A few weeks ago, I received a request on Facebook from an old friend to sample and review something new, something that Taco Bell was calling a “Beefy Crunch Burrito.”
“Have you seen the Beefy Crunch Burrito, man,” he asked, “I’m probably not going to try one, but I’d sure like it if you would.”
Ignoring the fact that my friend was using my body as his own private chemistry lab, I still dragged my feet for a few weeks. I was irritated with our local Taco Bell for not ever carrying the short-lived, oddly decently-reviewed “Cantina Style” tacos, which took a break from the reduced-fat sour cream, the gray tomato chunks, and the whipped-refried- bean-gun, and instead served simple grilled meats in corn tortillas with a squeeze of lime. I was fed up with Taco Bell’s unique brand of combining and recombining four ingredients into 50 menu offerings, and I wasn’t going back, at least not until the next time I was completely handicapped by a hangover.
Then, the news broke about the class action lawsuit being filed against Taco Bell, where the plaintiffs claimed that Taco Bell’s “ground beef mixture” was really only about 35% actual beef, with the rest of the slurry being made up of a combination of “water, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent and modified corn starch.” My first reaction was to wonder what in the world an “anti-dusting agent” could be, particularly in the context of ground beef processing. Then, my eye went to the conspicuous reference to the filling in Taco Bell’s newest offering as “Beefy,” rather than “beef.” This could be telling, the same way International Delights Lady Coffee says that it contains “Irish Creme,” rather than, “cream.” My third, and final reaction, was to grab the car keys and hotfoot it to Taco Bell, because for some, inexplicable reason, not knowing 65% of what I am eating makes a product more appealing, rather than less.
Taco Bell stepped outside of their comfort zone with the “Beefy Crunch Burrito.” And because they explain it far, far more colorfully than I ever could, here’s how they describe it:
“Layers of seasoned ground beef, rice, warm nacho cheese sauce, reduced fat sour cream and Flamin’ Hot® Fritos®, wrapped in a warm, flour tortilla.”
If you need to take a minute to calm yourself down, tilt your head back and push your brain back up into your nostrils, I’ll understand. This is some groundbreaking stuff. You may have noticed that their brilliantly illustrative sentence started out reasonably enough, with the same descriptive words you are used to reading in the explanation of every other Taco bell item ever made. But then all hell breaks loose with the “Flamin'” and the “Fritos” and all the registered trademark symbols. You read right: Taco Bell has finally started using Fritos corn chips as an ingredient, and managed to make an entire Frito Pie into something portable that you can safely and neatly eat while driving your car.
Honestly, I was mildly interested in this, being a “crushed Frito on tuna salad” eater from way back. And I had mostly positive experiences with this so called “Flamin’ Hot” brand of snacks, finding them, finally, as spicy as snack foods should be. Still, I kept my excitement in check as I unwrapped the package. Remember the photo above? That’s how the masterminds at Taco Bell envisioned this new offering, with bright red, crunchy Fritos, swimming in a sea of cooling sour cream, dancing jauntily on a soft, cushioned bed of rice, nacho cheese, and spiced meat . Instead, when you unwrap the package, you get this:
Alright, no big deal, right? Taco Bell hadn’t promised me that the outside was going to have a cool racing stripe, or that the tortilla would be imprinted with an illustration of a sexy pin-up girl. At Taco Bell, a burrito is a burrito, and it’s what’s inside this monster that counts. Scalpel:
Wait, what? Where are my dancing, crunchy, Flamin’ Hot Fritos? Where is my pool of sour cream, my river of nacho cheese? Instead, I was greeted with this bright red sludge. The Fritos were indistinguishable from the rest of the chaos erupting from the inside of this burrito, and had lost all of their crunch, if not their flavor. The rice proved to be a much more integral component to this burrito than advertised, and the sour cream, if there was any, seemed to have seeped mysteriously into the other ingredients.
No one in their right mind is looking at anything from Taco Bell through a macro lens, however, and all would be forgiven if it tasted good, and provided the contrasts in spicy flavor and texture that I had been promised. Instead, the overwhelming first flavor was a strong, synthetic chemical taste, like being able to taste the way the cosmetic aisle at a Rite-Aid smells. The corn chips, by now a mushy mess, did indeed provide a separate textural component, but not the way the scientists at Taco Bell intended; this felt more like someone had stuffed a corn tortilla that had been soaking in a puddle for three days into the middle of my burrito. The rice provided a gummy heft to the whole thing, with the “cheese sauce” and “seasoned beef” completely vanishing under its weight.
Overall spiciness from the Fritos was good, although softened significantly by the gluey rice glob. I found myself bathing the whole affair, right down to the sad, dry, empty folded tortilla ends, in Taco Bell “Fire” sauce, which, quite frankly, made this new, unique burrito taste like anything else from Taco Bell.
I stand in admiration of Taco Bell’s willingness to combine junk food from other manufacturers with its own junk food, and create new, hellish creations. At 99 cents, the “Beefy Crunch Burrito” from Taco Bell is certainly a bargain. You will, without fail, get very full, from eating just one thing, that you paid next to nothing for, which is certainly appealing, particularly if it took you all day to beg for that 99 cents. But if you have to cover the whole thing in “Fire” sauce anyway, stick with the bean burrito. At least it is unashamed of what it is: a flour tortilla filled with rehydrated onions and glutinous bean paste. Or, even better: I am going to go push some Ranch flavored Corn Nuts® into some Totino’s® Pepperoni Pizza Rolls®, and call it a day.
Calories – 510, Total Fat – 22 grams, Saturated Fat – 6 grams, Cholesterol – 30 milligrams, Sodium – 1250 milligrams, Carbs – 61 grams, Dietary Fiber – 5 grams, Sugars – 5 grams, Protein – 15 grams
[*Update: Taco Bell is claiming that all that "35% beef" business is a bunch of horseapples, and is filing a counter-suit.]