Friday, June 8, 2012
Pegasus Favorite Five: Smoothies from fast-food chains
Using the word smoothie under these circumstances is a real stretch.
Smoothies are the quintessential "healthy" item. People who order them want to eat better or get more fruit (and sometimes vegetables) into their diet. The ideal smoothie should contain fruit, ice, and juice or other liquid of choice. The fruit should be fresh or fresh-frozen. Any departure from that formula -- any addition such as sugar, honey, or other sweeteners, fruits in syrup, sherbet, frozen yogurt, or ice cream -- gets into the realm of unnecessary excess.
Fast food chains, having heard that "fresh and healthy" is a growing trend, are adding smoothies to their menus. It's a nice effort but it's also a token gesture, since nearly all of the chains are making the worst, most sugary, least healthful concoctions. You could only call a fast-food chain smoothie "healthy" if you were comparing it to all the other far-more-unhealthy stuff they sell.
Calling these drinks smoothies is an insult to real smoothies.
Burger King Strawberry-Banana $2.70. Super-creamy, tasted like shampoo. Burger King's smoothies are new, a knockoff of McDonald's, and they come in two flavors, Strawberry Banana and Tropical Mango. The mango is said to be better, but for this roundup, we stuck with strawberry banana to simplify the comparison.
To make it, the employee pumped syrup into the blender, ladled a scoop of something, added ice, and disappeared behind a blender machine.
BK's smoothie had the creamiest, most homogenized texture of the smoothies sampled. The texture was similar to the fine-grained velvety consistency of Jamba Juice, the gold standard of smoothies. But forget the flavor: no banana, not much strawberry. What it tasted most like was -- peach shampoo, with a plastic, almost metallic note. Still, my smoothie partner found it "less off-putting" than the others which, in the world of fast-food smoothies, is like a total compliment.
McDonald's Strawberry-Banana $2.70. Nice texture, icky sweet. McDonald's had a large automatic machine with the ingredients all pre-loaded. The employee pushed "Blend," then poured it into a cup.
The flavor was just like cotton candy with a hint of petroleum. It also had some curdled milk, burnt-sugar, and marshmallow in there. The texture seemed most authentic: a little icy with what looked like real bits of strawberry pulp. Too bad it was so sickly sweet -- one of the sweetest smoothies tried.
Jack in the Box Strawberry-Banana $2.99. Heavy on the dairy, most like dessert. JITB touts its use of Minute Maid juice, which perhaps explains the higher price. Preparation was more by hand: The employee had to pull two Minute Maid cartons, one red (strawberry?), the other yellow (banana?), out of the refrigerator. He poured small doses into the cup, added his frozen mix, and went behind the machine.
The flavor was pure bubblegum, but with a strong presence of dairy that was a little sickening. Texture was moderately icy, with some gritty ice pellets and the same bits of red strawberry pulp. JITB's seemed the most like dessert -- like a shake made with ice milk.
Taco Bueno Wild Berry $2.49. Slurpee-ish. Departing from the standard mango and strawberry-banana, Taco Bueno does lemonade and wild berry. Their drinks are pre-made and served from a rotating margarita-type machine.
The texture was liquidy, like a granita or a slurpee, with microscopic ice pellets that melted quickly. Were they the reason the flavor seemed stale? There was a BIG dose of dairy, with a sour cream tang. The overall flavor was "raspberry cheesecake" -- more desserty than healthy, although whatever decadence the flavor brought was offset by the flinty, icy texture. It was almost as if they overcompensated on the flavor to distract from the texture -- which in the end wasn't all that unpleasant. Just very ice pellety.
Sonic "Sunshine" Strawberry-Banana $2.70. Just like a milkshake. Sonic recently took smoothies off the menu but can still make them if you ask. But as the concerned employee pointed out, they no longer carry the "yogurt powder" that in their eyes made their smoothie a smoothie.
"But we can still make it with the rest of the ingredients -- strawberries, bananas, orange juice, ice, and ice cream," she said, handily revealing the ingredients. This was nothing more than a fruity milkshake, right down to the whipped cream on top, with real bits of strawberry and a good strawberry flavor. Not a lot of banana, but we figured out why when we got to the bottom and found a chunk of frozen banana that hadn't been blended. The combination of OJ and ice cream was a little Creamsicle and a lot orange Julius -- the original smoothie from way back when.