Totino’s added a new flavor of pizza rolls to its permanent lineup a few weeks ago. In this case, the term “pizza roll” is sort of a misnomer: Totino’s went in a completely different direction for this new flavor, which was made in partnership with professional esports organization FaZe Clan. Rather than the tried-and-true combination of tomato sauce, cheese, and pizza toppings as fillings, the brand synonymous with after-school snacking (and video game snacking, and movie snacking, and midnight snacking) has gone in a wildly new direction with its new flavor: orange chicken.
The idea of any Totino’s product straying from its pizza roots felt blasphemous to me, and that’s exactly why I had to try them.
I started by heating up a batch of the new “pizza” rolls in the office break room’s toaster oven. Yes, I’m one of those people who firmly believes pizza rolls taste much better when they’re air-fried or toasted rather than microwaved, and no, I am not here to argue with you.
When the rolls had cooled off to a not-second-degree-burn temperature, I cut one in half to examine its guts. It’d been a while since I’d eaten a Totino’s pizza roll, and I was surprised to see how little filling is actually contained in each one. The cross-section revealed little chunks of chicken and tiny bits of imitation mozzarella (yes, imitation—it says so in the ingredients list) in an orange sauce. The rolls did smell a bit like Chinese takeout, which was a good sign.
After my first bite I was puzzled, because the rolls certainly didn’t taste like any Chinese takeout I’ve ever had. For me, most of the joy in orange chicken is in that massively sugary hit of sauce right up front, and the total lack of it here is part of the problem.
The filling is sweet and tangy, yes, but it doesn’t quite hit the instant pleasure receptors that a nugget of sticky, syrupy, Chinese American chicken does, since you’re first experiencing the pizza roll’s dry exterior. And since the rolls have so little sauce inside them, the sensory expectations you have for orange chicken fall pretty flat.
There’s a bigger issue, however, and that’s the overall flavor. Totino’s Orange Chicken Rolls simply don’t taste like orange chicken. At all. A quick glance at the packaging indicates why: The first ingredient listed is enriched flour and the second ingredient is tomato puree, and the last time I checked, orange chicken doesn’t contain tomatoes.
“This almost tastes like barbecue sauce,” noted one coworker and fellow taste-tester. He managed to find the words I couldn’t, because he’s right—if you aren’t hunting around for orange chicken flavors, these bites really do taste like barbecue sauce, with the tiniest spicy kick added in. Another coworker pinpointed the flavor as being mighty similar to Lean Cuisine Asian Style Pot Stickers, of all things.
Are these Totino’s rolls bad? Not at all. I ended up eating five or six of them, easily, and could have absentmindedly crushed at least 12 of them if I were playing video games on the couch. But they just taste like a sweet, nondescript pizza roll. The chicken and imitation mozzarella are so lacking in character that they could be just about anything else.
I guess that’s the conundrum with these things: a pizza roll will forever be a pizza roll, and when I open a bag of Totino’s my palate can’t handle anything but the pizza flavors it’s expecting. Maybe I’ve been too conditioned by decades of effective marketing, a prison of Totino’s own making. The most refreshing thing about these new rolls—which, again, are still called “pizza rolls”—is simply the admirable attempt to try something conceptually new.
Curious? They’re $5.99 a bag and if you want to taste them for yourself. But I have a feeling that the next time you’re in the mood for a gaming snack, you’ll probably reach for the classic kind. I know I will (pepperoni for life).