Why am I reviewing a product that’s decidedly not cereal, a Pop-Tart, or oatmeal?
I’ll answer that question with a question: why am I getting defensive about hypothetical questions that no one’s actually asking? The real reason I’m giving Special K’s new(ish) Caramel Nut Protein Bites a spotlighted review is because, after January’s firestorm of new cereals—which featured adaptations of every doughy delicacy from cookies to pancakes and back to cookies again—I’m struggling to fresh and relevant new products to write 700 excessive words about. If you see me reviewing Rice Chex next week, you’ll know I’m really spooning the bottom of the barrel.
Besides, when I scanned my Protein Bites, the check-out machine called them “KLLGG CERL.” So take that, imaginary critics!
In a good sign for a caramel product, all of my Caramel Nut Protein Bites came out of their easily fanny pack-able pouch in a single sticky mound. Thankfully, the Bites were easily separated from this Voltron form into their original, roughly Mini-Wheat-sized states—though I was secretly hoping they’d stay together, so I could eat the blob like a mutant caramel apple made entirely of caramel.
Special K Caramel Nut Protein Bites look like bite-sized granola bars, but they taste a lot more like oatmeal cookie dough. Soft and chewy, these bites have a base flavor that smacks of golden-roasted almonds and hearty, golden-toasted oats that taste just as golden-buttered. Trust me: on a scale of 1 to Ponyboy, these Protein Bites stay pretty darn golden.
In fact, these heavy almond butter, brown sugar-sweetened oat, and butterscotch overtones are so heavy that any caramel flavor is largely overwhelmed. The aftertaste contains mild ribbons of syrupy caramel that reminded me of oat-based caramel corn and Samoa cookies, but in a blind taste test, “Caramel” would be my 5th guess for what flavor these are supposed to be—even peanut would come in 4th, ahead of caramel.
On second thought, in a blind taste test I’d probably still be trying to eat the original mound of Bites with a fork and knife, like an overdone steak.
I’m pretty sure Kellogg’s never intended for their Special K Protein Bites to be eaten with milk, but I’m a Sanford & Son-esque big dummy, so I doused my cubes in the stuff anyway. And it didn’t really do much of anything. The Bites are too dense to absorb much milk, so they just kind of float there, zen and stoic like Buddha in a water park’s lazy river. Napa Valley-primed taste buds might discern a thin, dulce de leche flavored glaze in heavily milk-soaked areas, but for the most part, they just taste like the same ol’ golden nuggets.
I certainly wouldn’t recommend filling your pouch with milk and sticking it in your cupholder during a 70mph expressway commute.
Definitely more granola bar than cereal and more nut than caramel, Special K Caramel Nut Protein Bites are nevertheless a lip-smacking synthesis of enough buttery, nutty, and golden-sweet flavors to make Buzz the Cheerios Bee jealous. A little too expensive and a tad too chewy for those with testy molars, these Bites are worth trying before committing to a surplus buy.
And as for die-hard caramel fans? You’re better off using melted Werther’s to glue your own almonds and crushed-up Samoas together.
The “Bowl:” Special K Caramel Nut Protein Bites
The Breakdown: They need more caramel than their teasing aftertaste provides, but these bites will still please on-the-go fans of roasted nut butters and those who like to eat bite-sized things in single sinful hunks.
The Bottom Line: 7.5 sailing Siddharthas out of 10
(Quick Nutrition Facts: 180 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 9 grams of protein per 11 piece serving)