Garden Harvest Toasted Chips

By: Nabisco

Suggested Retail Price: $2.99 for a six-ounce bag

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 4stars

In the same vein as cake-having, cake-eating products like “lite” beer, butter substitutes, and fat-free brownies, along comes Nabisco’s Garden Harvest Toasted Chips. They’re supposed to be sinfully tasty snack chips that contain actual fruit or vegetables. The fruit flavors currently available are banana and apple cinnamon.

They’re a strange hybrid. The fruit is not delivered in an elegantly sub rosa manner, as you might expect. The chips are definitely fruit-flavored, but salty too. These things blaze new trails, and they do a surprisingly good job of it.

The chips look ordinary enough—small, flat equilateral triangles of lightly seasoned chip material—and deliver a snappy crunch. The banana variety tastes like a marriage of Wheat Thins and dried banana chips, which is by no means a bad combination. While you certainly wouldn’t mistake these for real fruit, there’s no uncanny Starburst aftertaste either. The apple cinnamon variety is brasher in flavor, and consequently less successful. It tastes like the crispy chip equivalent of apple cinnamon instant oatmeal, and the combination of wholesome wheat and insistently bright apple/cinnamon is eventually off-putting.

If you’re craving the primal release of potato chips, neither variety will cut the mustard, as they’re grease-free. But their genial mildness makes them perfect for absent-minded television snacking, and if you’re attempting to make a virtuous snack-table substitution, these will fit the bill.

On the nutrition front: U.S. dietary guidelines suggest two cups of fruit a day. One serving of Garden Harvest chips delivers a half serving of fruit. Which means you’d need to eat 128 chips to arrive at your goal—more than a bag’s worth. At the same time, you’d be consuming 960 calories, 24 grams of fat, and 56 percent of the day’s carbs. On an up note, you’d also score 96 percent of your day’s fiber. There are definitely worse things to eat eight servings of. Of course, you could always opt for dried bananas or apples with salt on top, but you might miss the chiplike crunch. Or the tactile pleasure of rummaging through a bag for your snack.

Hemp Bliss Organic Hempmilk

By: Manitoba Harvest

Suggested Retail Price: $4.99 for a 32-ounce box

Taste: 1stars

Marketing: 2stars

When you invoke a well-known flavor or product in your name, you raise expectations, and invite direct comparisons you better be able to live up to. Case in point: Manitoba Harvest’s Hemp Bliss organic hempmilk. Why not call it “hemp elixir”? As a Wisconsinite (born and raised), this is a tasting I approached with a lot of baggage.

Thus: just the facts for this review. Iron discipline.

The copious documentation that comes with the hemp-based nondairy beverage informs us that, among other benefits, it’s rich in omega fatty acids, as well as sterol and stanol esters that reduce heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. It’s also free of THC, which is probably a legal requirement but kind of too bad.

First: Chocolate Hemp Bliss. Viscous, it clings to the glass much like chocolate milk would, but it has an eerily peanutlike bouquet. Initial sip: phew. This milk has gone bad in a novel way. But, wait. It’s not fair to evaluate this stuff head-to-head with the clean, refreshing, life-giving liquid that is real milk. So, back to the drawing board: a sip without prejudice. This tastes like peanut juice. Not peanut butter juice, or peanut-flavored juice, but the actual legume somehow rendered into liquid form and graced with the scantest touch of cocoa, with a few shells thrown in to provide a rougher, more aggressive flavor. It does have a nice, smooth texture. But it leaves the taster with one dominant question: Why am I drinking peanuts? Larger gulps, taken against natural instinct, are inexplicably milder but still not what is classically described as good.

The vanilla flavor has a more pleasurable and pronounced undernote of vanilla, which is paradoxically less effective at masking the taste of hemp, reminiscent of a spoiled, oily nut. Much like free love or puppet-based street theater, Hemp Bliss seems attractive on paper. But exposed to the harsh light of the real world, it just doesn’t wash.

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