Serious Eats: Drinks
Burger King's New Smoothies and Frappés
Most of my favorite foods come in liquid form. I stick mainly to beer and soup, but come spring I like to work the occasional smoothie into the mix as well. I make more smoothies at home than I order out, however, because the take-out models tend to be too expensive for a snack and not substantial enough for a meal. Restaurant smoothies aren't insubstantial in terms of calories—you easily can cram several hundred calories and triple-digit grams of sugar into a fruit smoothie—but rather in terms of "Wait, that wasn't lunch; that was a very sweet pink thing that required no chewing." I like smoothies but don't really know how to work them into my routine.
Although Burger King hasn't done many things right by me lately, I was intrigued by the reasonable price of $2.29 for the entry-level size of their new Strawberry Banana and Tropical Mango smoothies. The nutritional profiles aren't horrific, either, as these things go: around 200 calories and 40 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving, which is roughly on par with similar flavors from Jamba Juice (and if a Jamba smoothie isn't exactly a glass of kale juice and bee pollen, it also isn't an order of French fries). Yes, 40 grams is a wide load of sugar, but a fair bit of it at least comes from real fruit, and there isn't any saturated fat or arsenic or anything. These won't kill you.
Since the nutrition passes my lax muster, it's up to the taste to determine if BK's Real Fruit Smoothies can serve as a fairly happy, fairly healthy person's afternoon snack: They're not quite vitaminy enough to be virtuous, so they need to taste pretty good too, or else I'm sticking with an iced coffee and one of those candy bars that pass themselves off as rock-climbing fuel.
Both flavors are pretty good, if a bit too sweet. I prefer the Strawberry Banana, but individual results will vary based on your banana tolerance. Both fruits were present, but I'm not sure this smoothie would be markedly different if the strawberry were replaced with another sweet red berry. The banana steals the show; I happen to like my shows stolen by bananas, but if you don't then it'll be Tropical Mango for you.
My Tropical Mango was served at a weird consistency, nearly solid in the middle and soupy on the edges, while the Strawberry Banana I got at the same time was ideal smoothie viscosity. I can't believe the texture is supposed to vary between flavors, so I'll chalk this discrepancy up to one-time human or mechanical error rather than design. The TM tasted very much like mango, but beyond that I had a tough time discerning what other parts of the tropics were representing. I guessed orange and pineapple, because I tasted orange and there's usually pineapple in this type of affair. The BK menu reveals those two along with apple, grape, pear, and passion fruit. If they say so.
Burger King partisans needn't worry that the chain's going all health-falutin' on us, however, as the smoothies were rolled out at the same time as a pair of frappés that contain all the calories, fat, and whipped cream you deserve. How do you like the fructose in your corn syrup? High? Oh good, read on! The Caramel Frappé is a passable low-end liquid dessert (if your life is lacking in passable low-end liquid dessert options), with strong, straightforward caramel flavors coming through relatively unobstructed considering there a couple dozen other ingredients, mostly in the dairy, sugar, and preservative families. The caramel sauce floater atop the whipped cream has very little flavor, suggesting that there must be great gobs of it—or a similar carameling agent—in the actual drink.
The Mocha option has less going for it, with a little bit of roasted coffee otherwise overwhelmed by cheap chocolate. There's a slightly acrid, burnt edge that is probably supposed to imply sophistication. The fudge sauce squirted atop the flavorless whipped cream is potent and sweet and not good.
Burger King's new smoothies are fairly healthful and inexpensive and don't leave you feeling gross and bloated on your way out the door. The frappés don't fill any necessary niche, though: The 410 calories and 19 grams of fat in the $2.29 small serving are better spent elsewhere.