Morning Spark oatmeal, Jolt energy gum, and other caffeine-infused snacks.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Aug. 19 2008 7:58 AM

What's the Buzz?

Morning Spark oatmeal, Jolt energy gum, and the search for the perfect caffeine-infused snack.

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Taste: zero (out of 10)
Convenience: 2 (out of 10)
Value: 6 (out of 10)
Efficacy: 5 (out of 10)
Total: 13 (out of 40)

SumSeeds Energized Sunflower Seeds

SumSeeds Energized Sunflower Seeds Price: $4.95 Caffeine: 140 mg Warning: None

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Right away, I remembered why I don't like whole sunflower seeds—you know, the kind that require you to shuck the seeds in your mouth, like an insouciant major leaguer. (Indeed, the seeds are endorsed by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.) Call me fastidious, but I don't like to spit out my snack foods, particularly at the office. Throughout the test, I was terrified someone was going to barge into my cubicle and catch me dribbling a wad of mangled wet shells into the manila envelope I commissioned as a spittoon.

That wasn't the only problem. The seeds are extremely salty, probably an effort to cover up the still-discernible chemical flavor. Efficacywise, they were a bust—chewing the seeds required so much concentration that I barely made any progress on my book (reading a mere four pages). After almost half an hour of effort, I gave up without finishing the bag. Ultimately, I got a lift about equal to a few sips of coffee—which, incidentally, would have been cheaper. Recommended for sleep-deprived baseball players only.

Taste: 4 (out of 10)
Convenience: 3 (out of 10)
Value: 3 (out of 10)
Efficacy: 4 (out of 10)
Total: 14 (out of 40)

Jelly Belly Cherry Extreme Sport Energizing Jelly Beans

Jelly Belly Cherry Extreme Sport Energizing Jelly Beans Price: $22.50 for a 24-pack Caffeine: 50 mg per packet Warning: "Not recommended for children, teens, or pregnant or nursing women."

In 1976, Jelly Belly scored a major marketing coup with its invention of the "gourmet" jelly bean, now the world's No. 1 seller. (Ronald Reagan, famously a fierce Jelly Belly partisan, sent some along with the astronauts of the 1983 Challenger shuttle.) But it's hard to know what the company was thinking with its Extreme Sport line, which sacrifices flavor for, I guess, performance—the bag touts the presence of not only caffeine but carbs, electrolytes, and vitamins B and C. That's right, athletes: Why reach for a tired sports drink when you can slam a bag of Jelly Belly?

Not surprisingly, the beans are terrible—they taste like chewable, past-their-expiration-date cough drops. The bright side is that it only takes a handful to get all 50 mg of caffeine, which does provide a mild buzz. Still, I read a mere three pages of my book, perhaps because I was mentally kicking myself for spending more than $20 on a box of crappy jelly beans. Maybe I can donate them to NASA.

Taste: 3 (out of 10)
Convenience: 7 (out of 10)
Value: 3 (out of 10)
Efficacy: 4 (out of 10)
Total: 17 (out of 40)

Buzz Bites Chocolate Energy Chews

Buzz Bites Chocolate Energy Chews Price: $3.99 for a tin of eight chocolates Caffeine: 100 mg per piece Warning: "Not recommended for children and persons who may be caffeine sensitive."

I was pleasantly surprised by my first few bites of one of these small chocolates—it tasted like … chocolate! There was little or no unpleasant bitter flavor. "This could be our winner," I thought, but was soon punished for my rush to judgment with a long, lingering chemical aftertaste that completely ruined the initial pleasure. Each chocolate contains a wallop of caffeine—about the same amount as one cup of coffee—yet I experienced a smooth, mellow buzz, which was pleasant. Somehow, it wasn't enough juice to dig into my engineering history, though—I skimmed seven pages and read only three.

Taste: 3 (out of 10)
Convenience: 7 (out of 10)
Value: 7 (out of 10)
Efficacy: 7 (out of 10)
Total: 24 (out of 40)

Jolt Spearmint Energy Gum

Jolt Spearmint Energy Gum Price: $2.49 for a pack of 12 pieces Caffeine: Undisclosed. Two pieces are said to contain as much as a typical energy drink. Warning: "Not a substitute for sleep. This product is as safe as coffee or energy drinks."