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Friday, October 22, 2010

Jell-O Pudding Pops: Better Than Ever -- Or Are They?

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 9:00 AM

The legendary Bill Cosby appears at the Fox Theatre on Sunday afternoon, October 24. (Tickets are still available for the 3 p.m. show.) The 73-year-old is known for many things: comedy, acting and, of course, being the patron saint of pudding. Specifically, Jell-O Pudding and its associated products. Beileve it or not, Cosby started shilling for Jell-O in 1974. Remember these commercials?

Of course, another memorable Cosby product endorsement involved Jell-O Pudding Pops, that dessert delicacy popular with kids who grew up in the '80s. For the uninitiated, the concept was simple but brilliant: frozen pudding on a stick. Yes, Jell-O froze different flavors of pudding -- chocolate and vanilla were the most popular -- into bricks of creamy, delicious goodness.

Jell-O Pudding Pops weren't without their drama, however.

The dessert was taken off the market sometime in the '90s, much to the chagrin of its fans.

Then the 'Pops very quietly came back on the market around 2004. How? Well, it's complicated: Kraft Foods -- which owns the brand name Jell-O -- licensed the name/concept for Jell-O Pudding Pops to Popsicle, which is owned by Unilever. That company's cutely named Ice Cream USA branch produces ice cream heavy hitters such as Breyer's and Good Humor and, yes, Popsicles. Confused yet? Pudding Pops aren't listed on Popsicle's main product page; you only notice them if you browse the "where to buy products" page.

Gut Check had no problem finding Pudding Pops in a random local Schnucks; they were available in plain sight in the frozen-dessert aisle. They veritably begged for a taste test... How does the new version compare to the idyllic confection of our memory, depicted below?

Let's find out!

Here's the box -- the rebranding via Popsicle is immediately obvious.

click to enlarge ANNIE ZALESKI
  • Annie Zaleski

And here's a close-up on the ingredients list. They're an OK source of calcium -- the first ingredient is nonfat milk, after all -- but they're also full of sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated coconut and palm oils and high-fructose corn syrup. Mmm.

click to enlarge ANNIE ZALESKI
  • Annie Zaleski

Nutrition: Decent calcium, low in calories but proportionally, a ton of saturated fat.

click to enlarge ANNIE ZALESKI
  • Annie Zaleski

Moving on. Frankly, the new packaging makes the 'Pops look kinda like a box of tampons. See the different colors and, uh, narrow shape of the dessert?

click to enlarge ANNIE ZALESKI
  • Annie Zaleski

Here it is unwrapped. Uh, yeah, phallic. And definitely smaller than the original 'Pops. Not surprisingly, these are shaped like the fruit-flavored Popsicles (and Creamsicles and Fudgsicles) of our youth.

click to enlarge ANNIE ZALESKI
  • Annie Zaleski

Now, flavor-wise, these babies are pretty darn good! They're creamy and soft and taste like real chocolate -- actually, more like milk-chocolate mousse. The aftertaste isn't chemical, either, although it does make you thirsty.

Weirdly enough, there's something missing here.... Where are the jagged little shards of ice that always seemed to cling to the old-school Pudding Pops? Back in the day, before you could reach the actual flavor, you had to get through a stubborn layer of freezer burn -- sometimes to the point of getting your tongue stuck on the 'Pop. By the time you were done, it was even money that you'd be left with a puddle of goopy, sugary frozen pudding, evan as a still-icy base lingered on the stick. The Popsicle-brand 'Pops are 100 percent frost-free. Convenient, but not quite as fun.

The other bummer is the lack of flavor diversity. Pudding Pops used to come in banana and chocolate caramel swirl. Yum!

What hasn't changed? The squick factor that comes with having to lick every last morsel of sugar from the popsicle stick. (There's no good way to describe this without sounding totally dirty: It's that gross, shiver-inducing feeling of tasting wet wood and chocolate together.)

  • Annie Zaleski

Related content, and still M.I.A.: Jell-O Gelatin Pops. Remember?

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