Will Salsa Conquer Processed Cheese?

HER Energy Drink

By: Her Energy

Suggested Retail Price: $1.99 for a 6.4-ounce can

Taste: 1stars

Marketing: 4stars

I’m not a woman, but I’m a big fan of the gender. So when the missus and I spotted “HER healthy•energy•revitalizer” at the grocery store, it was a must-purchase. Any beverage that claims the identity of an entire sex must be worth talking about.

The pink, lemonade-flavored energy drink comes in two varieties: “No Carbs/No Sugar” (henceforth, for simplicity’s sake, “Diet HER”) and regular. Regular HER comes in a pretty deep-pink can with swirly light-pink highlights; Diet HER comes in a white can with swirly light-pink highlights. So far, points for graphic design and marketing.

Anything promising ginseng, antioxidants, calcium, and 5 percent of net proceeds going to an unspecified charity seemed worth consideration—at first. But the drink actually provides less than 2 percent of your daily calcium. And after thinking about it, I realized—as anyone who has taken a basic accounting class knows—that net proceeds (as opposed to gross, or total) can always be reduced to zero with the snap of one’s fingers.

Then there’s the beverage itself. Regular HER is a slightly sparkling drink that tastes of watered-down lemonade from concentrate. There’s no depth of flavor or pulp or really much of anything to offset the high-fructose corn syrup and citric acid that are the two first ingredients listed after water. Its anemic pink color is not unpleasant but doesn’t compensate for the fact that the beverage tastes kind of like Sprite, only not as good.

Bad as HER is, Diet HER is a disaster. Each sip ends with a fat donkey-kick of fake sweetener flavor that coats the interior of your mouth like a pestilence. The coloration is a bleached-out gray that practically screams: “Dishwater! Don’t drink me!” And both editions of HER failed to provide the amount of energy found within a bottle of Dr Pepper. Overall, if there’s a Top 10 list of gastronomic insults aimed at women, HER has gotta be up there in the top three.

Taco Bell Fresco Menu

By: Taco Bell

Suggested Retail Price: $2.69 for a steak Burrito Supreme

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 1stars

Watch our columnist taste-test “diet” Taco Bell!

Though Taco Bell’s Fresco Menu has been around for a solid four years or so, 2008 brings a relaunch and PR drive to push the “lite” versions of Bell favorites. “Fresco,” in fact, is nothing more than regular Taco Bell menu items sans cheese and cheese sauce, but with a new “Fiesta Salsa” of onions, tomatoes, and cilantro.

If you’re not a fan of regular Taco Bell food —which tends to be squishy-soft, hilariously bland, and essentially nothing like the authentic flavors of Mexico—you’re not going to be converted by the Fresco choices. To put diet Bell to the test, I sampled three different entrées (the Soft Taco, the steak Burrito Supreme, and the Bean Burrito) in regular and Fresco modes. In place of cheese in all three, Fresco offered the innocuous salsa, which was dominated by the taste of onions. Though the trademark Taco Bell “melted cheese narcotic” effect was diminished, it was replaced by the moister and—keep in mind that this is a relative term—“fresher” flavor of the salsa.

From a nutritional perspective, Fresco makes only a slight difference for smaller items such as the Soft Taco, but it has a reasonably impressive impact on gut-busters such as the steak Burrito Supreme, which goes from 390 calories and 14 grams of fat to 330 calories and 8 grams of fat. Moreover, the addition of salsa (and deletion of cheese) from the Burrito Supreme shifts it palpably away from merely being a tube of tortilla-wrapped meat paste toward tasting a little bit more like … food.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow Chowhound on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.

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