Review: Biting into the Candwich, a sandwich in a can
Last month, we took a look at some of the most bizarre crowdfunding campaigns out there. Among our selections was the Candwich, a sandwich that comes neatly packaged inside a can. Strange idea, right? Well, Mark One Foods founder Mark Kirkland doesn't think so, and he issued us a challenge to try one and see if it didn't change our tune. So we ate a pair of Candwiches for lunch. But did we also swallow our words?
Kirkland didn't mention what part of New Atlas' Candwich description prompted him to contact us, but if we had to guess, it might have been the conclusion.
"Pledges start at $15 for a six pack, while $150 gets you the Doomsday special of 60 Candwiches," New Atlas' Michael Irving wrote. "That's a 30 day supply of sustenance and sadness, and when that runs out, well, you'll likely welcome death."
A harsh indictment, but not an unpopular one. The Candwich has been around for a while now and has already made its way through various media outlets, many of which have been ... skeptical.
Back in 2010, Stephen Colbert spent a good three minutes goofing on the idea, stating "I am confident only one of those 'Bs' stands for botulism" regarding the PB&J and BBQ flavors.
After watching the Colbert clip, we'd think ours was among the kindest ribbings Candwich took, but Kirkland didn't miss the opportunity to throw down the gauntlet. To expedite the review, we decided that instead of sending long-distance takeout to Michael Irving over in Australia, the Candwiches would come my way in the US. Lucky me.
Truth be told, I've eaten similar prepackaged, shelf-stable sandwiches (no can, though), on purpose, without being paid to write about it. In fact, Bridgford's Ready to Eat Sandwiches are among the more civilized free-sample snacks I've grabbed at past Outdoor Retailer shows, a list of treats that also includes hissing cockroaches and cricket energy bars. I wasn't necessarily excited about getting the chance to pop open a fresh, crisp can of sandwich, but the idea wasn't as out there for me as it might have been for others.
What was out there: the flavors I received, BBQ Chicken and Peanut Butter and Honey. Few things are less appealing and more terrifying than chicken in a shelved can, and peanut butter and honey sounds less like a sandwich and more like a makeshift snack a parent might make a sweet-toothed four-year-old when cleaning out the cupboard. Perhaps I should have been more vocal before Kirkland made the trip to the mailbox – bacon cheddar and PB&J sound way more appealing.
Still, I had agreed to the test, so here goes ...
Sometimes you gotta' just bite the bullet and go for it, and eating a sandwich in a can is one of those times. As much as the idea of saucy canned chicken made my stomach scream for mercy, I'd make it my first Candwich experience.
If you order up a Candwich expecting a bread-hugged treat inside an authentic aluminum can, prepare to be disappointed. It looks like older versions of the Candwich did come in a metal can, but the ones we tested were inside a rolled cardboard canister with foil lining, similar to what Pringles potato chips and other snacks come in.
The can pops open with a little flip-key pull top, and there's your sandwich. We're not sure if the reality of a sandwich tucked in a plastic bag with an oxygen-absorbing Multisorb FreshPax was more or less appealing than the naked sandwich we were expecting, but we can say it wasn't particularly appealing. The sandwich bag was pre-slit for easy opening so no need to gnaw at it if you happen to be out in the field without a knife or set of scissors handy.
The sandwich itself looked better than we had anticipated. It was a little misshapen due to its trip in the can, but not terribly so. The bread had more color than the pale, lifeless soft cracker we were expecting. Beyond that, you can judge for yourself:
The only thing left to do after taking photos of your BBQ chicken Candwich for posterity is take a chomp out of that sucker ... quickly, before you chicken (pun intended) out. Kirkland had suggested heating it up in the microwave or on the dashboard of a car, but that would have provided too much time and temptation to run far, far away, so I ate it straight out of the bag, room temperature.
I expected the bread to be limp and doughy, and either too moist or too dry, but it actually had a nice consistency – obviously not bakery fresh, but it was moist without being overly doughy or chewy. It had about as good a texture as you could possibly ask for from canned sandwich bread. The chicken also seemed to fill out the closed roll pretty well, so there wasn't any chewing plain bread at the ends.
Candwich uses chunks of chicken, which makes for firm bites that remind you you're eating a chicken sandwich from a can that was just sitting on a warm shelf. That firm texture really wasn't all that appetizing and we definitely feel like shredded chicken would be a better way to go.
The texture wasn't so bad as to turn us off, though, and the flavor was pretty good. The BBQ sauce provided enough moisture and flavor to make the whole thing enjoyable to eat. If I was out hiking in a particularly warm, dry environment, I'd want to be sure to have water handy, but eating at home, I didn't even take a sip between bites and it went down just fine.
In quickly whipping up some samples for our test, Kirkland said that the bread for the peanut butter and honey was not shelf stable. I was traveling when it first arrived and wasn't really all that eager to make a meal of Candwiches when I got back, so a week and a half raced by before I was able to sit down and get eating. That, plus the fact that I question whether what appeared to be a hot dog roll ripped from a bag of eight is really the form the bread takes in the retail version, means I'm not going to comment on the bread – and that is really the product for this Candwich.
What I will comment on is the overall execution and presentation. I fully expected a dry, pre-peanut-buttered roll, perhaps with a soggy top side of honey, perhaps with a honey packet. Instead, the roll is packaged on its own next to a separate package of Justin's Honey Peanut Butter Blend. So it's not an overly sweet combination of separate honey and peanut butter, but a peanut butter sweetened with honey – honey powder, to be exact – and you get to spread it on yourself, which I definitely prefer over a pre-made PB&H sandwich.
The peanut butter itself is tasty, and the advantage of this sandwich is that you could always throw away the roll – say if you get a non shelf-stable version to test – and just eat the peanut butter as a quick snack.
When you're eating something like room temperature chicken in a can, it's impossible not to think that you're going to be spending the rest of the day in the toilet, if not the hospital. Or at least it is for me. But, it's now been a few days, and I can happily report that I had no unusual stomach issues and everything remained quite regular.
So, the big question: Would I buy a Candwich in the future, on purpose, with my own money and everything? It's always one thing to try something as a free sample, but actually buying it is another completely. My short answer: yes and no.
Candwich advertises a shelf life of around one year, which seems woefully inadequate for one of the first uses I would think of: emergency preparation. Unless you're staring in the face of imminent disaster, a year just isn't enough to make the Candwich practical for your personal fallout shelter. Bridgford's shelf-ready sandwiches are advertised at three years, and even that seems too short.
Candwich mentions that emergency organizations like the Red Cross have shown interest in buying sandwiches for immediate distribution in disaster relief areas, and for that type of use they seem viable, but not so much for personal emergency preparedness.
While I was having trouble thinking of a situation in which I'd willingly buy a can of sandwich, what wasn't hard was coming up with situations I wouldn't ... because Candwich conveniently lists a number of them. Packing one in a child's school lunch? Not for any child I love. For the outdoors? Maybe on an extended, multi-week trip, but for my average hiking or biking day trip or weekender, I'll bring a regular sandwich or eat when I get home/back to my cooler at camp. On a multi-day gaming binge? Not my thing, but if it were, I'd be inclined to hit "pause" and order a pizza.
Then I finally thought of the right situation. The reason the Candwich comes in a can to begin is so that it fits inside standard vending machines right next to cans of soda. And for that purpose, it's not such a strange idea – there are other forms of sandwich vending machines, so why not drop an option inside a regular vending machine instead of stocking a third row of Coke?
On the average day, a Candwich wouldn't really spike my appetite enough to make me grab one to wash down my root beer, but I often get hungry late at night when staying at hotels, especially overseas when jet-lagged, and many times there aren't any restaurants or grocery stores that are open and nearby. I end up hitting the hotel vending machine pretty hard, and five dollars of potato chips and small candy bars is rarely what I'd like to be eating. A Candwich could be a fuller meal that could fit the bill better, and yes, I'd buy one or two ... but hopefully they have bacon cheddar.
The same could be said for any scenario where my only food option is a vending machine and I'm hungry for a meal, not a quick snack. I'd make it a Candwich.
So I'm not going to replace trips to the deli or seek out Candwiches at the grocery store anytime soon, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy and eat one if I saw it at the right time – even the BBQ Chicken. Then again, I'm a guy that once chewed on the hard, tough shell and stomach-turning meat of a hissing cockroach for five minutes – unprompted, no dare or money reward (I would not do that again, though). Your mileage may vary.
If you want to put that mileage on your life odometer, the Candwich Indiegogo campaign is over 2/3 of the way to its goal with about three weeks left. And if it hits a $15,000 stretch goal, Mark One Foods will pursue a self-heating pizza pocket, taking the Candwich to a whole new level.