Special Moments with Grim Gruel

ME Sparkling Beverage

By: Juice Creations Company

I Paid: $3.99 for a package of four 10.5-ounce cans (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 2stars

Marketing: 5stars

If you’ve ever wondered what you’d get if you designed a soft drink around a marketing campaign aimed at 25- to 36-year-old women with too much disposable income, here you go. It looks like ME, a line of four natural, lightly carbonated fruit juices that are meant to represent the four personalities of ladies: Vivacious, Curious, Uninhibited, and, of course, Unavailable. Which of these four fundamental Jungian archetypes best represents you? And remember, you can only choose one.

But seriously, what’s the difference between Vivacious and Uninhibited? Is it that Vivacious will dance on top of the bar, but Uninhibited will dance on the bar and take off her shirt?

I tried all four flavors blind, and came up with the following guesses as to which was meant to resemble which personality:

Uninhibited: Uninhibited, but not in a good way. A faint but rank blend of grapefruit juice, water, and some unidentified urinelike undertone.

Curious: Skunky. Blueberry-lime juice: Why hasn’t anyone ever tried this before? Here’s why: It tastes like canned lime-juice concentrate with a faint blueberry nose. It gets points for natural-tasting blueberry but is otherwise a head-on car crash of flavor. There are no survivors.

Unavailable: Unavailable. It’s uncanny, but this one is spot on. A white-grape base turns out to be the right match for the faint but clear dragon fruit/blackberry flavor that powers this personality type. If a lightly flavored, natural-berry-tasting beverage is your cup of tea, Unavailable will fit the bill. Just don’t expect a deep emotional connection.

Vivacious: Burned out. Take a can of Orange Crush, salt it a bit, and water it down to 50 percent strength. The can promises “tangerine pineapple” but delivers mostly moisture.

The secret to the generally off-tasting flavors of ME beverages may be erythritol, an “all-natural, no-calorie alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners,” according to the packaging. Derived by fermenting glucose and separating and purifying the resulting product, erythritol is safe for people with diabetes and has a high digestive tolerance.

Kudos to the Juice Creations Company for really rolling the dice on some buzz-creating marketing. But next time, work on a drink for women with a “tasteful” personality.

Betty Crocker Warm Delights

By: General Mills

I Paid: $2 per 2.9- to 3.3-ounce tray of mix (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 1stars

Marketing: 3stars

The back of the Betty Crocker Warm Delights Hot Fudge Brownie package reads: “Your special moment is just minutes away.” If you find yourself in a position where this odious concoction of sugar and indifference seriously qualifies as a “special moment,” it’s time to switch careers.

Warm Delights are a relatively simple concept. The consumer starts with a pile of dusty “mix” (the choices I tried included the aforementioned brownie, Fudgy Chocolate Chip Cookie, Creamy Milk Chocolate Cake, and Cinnamon Swirl Cake), adds water, stirs, and nukes the resulting gruellike paste. Once the stuff has set up into either a grimly thick or spongily insubstantial foodlike mass (depending on the variety), the consumer squirts on some “icing” or “frosting” from the accompanying plastic envelope, waits, and voilà: a taste that will ruin your afternoon and linger in your mouth for up to an hour.

The best of the bunch is the Cinnamon Swirl Cake, which at least has some apple and cinnamon flavors going on to contrast with its vanilla icing. More generally, Warm Delights fall into the trap of tasting like insanely oversweet and one-dimensional baked goods that are then topped with a sweet icing that adds absolutely nothing in terms of a flavor contrast. Bad chocolate cake is not made better by equally substandard, equally “chocolate” icing. It’s like adding cherry jam to cherry pie, except both cherry jam and cherry pie are things you might want to eat.

Make no bones about it: Warm Delights are most certainly not delightful. Warmth, we can give them.

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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