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New Tabasco could be better

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Universal Press Syndicate

Tabasco Sweet & Spicy Pepper Sauce. $2.65 per 5-ounce bottle.

Bonnie: I'm so disappointed in this new sauce. It just doesn't live up to Tabasco's other products. Tabasco Sweet & Spicy is sugary-gooey, gelatinous and thick, and sadly doesn't have much of a kick. It reminds me of duck sauce that's put on the table in inexpensive Chinese restaurants for dipping fried noodles — without enough of the accompanying hot mustard added.

I guess everyone's entitled to one failure. In fact, Truman Capote could have been talking about Tabasco when he said, "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor."

Carolyn: The makers of Tabasco are bringing sweet-and-sour sauce to people who have never set foot inside an Asian supermarket. This makes sense considering how many versions of that Chinese condiment contain pepper and vinegar — the main ingredients of regular Tabasco. Unlike Bonnie, I liked Tabasco Sweet & Spicy, as a dipping sauce for chunks of chicken, for instance. The problem is its packaging.

In an apparent attempt to capture regular Tabasco fans, the McIlhenny Co. has put this product in Tabasco's trademark skinny-necked bottle. This neck keeps Tabasco's traditional thin sauce from coming out too fast. But this thick Sweet & Spicy sauce is as ill-suited and as difficult to dispense from a thin-necked bottle as ketchup is.

This bottle will also make purchasers assume Sweet & Spicy is a lot more like traditional Tabasco than it is — thus setting them up for possible disappointment.

Put this in a wide-mouthed jar, call it McIlhenny Sweet 'n Sour Dipping Sauce With Tabasco, and I'll bet Bonnie — and a lot of other people — would like this a lot better.

Salada Fruits of Love Teas. Raspberry Passion, and Berry Kiss. $3 per 2.12-ounce box containing 20 tea bags.

Bonnie: These two new Salada teas will be sold only through February. With names like Berry Kiss and Raspberry Passion, you can guess they're intended for Valentine's Day. With names like those, I also expected them to have more pizzazz.

I found the raspberry flavor off, leaving an odd aftertaste; the Berry Kiss is smoother and better. Both are made from natural ingredients, including hibiscus flowers, rose hips, peppermint leaves and various fruits, and both contain no caffeine.

But will a cuppa either warm your lover's heart? Even if your Valentine is a tea lover, I'm guessing you'll still have to do more than just serve this tea.

Carolyn: Avocado, caviar and chocolate: The traditional foods of passion are pretty indulgent. (No wonder those cherubs always look so chubby.)

These two new Salada Fruits of Love teas prove that this needn't be the case. They also prove that food needn't have a lot of calories to have a lot of flavor. They're so strong, they make themselves known to your nose as soon as you open the box. Although they contain similar ingredients and are both rich and fruity, I preferred the mellower, smoother Berry Kiss to the more acidic Raspberry Passion.

Of course, the sinlessness of these will be undercut considerably if you serve them with chocolate, which is what I did and what I recommend.

Sunkist Almond Munchies. In the Raw, Roastie Toasties, Hot & Sassy, Buttered Up, Nudies, and Honey Dipped. $3.99 per 5-ounce bag.

Bonnie: I love almonds. So it's no surprise that I enjoyed most of these six new heart-healthy snacks from the produce department. I say healthy because all almonds contain good-for-you vitamin E, protein and fiber. They're even purported to help lower your LDL, or bad cholesterol.

In fact, that research is strong enough for the FDA to permit these almonds to bear the following health claim: "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." That's about a handful of almonds a day.

My favorite of Sunkist's many varieties is the Hot & Sassy, flavored with pepper and cayenne. They certainly tickle my palate and would make an even better Valentine's Day food than those not-so-sassy teas.

Carolyn: How many times have I said that the main problem with so-called natural foods is not the foods themselves, but packaging and marketing stuck in the '50s? Sunkist appears to be listening.

Its new Almond Munchies are really just plain old Blue Diamond-style almonds repackaged and marketed for 21st-century tastes and on-the-go lifestyles. They're packed in resealable grab 'n' go bags, prepared to meet every conceivable taste or nutritional preference and called cutesy things like Roastie Toasties (oven roasted) and Nudies (skinless), in addition to Munchies (to leave no doubt that these are intended for snacking).

I also liked the Hot & Sassy and the even more unusual and delicious butter-glazed Buttered Up, which is also the state you want to achieve with any Valentine.

Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat (Quirk). Each week they critique three new food items. © Universal Press Syndicate