The 'Shroom:Issue 175/Critic Corner
🎃🦇🍬 WELCOME TO THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR 🍬🦇🎃
Halloween time is such a wonderful time, everything is ooky, everything is spooky, and evil home décor is available to buy and usually on sale! I've got so may mugs that are shaped like cauldrons now, I'm so EXCITED! As always we're here each month to bring you wonderfully written and thoughtfully prepared reviews, but some may have tricks to their treats.
Thank you for voting Half-Baked Reviews, and also congratulations to Rose's Quarantine Reviews as September's Critic Corner Section of the Month!! Be sure to give your love to all of our sections here, and give a shout out to our writers whether in chat or in their forum threads dedicated to their sections. Be sure to vote vote vote!
And now for my regular announcements: We've decided to implement in Critic Corner something similar to News Flush over in Fake News, where no formal sign-up application process is required for one-time or limited sections. From now on if you just want to send in a single review for something you just read, watched played, tried, whatever, you just have to send me your review privately either to me directly in chat, or in a message to me on the forum at least one week before each 'Shroom is to be released! There's no commitment or obligation to provide a full monthly section (although you absolutely can shift it into one if you so choose), just send us your thoughts on a thing and we'll feature it here! If you have any questions or curiosities about this, please feel free to ask!
As always, if you would like to help Critic Corner, we always have openings for more writers! You are free to write for sections such as Character Review and Movie Review, or really anything you'd like to do! There's no pressure to have a huge section; they can be shorter and concise! The application process is very simple, starting with reading the Sign Up page, and sending your application to Ninja Squid, our Stats Manager on the forum. Any idea you have is welcome, and if you have any questions or need help signing up, please feel free to reach out to myself or other 'Shroom peeps!
Section of the Month
|Critic Corner SECTION OF THE MONTH
|Anton's Half-Baked Reviews
|Rose's Quarantine Reviews
Golf is one of those sports that everyone seems to love to hate. Even professionals try to play the least amount of golf as possible by trying to sink the ball in the smallest amount of strokes. Mario Golf: Super Rush takes that idea and runs with it in a very literal sense. Speed is the aim of the game now, and in the mad dash to stop playing golf, we’re given possibly one of the best multiplayer experiences seen yet in a Mario sports title. Unfortunately, it seems that the need for speed got into the developer’s heads a little too much, as the lack of content provided leaves Super Rush feeling, well, super rushed.
So of course I felt it only fitting that I encapsulate that feeling by providing a rushed and content-lacking review, which I admit may just be an excuse for being lazy. However I still want to maintain your interest, so I’d just like to provide an answer to a question that pretty much anyone reading this would have: Is Mario Golf: Super Rush it worth buying? The answer really depends on what you’re looking to get out of it.
With that being said, let’s get one thing immediately out of the way: This game is not worth buying if you’re purely looking for single player content. Despite the precedent set by previous games in the series and even the general “you can play it by yourself” nature of golf, Mario Golf: Super Rush hasn’t really done anything to make playing by yourself fulfilling or enjoyable. When it comes to single player modes, you have the choice of Story mode, Free Play... and that’s about it. There is no tournament mode or ring shot, practically no unlockables or just generally any kind of goal to reach.
Story mode by itself is horribly boring. You’re forced to use a Mii character, which is something that personally I’ve never liked when I’m playing a Mario game, but it isn’t too bad since you also have experience points to boost stats or gear to provide additional effects. Outside of that though, the mode consists mainly of playing speed golf matches, which are so easy and long that being forced to run for the ball begins to feel monotonous. There is a unique mode here in Cross Country, where you hit the ball into a number of holes in any order that you choose within a time limit. It’s an interesting idea on paper, but it’s only available once on one course. There are also boss battles, although they don’t consist of anything more complicated than “run to the glowy spot and hit the ball”. The namesake “story” is likewise extremely simple and uninteresting, to the point that I’ve mostly forgotten what it even was. Most character dialogue outside of Wario and Waluigi just isn’t interesting, you’re better off skipping or ignoring it.
The game mechanics also don’t help to make single player any more interesting. There is no longer an accuracy input on your swing like in previous games, instead your shot will randomly go left or right of where you were aiming, depending on how hard you hit and what terrain you’re on, essentially acting like the auto mode from Toadstool Tour or World Tour. This by itself greatly oversimplifies the mere act of hitting the ball and takes away an element of skill that used to make landing the perfect swing feel rewarding. The lack of an indicator for shot trajectory (that previous games also had) makes the aforementioned Cross Country mode become extremely annoying, or just playing on any course where there a lots of hills or trees. Special shots, which have a very distinctive disruptive purpose in multiplayer, do next to nothing in single player, to point that I wonder why you can even use them.
It goes without saying that multiplayer Speed Golf was the focus here, as the simplified controls mean that you spend less time thinking about how to hit and more time rushing through the course. So, how is the multiplayer?
Speed Golf is almost on Mario Kart levels of chaotic fun. There’s most definitely still some strategic depth to the mode that favours the skilled, however as always, that isn’t going to guarantee a win when King Bob-omb decides to blast your ball off the green with a special shot. It’s got that arcade-style feel that makes it great for some quick multiplayer sessions. Running into each other on the course offers some much needed chaos, and the rush of trying to make a good shot while also doing so in the least amount of time as possible creates a nice mix of quick thinking with careful strategy, resulting in probably the first time that Mario Golf has ever lived up to the zaniness implied by its name.
That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, however. The way that stamina hearts are littered around the course and disappear after being collected mean that the player in front will have a massive lead that the rest can’t do anything about besides fight for second. Running around the course itself also isn’t particularly interesting, as you have very limited movement options outside or running or using a special dash (which by itself mostly removes the need to run). Special shots are also a bit of a mixed bag, as some will punish players ahead of them, as a sort of comeback mechanic that can only be used every third hole or so, while others such as Luigi’s will only take effect if others hit after him, which might help prevent someone with a lower stroke count from finishing earlier than you. While both have uses, the former is such a stronger option that there’s essentially no point in picking a character without a that kind of special shot, and the characters feel very unbalanced as a result. The nature of special shots also mean that on holes such as Par 3s, whoever uses their special shot last wins the match, and results in stand-offs between players as nobody wants to hit first. This issue also affects stroke matches, which aren’t reliant on finishing time, resulting in an extremely unnecessary frustration that again makes it increasing clear that speed golf was the focus.
Then there’s also the issue of multiplayer goals. Outside of quick matches, there is very little to do. An online ranked mode was eventually added via an update, however instead of giving players points based on how well they perform, points are added merely from playing a match, and are never deducted for losing. Between that and the fact that the points reset every month, there is almost no point in playing this mode outside of receiving a minor cosmetic item as a reward.
Is it worth it?
At the end of the day, my answer to my previous question is quite simply, “No.” There is some quick fun to be had, for sure, but if you go any deeper than that you’ll be left in a wet bunker with all of the little annoyances and general lack of content. There have been two major updates to the game as of the time of writing, with possibly more to come, however so far they have done nothing more than add new courses and characters, which doesn’t fix the issue of having barely anything to do with said characters or courses. Unless we magically get some kind of update that adds a bunch of new modes, my personal recommendation is not to bother with this one. The best we can do is hope that they’ll learn from their mistakes when they make the next entry.
Happy Halloween. I'm 'Shroom FM.
BLU - THE COLOR BLU(E)
INJURY RESERVE - BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX
LITTLE SIMZ - SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT
LOW - HEY WHAT
As it's Halloween, I thought I'd recommend a few spooky/unsettling albums, to either listen to or run away from.
Firstly, here's Boards of Canada's Geogaddi - it's a very creepy IDM/ambient album with a lot of mysterious elements to it, including references to the occult and Satanism. It's also got a very intricate, cool atmosphere and really immaculate production. You can turn off all the lights and just sink into it. Or leave the lights on. Might be more convenient actually.
On the more abstract side of things, I really like Broadcast and the Focus Group's Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age - a hauntological exploration of witches, rituals and spirits through the use of sampling and nursery rhyme-esque vocals. It's not overly scary but often quite unsettling. If you want an even more offbeat choice, check out Chris Watson's El tren fantasma - an experimental album about a "ghost train" in Mexico, made up almost entirely of field recordings and train noises. It's surprisingly vivid and there's a fair few tense moments.
That's all, see you in November!
|Xiran Jay Zhao
|YA, sci-fi, action
Hello, readers, and welcome to a special edition of Book Review! This month, I will be reviewing ‘’Iron Widow’’ by Xiran Jay Zhao!
Have you ever seen a YouTube review that you thought was so well done that you just had to check out the creator’s other projects? That was me with Xiran Jay Zhao’s first video, the review (rant) about Mulan 2020. Their points were well-articulated, their humor was on-point, and I really liked learning more about Chinese culture from someone who actually cares about China more than their box office money. I recommend checking their channel out if you’d like to see their take on more movies and TV shows influenced by Chinese culture, such as Mulan (1998), Over the Moon, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Anyways, they announced their first book, Iron Widow, back in that first Mulan 2020 review and I was EXCITED. It sounded action-packed and hooked me instantly. It’s been a long year waiting for it- every time they mention it in their videos, I want it more, and it’s finally here! So, without any further ado, let’s dive in!
Before we get started with the review, however, I would like to drop a quick content warning for this book (and this is stated before the story even starts in the book, as well.) It contains depictions of violence, sexual assault, torture, and other sensitive topics, so please keep that in consideration before you pick this one up. I’d recommend a 16+ audience for it, honestly. With our content warning set, let’s continue.
Iron Widow draws inspiration from the life of the only female emperor in Chinese history, Wu Zetian. In this story, Zetian lives in a society that has to fight alien creatures called Hunduns for the survival of the human race. By killing Hunduns, humans can harvest spirit metal from their bodies and use it to create shapeshifting mecha called Chrysalises. Two pilots control the Chrysalis, one male and one female. The pilots use their life energy, qi (not like in Mulan 2020), to power these ships and fight the Hunduns, but normally the male pilots overpower the female pilots and end up killing them. Zetian’s older sister was drafted to the service of one of the more popular pilots, and ended up dying, so Zetian swears to get her revenge on him by killing him. But before she can stab him in his sleep, the two of them are summoned to battle and must pilot their Chrysalis against the Hunduns. Zetian ends up overpowering her copilot and killing him inside the cockpit, and is thusly given the title of Iron Widow. But, in a society where women are used as commodities, she is then forced to work with the strongest pilot- the Iron Demon, who has a dark history and an even darker record of killing every woman who he is paired up with. Zetian must navigate both the battlefield of the war, where everyone in her unit is gunning for her, and the battlefield of her personal relationships, where she must figure out how she feels about the family that never protected her and the best friend she wishes she could keep close despite their gap in social status.
Like I said, I’ve been waiting for this book since last August, and it blew past my expectations. I started to read the first few pages after I got home from work the night it came out and before I knew it I was 250 pages in and rooting for Zetian. Her determination and dedication to her cause is unshakeable. She will not be tamed, by anyone, and she will crush anyone she needs to in order to get what she wants. She is cold, calculating, and smart, but she can also be impulsive, too. She can be a little too quick to push away the ones she loves, but she develops a small group of people she can rely on. I wanted her to succeed, and while her journey is a painful one, she never loses sight of her goals. She’s beaten down at every turn, yet her defiance and fiery spirit keep her going and she never backs down.
Zhao’s worldbuilding in this story is excellent. The Chrysalis machines are described in vivid detail, and as someone who enjoys fiction centered around giant robots, I was hooked on these awesome machines. Giant robot birds with flaming feathers, huge robot foxes with nine tails, a massive robot tiger with snow white fur, the Chrysalises almost turn into their own separate characters in the story. Besides the giant robots, this book reads like a war drama- behind the scenes of battle, Zetian must grapple with scheming strategists and greedy media moguls who wish to exploit or kill her. There’s always a new twist around every corner, and information is fed to the reader slowly so it keeps one reading. The only part of this book that I wasn’t completely thrilled with was the ending, which felt a little too much like sequel bait to me, but Zhao hasn’t announced any kind of sequel yet, so I guess we’ll have to see what happens.
Iron Widow is an amazing story that you should not miss. War drama, giant robots, romance, strong female protagonist, this book will check all your boxes. Zhao is a fantastic storyteller, and you should definitely check out their work if you want to learn more about Chinese culture and history. Plus, you’ll be supporting a new author with this book, and that’s always a plus.
See you next month, readers, for an… interesting Graphic Novel review!
Hello everyone, it's me, Yoshi876 again with a new edition of Pokédex Power, the section written by the person who doesn't have anything particularly witty for this month. Um, boo! It's Halloween, this is now scary.
Although we looked at a legendary Pokémon last time, we're going to do it all over again this month, although I suppose that Marshadow might be considered to be more of a mythical Pokémon. I've never really been a fan of the Pokémon that are limited to only appearing in special events, I'd much rather be able to find them in the main game myself, especially since I barely even pay attention to what is happening when these events come out.
I haven't played too far into Pokémon Moon, so Marshadow is not a Pokémon that I'm at all familiar with, but does this lack of familiarity on my part mean it has bad Pokédex entries? Let's find out…
|Able to conceal itself in shadows, it never appears before humans, so its very existence was the stuff of myth.
|It lurks in the shadows of others, copying their movements and powers. This Pokémon is craven and cowering.
|Pokémon Ultra Sun
|It slips into the shadows of others and mimics their powers and movements. As it improves, it becomes stronger than those it's imitating.
|Pokémon Ultra Moon
|It sinks into the shadows of people and Pokémon, where it can understand their feelings and copy their capabilities.
I almost get some sense of Gengar vibes from Marshadow here, what with all of this shadowy stuff that's mentioned, just a more benevolent version of the iconic Ghost / Poison type given that Marshadow seems more interested in hiding rather than beguiling or harming. A lot of the entries deal with this hiding aspect which paints the picture of a frightened Pokémon, something touched upon in its Moon entry. But I do wish that we had a bit more explanation from UltraMoon about the psychic connection it seems that it can make with those whose shadows it occupies. I'll admit to not being an expert in shadows, but I'm pretty certain that they don't contain all of my feelings, so surely Marshadow must have to create some form of connection to be able to tap into that. I also wonder whether these feelings carry over once Marshadow leaves the host shadow, or whether it almost becomes a blank slate again after emerging.
|By slipping into the shadow of a martial arts master and copying their movements, this Pokémon learned the ultimate techniques.
|This Pokémon can conceal itself in any shadow, so it went undiscovered for a long time.
I guess the Sword entry gives some context as to why Marshadow has a dual type of Fighting, but the entry itself just feels incredibly random – like why not a taekwondo instructor or a wrestler or even another Fighting-type Pokémon like Machamp? Shield isn't amazing either, with it just being a more boring rewrite of the entry from Sun.
Conclusion Marshadow has ideas, and I don't mind the routes that they chose to explore with this Pokémon when it came to the Pokédex. It is interesting to see a Pokémon so powerful be so timid, and it was good to see this reflected throughout the entries, but the only things I find myself wishing for is for it to explore why it shadowed a martial artist and whether it does have a psychic connection with those whose shadows it occupies.
K-Pop Album Reviews
This month, Zange reviews BLACKPINK's The Album! Will it square up to expectations? Or will it melt like ice cream?
Welcome to October, the ookiest and spookiest of months, challenged only by August which has been heralding the start of Autumn prematurely and frightening the folks with pumpkin spice! Ugh, though, I’ve been feeling kinda burned out with pumpkin spice; not in any kind of societal norm trashing kinda way, but just kinda tired of the earthiness. What better way to spice things up, while still staying on-theme, with something that sounds as ooky and spooky as ghost pepper!
Bhut jolokia, commonly known around these parts as the ghost pepper, is one of the hottest peppers in the world, ranked as the hottest in 2007 only to be beat in 2011 by the Trinidad Scorpion ‘Butch T’ pepper, and that one beaten by the Carolina Reaper in 2013 which continues to hold the record. The battle for the hottest chili pepper rages on, fueled by all kinds of hype and reaction videos, but my favorite part is all of the wildly edgy names they all have to add some fear and bite into it: Naga Viper, Reaper, Dragon’s Breath, Scorpion; and let’s not forget the crazy names the hot sauces that use these have. The best way to measure the heat behind these peppers, of the genus Capsicum, is the Scoville scale, denoted with Scoville heat units (SHUs). In the past this was done with a subjective test, by diluting a sample with water until heat could no longer be felt in a taste test, but that has been largely replaced around 2011 by a more standardized and scientific high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) that measures the concentration of chemicals found in chili peppers, such as capsaicin, and works it out through a mathematical formula to get a reliable SHU value. On this scale, regular bell peppers measure between 0-100 SHU, banana peppers 100-1000 SHU, jalapeños 2500-10k SHU, cayenne peppers 25k-50k SHU, habaneros 100k-350k SHU. Ghost peppers sit pretty comfortably around the 1 million SHU mark, with milder ones reaching 855k SHU and the record hitting 1,041,427 SHU--107 to 417 times hotter than jalapeños. Anything else you could ever want to know about ghost peppers, or any other for that matter, can be found on this super informative site.
It’s not easy to find ghost pepper, itself or powders, in regular stores, and is more something you’ll find in a specialty market, fancy spice shop, or as an edgy gift from an entertainment store. As someone who couldn’t even bear the heat of a banana pepper growing up, deciding to tackle ghost peppers in the name of “ghosts are spooky, sure” is quite a daring thing, I think. I’ve certainly been trying to get more and more, regularly putting banana peppers on subs now, using crushed Aleppo pepper flakes (10k SHU) on fish and fried rice, cayenne sometimes powdered or freshly chopped if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, but ghost peppers promise around 20x more heat than even cayenne.
While ghost peppers bring incredible heat, it’s also claimed to be less of a quick slap of spiciness and more a slow burn that builds over time, and lasts. They also have underlying fruitiness that promises some actual flavor behind the pain, so I will be looking for these.
Inglehoffer Ghost Pepper MustardBeaverton Foods, owner of the Inglehoffer brand, introduced this in 2016 pretty openly because it was a trend, it became the Gold Medal winner at the 2016 and 2017 World-Wide Mustard Competition in the Scorching Hot Pepper Category, with further commentary “Deservedly so. This is some serious pain. You've been warned.” I don’t think I’ll ever fully get the allure of pure pain, but at least there’s underlying science behind it:
With the Legally Blonde reference I will accept this, maybe not personally subscribe to it, but I accept it. While certainly not the only, or even the first, it certainly is the only ghost pepper mustard I have seen for sale on any shelf. Admittedly not at a chain grocery store, but rather a local deli with a gourmet grocery section, but still a place people do regular shopping.
“When you eat foods with capsaicin, like chili peppers, certain receptors in your mouth pop off, and that tricks your brain into thinking that your mouth is on fire. As part of your response to this stress, your body will produce endorphins, to help stem the pain of these transmissions. And as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde would say, “Endorphins make you happy!” So when you’re talking about getting a “rush” from hot peppers, you’re generally talking about feeling the endorphins, trying to tamp down the bad feelings. It’s this one-two punch of pain from capsaicin, followed by the rush of endorphins, is how so many people learn to associate hot foods with happy feelings.”
Beaverton claims that this is ‘America’s HOTTEST mustard’, but ensures that in addition to the heat there is still some flavor; Oregon Sweet Onions and a smooth mustard flavor, to be precise. The list of ingredients, omitting things like preservatives and basic standards, includes: peppers (red jalapeno, red chili, cayenne, green jalapeno, ghost chili peppers, ancho peppers), garlic, salt, citric acid, onions, cilantro, chives, turmeric, licorice root, annatto, ginger. This is a lot of stuff, relative to even their other mustard products, not to speak in general, in addition to how ghost peppers are far from the only one listed and aren’t even the first one, so I’m a little concerned that something is going to be masked or off. Pretty spicy right off the bat simply tasting it on my finger straight from the bottle, but not really getting much flavor. It’s hot enough that it took me by surprise when the heat just kept building and building, lending credit to their claim of HOT-, but I’ll leave the -TEST part to someone who can quantify that better. To describe the heat, it’s more like an immediate sting as soon as it touches your lips, then numbness spread out, followed by a bit of sweating; not so painful as it’s like as if you burned your mouth on soup that’s too hot but just without the physical trauma renders unto your flesh. It’s not apparent that this is even mustard rather than some kind of pepper paste, which, ehhhh, doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I feel it should be stated as this is a product that’s calling itself a mustard. Only after I put it on a hot dog bun to actually eat it did it start to temper out, with the heat being subdued long enough for me to get some of the other flavors, which end up being primarily garlic. I’d consider this to be a pretty solid addition to something like a spicy Italian sausage or a bratwurst, something with a bit more of its own flavor to go off of, which is also something I did and enjoyed as much as I could for eating something that caused me to physically sweat.
A good source of strong food-compatible heat that’s elevated to respectable spiciness, but without overtaking and obliterating it as a gimmick.
Savage Jerky Co. Ghost Pepper Buffalo Sauce Premium Beef Jerky
A beef jerky product where the logo is a man’s facial hair, groundbreaking; I guess that comes with the territory and market. Where’s the beef jerky for gays and femmes? Big fan of the matte black packaging with glossy dark purple lettering, though. Credit where credit is due, they seem like some cool peeps, genuinely passionate about what they’re doing with a relatively-humble beginning in a world of independently wealthy bored empty-nesters deciding it’s time to just suddenly create a multi-million dollar niche food company.
Mojo was the one Weasel tried, while I of course grabbed Ghost Pepper Buffalo Sauce. $10 for a 2.2 oz bag, which seems a bit much, but it’s a small brand product at a specialty store and a food that really just is expensive to begin with. Hand-crafted, tender brisket, premium beef jerky infused with buffalo sauce, the full ingredients are: beef, hot sauce (aged cayenne red peppers, vinegar, water, salt, garlic powder), lime juice, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, molasses, sea salt, ghost pepper powder, cayenne, ground pepper, chipotle powder, smoked paprika, habanero powder. They have a “savage commitment to quality”, wherein they say they use ingredients that ‘belong in a kitchen, not in a lab’, which yeah it looks like all of the ingredients listed are just food, and they use locally-sourced USDA brisket, rather than round as they say most other jerkies are made from.
Opening up the bag and I’m not smelling anything immediately specific; it certainly smells like beef jerky, like there’s some hot stuff in it, that it’s smoky, but nothing is really jumping at the forefront. They look really dusty but really aren't; I was concerned I'd get seasoning and bits all over when I grabbed them but that wasn't the case. Tender meat, but not too chewy. Each piece is thick enough to feel satisfying, but not so thick or tough to make chewing a jaw-tiring chore. The flavors are subtle, but definitely present, and like the heat from the ghost pepper and various other peppers, takes a few seconds to sink in. A noticeable sweetness that I feel comes from the molasses and lime precedes a full mouth tingling easing into the kinda edging on painful tinge you expect from a spicy pepper. Not once did I feel taken off guard or shocked with heat, but rather a relatively slow burn that was manageable. It certainly hits the back of your throat and sinuses, but not a regrettable painful experience. The smokiness makes itself known the more it is eaten. I'm a big fan of being able to taste each respective flavor, so big props to Savage Jerky Co. for this. I can sit and look at the list of ingredients and be able to taste each one of them if I put my mind to it.
Biggest complaint I have is that, for a brand created by some peeps tired of dry jerky, this sure is dry. Maybe that’s exacerbated by the amount of flavoring on the jerky making it look like it fell into a vacuum cleaner filter, but the dryness of the beef didn’t really support the heat in a way that encouraged me to have more, and instead had me go straight to chugging water. I did like how it didn’t compromise on the intensity of the heat promised with ghost pepper, and the spice blend it was in helped ease me into the burn rather than stabbing me in the throat with it, which gave me time to consider the flavors and experience. The burn dulls quickly (aided by a generous chug of water), but lingers around your tongue and the back of your throat for a few minutes before dissipating naturally. A good quality product that I’m not disappointed in, and would be open to trying their other flavors as well.
One notable thing was it gave us both hiccups. The mechanism of this apparently isn’t fully understood, but it’s believed that certain spicy or pungent chemicals, like capsaicin, irritates the diaphragm and thus triggers hiccups. It’s all speculation, still, so who knows.
Blue Diamond Almonds XTREMES Ghost Pepper
I picked this up one day at Target after seeing the incredibly edgy design and noticing it was a ghost pepper flavored thing I can pack into this review after having visited that hot sauce /jerky shop. The XTREMES brand comes with two other flavors, cayenne on the lower end at two flames, and carolina reaper on the high end with four flames, leaving ghost pepper in the middle with three flames on their little scale. Just taking a moment to say that kinda oversimplifies it, as cayenne is at like 40,000 SHU, while ghost is at 1,000,000 SHU, and reaper is at 2,000,000 SHU, but I guess we’re not talking about the actual peppers in this scenario and more of the nuts, which may alter the proportions.
The star of the ingredients list, after almonds of course, is the ghost pepper seasoning, which is made up of ‘salt, spice, sugar, paprika, tomato powder, onion powder, yeast extract, citric acid, and natural flavor (including extractives of ghost pepper)’. Clearly not much ghost pepper in this, given that lists of ingredients are ordered from what’s included in the greatest amount first to the least, which it’s true that it may not be actually necessary as it can be quite potent, but still a red flag for me. The first look upon opening reveals that the almonds are completely coated with a very generous amount of bright red dust, which I’m crediting the paprika and tomato powder with. Smells quite like a standard bbq sauce, and upon eating the first few pieces is quite clear that's what the flavor is too. The onion and tomato powders are immediately front and center, with the smokiness of the paprika right behind it. The ghost pepper only makes an appearance with a capsaicin sting coming a few seconds later, but I wouldn’t even rank it on par with a jalapeno and it dissipates soon enough on its own anyways. They taste good, but are unbearably tolerable. Would probably not be disappointing if it was advertised as 'ghost pepper bbq', or even ‘spicy bbq’, but even diluting it that much may still be giving it too much credit.
What do I know, though, a lot of reviews I’m seeing for this are people saying it’s way too spicy, or that they’re glad it’s actually not that spicy, so maybe what people want is the prestige and clout that comes with having eaten ghost pepper-flavored food but without any of the consequences. Not sure why I’m surprised by this as I know people who think paprika and even ground black pepper are overwhelmingly spicy. Who are you people? What’s the biology of this?
Burger King Ghost Pepper NuggetsIn a rare instance here, I’m reviewing something I tried very recently and is still available within the season and month I’m posting this review! The Burger King Ghost Pepper Nuggets are available for everyone October 11th, but a digital exclusive a week early if you purchase through the app. The app was a struggle, as at first it wasn’t clear which stores even had the ghost pepper nuggets available, as a couple of the stores near me were just blocked from ordering through the app or failed to have the nuggets even listed on their menu.
Once I finally found a place, I tried to put the order in and noticed the pricing structure was odd. The 4pc is $1 and 8pc is $1.49 for just the nuggets, and adding merely a small drink and side for the combo shoots it up to $9.39. Adding each thing individually--the 8pc nuggets, a medium Sprite, and a medium fries--comes out to just $6.77, so I really don’t get the point of making it a combo when it’s smaller and much more expensive. Once I got to that point, I went to pay, but it wouldn’t process my payment and kept shooting up error after error. Defeated, I simply went inside and told them, ‘hey, the app isn’t working, can I still get the app-exclusive nuggets?’ and they did, but never gave me either of the dipping sauces I asked for. As of writing this the app is still sending me daily push notifications so I’m probably just going to delete it as I don’t intend on ever coming back until they come out with another exclusive product that perfectly aligns with my review theme for the month.
It has a little kick to it but nothing more than like buffalo sauce or perhaps a little jalapeno juice, and is easily defeated by a measly dab of ranch. I will give it credit that it's spicier than McDonald's spicy nuggets, which isn’t exactly a high bar. The heat kinda settles in at the back of your throat, and builds up as you eat more, but never really gets to a full mouth tingle or anything remarkable beyond kinda just feeling annoying and encouraging you to drink. The breading is definitely crunchier than other fast food nuggets, and even their own regular ones, which I found quite good.
Along with the basic press release that has gone around about these, there also has been an inordinate amount of YouTube reviews of people sitting in their car trying these, and a good majority of the ones I’ve clicked on claimed that these were super spicy, shockingly hot, painful, fiery, I don’t get it. My initial impression was don’t waste your money, but ehhhh, a buck fifty for 8 of them is unbeatable, and they really weren’t that bad. Ghost pepper raises expectations to more, so it was a little disappointing on that end, but for a mainstream mass market product they were still spicy enough to set it apart from others. I just don’t get how people are basically DYING after having a few of these; maybe it’s some biochem thing that I don’t understand, or just not buying into clickbait reaction videos. I think the more I do these ghost pepper reviews I’m not figuring it out since I already figured it out as much, but more coming to terms that absolutely no ghost pepper product aimed at a general market will live up to its name, whether it’s still spicy or not.
Ok ok ok, to try to rate how spicy they are without the expectations that come with ‘ghost pepper’, they can scratch that spicy itch you may be having, there’s not that many more simple fast food items like this that actually register like this one does. I think that how spicy these nuggets are should actually be how regular spicy anything should be. With Burger King’s Ghost Pepper Nuggets you just gotta feel confident in your decision that the greatest feature of them is they’re under $2.
Bunker Hill Ghost Pepper Monterey Jack Cheese
Hailing from the middle of Amish country in Central Ohio since 1935, Bunker Hill Cheese Co. produces about 35 types of small batch and hand crafted cheese using locally sourced milk. Located inside Heini’s Cheese Chalet, which appears to be one of those down-home country grocery stores and boutiques. They also ship to all of the lower 48.
At least with my experience here in Florida, you can find some of their more basic cheeses at Publix or other grocery stores that have a general specialty cheese case, but I’ve found that Bunker Hill cheeses can be more consistently found, with much greater variety, at various farm markets like the one I really like going to all the time that has cute goats you can pet. $5 for an 8oz block, give or take as they were all slightly differently priced, isn’t that bad. Out of all of them, before I even conceptualized doing this review, I chose the ghost pepper monterey jack because it just seemed to be the most appealing one. I can buy gouda anywhere else, I can get regular cheddar everywhere, but I don’t see ghost pepper cheese often and I was in a trying mood. I will say that Lake Meadow Naturals does make their own Wisconsin Ghost Pepper Jack Cheese, but they package them in enormous 1 lb portions and then put them on bogo, and I just couldn’t do that.
The cheese is incredibly, and shockingly, soft. I had trouble opening the package because it was just mangling the cheese more than tearing the plastic. I wouldn’t put it on the level of like brie, of course, but for a cheddar cheese it was just strange. It didn’t crumble, or spread, just difficult to cut in uniform slices, which I should’ve expected from a monterey jack cheese so that’s my bad. Biting into one of the chunks, it’s hard to taste the actual cheese for more than two seconds, which was a very weak and mild buttery sweetness, because after that the spiciness just takes over. I wouldn’t say I was crippled by it, but I was definitely a bit like “ok yeah that’s hot” and panicked when it wouldn’t go away after drinking some milk and just settled on pain being my life now. After about two minutes most of the sting was gone, but a tingle still persisted, which I’m fine with, sure, like mint but hot. I put some on a leftover chicken tender sandwich after my plan to use mozzarella was thwarted by the discovery of mold, and that worked out alright. Incredibly spicy still, but evened out. The whole brick seemed to be just more a vessel for the ghost peppers, and the ingredients seem to say just as much as there’s nothing else in it but cheese basics and then ghost peppers. With how present the advertised flavor was, I’m interested in trying some of their other flavors, good on them.
They also now have crunchy cheese crisps in quite a large variety of flavors, including ghost pepper. They’re available at only a few stores currently, including Giant, Piggly Wiggly, Buehler’s, and Jungle Jim’s, alongside Amazon of course, but I’m sure I’ll see them elsewhere soon enough.
Bravado Spice Co. Ghost Pepper & Blueberry Hot Sauce
Walking around World Market, as one does, looking for whatever kind of strange chocolate or international snack I could find to dump into a pile for reviews later, and I came across the hot sauce rack. There I thought, “Huh, my brother’s birthday is coming up, and he likes hot stuff, so I’ll pick a couple of these,” and among those was a ghost pepper and blueberry hot sauce by Bravado Spice Co., and fate was decided.It’s $6 for 5 fl oz, which seems to be the standard size for specialty hot sauces given that the like dozen of them I currently have on my shelf all appear to be in the same exact bottle. Gluten-free, vegan, all natural, grain-free, dairy free, with exceedingly simple ingredients: blueberry, white wine vinegar, ghost pepper, sea salt, and black pepper. Love to see it. To start off I just tasted a little dab off of a spoon just to get a feel for it, stretch my legs, know what I’m getting myself into. The consistency is pretty thin, more on the vinegar side as there’s no paste or anything to thicken it up. You can definitely smell and taste the blueberry, but holy crap is it hot, almost instantly numbing my tongue on the point of contact, but the burn feels almost, like...light? Like a strong peppermint cooling effect but instead hot, uplifting instead of sinking.
I tried some on some freshly breaded and fried chicken, and that worked pretty well, staying extremely hot but still with that blueberry flavor lurking behind, with the gentle sweetness pairing well with the heat, so I figured this would be a good sauce to mix into things. I made a chicken rollup thing, with freshly pulled rotisserie chicken, parsley, olive oil, cream cheese, oregano, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, pepper, thyme, and the Bravado hot sauce of course, wrapped up in a crescent roll. It was good! Sure, but ehhh, the sauce got kinda lost with the cacophony of other flavors, so I figured that this is something that’s better as the star. So, next I decided to make chicken and waffles, a meal that’s pretty straightforward as it’s just chicken and waffles, no frills. But it’s me, so for some frills I made a blackberry compote (blackberries, lemon juice, pinch of salt, some sugar, boiled and reduced) with the Ghost Pepper & Blueberry Hot Sauce, and then because I could, I reduced down more of the hot sauce along with some serrano honey vinegar and whipped maple syrup. Waffles, compote, chicken, syrup, and some whipped cream for aesthetic and because I like whipped cream with my doughy breakfast foods. Each of the compote and syrup alone, the flavor and heat of the hot sauce were still present and up front, but the dark sweetness of the blueberries and blackberries more so with the heat of the ghost pepper not instantly numbing my mouth and instead slowly settling in. Combined with the chicken and waffles, and it was perfection, a unique meal with a unique experience.
This particular hot sauce is a good example that something can be scorching hot, but still retain a notable and delicious flavor, so I’m not sure what everyone else’s excuse is now.
The Ghost Pepper & Blueberry Hot Sauce is also featured on Season 3 of Hot Ones, an incredibly popular YouTube interview series that has celebrities heating progressively hotter wings while answering often offbeat questions. They claim that the Ghost Pepper & Blueberry Hot Sauce is 28K SHU--7x hotter than Tabasco, but still well below the 855K SHU mark for the ghost pepper itself; a factoid that opens my mind up to just how much hotter ghost pepper things could be. I recommend this show because the interviews are often really good, and also you can see people react in real time to hot sauces and how it affects their disposition.
Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips
A very striking bag, dark and foreboding, perfect in time for Halloween. I’m not sure if this is a seasonal item or not as I’ve seen it year-round, but it definitely has a more pronounced presence in the spooky season. Lattice cut, kettle cooked. A lattice cut is one way to make a waffle-like pattern that leaves the chip thicker than just a regular slice, and kettle cooking is tl;dr a process that fries the chips in batches at a lower temperature that can yield darker chips with wonky shapes and curled-up edges, so I’m expecting a considerable crunch
They definitely have a little bit of a kick, but I can get more out of regular hot chips; there just really isn’t enough for me to feel satisfied in it being ‘ghost pepper’. Looking at the ingredients it does list a ‘ghost pepper seasoning’ which consists of maltodextrin, spices, dextrose, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, yeast extract, torula yeast, citric acid, vinegar, natural chili pepper flavor, natural capsicum flavor, and natural smoke flavor; within allllll of that, hidden within 'spices' is black pepper, cumin, green chili pepper, jalapeno, parsley, and ghost chili pepper. The chip does taste alright, but I feel that the absolute inundation of other ingredients just reduces the percentage of ghost chili pepper to something minuscule and simply a technicality for legitimate flavoring. Who knows the actual percentage though as the proprietary formula is not available. I kept eating more and more, hoping the heat would build, like what happens with other standard hot potato chips, and it just never did. Regardless of this gripe, I think this works in my favor as I like it more as it’s something tolerable and not just a contest for how much pain I can endure. The flavor is like a subtle savory almost-bbq-but-not-quite-there-yet, and I think how bare all of these chips look with their pathetic amount of visible spice tells the whole story for me. I just don’t see why I would buy this when I could instead buy literally any other chip.
In their Fearless Flyer, basically Trader Joe’s quirky magazine-like long-winded advertisement for their seasonal items, they say that all the other flavors balance it and turn it towards sweet, but, like, ok, why. I guess seeing ‘ghost’ got me to buy it, and that’s the purpose.
Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper Chips
Paqui is no stranger to the world of hot chips. They’re likely best known for their One Chip Challenge that spread through internet influencers like wildfire. You won’t be seeing that from me, at least not yet because I doubt the spectacle of this translates well to a text-and-image format. What I instead got was the Haunted Ghost Pepper Chips. They’ve apparently updated the recipe in the last couple years, and allegedly are much hotter than before, so if you tried them for the first time in like 2018 like I did, go ahead and try them again now like I also did.
After seeing one bag a single time at Lucky’s a few years ago, these Haunted Ghost Pepper Chips started appearing in plenty of places. I haven’t seen them at Publix yet, but Sprouts, The Fresh Market, Walmart, Whole Foods, even Walgreens and CVS has them; I’ve even found the smaller 2 oz bags at 7-Eleven and other gas stations, and even in the checkout lane of a Lowe’s Home Improvement. Tortilla chips with ghost pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, chipotle pepper powder, and salt, plus some other negligible ingredients. Seems like a setup for some genuine heat, with ghost pepper being pretty high up on the ingredient list. Non-GMO, gluten-free, kosher, no artificial flavors or ingredients, no preservatives, and vegan. All the gimmick graphics say it’s really super duper hot and is gonna hurt, so, here goes!
First off, these are large chips, and after having bought several bags of this over time I have not noticed a single broken chip either, so kudos to the quality control team. Definitely getting the saltiness and typical corny flavor of a tortilla chip which seems to stand out more, but suddenly the heat really does kick in and actually does kinda hurt. Genuine mouth-searing heat that lingers, and it’s kinda uncomfortable and hard to enjoy. Nose running and sweating a little. In the brief moment between biting and tongue-numbing pain there is actually some flavor there. It says it “hurts SO good” but I wish it hurt less because there’s real flavor in this and potential but it’s just gone too quickly and becomes more of a bother having to tend to your mouth and senses so you don’t look like a weak dripping fool. I think the trick with this one is that the size of the chip makes it difficult to jam the thing cleanly into your mouth, and instead forces your lips to touch it while your teeth break it off, spreading the dust over more of a sensitive area. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining because this actually brings the heat I’ve been moaning that others haven’t, and is what I believe is the hottest thing you can buy in a grocery store without needing to order online, so the real problem here is that this product just isn’t for me. What I did enjoy about this one, actually, was that it didn’t build when I ate more, and rather it settled in and became easier. Maybe if I ate more and more I’d develop resistance, but I just didn’t care much to do that and instead cradled the gallon of vanilla frozen yogurt I had at my side to soothe the sting. Maybe it would be good as the main component of a crust or breading mixture for chicken or something? Thoughts and feelings.
Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper Chips are less of a snack, and more of an experience, which is how I feel any of the ultra spicy peppers should be.
Look, I get it, something on a regular grocery shelf isn’t going to melt anyone’s face off, but I think it’s a little unfair to invoke ‘Ghost Pepper’ and not have it be face-melty. I get that the point is to ride the wave of hype, catch peoples’ attention and curiosity to get them to buy it to try it, then tell everyone else “eh, not that bad!” which will get more people to try it out in turn. I have seen other blogs blame this on brands not wanting people associating their product with gagging on pain, or risk cutting in half their potential customer base by scaring them off, which sure I’ll give them some credit towards the plausibility of that, but it’s a market trend that has had plenty of time to mature and I’ve seen more reaction videos of things being unbearably spicy driving the virality of a product much MUCH more than review after review of people expressing disappointment that there was just no worthwhile heat. It’s just that the wild disparity between each ghost pepper product, even just hot and spicy things in general, leaves no chance for consistency or clarity, which leads more towards being bummed or disappointed than anything. Like, if I was glad that a super hot spicy product ended up not being that spicy at all, I probably would’ve just bought a not-spicy product to begin with unless I’m a dork writing food reviews with a self-imposed obligation to try it. The grocery and food retail market nerd inside me really wants to see a breakdown of the data available on this, as I want to know what exactly is pushing ghost pepper in this way.
Would including an official Scoville rating on these items be too much or too difficult to standardize, or would this be exactly what is needed to really make clear how spicy each thing is while still permitting the layman-ready GHOST PEPPER or CAROLINA REAPER or whatever label? Sending my thoughts to the CEO of hot food right now, will report back with updates.
|The 'Shroom: Issue 175
|Staff Notes • The 'Shroom Spotlight
|Fake News • Fun Stuff • Palette Swap • Pipe Plaza • Critic Corner • Strategy Wing
|Awards Analysis • Trick-Or-Treating With The 'Shroom • Wahn Special 'Shroom Song • Waluigi Time's Writer Testimonials