The Foundation greets you from the road for the next couple of weeks, as we collect data and snacks and convene with various colleagues around the country. Today’s snack comes to you from a rest stop in Indiana.
Description. How a snack so inorganic and fundamentally unappealing in shape, taste, and ingredients, a snack that so often tastes like bile and can boast only nominal innovation, has managed to elude a label of “revolting” for as long as Combos have is a mystery. The tubes of cracker or pretzel, marginally clever but probably more effort to achieve than a between-meal repast warrants; the extruded, reconstituted cheese paste; the sodium levels that fairly box the ears would all seem to add up to a surefire repellent.
Not always so. The pepperoni-pizza variety fails to replicate any part of that experience believably, or even tolerably, and the pretzel tube is sub-par, simultaneously stale and too crunchy. But the other flavors have scored consistently well among hungry consumers with “starch tooth” proclivities. Perhaps it is the onerous saturated-fat levels that fool the stomach into thinking an entire meal has been consumed; more likely, it’s a peculiar alchemy of parmesan flavoring, Club Cracker-esque cakeyness, and salt cravings that allows the cheddar-cheese-cracker Combo in particular to succeed.
That said, we had low hopes for the nacho-fied Combo. Adding a spicier “cheese” or a different kind of breadoid tubing could work, but both?
Packaging/Branding. “Crunchy oven baked shells made with stone ground corn and jalapeño and cheddar flavored fillings create the perfect hunger management snack.™” We have no idea what dubious stroke of phrasing genius is protected by that trademark symbol, but we can say with some certainty that it isn’t the hyphen.
The proportion of serving size (1/3 of a cup, which is probably around 9-11 Combos) to levels of salt and fat (14 and 15% of the RDA respectively) is…let’s go with “bracing.” The news isn’t all bad, however; apparently some of that “cheese” is, in fact, cheese, as the same serving will account for 4% of your daily calcium.
The front of the package is nondescript…at first. Once you notice that the representative jalapeño looks like a gangrenous seedy bris in progress, you can’t unsee it.
Flavor Profile. Similar to the cheddar/cracker Combo, with a zing of pepper that builds throughout chewing. The sweet finish is odd, but not unappealing. The tortilla shell stays crisper than its cracker brethren but isn’t as rock-hard as the pretzel iterations. Nobody will confuse the JCT Combo with a nacho, but like other Combos, it’s nowhere near as awful as one might expect, and in fact quite satisfying.
Habitat. Gas stations; 7-Elevens; rest stops; the second day of the menstrual cycle.
Field Notes. The field agent regrets not photographing the wall o’ jerky beside which she found these Combos.
Revulsion Scale: 3
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