sour”?), and b.) I hated it. I thought this stuff was a lot better than that (I could easily finish this), but it's still not a flavor profile that really interests me.

On the plus side, it's only a dollar, and you really do get a decent amount of broth and noodles for the price, so it can't really hurt to give this a shot if you think it might be your thing. It just wasn't really mine much at all.

Overall: 5/10. It's edible, and it's $1, so that should be enough to entice those on a very tight budget, but I just didn't like the flavor of this much at all. It starts off pretty spicy, which caught me completely off guard, and then settles down into a weird, tart sourness that I also wasn't prepared for (I had no idea what Tom Yum Thai was going into it, and I have to confess that I still don't). It didn't appeal to me much, but I didn't have problems polishing off the whole bowl. I also like the weird, thin rice noodles that they use here, which don't have much taste, but add an interesting texture. I don't tend to get noodle bowls very often, but as far as Thai Smile goes, I'll be sticking to the sweet onion varity if I ever want another cheap snack.

Thai Smile Spring Onion Rice Noodle Soup Bowl (Big Lots)

"Thai Smile" sounds like a slang term for a torture technique.

My wife and I were going through a phase of intense brokeness when I went to Big Lots, looking for something really inexpensive that I could eat as a snack. I tend to like snacking throughout the day, and will often have a quick little something right when I get home; I get home so early on most days, that dinner is still at least three hours away, and I can’t always wait that long.

Most of the things they had looked either too expensive, unappetizing, or a blatant combination of both-- until my eyes settled on soup bowls by the terrifyingly-named company, Thai Smile. I always liked the “instant lunch” noodles (the ones in the Styrofoam plastic cup, complete with dried peas and carrots), and this looked to be a slightly more advanced version of that.

When you open the bowl, you’ll find three packets, all of which are curiously (and idiotically) shoved underneath the noodles: a packet of seasoning, a packet of what are called “vegetables”, but look more like green flecks, and a creepy packet of oil. The noodles themselves are different than the standard noodles found in products like this, in that they are white, and relatively short--you won’t have a chance to twirl them around your fork. Prepwork is simple: Add the contents of each packet to the noodle bowl, fill with water up to the fill line, and microwave for up to three minutes. Voila! Instant soup!

The broth that’s created is actually really good, mainly courtesy of the seasoning packet. I’m not ashamed to say I had a small sample before I added it in to the water, and it reminded me a lot of the kind of seasoning you’d find on a potato chip…there’s a real strong sweet onion flavor, which if you’re eating something with that name, should be expected. The liquid looks an unappetizing shade of green, kind of like pea soup, but the taste should get you passed that pretty quickly. The noodles don’t really add much flavor, but the combination of them with the broth is good. It’s nothing spectacular, but then again, it’s only a dollar, and you probably shouldn’t expect it to be.

I’d say it’s a few notches above Ramen (which I’ve never gotten into, even in my poorest life phases), and also a slight bit above the Styrofoam cup noodle bowls. For a dollar, you really can’t beat the price, and there are a generous enough amount of noodles that it makes it the perfect snack--there’s no way you’re going to get filled up, so if you just want something to hold you over for a couple of hours, this is the way to go.

The biggest drawback, which is typical of products like this, is the sodium content: Just one bowl contains 52% of your daily sodium “needs”. Now, I would assume that as long as you don’t drink all the broth, you can probably cut that number back a bit, but even just by taking a bite, you can tell that sodium content is high. At least it has some good flavor to help justify the high salt content, though. It's a pretty tasty alternative to standard ramen noodles that packs enough flavor that it's worth picking up.

Overall: 7/10. It’s loaded with salt (as most of these products are), but the creepily-named Thai Smile has crafted a decent little noodle bowl here, available for $1 at (select?) Big Lots stores. The noodles are different than typical noodle bowls, in that they are stiffer and can’t be twirled around your fork…I guess that’s just adding to the “authentic” nature of this no doubt accurately cultured soup bowl! However, the taste really is pretty good, with the sweet onion shining through, and there are a lot of noodles to be had, so while it won’t fill you up, it makes a pretty good snack. They have several different varieties of these at my local Big Lots, and after trying this, I wouldn’t hesitate to try another. In fact, I did (see below).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bomba Coconut Energy Drink (in a Glass Grenade-Shaped Bottle!) (Big Lots)

If you like coconut, you will probably like this one a lot more than I did.
I HATE coconut. I don't think I'm even in the minority here, because it seems that at least 50% of all people in the world don't like it. I think it all comes down to texture: I just can't stand the flakiness, which feels kind of like I'm chewing on wood shards, while the disgustingness of the flavor itself is magnified by the terrible consistency. (I should also mention that a childhood incident, and the first time I ever tried the stuff, didn't help: A babysitter gave me a bon-bon and, I took a small bite, immediately taken aback at how unexpectedly horrible it tasted. After all, the chocolate led me to believe it was going to be sweet! Not wanting to cause a scene, I shoved the whole thing in my mouth, chewed it for what felt like days, and went against my gag reflex by swallowing it all in several agonizing installments.)

However, as much as I hate the fruit itself (and it feels wrong to call something so gross a fruit), I do like artificial coconut flavorings. Coconut rum, for instance, is pretty tasty. Coconut candy can be pretty good. It kind of tastes like suntan lotion, but that also brings back positive memories of summers at the beach, and who doesn't love a good visit to the ocean?

So heading into Bomba's Coconut energy drink, I honestly didn't know what to expect, because it could go either way. The scent is pretty accurate, with strong notes of suntan lotion giving way to a rather authentic finish that did not excite me. I gave my wife, who was eagerly looking forward to this one above all other flavors, the first sip, and she seemed pretty enthusiastic about it, so that got my hopes up a little bit...until I tried it for myself.

It's not as disgusting as authentic coconut, but it tries its damndest to be, with a flavor that starts of kind of citrusy, then moves on to the lotion-y taste for a second, before once again veering off into a finish that isn't quite bitter, but definitely isn't sweet. Fans of authentic coconut will probably get a kick out of it (as my wife did), but I was left quite a bit disappointed. I'm three flavors in (out of five) and this is far and away my least favorite, and the only one that, even at $.33, I would never try again.

Overall: 4/10. The small price tag at Big Lots, along with the cool package design that I've been harping on, are about the only two pluses, as the coconut flavor is a little too realistic for my tastes. It starts of citrusy and kind of sweet, with the carbonation adding in some refreshment, before it veers off into a more typical “suntan lotion” flavor for a couple of seconds; that gives way to a finish that borders on the bitter. Again, I do not like authentic coconut flavor (but do enjoy coconut rum and other artificial tastes) so take my opinions with a grain of salt, but this is the only flavor of Bomba so far that I would never get again, even at this ridiculously low price.

Energy in a Cool Grenade-Shaped Bottle: Bomba Cherry Energy Drink (Big Lots)

If you like cherry cola, you will probably like this.
For those that didn’t see my previous Bomba reviews, I’ll do a quick recap: Stumbled on these at Big Lots, where I was looking for some energy drinks. Since that’s what these are, these fit the bill beautifully. Fell in love with the unique glass grenade bottle design, as well as the cool matching “pin” cap (which you actually pull to release, then pull back to open). Even better yet? The price tag, which is just $.33. There, now that you’re all up to speed, let’s take a look at this one specifically.

I had already tried a sip of my wife’s cherry Bomba prior to drinking my own for review, so I knew what to expect going in. You know, one thing that I just realized that makes me enjoy this line even more, is that there is none of the typical artificial weird metallic flavors, or weird aftertastes, that makes up almost all energy drinks that I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, these are made up entirely of artificial flavors with lots of sugar, but I like that these taste more like soda than actual energy drinks, which is nice for a change.

The cherry version is probably the most soda-y out of all of them yet. It smells just like cherry cola, and has a very similar taste, along with the standard amount of energy drink carbonation. As sweet as it is, there is a semi-bitter finish in the back of the throat, and while that’s a little annoying, it’s nowhere near bad enough to be any sort of dealbreaker. It also doesn’t lead to a bad aftertaste, disappearing shortly after its arrival, which is another plus.

So far, I would have to say this is probably my favorite of the bunch so far, at least in terms of taste. And when you factor in the price, that makes it almost a requirement for the whole world to try. Get these while they last, because they are sure to be gone soon!

Overall: 7.5/10. This tastes a lot like cherry cola, with a(n artificial) cherry flavor that blends well with the carbonation and isn’t too syrupy. There is a rather annoying semi-bitter finish in the back of the throat, but it dissipates quickly without leaving a bad aftertaste, so it’s only a minor complaint. The small caffeine content (75mg per bottle) leaves a lot to be desired, but I did get a slight buzz so that’s a plus; paired up with the ridiculously low $.33 price tag, I can't really complain about value. Overall, a solid beverage, excellent for the price.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bomba Mixed Berries Energy Drink (Big Lots)

That really is a cool bottle design, although this flavor is pretty lacking.
Previously, I reviewed Bomba's original flavor, and noted that they seemed to offer a lot more than just cool-looking containers; that one blended a good amount of energy-enhancing performance with a very drinkable, though familiar, taste. And you will also note that, at least now through the end of their supply, they are being offered for a mere $.33 per bottle at Big Lots stores, making them even better deals. 

Their Mixed Berries energy drink is also exactly what you would expect from a blue-colored beverage, filled to the brim with the sweet, “standard”, artificial berry flavor that you get from a number of such beverages and candies. The only difference: a little tartness on the finish, which leads to a neutral aftertaste. Much like the “classic” flavor before it, this one also has a rather whopping 28g of sugar, but this one tastes even sweeter, and will probably disgust those without a taste for large doses of sweet. (Drinks like this one are the reason I stopped drinking sugared energy beverages, because the crash always seemed to outweigh the actual rush.)

I did like it at first, and I do have the palate that this caters to, but even I have to admit getting sick of the flavor by the time I (sloooowly) finished the bottle. Again, at just $.33 a bottle, points most definitely must be awarded for value, and I also noticed a little kick of energy (thanks to the approximately 75 mg of caffeine in each bottle) so it does what it sets out to do. The bottle remains ultra cool, too. But even just two flavors in, I can already tell that this will not end up in my list of the favorites, and I probably would not get this kind again.

Overall: 5.5/10. It gave me a little energy boost, and at just $.33 per cool-shaped grenade-style bottle, points must definitely be awarded for value. I mean, where else can you get 75mg of caffeine for so cheap? However, this one is way sweeter than the “classic” flavor, to the point that even my tastebuds—which definitely skewer more towards the sweet—still got sick of it around the halfway point. I guess it's okay if you plan on sipping it slow, but the strong sugar content helps to hinder what could have otherwise been a decent energy drink.

Bomba Classic Energy Drink (in a Cool Grenade-Style Bottle!) (Big Lots)

When filled, it's the same tannish color as most other regular-flavored energy drinks.
Well lo and behold, what do we have here? Something in Big Lots' aisles that actually looks unique and cool? Say it ain't so! It was the grenade-shaped bottles that initially lured my wife and I in; it wasn't until we dipped in for a closer look that we realized it doesn't just look like it's made of glass—it is made of glass! And it's made in Austria! And they are only $.33 each! That probably doesn't even cover the cost of the glass bottle!

When I saw that this was the “classic” energy drink, I'll admit I wasn't entirely sure what that entailed. I mean, not to sound rude or ignorant, but is there a universal standard for what constitutes a “classic” flavor? Obviously, I've harped on and on in reviews about “typical” energy drink flavors here in the States, but do energy drinks taste the same in Austria as they do here?

The short answer to my longwinded question, is yes. Yes they do. As advertised, this is pretty much exactly what you'll be expecting if you've ever had the drink that “gives you wings”, or just about any other “standard” energy beverage across any number of lines. Normally, I ramble on about how bad of a thing that is, but when we're dealing with glass bottles that can be had for a quarter, a nickel, and three pennies, well such criticisms are thrown out the window. It's delicious, and ultra-cheap, which is a win-win!

The downside is that there doesn't appear to be a sugar free option, which is my preference, and Bomba is a good example why: each bottle has a whopping 28g of sugar. And each bottle is a mere 8.45 oz. (250 mL). That's a lot of sugar inside a small container, which typically means that, once the energy rush wears off, I'm more tired than I was before taking a swig. And that's pretty much the exact opposite of the effects I'm seeking when looking for an energy drink. Speaking of energy, the caffeine content is also low, coming in at around 75 mg per bottle. It did give me a little kick, but there's was also a noticeable crash afterwards.

Criticisms aside, these are worth checking out, if for no other reason than the ultra cool grenade-style can, complete with pin, which you actually use to pop open the bottle! That's a nice little touch. It's not every day your energy drink entertains as it energizes.

Overall: 7.5/10. The large amount of sugar, in tandem with a low amount of caffeine (75 mg per 8 oz. bottle) compared to many other energy drinks are the biggest drawbacks. Normally, those two things would probably constitute a dealbreaker. But Bomba at least has a flair for the dramatic, with cleverly-designed grenade-shaped glass bottles that you actually open by pulling the pin! The flavor is exactly as you'd expect from a “classic” drink, and there's also the typical amount of carbonation. Maybe best of all, however, is the price: these are a mere $.33 at Big Lots stores, where they seem to be going fast. Scoop them up now before it's too late!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nth Degree Orange Flavor Enhanced Sports Drink (Big Lots)

Well I already explained the story behind me picking this up in my previous review for the lemon citrus, so let's forego the formalities and dig right in, shall we?

This has the same weird smell that the lemon citrus had. Well, obviously it didn't smell like lemon citrus, but it's the same kind of artificial scent with strong chemical undertones. That certainly did not pique my interest or get my experience off to a good start.

The taste is better than the lemon citrus, which I wasn't expecting because I typically don't like orange sports drinks, but then again, that's not necessarily saying much. And it's not, because while the initial orange blast tastes like a typical orange sports drink, there's still the little issue of the multiple sweeteners, which don't really seem to work in tandem and lead to a rather awful aftertaste.

I thought the point of the sweeteners, besides the one that supposedly slowly releases carbohydrates as you go about your strenuous activity, was to cut back on sugar content, but this doesn't even do that. This bottle contains 15g of sugar per 8 oz. serving, which adds up to 30g of sugar per 16 oz. bottle. While that may be substantially less than what you're getting from, say, a typical cola beverage, that's still even more than the national brand, whose own 32 oz. orange version contains 56g of sugar, while this comes in at a whopping 60g! Obviously, some of that sugar is necessary to give you a little boost, and presumably to replace what is lost during activity, but this seems to have more than is necessary for that, unless you're working out vigorously for an hour or more.

In short, if you have a gun to your head and absolutely have to pick up an Nth Degree Sports Drink of your choosing, then the person with the gun to your head is a heartless prick. That being said, I would go with the orange, simply because it's less offensively bad than its lemon citrus counterpart. Still, though, it's not something I would call “good”, and certainly not something I would pick up if it was more than $.50.

Overall: 4.5/10. This is more passable than the lemon citrus, but there's still a gross chemical aftertaste that equals a big turn-off. Plus, the use of added sweeteners, which I thought was to cut back on the amount of sugar contained in each bottle, equals more sugar than what's in the national brand sports drinks! Granted, I must confess that I did not use this while engaging in any strenuous activity, so maybe it really does give a boost to athletes who are staying active for long periods of time. But for everyone else, I can assure you, it more or less tastes like liquid garbage with a little fake orange flavor thrown in. The $.50 price tag is a plus, though!

NOTE: This is also available in a raspberry flavor. I sure as shit ain't going near it, so you're on your own for that one.

Nth Degree Lemon Citrus Flavor Enhanced Sports Drink (Big Lots)

It had been weeks, if not months, the last time I set foot in a Big Lots store prior to this last visit, and I was a little anxious to see what I’d been missing. The last few times the store was totally devoid of almost everything I go there for (interesting beverages and/or energy drinks), so I was hoping the many days in between had allowed them to fill their shelves chock full of delicious goodies all with one goal in mind: to please me.

Lo and behold, they had! There were a few different energy drinks spread across the aisle, and I partook in the purchase of quite a few. But then my eyes wandered to a sports drink, something I haven’t had in several months (and very sparsely ever since I quit playing recreational-league hockey almost three full years ago), and something that sounded quite good, out of the blue. It was from a brand called Nth Degree—one I’d never heard of, which is pretty par for the course for me as far as Big Lots products are concerned—and it looked pretty delicious. Oh, and the kicker: a 16 oz. bottle was $.50…how could I possibly go wrong? With that in mind, I opened the cap and dove right in…

It smells rather annoying. A lot of these drinks, especially ones made of chemicals and other “natural flavors”, smell like citrus cleaner, and this really isn’t all that different. It’s a cartoonish, over-the-top citrus scent that becomes more and more grating as it makes its way into your sinuses. Needless to say, my initial impressions—paired up with any natural reservations one might have when picking up a product from Big Lots—did not have me expecting any sort of award-winning beverage.

And it isn’t. In fact, it’s actually quite bad, with a cloying sweetness that exactly matches the annoying smell. It’s one of those beverages that seems like it so desperately wants to convey its flavors that it amps the “citrus” levels to absurd proportions. In doing so, it becomes almost undrinkable…it was starting to turn my stomach by the fourth or fifth sip. As I generally do, I managed to finish it, but to say it left a rather bad taste in my mouth is a statement I can make both literally and figuratively in this situation.

Granted, this is meant for performance during activities, when one is so desperate for hydration and liquids that just about anything tastes good, and I just sat down and drank it for lunch, so maybe my bar was set higher than it should be. But still, there are a lot of sports drinks that are delicious right out of the bottle, and very few of them have been so ridiculously over-the-top as this one.

Supposedly, it has a “new generation” of artificial sweetener that is fully absorbed in the body, but much slower, leading to “the full energy of carbohydrates over a longer period of time.” I cannot vouch for whether or not it's true, but regardless if it is, or that's just a marketing ploy, this stuff still sucks.

Overall: 3/10. Smells like citrus cleaner, and then has the audacity to taste like it, too. There's a cloying sweetness that overwhelms everything, and the addition of multiple sweeteners does it no favors by adding a chemical aftertaste. For $.50 at Big Lots, it's worth trying if you're interested, but with all the sports drinks on the market today, there should be no reason to settle for this one. Supposedly this releases carbs slower so that you can stay active longer, but at the cost of tasting like shit, so try it at your own risk.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Chasing Rabbits Tropical Citrus Natural Energy Beverage (Big Lots)

Pretty worthless.
Aaaah, Big Lots, that graveyard of closeout products. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when I come across something gross, because that’s why a good chunk of the products are there—because they didn’t sell at retail and so the company liquidates them just to get some money flowing. Of course, there are a myriad of other reasons why items end up on Big Lots shelves, but my rule seems to apply the most in the drink aisle, where it seems almost the entire inventory is constantly rotating. As I’ve mentioned before, looking for energy drinks can be a rather frustrating affair, because sometimes they’ll have three or four different kinds, and other times they will have none. This time, they were pretty well stocked.

And amongst all the similarly-colored drab bottles and cans, one stood out and caught my eye: A bright green 12 oz. aluminum can, featuring little white rabbits jumping around. What in the hell was this? Certainly not an energy drink, because those only come in 8(.4) and 16 oz. cans…right? Much to my astonishment, it was an energy drink, one called “Chasing Rabbits”. I would have grabbed it up right there and then, but I saw “Natural Energy Beverage”, which gave me pause for thought. That can mean a myriad of things, but it seems to generally mean a load of B vitamins and not much else. I was at least hoping for some caffeine, so once I verified that there was some in here (in the form of “natural caffeine”, and a pretty decent 120 mg per can), and once I checked the price (a paltry $.50) I tossed it in my basket.

Most of the sweetness comes from a natural sweetener called Isomaltilose, which I’m not very familiar with—I’m sure there’s some evidence somewhere that it causes cancer. There’s also more sweetness provided by stevia, so despite this, there are only 15g of sugar per can. That’s not a lot in the world of energy drinks, where they can be as high as 50g (or even higher) per 16 oz. can ( prorating this at four fewer ounces puts us well under half of the average).

A quick sniff—a test I utilize to see what I’m getting into—hinted at a slightly citrusy, chemically-sweetened product, which is exactly what you’re getting. I mean, literally, it just smells artificial. The taste almost comes off as a fruity beer, which might be a turn-on for some, but coming from someone who can't stand the taste of the stuff, I was not all that impressed: it tastes kind of malty with a bitter finish. In between those two points, though, there is that sweetness that the “tropical citrus” description hints at, but it tastes like a jumbled mess of sweeteners and flavors, like someone in an early taste test thought it tasted awful and tried masking the taste by dumping in a bunch of citrus tastes.

I might have gotten a slight energy burst from the combination, but not one that justifies slogging through the uninspiring flavor, and if I did, it was gone within the hour. If a drink that purports to give you energy doesn't do that, then really, what good is it?

Overall: 2/10. The bright can and “tropical citrus” flavor descriptor hints that something that's going to be sweet and tasty, but despite a myriad of sweeteners, Chasing Rabbits falls flat on its face. The drink tastes malty with a bitter finish that reminded me of beer, while the “tropical citrus” shows up in the form of a random combination of flavors that taste just like they were thrown, moonshine-style, into the vat just to sweeten the horrid base up. Even worse: If I did get an energy burst, it wasn't much of one, and it was gone within the hour. You can generally do much better for $.50 at Big Lots stores, so there's no way I can recommend this junk.

Hype Ultra Mint & Lime Energy Mojito Energy Drink (Big Lots)

Look in the pages of the bible and I'm pretty sure this is mentioned as a sign of the coming Apocalypse.
Well, Hype, here we are again. I was not a fan of the previous energy drink I tried from you—the rather standard and uninspiring Enlite—but wanted to give you a second shot, although the fact I’m dealing with an energy mojito (?) just seems kind of unfair. I mean, how can a combination of fake mint and lime flavoring be any good?

I’m a little predisposed to hating drinks that knock off cocktails, because really, what’s the point? Unless you’re underage, or have some religious or medical condition that prevents you from drinking alcohol, why would anyone want to drink a beverage that tastes like alcohol, but without all the fun side effects? I mean, are there really that many people that would drink more, if only alcohol was a stimulant, rather than a depressant?  An even more pressing question: Why would a company strive to make an energy beverage that tastes like a mojito, out of all the available cocktails? I guess just because they can?

That being said, this one tastes pretty much exactly like it purports to taste, with a heavy (spear)mint taste (my favorite), combined with some lime. So an “A” for authenticity. It's not a great mojito, mind you, but it's a mojito nonetheless. At the same time, without the “benefits” of alcohol, this is not exactly an inviting taste combination. It’s not chuggable, it’s not delicious, and there’s a rather paltry 80 mg of caffeine per 8.4 oz. can (to an alarming 28 g of sugar), so there’s not really much to give you any kind of elongated boost. In fact, any effects one will feel from the caffeine will probably immediately be undone by the ensuing sugar crash.

Working in its favor, though, is the price: Each can is a mere $.33 at Big Lots stores, which makes it always at least worth a try. The can also has some cool colors on it.

And that's literally it for the positives. I would never scoop this up again, and even at $.33 I find it to be a waste of money. Again, I urge people to give it a shot, because wasting a third of a dollar is way better than wasting whatever its MSRP is (and it's probably well over a dollar per can), but just don't expect much out of it.

Overall: 3/10. The can looks cool, and it's only $.33 per can at Big Lots stores, but that's where all the positives end. The taste would be okay for a low-end alcoholic beverage, but for an alcohol-free energy drink, it's gross, and with none of the “benefits” of getting drunk. Nor are there benefits of an energy burst, because the 28g of sugar paired up with the weak 80mg of caffeine means you're going to have that sugar crash before the caffeine even has a chance to kick in. Come on, Hype: Out of all the cocktails you could have done—and you should have emulated none of them—but if you had to, what in the hell lead you to “mojito”?