Sunday, May 21, 2017

Summit Red Thunder Extra Strength Grape Flavor Energy Shot (Aldi)

One of the very best deals in energy.
It had been a while since I set foot in an Aldi store prior to my visit last month, and as I was getting ready to check out, my gaze naturally wandered to the “impulse buys” section. It had the usual suspects: gum, “travel” packs of peanuts, batteries, etc., as well as their standard energy shots, which they've had for years, and which I have reviewed in the past. But among the familiar shots were a new kind with darker packaging that I had not noticed before. Not only was it grape, a new flavor that I hadn't tried, but it was also an “extra strength” variety, for the same paltry 69 cent price tag of the regular. “Alright, Aldi, you win,” I sighed to myself as I put it with my other products on the belt.

As I've stated in many reviews before, I tend to enjoy the energy drink cans a lot more, because you feel like (and you are) getting a lot more liquid for your buck. But sometimes you just want a concentrated, quick blast of energy that gets started right away, so with that in mind I've started getting these a little bit more often. You never know when you'll get hit with a sudden overwhelming attack of tired at work, or upon coming home, only to realize you have a night full of activities ahead of you to slog through. These are the times when a shot is preferred much more over a full-size can, because of the almost-immediate relief. Besides, I was just as interested to try the grape flavor as I was the added caffeine content.

The taste, for me, provides a nice kick of nostalgia. Does anyone remember Dimetapp? It was a liquid medicine that was the only delicious one in a sea of gag-inducing “tussins” and syrups. I don't remember what it was used to “cure” (a quick Internet search reveals cough and cold), and I don't even remember if it actually worked, but I never minded my ailments as long as there was a bottle of that stuff in our house. This has a very similar flavor, which is similarly marketed as “grape” and has vague similarities to the purple fruit (like a light purple color), but otherwise isn't very accurate at all. What it is, though, is sweet and smooth and it goes down easily, whether you gulp it down all at once, or take it in halves (or even “quarters”, as I find myself doing to stretch out the energy rush; being sensitive to caffeine has its advantages after all).

Much like the original version, this stuff works. I can't say for sure whether I think it works “longer”, or “stronger”, to justify the “extra strength” connotation, but it does get to work pretty quickly, giving me a nice kick in the pants that noticeably seems to last me about two hours. Best of all, even when the obvious effects are gone, the sugar-free formula doesn't leave me feeling even groggier and more tired than I initially did after the energy wears off (like what used to happen to me with the heavily-sugared cans).
Actually, I think the “best of all” should be reserved for its price tag, which I must once again remind you is a mere 69 cents, honestly making it the best deal in energy that I have ever come across, anywhere. Even if you lack the same memories that I have, and despise the taste, you really can't beat the ensuing rush you'll get for the price you get it for. Like any good product, it does what it says it will do at a ridiculously affordable price, so between my urging--and Aldi's money-back guarantee should you disagree--there's really no reason not to give it a “shot” (see what I did there?).

Overall 10/10. I enjoy the fake grape flavor, because it reminds me of a grape cough medicine I used to take as a kid. It's sweet, without being overly syrupy, and goes down smooth. But even if you don't have the same affinity for the flavor that I do, it gets to work pretty quickly, and is a mere 69 CENTS, making them not only one of the best deals in energy, as I stated in my review, but also quite possibly one of the best deals within the walls of Aldi, period. Since it's sugar free, there's also no noticeable crash once the effects wear off. Each 2 oz. bottle contains a respectable 230 mg of caffeine (putting them on par with many name-brand sugar-free energy beverages), as well as a ridiculous 8,333% of vitamin B12 (and 2,000% of vitamin B6) meaning it delivers in all the right places. I want to find some kind of fault with it so I don't have to give it a perfect score but...did I mention it's only 69 FREAKIN' CENTS?!

NOTE (June, 2019): The price has gone up to $.79, but that's not enough to alter the score: it's still a phenomenal product for the price.

Summit Red Thunder Extra Strength Berry Flavor Energy Shot

One of the very best deals in energy.
Well what is there to say about Red Thunder’s Extra Strength Berry Energy Shot that I haven’t already said in my previous review of their regular (as in, not extra strength) berry-flavored energy shot? I gave that one perfect marks, and so it stands to reason that I must give this one perfect marks, too. Why? Because it’s pretty much the exact same thing as the regular version, only with extra caffeine. 230 mg, to be exact, making this a huge kick in the pants if you need a quick boost.

In fact, having had the national brand recently (after stealing one from a co-worker…shhhhhhh), I can honestly say that I much prefer Red Thunder’s version. The NB (as it will be referred to from now on) has, in my opinion, a much more syrupy, over-the-top flavor. Not that Red Thunder’s is accurate to an actual berry in any way, shape, or form, but the sweetness is slightly muted and it tastes even better. If you have tried Red Thunder's regular berry shot, then you've pretty much had this one, as the flavors are very identical, if not exactly the same.

I suppose it’s possible that part, maybe even a good part, of the reason it tastes so much better is because these are the same price as the regular versions: $.69. Yes, you read that right. Sixty. Nine. Cents. Now, normally I would take this moment to make some kind of vulgar, sophomoric joke about the sexual connotation of those numbers, but I’ll leave that up to you freaks. What I will say is something that I've said before, but I have to keep changing because Aldi keeps stepping up their game: This is the best deal in energy, period. I said it about the regular energy shots, and now I'm saying it about these. If you need an energy boost, look no further. It really is the best combination of price, taste, and performance that I have ever come across. (If you know of any that are better, please let me know in the comments because I would seriously love to check it out!)

Overall: 10/10. Wow, Aldi keeps stepping up their energy shot game! I called their regular shots “the best deal in energy”, and now that they offer extra strength shots for the exact same ridiculously low price ($.69), I have to now apply that saying to this, too! This berry shot tastes similar to the national brand shot, though a little less cloyingly sweet. It doesn't taste anything like an actual berry, but the flavor is inoffensive, and goes down easy, while the resulting kick is noticeable and lasts for a while. Now if only Aldi would pay as much attention to the actual energy drinks they offer instead of just the shots, then maybe we could get rid of Gridlock, and replace it with something that doesn't suck (or at least a tastier formulation).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Little Journey Organics Prune Apple Butternut Squash with Quinoa Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

In non-shocking news, the combination of prune and butternut squash shares the same flavor profile as vomit.
Just when I was starting to get comfortable with the Little Journey Organics baby food line, that's when I seemed to come across all the weird flavors. In this case, we have prune, apple, and butternut squash all being forced together, a combination that features two things I don't even like.

Still, I'm of the mindset that anything is worth a sampling at least once. Sometimes, there are surprises, such as my choosing the Apple Sweet Potato variety as one of my favorite flavors, despite hating the taste of sweet potatoes. Other times, I get exactly what I'm expecting: Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen, is this pouch.

Of course, with prune and butternut squash being the main ingredients, it's not going to be sweet, I think that much you can expect right out of the gate. But I didn't expect it to taste as bad as it does—it literally seems like those crazy rascals at Little Journey Organics just decided to throw the only three leftover ingredients they had into a vat and, against their better judgment (and common sense), still decided to put the end result on store shelves.

The apple provides a little bit of sweetness, but it feels completely out of place, like it can't decide if it wants to be sweet or savory, and just settles for tasting like vomit. I know babies are supposed to start off with foods that aren't super-sweet, so that they can get their taste buds acclimated to a variety of different kinds of foods, but if that's the case, I'd much rather go for a jar of carrot baby food, or something much simpler. Why mix these three disparate flavors into one? I'm completely baffled.

At $.79 the value is good, as it is across the line, and this one at least has 70% vitamin C, which is less than most LJO products, but all that is canceled out with an offensive flavor that I can't see anyone being able to force down, child or grownup alike.

Overall: 1.5/10. A putrid combination of three separate fruits and vegetables that should never be mixed together, this is by far the worst of the Little Journey Organics flavors I have tried. The prune and butternut squash provide a non-sweet flavor, while the apple comes through to deliver a baffling serving of sweetness that just feels completely out of place. It also leaves a rather grotesque aftertaste, like a constant reminder of the mistake you just made for having tried something that basically tells you on the label it's going to be terrible. There are much better flavors to treat your kid to, even on the savory side, without having to settle for this mad scientist-created lab abomination.

Little Journey Organics Apple Carrot Baby Food Puree (Aldi)

Apple and carrot, and it's GOOD? Who knew?
We've taken a look at quite a few offerings from Little Journey Organics, the Aldi baby product line if you are just joining us, and we've seen what is mostly an excellent set of products, with a couple of curious failures so bad, they have to be intentional. Now we're going to be looking at a combination that, although very uncommon, actually sounds kind of palatable: Apple Carrot.

Whoa! The first thing I noticed has nothing to do with the flavor, but the packaging, which assures us it “Contains Vitamins A & C.” Now all of the ones we've taken a gander at thus far have had solid vitamin C content, ranging from 35% all the way up to close to 170%. Since there was no specific number mentioned, I expected it to be a small number, and in the case of vitamin C, it is: a mere 8%. But what I wasn't expecting was the vitamin A content, which comes in at a whopping 440%! Pretty astonishing number, and one that many adults could benefit from, too, myself included.

Anyway, the taste is pretty fantastic in this one. I'd say the flavor is about an even 50/50 split, but somehow the carrot actually compliments the apple flavor, without really diminishing from it or tasting out of place. The apple gives it a blast of sweet, and since carrots themselves have a certain sweetness to them, it just goes along with the flow. I could see how some might have to get a little used to the taste—after all, it is a straight-up veggie/fruit combination—but I loved it from the first sip to the last. I'm not sure if this one is my new favorite, but it's pretty close if not.

Like the others, it has the consistency of applesauce, so it's easy for young children to swallow (the package recommends six months and up, though we've started giving our five month old small amounts, and he handles it without problems), and also makes for a decent adult snack on the go, especially considering each package is a mere $.79, and many contain lots of vitamins with a minor amount of sugar (this four oz. package contains 7 grams).

The ingredients remain minimalist here, consisting only of organic apple and carrot purees, along with organic lemon juice concentrate, and vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid), the only ingredient not certified organic. Considering the price, this is an excellent value and something that we constantly have on hand, both for our baby, and for ourselves.

Overall: 8/10. An excellent flavor. It's probably a 50/50 split, or thereabouts, between the two titular ingredients, but the tastes actually go pretty well hand-in-hand, contrary to what you might believe. Some may take a couple sips to get used to, but I loved it right out of the gates. It has the consistency of applesauce, so it's easy to get down for a quick snack on the go (or, for its intended use as a food for babies), and this one has a whopping 440% of daily recommended vitamin A. For just $.79, with all ingredients (save for the added vitamin C) certified organic, this is a ridiculous value—one of the best I've seen for baby food.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Whole & Simple Taco Fiesta Frozen Protein Bowl (Aldi)

The tastier of the two Whole & Simple flavor options.
We just looked at Whole & Simple’s sole other offering, a pasty sweet and sour bowl with not a lot of flavor, so now we turn our attention to their taco fiesta bowl, which is made up of one of my least favorite ingredients: rice. Now, I love it with Chinese food, but outside of that sole exception, I’m struggling to think of a delicious rice-heavy dish and am coming up with nothing.

Based on the packaging, though, this one does have some other things that do work in its favor: There are a couple of cheeses at work here, which one would hope could provide some flavor sorely missing from the last bowl, as well as a topping of “tomatillo and salsa roja sauces.” I’ve no idea what salsa roja is, but I enjoy salsa, so if it’s along those same lines, we should get along just fine. And again, I would assume that would provide some extra tastiness. Let’s dig in and see if it does, shall we?

Oh yeah, this is a pretty tasty dish. The rice does play a pretty big part in the flavor—and it also plays an even bigger role in the texture—but that’s okay because there’s a lot surrounding it. The combination of Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses are fantastic, and there’s a generous helping of both to ensure many stringy, cheesy bites. The tomato-heavy sauces are fantastic, but don’t taste too tomato-heavy, so even those with an objection to tomatoes still might enjoy them; it just tastes like a good salsa. There are also lots of beans, but they don’t dry out the dish the way they sometimes tend to, and just like the rice, there’s enough flavor to counterattack the general bean blandness.

It’s good, but comparing the two bowls, it seems like an apples to oranges comparison: These don’t seem like two foods that are a part of the same line. This one has more protein, but with the trade-off of a lot more sodium (600mg), and way more fat (10g). The sweet and sour bowl, for all its imperfections (and there were plenty), at least tasted healthy and fresh, while this one just tastes like a standard bean and rice frozen entrĂ©e, even down to the noticeable sodium content, which likes to dance on your tongue. Again, there is some good flavor here, and it was surprisingly a lot more filling than I was expecting (way more so than the sweet and sour bowl), but it just doesn’t feel very light or wholesome at all, which I thought was the whole idea behind this line.

For $2.49 per one-bowl serving, it’s a decent price, though I do feel like every “lean” frozen food line offers something similar for somewhere in that price range, at least on sale, so it doesn’t really scream “savings” to me. The ingredients largely are “natural”, but there are quite a few anti-caking agents and some preservatives; moreso, it would seem, than the sweet and sour bowl above. I'm recommending this, if for no other reason than it's tasty and pretty filling, but as for whether or not it's “whole” or even “simple”, I'll leave that up for you to decide.

Overall: 6.5/10. I usually don't like rice-based dishes, but this had a lot of flavor thanks to the “black bean salsa”, two types of cheese, and two types of salsas on top. But with those added ingredients come some added health hits, as this has quite a bit more fat and sodium than the sweet and sour bowl above. I also feel like every “healthy” frozen food line has a similar “bean and rice”-based offering, and for a similar price, too, so I'm not sure that $2.49 per package really constitutes all that much in the way of value. I must say it was pretty filling, though, so at least there's that. I'm recommending it, because I would get it again, but not sure if it's really as “healthy” or “fresh” as its packaging would lead you to believe.

Whole & Simple Sweet & Sour Frozen Protein Bowl (Aldi)

WARNING: Does not look a thing like that picture.
I'm pretty much a sucker for frozen “bowls”, especially from Aldi. They're just real easy to make (toss in the microwave and voila!), usually look very tasty, and are generally affordable, since they are single serving meals. Oh, and because they're single serving meals, they're great to have around the house for when one of us is alone and just want a quick bite to eat. I didn't recall seeing these in their circular (which I usually pore over with a fine-tooth comb), but when I saw them in person I didn't even hesitate before throwing both styles into my cart.

These are taking advantage of the latest trend of “health foods” that's sweeping the nation. Actually, all of Aldi is going in this direction: even the items at the register—typically the “impulse buy” junk food section of the supermarket—have been replaced in favor of single serve kids' squeezies, trail mixes, and nutrition bars. Pretty clever marketing, if you ask me, and just one of the many ways they continue to drive additional traffic through their stores.

As I've been doing lately, with generally bad results, I merely went off the look of this box rather than actually reading it, so what I thought were little bits of chicken happened to be little pieces of tofu. I wasn't the least bit upset, though, because I've actually always wanted to try tofu (even though I more or less understand them to be flavorless pieces of healthy nothingness, but hey, healthy is good). The rest of the ingredient list, for the most part, is actually pretty straightforward, with only a couple preservatives and unpronounceables—it's pretty much a “what you see is what you get” kind of a thing, with noodles, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, green onion, and broccoli all tossed with brown noodles and completed with some sriracha sauce, and something called gochujang sauce, which I have never heard of before.

Oh well, after a short time in the microwave, it was time to dig in! My wife was completely turned off by the aroma, which she described as smelling like “fake food”. It does smell a little different than I was expecting—the “sweet and sour” smells a little off compared to most frozen dishes, with a little hint of something bitter maybe—but it also smells “fresher” in a way. Going by appearance, though, it looks like a herbivore just threw up into a bowl. In other words, the taste could pretty much go either way.

I will say the finished product looks nothing like the picture on the front of the box (surprise!): The image used makes the noodles look like lo mein, but the end result looks nothing like a lo mein: the noodles are much sadder, and shorter, and thinner in person. The texture, which is made to look smooth in the photo, is actually rougher, as the sauce is more a “paste” than an actual sauce. These definitely aren't dealbreakers, but it did make me wonder what exactly I had gotten into.

I don't eat “healthy” stuff very often, and if “healthy” had a specific taste, well it would be somewhere along the lines of this. The sweet and sour flavor takes some getting used to, because it's not nearly as “sweet” as it generally is in frozen dishes, but it's edible. The rest of the flavoring is pretty much comprised of vegetables, with a little blast of heat, presumably from the sriracha sauce. The tofu gives it a much-needed hint of soft texture, considering the rest of the dish pretty much consists solely of hard, crunchy veggies. All in all, the taste is very straightforward, and very low-key, compared to most heavily-processed frozen meals, and something that I'm going to need to get a little used to.

Healthwise, I'm honestly not sure how this compares to similar things, and I'm left wondering if the health trade-off is really worth the overall blandness of the dish. There's still a pretty ridiculous amount of sodium (400mg, though I guess that's less than most frozen foods), and a pretty (un)healthy dose of sugars (21g) per bowl. Fat is kept to a minimum (2g), and there's 244mg of potassium, and 5g of protein, both plusses. On the vitamin side, there's 36% vitamin A, 70% vitamin C, and 6% each of iron and calcium. That's it. I was honestly expecting a bit more, but I do suppose these are better numbers than you'll find in, say, a Lean Cuisine.

At a price of $2.49, it's a little more expensive than what I'd usually get for a single-serve bowl, but considering the ingredients are largely natural, with minimal preservatives, I suppose this is a good price point for that. This kind of stuff isn't something I would get all the time, and it isn't all that filling (I ate it as dinner and still needed something else afterward to feel full), but if you're dieting or watching what you eat, this can provide a little snack with a minimal health hit, at least when compared to many other offerings down the frozen food aisle.

Overall: 5.5/10. I don't have much experience in “healthy” foods like this, but I'm wondering if the relatively bland taste trade-off is worth the moderate health benefits. Sodium and sugars still seem high to me (though, to be sure, lower than many frozen entrees), and the vitamin front only brings us 36% vitamin A, and 70% vitamin C, which can pretty much be found everywhere (there are also small amounts of calcium and iron). On the plus side, though, there are no “natural flavors”, and very little in the way of preservatives (some are only found in the sriracha sauce). The $2.49 price tag seems to be pretty decent for something marketed as a “wholesome” food, though it left me wanting a lot more when it was all said and done. I might get this again, but I think for the most part I'll stick to more flavorful foods that will just kill me quicker.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lunch Buddies Tropical Banana Applesauce (Aldi)

Do not ever give this to children that you actually love.
You know, I like applesauce quite a bit, but it just never ends up on my grocery list. I think it's probably because it exists in the weird middle spectrum of apple products: it's basically mushy, ground-up apple. So if I want an apple, I'll eat an apple, and if I'm thirsty, I'll just drink apple juice. This means that the “sauce” version of this delicious fruit is relegated mainly to when I'm sick, or have some kind of oral surgery that demands that I eat something soft. It's not quite fair to the apple world, but it's an uncomfortable truth.

But one of the quickest ways to capture my attention is to use the word “banana”, which is high up there as one of my favorite fruits. It's almost impossible to screw up a banana product, especially when it's made with actual banana puree (as this is). Another great keyword that immediately perks me up is “tropical”. I love many things that are tropical, because that word recalls something sweet (like tropical fruits), but it also makes me think of tropical islands, which would be a fun place to visit.

Pair all three up, and I was destined to buy this the moment I saw it in the store, and that's exactly what I did. My wife didn't seem to be too thrilled—I actually thought she would think the combination would sound good—but uttered not a single word of protest as I placed it in the cart. Then again, she really didn't need to say anything, because the look she gave me said it all.

Ironically, the look she gave me as I put it in the cart is probably similar to the look that crossed my face the first time I took a bite. Even though it's made with real apples and bananas, the “tropical” aspect of additional fruits is apparently reproduced with “natural flavors”, which just stands for a jumbled mess of unidentifiable chemical sweetness. The flavor never gels together as a cohesive unit, instead tasting like two separate products accidentally blended together into one, and it has a medicine-y aftertaste that sits in the back of the throat and threatens to never go away. It all just comes off as tasting really artificial, which is a shame given the actual fruit that it contains; it's like a work-in-progress lab experiment that somehow got packaged up and put on store shelves.

I feel like it might have worked a little bit better if they'd have just stopped at apple-banana applesauce and called it a good day; it certainly couldn't have been any worse. I realize the market for this is probably lunchtime for younger children, but I don't even think a majority of them will take to the flavor of this...that's how bad it is. Even though it retails for a mere $1.49, which is a great price for six applesauce cups, I won't go near this stuff again. Although this is a good time to remind everyone about their money-back guarantee...



Overall: 2/10. Sickeningly, disgustingly sweet, but even more offensive is that there is no identifiable taste...it starts off sweet, with apple being the main flavor, then it just goes downhill, with a jumbled mess of sweet flavors that taste almost medicinal. It has real banana puree and apples, so the culprit is probably the “natural flavors” which make up the “tropical” portion of the title—and they are completely unnecessary. I love sweet things, but these threaten to give me a headache before I even finish a cup...that's how strong they are. I'm doubting even children will take to its vague flavor. It gets two points for being affordable (six cups are a mere $1.49), and Aldi does have their money-back guarantee, but it's not even worth the gas required to drive back to return it. Terrible.

Lunch Buddies Fruit Flavored Fruit Snacks (Aldi)

Nice, soft, chewy texture and some deliciously artificial flavors!
Fruit snacks are one of those things that I completely forgot about once I entered high school.  You know what I’m talking about…foods that you really enjoy, but just never think about?  That’s where fruit snacks are with me.  My wife bought a few packs of them a while back, and I swore I was going to eat one, but by the time I remembered, she had eaten them all.

All that changed when she put a THIRTY-TWO pack of Lunch Buddies Fruit Snacks in our shopping cart one day.  Thirty-two packs?  Where were we shopping, Sam’s Club?  Costco?  Nope.  Aldi!  And the entire box is only $3.49, which isn’t at all a bad deal if you ask me.  Again, these aren’t things that we eat all the time, but the entire box lasted us about six months of on-again-off-again snacking.

Each box contains six flavors:  Strawberry, fruit punch, grape, orange, green apple, and cherry.  One thing I definitely like about these is that there’s no confusion as to what each flavor is…all of the fruit snacks look like the fruit they’re copying, so you know what you’re getting.  I also like the texture a lot…some fruit snacks are too chewy, or too hard, but I thought these struck a perfect balance between softness and chewiness.

Of all the flavors contained within, I would have to say the strawberry is my favorite, and this coming from a guy who’s generally not a fan of strawberry foods in general.  I love the actual fruit, but like a lot of processed treats based off fruits, strawberry snacks tend to have a cartoonishly over-exaggerated flavor.  These were no exception, but I ended up liking them anyway.  The strawberries also seem to have a stronger flavor than most of the others, too, especially the green apple, which is good, but fairly weak.

Really, the only downside I can find is that there are so many flavors, most packages have a very unbalanced flavor count.  While six different fruits might not sound like a lot of variety, when there are only about twelve fruit snacks in each package, chances are good that you’re not going to get to try all of them.  For example, the last one I opened had about five strawberries, three green apple, two oranges, and one grape.  So I didn’t get to try a cherry or a fruit punch in that package.  Of course, I had 31 other packages to explore, so it wasn’t a problem for me, but if you’re just getting one then you might not get a good mix of flavors.

Overall: 8.5/10.  These are just about the perfect fruit snacks, and to get 32 packs of them for just $3.49...well that’s incredible!  They are soft and perfectly chewy, and while I liked the strawberry the best, there were none that I didn’t like.  I will say that some taste relatively weak compared to others (the green apple, at least in my opinion, didn’t have as strong a flavor as I was expecting), but that’s not a big deal.  For the price, they’re great for children’s lunches, and for adults, as a great throwback snack to childhood.