In the mathematics of current food marketing, one plus one is somehow more than two. At least that’s an explanation for the ever-increasing mania for mash-ups of popular brands: Doritos to form the shells of Taco Bell tacos! Pizza Hut pizzas in the shape of . . . Cheez-Its!
The latest in this lineage of food-world centaurs is Twinkies cereal, a potentially unholy alliance between snack company Hostess, the maker of the iconic spongy “cream”-laced sweet, and Post, which has been filling the bowls of sugar-craving children since before Saturday morning cartoons (or TVs, for that matter) were even a thing. The resulting cereal is puffy bits of corn flour sculpted into miniaturized versions of the log-shaped Twinkies that the companies, in joint marketing materials, promise (or threaten, depending on your tastes) “replicates the distinctive taste and familiar oblong shape of the golden-colored snack cake, delivering delightful sweetness in every bite.”
The boxes, with their cartoonish image of a giant bowl full of the breakfast item (its milk inexplicably splashing out of the sides), hit grocery store shelves in late December, the companies say. But they sent us an early sample to taste.
And taste we did, dear reader. We readied our spoons — and because the companies insisted the cereal was also meant to be enjoyed “outside the bowl,” we also popped some, sans dairy.
The verdict, your honor?
As a hand-to-mouth snack, we didn’t like them much. They left a cheese-puff-like dust on our hands, and the pungent scent of butterscotch was a little too much. But add some milk and the cereal was pretty good, albeit nearly sweet enough to serve as breakfast for Will Ferrell’s strung-out-on-glucose Buddy the Elf.
The cereal’s makers weren’t kidding about that “sweetness in every bite.” The first two ingredients listed are dextrose (corn-derived sugar) and regular sugar. Each serving contains 16 grams of added sugars, which is about a third of the daily recommended sweet stuff, but at least that’s less than the 19 grams you’d get from eating an actual Twinkie.
Beyond the cloy factor, the cereal left a distinct Twinkie-like impression. Although the signature “creamy” center might have been missing, one of our tasters claimed to get a creamy sensation from each piece, but others did not. “It still tastes like a Twinkie,” one tester said. That meant, to our guinea pigs, notes of “grocery-store yellow cake batter,” “chalky cream,” and, of course, allll the butterscotch. It has a relatively milder flavor profile than, say, Froot Loops or Lucky Charms, without the healthier-for-you sheen of Cheerios or Honey Bunches of Oats. (Could it be that marketers are hoping to capitalize on older buyers’ nostalgia and kiddos’ sweet teeth? We’d be shocked, shocked.).
One other thing the Twinkies cereal has in common with its caky parentage: Like the original Twinkies, which are famously impervious to the passage of time (they’re the Jane Fonda of snacks), Twinkies cereal remains crunchy even after being submerged in milk. Our highly unscientific test — basically, we let a bowl sit on the counter and checked it occasionally — showed that the bits remain firm after an impressive 20-plus minutes.
In summary, if you like sugary cereal, and you like Twinkies, you’ll probably like Twinkies cereal. So maybe one plus one does add up to more than two?