It’s winter in the Midwest, party people. The time is now to prep your essentials like prescription-grade Vitamin D, buttonless pants, and most importantly, an arsenal of lip balms.
Since every seasoned winter warrior knows the importance of keeping your pout perfectly protected from the wrath of chap, this shouldn’t just be about finding the perfect lip balm, but the perfect lip balm for you. Gone are the days when your best option was to inhale the addictive menthol fumes of Carmex applied via a dirty finger from a tub that was manufactured in 1983, and gone are the days of opting for EOS lip balm eggs purely as a status symbol.
I recently embarked on a personal journey into the bizarre world of iconoclastic lip balms when I got a fleeting taste of Paula Deen’s Butter-Flavored Lip Balm ($2.49, pauladeenshop.com). From there, I discovered the best-kept secret in Midwestern state fair culture: the annual reveal of the Star Tribune’s state-fair-flavored lip balm, a sacred tradition began in 2009. The winning flavor of 2020 was Cheese Curds. Mmm, glossy.
The more I looked for culinary lip balm flavors, the more I unearthed, such as bacon, nacho cheese, ketchup, butterbeer, Sriracha, and more. I came up short when intentionally searching for unappetizing lip balm flavors like Malort, fish and chips, or Parmesan cheese.
This can be a time-consuming, tedious, and, quite frankly, expensive vision quest. To save you the effort, I’ve gone to the trouble of taste-testing some of the most uniquely flavored smooch salves I could get my hands on. Find the rundown below, ranked in order of least delicious to most delicious, and thank me for my (lip) service later.
5. Cool Ranch
- Smell: With detectable hints of both vanilla and a tangy sour cream bouquet, the odor reminds me of vomit.
- Taste: True to its potato chip inspiration, cool ranch lip balm has a sort of garlic and onion powder essence in its flavor. This balm packs a punch—it has gusto. You don’t just taste this lip balm, you breathe it in like some kind of Vicks VapoRub nobody asked for.
- Effectiveness: It goes on smooth, and one coat will last up to an hour. There is also a very subtle tingle that occurs shortly after application, but it isn’t uncomfortable. The scent sticks around as long as the moisture does, though. Consider yourself warned.
- Pair it with: Cheese and crackers, a sensible salad, pepperoni pizza lip balm
- Smell: There are strong pizza fumes with this one. The scent is comparable to the wafting spices and dried herbs found in barrels at your favorite Italian grocery store (shoutout to Caputo’s). It lingers for up to an hour after you’ve decided you’ve had enough and wipe the balm off. Which you certainly will.
- Taste: As a longtime pizza aficionado, I can tell you that the immediate flavor of this balm from my lips to my tongue is neutral. However, its aftertaste evokes powerful spices like garlic, oregano, and basil. I assumed (incorrectly) that there would be a saltiness to this balm, but like any good tavern-style pizza on the south side of Chicago, it actually included a hint of sweetness.
- Effectiveness: As far as a lip balm, I mean, it’s fine. The first application was a little chunky, but not at all sticky. I sensed a slight tingle, but not a burn, just after applying it, which is the pepperoni nod (a phrase that sounds like a great band name).
- Pair it with: Pizza, duh, and maybe—I’m not joking here—a full-bodied red wine?
- Smell: The aroma hits you like that old movie cliche in which the nervous protagonist pours brown liquid from a decanter into a lowball glass and tosses it back in one dramatic gulp just before a confrontation.
- Taste: This balm is somehow devoid of flavor. According to its label, it is made with beeswax, olive oil, coconut oil, flavor oil, raw Idaho honey, and Stevia. But it simply tastes like nothing at all. Maybe it lost some of its pizzazz in storage and/or transit?
- Effectiveness: The application is super thin. I dragged it around my lips several times to get a proper coating, and even then, it remains on the lighter side; I kept pursing my lips to check whether I could actually feel it there. On the other hand, this lip balm features a true tingling sensation, much like a nice gulp of the hard stuff.
- Pair it with: Vanilla ice cream, to neutralize the sting
- Smell: Remember scratch ’n sniff stickers? This smells EXACTLY like the dill pickle scratch ’n sniff sticker from elementary school. One would expect this to have an overt dill and vinegar stench, but it’s pleasantly muted, allowing more of a sweet cucumber scent to shine through.
- Taste: This balm tastes herby and briny with an envelope glue taste to round it out. I unexpectedly kept smacking my chops to experience more of the taste. The dill is there, no doubt, but it tastes like fresh dill. I am very into this.
- Effectiveness: Alas, for as good as it tasted on my lips, this one did not last that long. I felt parched again 15-20 minutes after applying.
- Pair it with: A deli sub, bone broth, or a charcuterie board
1. Lucky Charms
- Smell: Amazing. The manufacturer really nailed the sovereign (don’t @ me) breakfast cereal’s scent. It smacks of imitation honey and artificial cotton candy flavoring, a profile that would hit you with just as much strength if you were within a mile of a Yankee Candle store or someone who vapes.
- Taste: This lip balm’s flavor is a solid imitation of the residual pink milk from an actual bowl of Lucky Charms. This product is obviously sweet, but slightly subdued. It just tastes like processed sugar, finished with a smooth, milky coating.
- Effectiveness: My pucker is perfectly conditioned after 1-2 coats and lasts well over an hour after application. The texture is smooth and silky.
- Pair it with: Coffee with cream, oatmeal, or cookies (either windmills or tri-colored sugar wafers, just to keep things nostalgic)
It should come as no surprise that there’s a huge variety of unique food-centric lip balms on Etsy. You don’t have to settle for what’s available in the checkout line at your local convenience store, or whatever ChapStick you found in the pocket of last year’s winter coat. Branch out, make it weird, and add a little flavor to your winter.