Earlier this year I posted a list of five snacks I must eat in 2013, and on that list was a product from Frito-Lay that promised to shake up the status quo, challenge conventional snacking and fly in the face of more than 100 years of molasses-coated history. Cracker Jack'D, subtitled "Snacks with Impact" seemed like a bold move for such a famous brand. I was ridiculously excited. It's just trail mix.
I was going to dance around the fact that I've been counting the days until the wide-release of seven varieties of trail mix (one variety, the controversially-caffeinated Cocoa Java Power Bites were absent from my assortment), but what's the point? There is no revolution to be found in these seven bags, but there are almonds and oat clusters, peanuts and pretzels, and several varieties of corn.
The original Cracker Jack is an American institution. Frederick William Rueckheim began mixing molasses, peanuts and popcorn together during the 1893 World's Fair, the precursor to Starkfest. The name Cracker Jack came about after an enthusiastic sampler, upon tasting the mixture, exclaimed, "Holy shit!" (In 1896, "holy shit" was pronounced "crackerjack".) The inclusion of the name in a classic song forever embedded Cracker Jack in the American conscious. Sing along with me!
"Give me a little of that Cracker Jack
You ain't caramel coated Cracker Jack
The surprise, bitch you gonna get waxed
This that shit, you can't do nothin about"
Man, that song takes me back.
Perhaps Cracker Jack's storied history is why Frito-Lay deviated so wildly from the formula with Cracker Jack'D. If they'd just released molasses, peanuts and popcorn with a burst of cherry-citrus or bacon, we'd feel betrayed. Instead, we feel like we're going on a hike.
We've got seven flavors to hike through, and not a lot of time, so let us get down to brass corn nuts. I apologize for the lack of photos of each individual variety — instead of exporting my camera explorted.
Sweet'n Savory Clusters — Salted Caramel
Let's start with the most Cracker Jack-ish of the Cracker Jack'D line. This is essentially regular Cracker Jack, only with salted caramel instead of molasses. I'm not sure why this made it into the Jack'd line instead of being relegated to normal variant status. I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that salted caramel is a big hip thing right now. Go to Starbucks right now and say salted caramel. They'll hand you things. They'll probably want money for them (disclaimer: my wife works for Starbucks, and I pay for nothing).
This mix isn't so bad, as long as you eat it by the mouthful. Should you get a loose caramel bit by itself the saltiness can be overwhelming. Maybe that's the impact the tagline was talking about. Really just made me crave the original.
Hearty Mix — PB & Chocolate
Now we're talking. The least healthy of the Cracker Jack'D varieties is, as expected, one of the most delicious.
Here we are introduced to the concept of the oat cluster, the staple of the Hearty Mix sub-category. Coated with chocolate and slightly too-sweet peanut butter, the oat cluster gives the mix a wonderfully light and crunchy texture that begs to be devoured in one sitting. Nowhere has "3.5 servings per bag" been printed more erroneously.
Hearty Mix — Zesty Queso
Sweet not working for you? Zesty Queso is here to delivery a cheesy bite that almost tastes creamy, which is what one looks for in a queso-flavored product.
I was worried the rolled oats that fared so well covered in chocolate and PB wouldn't survive the trip to zesty town, yet they made it in one piece and dominated the mix. It tastes so good I hardly even noticed the almonds, a dense interloper on an otherwise light and crispy journey.
Hearty Mix — Cheddar BBQ
More creamy cheese and rolled oats, only this time the tang is a little sweeter thanks to three of the best letters in the alphabet — B, B and Q. Yes, that's technically only two letters. Also, shush.
Between this mix and the Zesty Queso, I am really beginning to re-think my aversion to almonds. Paired with a tangy taste they're almost pleasant. Perhaps they just need to hang out with better friends.
Hearty Mix — Berry Yogurt
Will the rolled oats train ever stop? Yes it will. It stops right here, were the creamy sweetness with a hint of something-berry ruins the good thing the Hearty Mix and I had going.
I like my yogurt in yogurt form, rather than in a pseudo white chocolate arrangement. The flavor is diluted and weak in this configuration, leaving me unprotected from the furious assault of my nemesis, the almond. Curse that almond.
SIntense Mix — Buffalo Ranch
Half of you are going to start hating me in about two seconds. Corn nuts are horrible. Why do people put these in their mouth? It's like biting into the carapace of a long-dead, nearly petrified insect.
And when you've got one thing that's hard to eat, might as well add some more. Along with the corn nuts, the Intense Mix varieties also feature incredibly hard pretzels and some sort of skinny corn chip. It's all hard and corny and the buffalo ranch taste tries desperately to hold on. At times it almost overtakes its kernally companions, but then it fades, and I am left with ew.
Intense Mix — Spicy Pizzeria
This tastes nothing like a pizzeria. Does taste sort of like pizza, though it's cursed with corn, just like the Buffalo Ranch.
"Cursed with Corn" would look great on the package.
I went into this Snacktaku review aiming to answer a simple question: "Is the Cracker Jack'D line worthy of the Cracker Jack name?" After eating the better part of seven bags' worth of trail mix, the answer is no.
What they are worthy of, however, is the name Cracker Jack'D. The bastard offspring of King Cracker Jack deserve a bastardized name. It doesn't mean they are bad — it just means that Cracker Jack didn't marry their mother, and you can't blame them for that.