2021’s Best Holiday Junk Food, Part 1!

Oof, there’s a lot of new holiday junk food out this year. I should’ve started this series weeks ago, because Christmas is like five minutes away and I fear that I’ll never be able to catalog all of this hot new candy before Santa arrives.

But ya gotta start somewhere, so here I am, fueled by sugar and typing with sticky fingers. Below are five of 2021’s hottest holiday junk foods, from soda that tastes like gingerbread to candy canes that taste like cake.

Reese’s Peanut Brittle Cups!
(Found at CVS)

These feel more like a proper dessert than something you’d mindlessly devour, like so many other checkout-line candies. I could see an upscale coffee shop billing these as “gourmet” and charging 3.99 a piece. Instead I got ‘em at CVS along with cough drops and expired cat food.

I don’t know if I would’ve guessed “peanut brittle” on a blind test, but they’re very good, and very peanut buttery. To mimic peanut brittle’s rocky texture, these are filled with crunchy peanut butter, giving them a mouthfeel similar to Hershey’s Krackel bars.

GRADE: A. I predict that these won’t be a one-and-done for 2021. They’re such a home run that I can see Reese’s bringing ‘em back year after year, slowly transforming Peanut Brittle Cups into an all-out holiday tradition. The best part is, if I’m wrong, nobody will remember.

Apple Pie Toast Crunch!
(Found at Target)

I’m glad that General Mills embraced the idea of Cinnamon Toast Crunch spinoffs, because that cereal is such a perfect canvas for other flavors. Take this new Apple Pie Toast Crunch, for instance. It’s so good that General Mills should seriously consider giving it a shot as an all-year cereal.

The apple flavor is prominent, and bless them, it definitely comes off like red apples. Specifically baked red apples, which are sweet, but in an oaky sort of way. Regular Cinnamon Toast Crunch is more my speed, but if you’re into apple pie, I cannot imagine someone eating this and complaining that it doesn’t taste like it.

GRADE: A. The best compliment I can give this cereal is that I’m already devising ways to transform it into a dessert dish for the family Christmas party. I’m thinking bourbon balls.

PS, is it just me, or are the individual pieces of Apple Pie Toast Crunch a bit larger than normal? It’s been a while, but I don’t remember Cinnamon Toast Crunch pieces being this big. They’re practically the size of canapés! Maybe I can make those for dessert instead.

Mtn Dew Gingerbread Snap’d!
(Found at 7-Eleven)

I wasn’t expecting to even like Gingerbread Snap’d, let alone love it, but here we are. My initial theory was that this was a sacrificial lamb – a purposely “iffy’ flavor created strictly for social media buzz. Instead, it’s an excellent soda that somehow makes Liquid Gingerbread work.

Admittedly, Gingerbread Snap’d is getting mixed reactions online. Since it’s the least “Dew-like” of all the Mtn Dew variants I’ve tried, that’s hardly surprising. To me, this tasted like Dew’s version of tonic water, with a spicy citrus kick that connects well enough to our idea of “gingerbread.”

I happen to love tonic water, so this was up my alley. Unfortunately, just like with real tonic water, there are more carbs in a bottle of Gingerbread Snap’d than at an average auto show. But it’s the holidays, so we’re allowed to splurge.

GRADE: B+. This could’ve tasted like shit, and its existence would still be justified by the psycho-punk gingerbread men on the labels. The fact that it’s good is just a bonus, really.

Smartfood’s Merry Berry Popcorn Mix!
(Found at Target)

Kind of a weird team-up, since I thought that the Smartfood brand was about making junk food less… junky. I’m not complaining, for one very important reason:

Included in the mix are red and green Crunchberries, which were originally the special ingredient in Christmas Crunch cereal, before Quaker switched to “holiday shapes” and never looked back. If you’re old like me, and you remember how Christmas Crunch used to be, this is the only product on the market that’ll let you eat holiday Crunchberries in their original berry shapes, like God intended.

You get tons of them, too. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as too many Crunchberries, but this might border close to it. The good news there is that you get more than enough Crunchberries to make tree garland out of. If you’re buying a bag of Smartfood’s Merry Berry Popcorn Mix, throw a needle and thread into your basket, too.

GRADE: B+. My advice is to use this stuff as a base for a more spectacular party mix. If you added pretzel sticks and honey-roasted peanuts, suddenly this would be worth central placement during the Christmas party dessert round.

Funfetti Candy Canes!
(Found at Walgreens)

Ahhh, I love these. They remind me of that stretch of years when candy canes in “special flavors” were all the rage. Now that virtually all of the big candy brands have gotten the Cane Treatment, there haven’t been as many reasons to do double-takes when walking past them.

Enter FUNFETTI. These candy canes are meant to taste like Funfetti cake frosting, and they do, but you could just as easily pitch them as sugar cookie candy canes, or even Dunkaroos candy canes. They’re vanilla for the most part, but with little bursts of tangier flavors.

They taste good, but what I dig most is how great they look on Christmas trees. Like that spotted elephant from the Island of Misfit Toys, but, you know, shaped like hooks.

GRADE: B. I can’t give them an “A” because they’re pretty thin by candy cane standards, and it’s hard to find a box where a few aren’t broken. If you go out hunting for these, rattle the package before you ring it up.

Thanks for reading! More editions of 2021’s Best Holiday Junk Food are coming soon.