Fancy Tonic Water Not Worth the Fancy Price

Sonoma Crisps

By: Snack Salad Marketing & Technologies Inc.

I Paid: $13.80 to $18.46 for a 12-pack of .71- to 1.05-ounce bags (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 4stars

Shake a bag of Sonoma Crisps Apple Sticks and it sounds a little like broken glass—the crisps are so light and brittle they don’t really sound like what food in a bag should sound like. Situated somewhere between “french fry” and “dried fruit” on the texture scale, the slow-baked Sonoma Crisps (which come in the Apple Sticks varieties of Cinnamon, Golden Delicious, and Original, as well as Raisin Crunch) pack a respectable wallop of natural-tasting apple flavor.

As potato chip stand-ins, they don’t work: They’re too sweet and fruity. As potato chip alternatives, they work quite well. They’ve got a satisfying crunch, and the sheer number of crisps in a given bag means that they’ll occupy your time for as long as a bag of Lay’s would. They’ve got less fat than potato chips, and less sodium, too. (The total fat in a similarly sized bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips is 10 grams versus zero for Sonoma Crisps.)

Look for more fruit and even vegetable flavors in the future. Hikari Kotani, of Snack Salad’s sales division, says: “Our R&D team has experimented with all types of fruits including berries (blueberries, strawberries, peaches) and vegetables (avocado, tomatoes, etc.).”

Yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit. Also: No word on what’s worked particularly well. It’d be interesting to see what would happen to slow-baked durian, for example …

Fentimans Botanically Brewed Traditional Tonic Water

By: Fentimans Ltd.

I Paid: $2.25 for a 125-milliliter bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 2stars


Marketing: 4stars

As the art of making a cocktail has become glammed up to the point of preciousness, familiar tonic-water brands like Schweppes have fallen deeply out of fashion. High-end versions like Fever-Tree, Q, and Stirrings have become de rigueur for anybody who’s caught the mixology fever. The latest brand to hit American drinkers is Fentimans, from the U.K.

The features of Fentimans Botanically Brewed Traditional Tonic Water are as follows: more than $2 per 125-milliliter bottle. All-natural ingredients including sugar, herbal extracts, and quinine. An uncharmingly old-fashioned non-twist-off metal cap.

By comparison, Schweppes Tonic Water: 296 milliliters of liquid. High-fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, and citric acid, among other ingredients. Easy-to-open plastic cap. But only 80 cents a bottle.

Both have a similarly citric/quinine odor when opened, although Fentimans gets points for a more powerful and convincing smell. Fentimans also has a notable bite, with more pronounced quinine (the taste that powered good old Schweppes Bitter Lemon, if you can recall that fine beverage). Schweppes is sweeter, more concerned with being easy to like than fussily distinct. That said: Fentimans lacks the depth you might hope for with its price tag and mysterious herbal flavorings—and once you throw some ice and gin into the mix, the two tonics are almost indistinguishable. Here’s an idea: Fill up your used Fentimans bottles with Schweppes, mix away, and see if anybody calls you on it.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.