Trolling through the food section of Ocean State Job Lot, a New England-based chain of discount stores that falls somewhere squarely between a dollar store and the Wal-Mart in the worst part of your town, can be both exhilarating and wildly depressing.
Sure, there are great deals on only slightly-stale bags of premium butterscotch flavored coffees, and yes, you may be able to find a great price on a bag of expired Wheat Thins with a misprinted label. But there are also some true oddities lurking on the dusty shelves: Discontinued flavors, off-brand flavor experiments, and vaguely European cookies made with piles of meringue that shouldn’t be chewy, but is.
So where, then, do “Buttered Popcorn” Mike & Ikes falls in this hierarchy? They’re tough to place. On the one hand, I don’t remember voluntarily eating a more traditionally-flavored Mike & Ike anytime in the last ten years. The old-timey packaging and design certainly pushes this into “forgotten brand” territory. And “Buttered Popcorn?” In what decade was that an artificial flavor that anyone wanted to enjoy in candy form? From the website (emphasis mine):
“Mike and Ike Buttered Popcorn flavored chewy candies were first introduced in 2004. These candies are now back by popular demand! These delicious candies are just as enjoyable as the real thing! Grab a handful and enjoy!”
After my first of many, many fistfuls of these chewy little rascals, I remembered just how much I’m predisposed to like Mike & Ikes. They’re terrifically chewy, with that satisfying outer layer of pure confectioner’s sugar crust that dissolves into your molars and makes a future root canal a forgone conclusion.
But that flavor. Oh, that awful, awful flavor. The “Buttered Popcorn” flavoring here mimics movie theater butter, that unholy river of flavored trans fat-laden soybean oil that you spray onto stale popcorn, popped days earlier by a surly teenager. It’s a mess for your brain to navigate, as the sweetness of the candy starts to peek through, even while that lightly rancid animal fat taste coats the roof of your mouth (thanks, probably, to the carnauba wax listed on the ingredient panel) and makes the back of your throat start to close and itch.
Keep chewing, or, for the love of God, add another handful of fresh candies to the ball of semi-chewed sugar already in your mouth, and the familiar sweetness of Mike & Ike candy starts to shine through, the cloying sugar a welcome relief from the assault of fake butter flavoring.
It’s hard to imagine that there was any sort of demand for Mike & Ike to reintroduce this flavor, a truly disgusting mix of synthetic butter flavoring heaped incongrously on top of gobs of chewy sugar. There were no online petitions filed. I doubt there was even a phone call made by any Mike and Ike’s customer, anywhere on Earth, to the customer service number printed on the box. And yet, here they are: A product no one could have possibly demanded, that tastes objectively nauseating, and which can only be found in the back aisles of a discount store.
I ate the entire box.