It’s Monday night, and in typical Monday fashion, there is nothing exciting to do. I check my wallet: my driver’s license is expired, so bars are out of the question, bus pass, my dental insurance card—I suppose a teeth whitening wouldn’t be the worst use of my time.
Then I see my Kroger card. I have a normal-sized one for my wallet and a miniature version that hangs off my keychain because I’m that serious about the great discounts it offers on exciting products like generic-brand pasta (cut with sawdust!), generic-brand coffee pods (now with half the coffee grounds!), and any products that the location is eager to get rid of (still food!). Tonight’s club is Kroger, no cover fee required.
There’s a display by the entrance: baskets stuffed with limited-edition packages of a new product by the think tank at General Mills: Spicy CinnaFUEGO Toast Crunch. They’re on sale for Kroger cardholders: three dollars are marked off of their five-dollar price tag. I would be an idiot to pass up such an amazing deal.
The packaging is nothing like the design of a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal box. It’s covered in flames. The typical pleasant pastel colors are red and orange against an imposing black silhouette of a flame in the middle of the bag. It has all of the graphic design conventions of a forest fire prevention poster, or a car fresh off of Pimp My Ride. It looks more like a snack chip with the name “High Voltage,” or “Eruption,” or “Vehicular Homicide.” Maybe I’ve gotten myself into a flavor intensity that I’m not ready for.
I open the package, and I’m smacked with the smell of cinnamon so hard that I gag. For a moment, I’m back in my college dorm freshman year, about to take a sip from the bottle of Fireball Whisky my friends and I are splitting. I plug my nose to keep my gag reflex at bay.
It looks close enough to Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s the same marbled square; the same tried and true combination of cinnamon, sugar, and wheat product. But the packaging promises a different experience. These squares aren’t looking at each other hungrily like usual. Instead, flames are coming out of their heads as they run around panicked, trying to find safety. They have graduated from cannibalism to arson.
I get it. The way they taste made me want to light myself on fire as well.
“Sweet” is the first flavor that hits my mouth. Too much sweetness, a clinical sweetness that was added erroneously to one side of a math equation to balance out the added spiciness. But sweet and spicy don’t cancel each other out. In this case, they exacerbate each other’s worst qualities. Just as I choke down the chewed, wheaty mush, the spicy kick hits my uvula, and I’m back to feeling as if I’d done a shot of flavored alcohol—just without the buzz to make me want to go back for another one.
According to the ingredients list, there are no exciting spices added. I was hoping for a nice chipotle seasoning, or cayenne pepper, or chili powder at the very least. No, the spiciness just comes from lots and lots of cinnamon. And what a waste of potential. The marriage of sweet and spicy has existed in global cuisine for millennia: dakgangjeong of Korea, riz casimir of Switzerland, champurrado and chamoy candy of Mexico. “It’s America’s turn!” shouts General Mills, and they do it the American way: it tastes like Raisinets and moonshine.
I pop another one in my mouth and choke. I won’t be finishing these any time soon. Though perhaps this combination of carbohydrates and acrid spice has a future in my apartment as a hangover cure.
This product is intended to be an homage to Mexico’s sweet and spicy desserts, as evidenced from the sporadic use of Spanish on the packaging. “Canela dulce picante” (“spicy sweet cinnamon”), and “FUEGO” (“HOT”) are minimal and clearly written by white people. It feels like I’m eating a Republican effort to turn out the Latino vote.
If you’re desperate to try these, save your money and just dump a jar of cinnamon into your Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Or have the other 5.5 ounces of my 6-ounce bag.