Little Debbie’s dizzyingly enormous array of ridiculously inexpensive, shelf-stable snack cakes don’t always get treated with a lot of respect. Sure, look at the pictures on the box of any variety of Little Debbie product and they seem quite reasonable: A little milk chocolate here, a ribbon of caramel there, a sprinkle of nuts, some sponge cake, and a few crispy wafers can be enough to convince you that Little Debbie’s products are at least sort-of rooted in traditional baking techniques and recipes.
Ask any Little Debbie expert, however, and they’ll give you the truth. Somewhere in between making the price per pound lower than any other commodity on Earth, and loading in enough chemicals and stabilizers to slowly embalm you from the inside-out, many Little Debbie products end up tasting a little… well, weird. Bite unknowingly into just any Little Debbie product without doing some research, and you’re likely to find an array of unpleasant surprises, from chalky cookies, to gritty chocolate, to crème fillings so loaded with sugar that they make the surface of your teeth itch.
If you’re looking for a little guidance, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s run down the best Little Debbie snack cakes, along with the ones that definitely don’t deserve those two grubby quarters banging around at the bottom of your pocket.
Best: Salted Caramel Cookie Bars
What if we told you there was a product that combined the perfect balance of crumbly, sweet shortbread cookie, smooth ribbons of caramel, and a silky robe of creamy milk chocolate, all presented in a convenient rectangular bar that fits neatly into the human mouth?
"Uh, sure," you’d probably reply, in this entirely hypothetical and frankly, somewhat dull conversation, "I’ve had a Twix bar before."
Twix may have laid the foundation for this combination of sweet ingredients, but we’re willing to go even further and say this: The Little Debbie Salted Caramel Cookie Bar puts the Twix to shame. It’s essentially the same product, but Little Debbie’s version is bigger, cheaper, and allows you to throw around buzzwords like "salted caramel" (which Little Debbie added to the name in 2016) so that the world sees right away what a sophisticated consumer you are. The caramel isn’t as dense as in a Twix bar (thought it’s still delicious), and the shortbread cookie component is lighter and crispier.
Best: Star Crunch
Growing up, it seemed like there was always one kid in your grammar school cafeteria that had it all: A floppy middle-part haircut, enormous high-top sneakers, a backpack with band logos drawn all over it in Sharpie, and inevitably, a Star Crunch that he’d brought from home. He’d nonchalantly pull that little puck of crisped rice, caramel and crummy chocolate out of the front pouch, and for just a minute, you’d wish that your parents had just as little regard for your overall dental health and intellectual development as the "lucky" kids.
The Star Crunch has it all. It’s like somebody took that terrible chalky, crispy Christmas candy, and stomped a handful of Dollar Store caramels into the middle. Y’know, in a good way. The resulting cookie is the perfect level of sweet with a satisfying chew and a strangely addictive, almost musty aftertaste that lingers on the lips long after you’ve finished chewing. The Star Crunch is so much more than the sum of its parts, and has no business being as delicious as it is.
Best: Strawberry Shortcake Rolls
If it’s been a few years since you’ve danced with Little Debbie, we strongly suggest lighting up your brain stem with a few of these bad boys as a jumping off point. Even if you think you remember what they taste like, what you’ve probably forgotten is that they taste like pure insanity. It’s impossible to recreate anything remotely like this in your own home kitchen; the combination of crème filling with that bright red, artificially flavored strawberry strawberry paste wrapped in sponge cake is so profoundly, chemically sweet that you can feel the lining of your throat dilate with every swallow. The spike in blood sugar which you’ll inevitably experience as your body attempts to process this metabolically impossible food source will be followed by a hard crash, and you’ll immediately start scheming for ways to scrounge up enough pocket change for your next fix.
There’s a point where creating food becomes less like "cooking" and something closer to "chemical engineering," where entire laboratories are dedicated to packing as much sugar, flavoring, and fat into as small a package as possible, in defiance of natural law. Strawberry Shortcake Rolls make it on to our "best" list because sometimes, you have to stand in humbled awe of the miracles mankind has wrought.
Best: Fudge Rounds
When considering the best Little Debbie options for your snacking dollar, we had to pause to give strong consideration to the classic "Oatmeal Crème Pie," one of the anchors in the brand’s lineup. The Oatmeal Crème Pie is a celebration of texture over flavor, with those rough little nubbies contrasting beautifully with that thick layer of vanilla frosting in the middle. We were almost convinced, and then we remembered that artificial oatmeal flavoring tastes like the inside of your grandmother’s shoe closet.
Little Debbie addressed this critical flaw in 1975, with the introduction of the Fudge Round. Improving on the established form factor of the Oatmeal Crème Pie, the iconic Fudge Round replaces those ridiculous oatmeal cookies with twin layers of rich, fudgey flavor, then squirts a layer of chocolate-flavored crème in the center, for good measure. It’s got some of the most intense chocolate flavoring of any of Little Debbie’s offerings, and we stand behind it one hundred percent.
Best: Nutty Buddy
If you were only to eat one Little Debbie product for the rest of your life, indeed, if Little Debbie where to discontinue 95 percent of their total product lineup, leaving just one box of sweet mass-produced goodness to carry their brand into the great beyond, it should be the humble Nutty Buddy.
Why? Because all of the characteristics that appear to be shortcomings in the other products, work perfectly together in the Nutty Buddy to create something approaching perfection. Here, the understated flavor of the peanut butter cream, the shatteringly crisp and light wafers, and the skim coat of chocolate that’s so thin that it practically becomes translucent, all work in the snack’s favor, instead of against it. Unlike most peanut butter flavored treats, the Nutty Buddy never overpowers, never feels too heavy, and is always light enough to follow a meal of any size.
Whether you choose to eat it as designed, or gently break the individual wafers into layers, eating them one at a time like a little chubby Nutty Buddy-fattened rodent in the privacy of your darkened bedroom, the Nutty Buddy delivers every single time. Its invention rendered all other Little Debbie products immediately irrelevant.
Worst: Pecan Spinwheels
Here’s one that we’re sure will end up being a wildly divisive perspective, for many of our readers. But our position couldn’t be clearer: Pecan Spinwheels are trash, and your fuzzy childhood nostalgia is lying to you.
It’s easy to get drawn in by Pecan Spinwheels. Of almost any of the Little Debbie varietals, this snack looks almost the most like food, with two tightly wound coils of dough that fall somewhere between the texture of a cinnamon roll and a coffee cake, striped with cinnamon paste. If you’re the kind of person that eats snacks with your eyes closed, you could almost convince yourself that this super dry snack cake was a handmade product, and not squeezed and sliced out of an industrial extruder so enormous that the limits of the human brain prevent you from even imagining what it looks like, let alone understanding how it works.
The flavor isn’t necessarily bad… it just doesn’t have much to do with pecans. Scrape your teeth through a few bites, and you’ll taste big hits of cinnamon, along with some other nonspecific sweet extract that doesn’t taste like anything but that hits the back of your throat harder than a pack of Newports.
Worst: Banana Twins
There are two types of people in the world: Those that love artificial banana flavoring, and those that don’t. If you happen to fall in the latter category, Little Debbie Banana Twins present a bit of a nightmare scenario. Two layers of sponge cake, layered with white banana-flavored crème filling that coats the roof of your mouth in fat and burns your sinuses with the intensity of its artificial flavoring. Actually, it’s hard to tell where that banana flavoring is coming from. Is it in the frosting? Is it in the cake itself? Or has it somehow become airborne, like a rapidly-mutating supervirus that’s broken free of its government laboratory enclosure?
Sidebar: If you’ve ever wondered why fake banana flavoring tastes nothing like bananas, you’re only half right. It’s not so much that artificial banana doesn’t taste like bananas, but more that fresh bananas don’t taste the way they used to. Banana flavoring is based on the bananas you could buy at the store in the first part of the 20th century, the "Gros Michel," a more intensely-flavored varietal that was wiped out by disease in the 1960s. Our present-day bananas, the "Cavendish" variety, contain less isoamyl acetate, and thus have a subtler flavor. The more you know, right?
Worst: Cosmic Brownies
This feels like it’s going to be a controversial choice, as well, since the Cosmic Brownie (and to a lesser extent, the Fudge Brownie, its infinitely less fabulous, nut-studded rural cousin) has a bizarrely high number of fans. To us, however, it represents the worst aspects of what Little Debbie has to offer: "Chocolate" flavoring that gives off the distinct whiff of cocoa, with no discernible flavor whatsoever, baked into a sludgy mess of dough that’s less like a brownie, and more like your hippie Aunt’s attempt at making her own Clif bars.
Brownies, even homemade brownies lovingly baked in your home kitchen and left a little underdone in the center so that you have a gooey middle and crisp edges, are already in the running for "Worst Dessert." Taking a factory-made brownie that doesn’t taste like anything and shaking brightly-colored bits on top doesn’t improve on the formula. Cosmic Brownies are suitable strictly as an occasional treat in your kids’ lunchbox, when you want to use their midday meal to let them know that you’ve stopped loving them.
Worst: Fancy Cakes
Oh, you FANCY now, Little Debbie? With your white-on-white-on-white combination of cake, filling, and frosting? Look, you can call a snack cake that sells for less than the price of a newspaper "fancy," all you’d like. You can call these "Magnificent Dainty Pastry Royale Grade-A Fungasms," for all we care. It’s not going to change what this product essentially is: Dry cake that’s devoid of any flavoring, other than an overpowering sweetness, icing that flakes off with every bite, and a combination of textures that are all too similar to one another to be interesting.
It’s hard to imagine what created the need for Fancy Cakes, with their insistence on forced formality. Does Little Debbie really think that the only thing that’s preventing people from serving their product at their weddings and formal events is the color scheme? Is there really an engaged couple, maybe trying to save a little money on hosting an elaborate sit-down dinner service, who said to their caterer, "Y’know, we’re about 90 percent there on the Little Debbie passed hors d’oeuvre course. But those stripes on the Zebra Cakes really seem a little garish, and they don’t match the table arrangements at all. Have you got anything more… monochrome?"
Worst: Raisin Creme Pies
If Little Debbie Fudge Rounds improve upon the Oatmeal Crème Pie formula, Raisin Crème Pies move the cookie in the other direction entirely. You know how when you ask a little kid what they want for dessert, how they always say, "Raisins?" Yeah, we don’t either. Nobody wants raisins probably ever, and basing your whole dessert concept around them reveals your loathing for humanity. With their chewy, sweet cookies, studded with chunks of raisin and piped with generically sweet filling, Raisin Crème Pies look like pure hatred, and they taste even worse.
Thankfully, you won’t find Raisin Crème Pies in every supermarket. According to Mike Gloekler, Corporate Communications & PR Manager for McKee Foods, some Little Debbie snacks have regional followings that make wider distribution unlikely. "It is difficult to explain taste preference," explains Gloekler. "We have a couple of items, namely Jelly Creme Pies and Raisin Creme Pies, that are particularly strong in the rural South and do not have much of a following in other areas of the country."
Thank goodness for that.