Monday, January 20, 2020

"There are no unicorns, so there are no rules!"

Unicorn Cupcakes - Walmart 
We seem to be at the tail end of the unicorn trend. It was going strong for several years, with notable detour through mermaids, before taking a shocking left turn into llamas. I'm not sure how we went from magical creatures to a real-life furry animal, but, here we are. 
I myself am not a unicorn-person, but I have several unicorn-people in my life with ages ranging from single digits, to nearly 30, so I get the appeal. They're magical, they're colorful, they're a symbol of innocence, and they inspired Peter S. Beagle to write one of my favorite books, "The Last Unicorn." (I actually met him at Otakon once, he was a really cool guy and they totally screwed him over the animated movie rights.) I'm not shocked that unicorns were trending, and I'm not even annoyed by the trend itself, but I am annoyed by how lazy most of these products seem to be.
I think the official start of the mainstream unicorn food-trend was the elusive Unicorn Tears Polar Ice Seltzer, I have been hunting for it in-stores for ages, and like the mythical creature it's based on, it is pretty freaking hard to find. If it weren't for the internet, I wouldn't even know it exists. After that, the trend went mainstream with the limited edition Starbucks Unicorn Frappe which got tons of press coverage. It was fruity, and it could change colors, but it tasted...not great, but it was at least trying. Then we had chewing gum, water ice, ice cream, breakfast cereal, fruit snacks, pudding packs, candy corn and even a dang Pop-tart. Other than having a unicorn somewhere on the package to make a cheap buck, there was no cohesion. These products were all over the place! Some are strawberry, some are cotton candy, some are cupcake, some are fruity. There are no unicorns, so there are no rules! Every brand out there was taking a pre-existing product, slapping a unicorn on it (usually with sprinkles) and calling it a day. 
The obvious cash-grabs are why I (mostly) stayed away from all the unicorn products, but I just couldn't pass these up. Why? Well, in all honesty, they really pissed me off.  
Are they normal Vanilla cupcakes with different colored icing and sugar crystals? Or are these some kind of "unicorn flavor?"  Who knows! The box doesn't say! Visually, they look like a cotton candy dream, but the box only mentions the yellow cake base. Are we reaching the point of laziness where new limited edition items are just going to be different colors? That sounds like some Rainbow Krabby Patty bullshit to me.
So let's get to the bottom of this mystical mystery.  
Inside, the cupcakes looks like a pastel My Little Pony dream! Yellow cake base, creamy turquoise top, lavender icing "doodle," and flecks of pink, blue and purple sugar crystals. To me, it screams, "1980's girl's-cartoon!" Visions of  Jem and the Holograms, Lady Lovely Locks, PJ Sparkles, and the old school animated My Little Pony immediately come to mind. As a total sucker for pastel-colored-cartoon nostalgia, I am 100% into the visuals, but what about the taste? 
The icing is dry, and a little chalky, but it tastes like ready-made cake frosting bought in plastic tubs at the grocery store. The sugar crystals add a little bit of a granulated crunch, but the flavoring is generic vanilla with a hint of butter. Not bad, but definitely not, "unicorn." Strike one. 
Next up, the cake. This is the only flavor listed on the package, so there's no surprises there. It's moist yellow snack-cake. Again, not bad at all, it might even be slightly sweeter than usual thanks to the colorful sugar crystals, but again, not special. Strike two!
Hostess' last shot at redemption in the cream filling, which is plain white. I don't have high hopes.
Annnd, three strikes. You're out! It tastes like light, sugary vanilla nothing-ness. 
As colorful as these are, there just isn't any magic to be found. They certainly do not taste bad, but they're sugary vanilla bombs of blandness unworthy of the unicorn-insignia. As a food blogger I'm really bummed, but I can see these being a hit with their target demographic, which is young children. Kids don't enjoy all these wacky flavors we food-obsessed adults seek out, but they do love bright colors and sprinkles. I bet these were a big hit in lunchboxes across the country, and I am 100% certain they re-released these exactly same cupcakes, colors and all, with a mermaid theme not long after. A cheap marketing ploy, but I have to applaud them for getting the most bang for their marketing-buck. 
Still, I wouldn't buy these again, and they make me leery of future limited edition cupcake offerings. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to watching PJ Sparkles on Youtube.
Fans of these would also like: DIY Unicorn Cotton Candy Milkshakes, Legwarmers, Ribbon-Hairclips, Cotton Candy Oreos
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