Universal Press Syndicate
Cake Mate Decors Flavored Sugar. Cinnamon, and Peppermint. $1.69 per 2.3-ounce canister.

Bonnie: Just in time for holiday baking,Cake Mate has introduced two new flavored, colored sugar-crystal sprinkles to decorate your holiday cakes and cookies. One's flavored peppermint, the other cinnamon. Both are artificially colored and flavored, but I'm still recommending them, as a little goes a long way, plus the flavor of both is not bad at all.

Carolyn: I also liked these new decorating sugars a lot more than I expected. The peppermint is quite mild, a plus for someone who doesn't much like mint. The cinnamon, with its red color, is like red-hot cinnamon candy (not plain cinnamon) and so delivers a zesty flavor punch even atop already spicy gingerbread cookies. The peppermint's flavor is embedded in big pieces of red and white sugar, and both varieties lend some color and lots of sweetness and crunch.

Try the peppermint on sugar cookies and the cinnamon on spice cupcakes topped with vanilla frosting or, less conventionally, on buttered toast. Yum!

Planters Mr. Peanut's Sweet Shoppe Holiday Treats. Chocolate Almond Crunch, Butter Toasted Nut Treasures and Cashew Mocha Delight. $2.99 to $3.99 per 6-ounce box.

Bonnie: Need to satisfy your sweet tooth after a holiday meal? You might just reach for a tiny handful (i.e., about eight) of Mr. Peanut's chocolate- or butter-coated nuts in lieu of some pie or cake. Despite the Mr. Peanut name, these are mostly not peanuts, but are either coffee-flavored, milk chocolate-covered cashews; butter-toasted pecans, peanuts and walnuts; or milk chocolate-covered and toffee-coated almonds.

Although these are high in calories, some of those calories come from the nutrient-rich nuts. Eleven pieces of the Cashew Mocha Delight, for instance, contain 220 calories, 15 grams of fat (with some of those good fats) and 14 grams of sugar, with 6 percent of the daily values for calcium and iron, 10 percent of the manganese, 15 percent for magnesium and phosphorus, and 20 percent of copper.

My preference would be to have them coated in dark chocolate. But they're fine as is, especially if enjoyed judiciously — alone, not in addition to dessert.

Carolyn: I recently received a letter from Mr. Peanut in which he confessed to his love of sweets around the holidays. Me too, Mr. P. During the busy holiday season I especially crave sweets that I don't have to make.

Mr. Peanut's three new offerings include nuts with a butterscotchy coating (Butter Toasted Nut Treasures), a semi-hard mocha one (Cashew Mocha Delight) and kind of a combo of both (Chocolate Almond Crunch). All come in holiday packaging in a size and at a price perfect for token holiday giving. These are not quite high-end enough to give to someone really special, and the hardness of the Butter Toasted's and Chocolate Almond's bite would rule out anyone with tooth trouble (or most seniors).

The small serving sizes and the fact that the bags don't reseal to keep the nuts fresh (and me from eating them all at once) make me hesitate to suggest buying these for yourself.

Peeps Peppermint Marshmallow Stars. 99 cents per 3 3/8-ounce package of nine stars.

Bonnie: I've never been a fan of Peeps flavored and shaped marshmallows. On the other hand, I've also never seen the harm in letting kids occasionally eat them — until now. These new peppermint-flavored stars are not just made with regular Peeps' artificially flavored and colored sugar, they're also artificially sweetened. These candies contain two different artificial sweeteners — sucralose and acesulfame K.

Traditionally, food products containing artificial sweeteners would be labeled as "diet" or "light." But Peeps Peppermint Stars are one of an increasing number of foods that only put that information into the ingredient list. I find this nondisclosure sneaky and offensive. Join me in protesting by leaving these on the shelf.

Carolyn: I'm not offended by the artificial sweeteners in these new holiday Peeps so much as puzzled that they would need them. These are about the same size as the standard, naturally flavored Peeps chicks and, even with the artificial sweeteners, have about the same amount of calories. Does the kind of strong peppermint flavoring that Peeps Stars sport add that many calories?

I'm also a little puzzled by the star shape, with its religious connotations. A candy cane would have been the obvious choice and would have provided instant recognition of the peppermint taste that this candy delivers. But then, this is the same company that offers gingerbread man-shaped Peeps flavored like sugar cookies. Mismatched as it might be, I prefer that flavor and the more obviously Christmastime Peeps white snowmen and green trees to these. But big fans of peppermint might give this product a gold star.


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. For previous columns, visit www.supermarketsampler.com, and for more food info and chances to win free products, visit www.biteofthebest.com. © Universal Press Syndicate