This week, H-E-B engaged in one of the grocer’s recurring viral, flavor-blending product mash-ups. From the supermarket that gave us Cake-Batter Hummus and Texas Rodeo Funnel Cake Dish Soap came the latest Frankensteinian experiment to roar into our olfactory receptors: H-E-B Flavor Favorites scented candles, bringing the smells of various H-E-B house products to your nasal cavity with a wick, some wax, and a match.
Headlining the lineup is the Butter Tortilla variety, but the list only starts there: the full collection consists of seven different products, most of which you have probably enjoyed in their original edible forms at your local H-E-B bakery. But how and where to spend your $5 to $12, depending on candle size? For that, we offer our rankings of all seven candles, from the sickly sweet to the mild and pleasant to the downright novel. Let’s start at the bottom.
7. Cowboy Cookie
The cowboy cookie came to national fame in 2000, when Laura Bush proffered her recipe as part of the outdated tradition of comparing cookie recipes from potential first ladies during a presidential campaign. Cowboy cookies are chocolate chip cookies with whatever extra stuff you feel like mixing into the dough to give a boost of energy on the trail: usually pecans, oats, and maybe some coconut flakes, but you can go nuts if you want—throw a jalapeño in there! Accordingly, the Cowboy Cookie candle has perhaps the most complex aroma of those in the H-E-B line: there’s a distinct whiff of chocolate, along with a bit of brown sugar, pecan, and I swear I caught some coconut in there, even though H-E-B’s own recipe for its actual Cowboy Cookie product doesn’t include the stuff. At any rate, the candle itself has too much going on, and smells like a child’s scratch-and-sniff book rather than anything a person even pretending to be a grown-up would want in their home.
Should you buy it? If you know an eight-year-old responsible enough to be around flames, I guess.
6. Blueberry Muffin
Look, none of these candles smell bad, exactly. Even the worst among them still offer the scent of something you would be happy to eat if it were fresh and hot out of the kitchen. Given the interplay between smell, memory, and nostalgia, the chemical fruitiness of H-E-B’s Blueberry Muffin candle might make you think about watching cartoons in Grandmom’s living room, awaiting a delicious, fresh-baked breakfast treat. But the Blueberry Muffin candle is an overpowering four (or fourteen) ounces of wax in a glass jar, redolent more of the power of science to capture scent in chemical form than of the actual confection for which it is named.
Should you buy it? Sure, if you know anybody who really loves sickly sweet fruit-flavored candles.
5. Two-Bite Brownies
Like the Cowboy Cookie, H-E-B’s Two-Bite Brownies scented candle smells primarily of chocolate. Why “two-bite brownies” instead of just “brownies,” though? I’ve workshopped a compelling answer: the candle smells exactly like what you’ll get if you stick your nose inside a package of H-E-B’s Two-Bite Brownies product, which is to say, a mix of chocolate, cocoa powder, soy lecithin, modified cornstarch, et cetera. The candle doesn’t replicate the smell of brownies being baked in a kitchen so much as it simulates the experience of opening a plastic container holding a perfectly acceptable snack and inhaling deeply.
Should you buy it? If you love the smell of chocolate desserts, but want to avoid even the eighty-calorie snack that is the real thing, this’ll do.
4. Creamy Creations Homemade Vanilla
This is just a vanilla candle. You have smelled its ilk before. The Creamy Creations Homemade Vanilla candle doesn’t really smell like Creamy Creations Homemade Vanilla ice cream, though if you are determined to convince yourself that you got your $5 worth from the four-ounce product, you could maybe convince yourself that you get a hint of the dairy flavor mixed in with all that vanilla. Perhaps it is even true, but in practice, the candle carries a stronger vanilla aroma than the ice-cream flavor does.
Should you buy it? Do you like vanilla-scented candles? This is one of them.
3. Butter Tortilla
All right, let’s get down to brass tacks. This is what you came here for, after all. H-E-B’s marketing genius comes in large part from giving its customers many ways to engage with the aspects of the brand to which they feel most emotionally connected, and H-E-B’s Butter Tortillas are one of the most beloved products the store offers. In locations that make the tortillas fresh in-house, walking through the store when the butter tortillas are being pressed is like winning the H-E-B lottery. Yahtzee, baby! Smell those tortillas. The candle does not smell like a butter tortilla—it smells like someone making butter tortillas. If encountering that scent is one that fills you with joy, you’re in luck. If it isn’t, however, we have some bad news: the scent of someone making butter tortillas is roughly 70 percent identical to the scent of a movie theater making buttery popcorn, or of a buttery popcorn jelly bean, and the 30 percent of nuance gets lost when transmuted to candle form. If you slapped a label on these candles that read “1999 Blockbuster Video,” you wouldn’t need to change a thing,
Should you buy it? This is dependent entirely on your affinity for the smell of melting fake butter. I like it and I’m not sorry.
2. Cinnamon Rolls
Maybe my nose is broken from the experience of smelling a bunch of dessert-flavored candles all in a row, and trying to formulate semi-articulate opinions about why one would be better than the other, but I swear to gosh that I smelled not just the familiar scent of artificial cinnamon, but also all of the other associated aromas—brown sugar, butter, even the cream-cheese icing—when I lit the Cinnamon Rolls candle. Is all that really there, or is it something I brought to the candle upon reading the words “Cinnamon Rolls” instead of just “cinnamon”? Who can say; the brain is amazing. At any rate, this candle’s cinnamon scent is pleasant and not as overpowering as the more-pungent variety of cinnamon candle you’ll find at Christmastime, and I found it a welcome respite.
Should you buy it? Do you have roommates? Do you want them to wake up under the false impression that you baked cinnamon rolls for breakfast? Great prank material here.
1. Texas Wildflower Honey
In case it isn’t already clear, the H-E-B scented candle line is largely a group of novelty products. It’s hard to imagine that the company itself would disagree: you don’t release a product like Butter Tortilla–scented candles without a bit of self-awareness, and a strong sense that people are going to be interested primarily because they gotta smell it for themselves. Even the better-smelling candles in the line are judged on a curve based on how well they replicate the scent of the product on the label, rather than whether they actually create an aroma that an adult would want wafting through the home. The Texas Wildflower Honey candle is an exception to that, though—it’s subtle, smells nice, and offers a faint whiff of honey, rather than a bold demonstration of the advances in artificial olfactory stimuli. The Texas Wildflower Honey scented candle does double duty, satisfying the novelty-seekers who would purchase the product line to try to guess which product each candle seeks to replicate, but also just serving as a nice-smelling candle. You’ll blow out most of the others when you get bored with the scent of fake food in your house, but you might burn this one down to the base.
Should you buy it? If you like nice things that cost five dollars.