Fun-Sized Fringe Foods - Sweet & Salty Combos

It's been a while since I've posted a new food-centric Fringe Foods column over at isthmus.com, mostly because it's just harder to find menu items that are really, truly fringe. The food horizons have expanded, folks.

All photos credit: Kyle Nabilcy

You know what sector of the food world is still cranking out the questionable, the weird, the how-is-that-not-disgusting, though? Junk food. Oreos. Pringles. Gum, for crying out loud! Even gum is weird again. And with that, the subject of the first Fun-Sized Fringe Foods column at Irony or Mayo: Sweet & Salty Combos.

But Kyle, you say. Sweet and salty snacks are everywhere! There's no caramel anything, anywhere, that hasn't been salted at some point, by some trend-humping test marketer. Well sure, I'd respond, but how many sweet and salty combinations have been comprised of pretzels and vanilla frosting? Eh, smart guy?

Enter the Combos brand of complimentarily-flavored snack bites. The folks who gave you the irresistible cheddar/cracker and pepperoni pizza/cracker Combos -- as well as the significantly more resistible seven-layer dip/tortilla and pizzeria/pretzel (yes it tastes like a pizzeria) -- have dialed the flavor extruder to Cloying and filled salt-encrusted pretzel tubes with vanilla frosting in one bag, and caramel crème in the other.

The always untrustworthy packaging art looks nice enough, but open the bag and -- after encountering a powerful aroma not unlike what I imagine a My Little Pony fart would smell like -- you'll come face to face with the ugly truth. Packaging lies. It just does.

Maybe the vanilla? Yes. Vanilla.

Caramel? I think?

If you can get past the sweet stink and the dusty, indistinct appearance, however, these Combos aren't terrible. Pretzel Combo fans, avert your eyes: I like these more than any other pretzel Combo variant out there. The cylinder of flavored sugar at the center of these Combos, even in such a small quantity, compensates for the oversaltedness of the pretzel shell, and the caramel version isn't too dissimilar from the excellent Momofuku Malted Pretzel Crunch recipe, albeit in a sloppier, more pre-fab and soul-sucking presentation. The vanilla ones taste basically the same, but with a small amount of "vanilla" flavor.

It sure would have been nice of Mars, Inc., to offer these flavors in the standard 1.5-ounce bag, rather than only in the 6-ounce version. No one needs that many vanilla frosting-filled pretzel shell casings. I can't come up with a good reason to buy these, because there's literally dozens of better and less depressing snack options, but if you're the type of person who'd buy a bag on a lark, at least you probably won't feel the need to throw them away after one bite.

Fun-Sized Fringe Foods won't necessarily always be junk food, but look for a new column any time I happen to find something fringey and worth discussing that doesn't necessarily merit 800 words.