This past week, Sandy and I had the honor of helping host some friends of ours from Mexico City as they visited and worked with our church for a few days. On Thursday night, we threw a "make your own pirogi" party at our house, which once we all sat down and began talking over dinner with our visitors and some neighbors and friends from our church, the topic of American food quickly came up. We were asked what are good, traditional, all-American foods that we as a country and culture invented. Honestly, we came up fairly empty. Hot dogs? Burgers? We made them popular, but they were "invented" in Germany and other parts of Europe. Apple pie? I wouldn't believe that, in the arc of human history, it'd take long enough for us to show up to invent something so basic yet so tasty. I thought I had a sarcastic winner with that ever-so-delicious high fructose corn syrup (no thanks) but nearly simultaneously it was pointed out that it's more of an additive than an actual food, and my friend Josh blurted out Turducken, so that may be the winner. Honestly, aside from junk food like Cool Ranch Doritos, there may not be much else.
Except, maybe, the good old Rice Krispie treat. Okay, sure, yes, it's technically a junk food, too. But man, I've never heard anyone rattle off the evils of them, and never met anyone who doesn't like them. They're simple enough for a child to make with a little supervision, but tasty enough that every time I see them at a picnic I make a beeline. I love how the Krispies mingle in with the marshmallowy goo and create this semi-chewy, quasi-crispy square block of a dessert. And though there's lots of variations, for my money, the very basic and plain ones are best of all.
Which is why Trader Joe's is toeing some thin ice here with these Organic Brown Rice Marshmallow Treats.* You have to be careful when you're experimenting with a classic, especially when you're playing with the tried-and-true formula by trying to make it healthier. And honestly, I've heard that lots of folks don't particularly like these all that much, so I wasn't sure what to expect when we picked up a box last week.
Well, they're not my favorite, but they're not all that bad, either. You can definitely taste the difference with the brown rice (more grainy), which also affects the texture after a few chews (alas, also more grainy). Apparently science has advanced to the point where such things as organic vegan marshmallow-type things are possible by combining brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice (isn't that just sugar? Am I missing something?), guar gum (which I presume to better than GWAR gum), and sea salt. I'd say altogether, they're more chewy, less crispy, and lighter and airier than the typical crisped rice 'n marshmallow love fest. Tastewise, they even seem a slight bit sweeter with a touch of vanilla. Each box has five bars inside, each about four or five not-so-big bites each, and seem to be low-calorie and low fat in comparison to most. I'd say they're not bad to tuck into a lunch or to grab for a quick, small snack for an energy boost.
It doesn't mean I think the treats all that great, either. For one, for $3.99, they're one item I'd say is definitely overpriced at TJ's (few and far between, but hey, it happens). And I guess when it comes down to it, I prefer my marshmallow and crispy rice treats to more closely resemble the outcome of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man crashing into a Kelloggs factory then these experiments in organic snack food science. I do appreciate the effort, however, so I'm not knocking that (and in fact I think TJ's ought to be commended for it), but there's just some classics you shouldn't mess with, like remaking "The Longest Yard" or "Bad News Bears." What the heck was it with 2005 and crappy movie remakes? When Sandy took a bite of one, said "Meh" and not much else, so that's roughly a three in her book. I'd go a little lower, as the added graininess in the texture throws me off a bit and the cost factor, but I'll give some props for the health-consciousness factor of these, and go with a three as well.
Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons