OOBA Sparkling Hibiscus

By: HiBix Corporation

I Paid: 99 cents for a 16-ounce bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars

Marketing: 4stars

Many an expensive novelty soft drink has drawn flies into its web with elegant packaging. And so OOBA (a hibiscus-flavored beverage) should put the adventurous beverage-seeker on alert. The limited color palette, the tasteful typographic linkage of the two o’s in OOBA, and the floral engraving-style flourishes all suggest that caution is necessary, lest beauty conceal a crappy value proposition. In this case, it doesn’t.

All of the flavors are lightly carbonated and refreshing. Hibiscus & Lime has an almost tea-like depth to it, with lime present as a supporting note. The floral flavor is palpable but balanced, and overall the drink is sweet but not excessively so. The plain old Hibiscus flavor is even better, very clean tasting with a hint of cherry or strawberry and floral notes, and the sweetness is also well balanced.

Only in the Hibiscus & Orange variety does the brand fall down, and it’s more of a stumble than a tumble: The orange is a bit too close to Orange Crush (although not as syrupy or sweet) and has a slightly dusty and muddled aftertaste. Still, even the Hibiscus & Orange flavor is head and shoulders above most commercial soft drinks.

Jalapeño Cheddar Pumpernickel Pretzel Sandwiches

By: Snyder’s of Hanover

I Paid: $2.90 for a 10-ounce bag (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars

Marketing: 1stars

Ah, the fun that we miss out on due to our prejudiced minds. For example, Snyder’s of Hanover’s Jalapeño Cheddar Pumpernickel Pretzel Sandwiches sound like a train wreck. When has mixing mainstream Tex-Mex, German soul food, and American between-meals snacking ever paid dividends? Who, in fact, would attempt something so self-evidently ridiculous? From a critical perspective, Jalapeño Cheddar Pumpernickel Pretzel Sandwiches sound like an entertainingly defenseless sitting duck.

Snyder’s of Hanover obviously disregarded any naysayers or brand makers who attempted to kill this bizarre and lengthy flavor combination in the cradle, and it’s great that the company did. The cheese that fills each quarter-sized pretzel sandwich is soft and spiked with just a hint of jalapeño—the hot pepper is present but retiring, although it builds to a pleasant slow burn if you eat more than five in quick succession.

Pumpernickel leads the pack in terms of the sandwiches’ flavors: It’s strong without being bullying, and more convincingly earthy than your typical white-bread pretzel snack. And the salt level is perfect: There’s enough salty kick to keep a snacker happy, but not enough to coat your tongue or shout down the pleasant cheese and pumpernickel notes.

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