The Vanishing Mediator

Having fun on the internet.

flavorful dissonance

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a snack company in possession of a good product, must be in want of a new flavor.”

One of the qualities that cooks seek when developing a dish is balance. Look no further than the Waldorf salad to find a classic that delivers balance despite a very small number of ingredients. Apples, celery, and walnuts, dressed lightly in mayonnaise, and served on a bed of lettuce.

It would be a mistake to say that a dish with few ingredients is necessarily “simple” or “shallow.” Many of our favorite indulgences can be elevated to new heights by adding only one other flavor. Caramel alone is delicious, but its sweetness lacks depth. Rock salt sprinkled on top not only immensely increases its complexity, but also its price – immensely, in most cases. Ginger transforms a carrot into a gourmet carrot, fit for a rabbit king. And whatever German baker first covered a pretzel in chocolate… well, she clearly deserves a Nobel prize of some variety.

This brings us to the main topic: A snack product found at a rest stop while driving back to Boston from western Massachusetts. The bag declares that they are called York Peppermint Pretzel Sandwich Dips, and features the following description on its back.

You will love our newest pretzel sensation. Imagine cool, minty peppermint crème sandwiched between two crispy, bite-sized pretzels, then dipped in smooth dark chocolate. York Peppermint Pretzel Sandwich Dips make the perfect snack indulgence—anytime, anywhere. Serve them alone, or with ice cream to creat an elegant dessert.

There is much in this description to take issue with, but that is the nature of advertisement. Conversely, the subtle drop of “sensation” in the description of a product descended from York Peppermint Patties is delightful.

Though the official ingredient list is much longer – and packed with the usual, distressing entries – there are three main components to these Dips.

Two Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels
Of the “waffle” or “wagon-wheel” variety. A round pretzel filled with a pretzel grid. They are not salted in the fashion of standalone pretzels, which is a fact only realized just now, when inspecting the bag’s pictures.
Hershey’s dark chocolate
This is the product of some reasoning. The owner of York (the second most famous Peppermint Pattie) is Hershey’s, and the ingredient list contains the word “chocolate.” It is important to read the ingredient lists – many products that seem to contain actual chocolate do not.
York peppermint crème
This is downright ridiculous.

This reviewer could scarcely believe his eyes when he first saw this bag of Dips. I had recently received a shock of corporate copulation when I learned of the existence of the Angry Birds Star Wars Jenga Death Star game. This game is mostly Angry Birds, and only nominally flavored with elements of Star Wars and Jenga. Nevertheless, a shock.

So one can imagine the swirling galaxy of confusion in my head that these Dips inspired. I already knew of the sublime combination of pretzels and dark chocolate, so what did peppermint have to add this this relationship? Was there even room for a third flavor?

Fortunately, all of these questions were answered with only the first bite. The chocolate coating is the dominant initial flavor. The pretzels are pleasantly crispy, and the mint flavor is subtle. The dominance of the chocolate turns out to be key to the nature of this snack. It plays well with the pretzel and with the mint, but the pretzel and mint have nothing to do with each other. They are simply two flavors present in the same mouth.

Surprisingly, I find that this flavor combination… almost works well.

There’s a strange fascination in the dissonance of the mint and pretzel. They’re linked by the chocolate, but they don’t ever meld into a single flavor. One can easily concentrate to find the choco-pretzel flavor or the choco-mint flavor within the whole. The preztel-mint flavor is harder to isolate, but unrewarding upon success.

There are a couple of other food products that exhibit this profile: the Town House “FlipSides” pretzel–cracker hybrid and the Blue Diamond “Breeze” blend of almond and coconut milks. The individual flavors of each of these definitely work together with their respective partners, but just as definitely not in synergy.

The bag’s claim that the Dips can be paired with ice cream was not tested. It is pretty clear to this reviewer, however, that nothing capable of being described with the word “elegant” will ever include these. The chocolate coating is a bungee cord binding together two incompatible flavors. It is a hack, a kludge. Something that works “well enough” for a short term solution – in this case, the ever-lengthening holiday season – but not a thing that will stand the test of time.

Snyder’s of Hanover York Peppermint Preztel Sandwich Dips are worth your $2.50 exactly once. Try them for a great example of a product that is too fascinating to be strictly a failure, but also too much of a failure to be strictly a success.