THIS SNACK… leaves me emotionally conflicted: Wrigley Extra Dessert Delights
I think it’s fairly well-known around these parts that, at a certain point in my life, I maybe had perhaps gained slightly more weight than may have been desirable for someone who wished to avoid loose-fit fashions and lifelong blood pressure problems. I was in a job I didn’t especially like; I was in a relationship that was unhappy; I had discovered that with a steadily-paying job, you could drink wholly as much beer as your body could take, and the only thing that would stop you is the failure of your own organs.
That was 2005 or so, when I stepped on the scale one morning and discovered that I was headed rapidly for 210 pounds — which on a 5-foot-11 frame is a hearty meal away from mathematically-determined obesity. Exercise was a fairly abstract concept for me, and in my daily life, “portion control” could be defined as the exercise of sizing exactly how much would be included in my second helping of everything.
It was, in other words, not my peak.
But somehow, I arrived at a decisive moment where I found myself sitting in a gym and signing up for a membership, which I eventually used on a daily basis. I began counting calories, first to shock myself out of my casual eating habits, and then eventually as a means of keeping score. I stopped drinking anything that didn’t say “Diet” or “Zero calorie” on the label, notwithstanding the potential horrors of aspartame. I didn’t eat cake at the office potluck. I drank my coffee black. I weighed myself probably twice, but more likely three times a day, just to be sure. I skipped a meal here or there. I ran all the time, and managed to clock 1,000+ miles in a year, once or twice.
The weight practically fell off, and before I knew it, I was fifty pounds lighter.
A few things that I learned about this kind of change:
- It’s hard not to feel proud of the accomplishment, and potentially defensive about the means by which I reached it
- It is super-easy to pick up weight again when you’ve reached the bottom limit of your healthy range, which can lead to not a small amount of terror that somehow every pound will suddenly come bursting back at even the slightest transgression
- All of this is relatively normal, until really it isn’t
To this day, I can still remember the various strategies that one can use to deter one’s appetite: loading up your stomach with acidic water, using caffeine to suppress hunger, and “sweetening” the palette without actually eating anything. That last one is where my deep exploration of diet soft drinks stemmed from, including a truly unfortunate sojourn through the world of Country Time products… but the lesson was learned: Put enough sweetness on the tongue, and you can actually make yourself forget that you’re hungry — long enough to make it to a meal, or maybe fake yourself out of one.
Which is why, when I first saw Wrigley’s new line of gum, I had a flash of simultaneous delight, intrigue, and recognition:
- Delight that someone had gone into a whole new territory of batshit-crazy flavor science. I mean, APPLE PIE GUM! This is truly swinging for the fences! Is it just cinnamon and Jolly Rancher apple mushed together into crazy franken-flavor? Is it something more? I MUST HAVE IT!
- Intrigue toward the thought process that brought a team together to research snacks that taste like, well, other snacks. Normally these things operate on a trans-food-group basis, one category opting to simulate something closer to another: gum tastes like fruit, chips taste like vegetables and seasonings, chocolates depend heavily on nuts. There’s a basic principle of products like this reliably attempt to capture something one layer more natural than themselves, now disrupted by one processed food representing the taste of another.
- Recognition that this is totally a diet aid for people who crave sweets, and need a way to kill that craving quickly, or face the anxiety of gaining an unplanned pound.
Of course, I had to get some. There are actually five different flavors available, ranging from Orange Creamcicle all the way to Key Lime Pie, reflecting scientific ambition on a scale not seen since the moon landing. Has humankind truly found a way to make strawberry shortcake in a portable, room-temperature, zero-calorie chewable form? Can portable lasers be far behind?
I opted for Apple Pie Dessert Delights, it being the flavor I thought would be the most challenging to artificially reproduce. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone attempt Apple Pie-flavored anything before, except perhaps a martini, and thus I expected that this would be the most rewarding or the most hilarious experience to have.
And I have to say, I truly was expecting it to be a horrorshow — but instead it was… apple pie. For all the world, the flavor that came across was a mouthful of that inexpensive, mass-produced apple pie that turns up a lot in office potlucks, community picnics, or at any event where someone forgot they were on dessert duty. It’s actually uncanny: the kind-of heavy cinnamon is there, but also the mealy sweetness of a blandly cooked apple, and even the dry pastiness of a I’m-doing-the-best-for-what-I-am grocery store crust.
I’ve said many times that I can’t disapprove of a product that is clear in its intentions and follows through in its execution — that’s exactly what this gum does. It offers a sugar-free way to enjoy the sensation of eating a dessert, which is both a little weird and a wee bit clever, because it delivers with such eerie precision that you can’t claim anything other than to be satisfied. If you’re dying for apple pie without wanting to risk the 300 calories or so, then here’s a substitute at about 2% of the cost.
As a snack, then, Extra Dessert Delights makes a pretty focused diet aid. Which is where I end up feeling somewhat conflicted about it: while I’m sure the product is targeted at the 210-pound me who could really use any deterrent to eating more pie, the far more likely customer is the 155-pound me who could frankly make do with some. So, as the 190-pound me, I find it hard to find for it one way or another.
So let’s leave it at this: Someone found a way to make gum taste like anything from apple pie to mint chocolate ice cream, and that is basically one step away from flying cars and personal jet packs. Let us celebrate that noble accomplishment, and hope it is always used for the common good.