Making a trail mix is harder than it looks, especially when you don’t have time to go to the store. The good news is just about anything can be trail mix if you’re hungry enough. To prove that hypothesis, I took to my pantry to try my hand at creating my own “struggle mixes,” as I’m calling them. My formula: something salty, something sweet, something that qualifies as a fruit, and a nut. Here’s what I came up with:
THE CHEESE BOARD: Goldfish, Mott’s fruit snacks, dried apple rings, chocolate covered peanuts.
Great trail mix starts with salty carbs. Immediately the Goldfish crackers in my cabinet beckoned to me and boom––I had a salty base. Next up was finding a fruit component. Before remembering that I had dried apple rings (aka actual fruit), I got waaay too excited about a new use for fruit snacks (fake fruit). So in went the fruit snacks. And then the apple rings—but only after I added chocolate covered peanuts.
WHY IT WORKS: The fruit snacks are *crucial*. They comprise most of the bite when you get a handful and the fruity aftertaste is quite pleasant. Trader Joe’s New Zealand Sweet Apple Rings can be a bit rubbery on their own but, in this mix, their texture blends well with the other ingredients. Plus, they pair perfectly with the Goldfish, which makes sense—apples and cheddar? A classic duo. In fact, the two taste so good together that I could easily eat a whole bag of just apple rings and Goldfish.
HOW IT COULD BE BETTER: I think this mix could be enhanced by using a chewier fruit snack like Welch’s (preferably the strawberry-only bag) for better flavor predictability and overall texture.
THE ACID TRIP: Popcorn, Trader Joe’s Meyer Lemon Cookies, dried cranberries, chile lime peanuts.
Do you ever sit and marvel at the versatility of popcorn? It soaks up flavors and seasonings so well, it’s like a blank canvas. Rather than simply calling on my go-to popcorn seasoning (Tajìn), I chose to mix popcorn with chili lime peanuts. In thinking of ingredients that would match that tang, I decided to use dried cranberries—because I was already eating a handful at the time. I usually am. The last spot to fill was the sweet category and I found myself reaching for Trader Joe’s Meyer Lemon Cookies because of their zesty taste.
WHY IT WORKS: This mix is all about acidity. The popcorn takes on the zing of the chile nuts. The lemon cookies add a good lemony zest to the mix. The dried cranberries are fairly tart, adding even more bright tang to the mix. It’s not something that I’d crave every day, but definitely something I’d reach for if I was craving something zippy.
HOW IT COULD BE BETTER: I think I could find something to replace the lemon cookies. I want them to work, I do. But their overt zestiness is hard to ignore. I think something still acidic, but a little less invasive like dried grapefruit or sour mandarin slices could fit nicely here. But, alas, I had none in my pantry. And I am a stickler for the rules.
THE LOOPHOLE: Pretzels, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif Bar bits, and strawberry and vanilla yogurt covered raisins.
You can’t go wrong with pretzels as a trail mix base, but the real key to this mix is the Clif Bar bits. They do not exist in the wild, but they absolutely should. And while you can make them with any Clif Bar by simply ripping up the bar, the flavor used within this trail mix cannot be substituted. White chocolate macadamia nut is the best Clif Bar flavor and that is THAT. No, I will not be taking further questions. Moving right along to the strawberry and vanilla yogurt covered raisins: This mix required a fruit and, while I had other dried fruit options, the yogurt covering pairs particularly well with the pretzels (and helps mask the fact that they are raisins).
WHY IT WORKS: While this trail mix only has three ingredients, the Clif Bar is covering two different bases by incorporating both a chocolate component (white chocolate) and a nut (macadamia nuts). The pretzels build a happy, grounded marriage between the Clif Bar bits and the yogurt raisins. Keep doin’ your thing, pretzels.
HOW IT COULD BE BETTER: IT CANNOT. This is the DIY trail mix. Each ingredient is playing an incredible supporting role with no one component stealing the show. If you haven’t made it by now, kindly sprint to your nearest pantry.