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Not cross buns: Culinary crime or tasty treat?

We reveal what Coles Special Burger Sauce hot cross buns actually taste like, plus other ‘Not Cross Buns’ (NXBs) on the shelf this Easter.

coles woolworths not cross buns
Last updated: 09 March 2023

Every year, hot cross buns hit the shelves earlier and earlier – in some shops they land on Boxing Day! And with the ever-earlier availability of this Easter treat comes an ever-increasing range of flavours and riffs on traditional buns.

It all started with fruit-free and choc-chip hot cross buns, but now there are truly wild combinations like apple and cinnamon, brioche, and even Vegemite hot cross buns. (Hot cross bun purists are probably clutching their pearls whenever they're near a bakery section.)

This year's 'Not Cross Bun' (NXB) offerings are particularly out there, even in the context of what has come before. 

This year's 'Not Cross Bun' (NXB) offerings are particularly out there, even in the context of what has come before

We picked the weirdest NXBs we could find in Coles and Woolies, and dared intrepid CHOICE staffers to taste them, to help you decide what to add to your shopping trolley and which ones to leave on the shelf.

If traditional hot cross buns are more your style, check out our official hot cross buns review, which includes traditional, choc chip and gluten-free varieties. 

What's on the menu this year?

Here's what we put on the tasting table:

  • Coles Special Burger Sauce hot cross bun
  • Coles Red Velvet filled hot cross buns 
  • Coles Carrot Cake filled hot cross buns
  • Woolworths Indulgent Caramilk hot cross buns
  • Woolworths Indulgent Cadbury Mocha hot cross buns
special burger sauce hot cross buns in packaging

Coles' Special Burger Sauce NXB: does it live up to the hype?

The Coles NXBs

Coles really pushed the envelope with its NXB offerings this year, with the Special Burger Sauce NXB taking things up a notch from last year's Vegemite hot cross bun, which is also available this year. (Although we weren't able to find any of these – perhaps they were so popular they'd sold out?) 

The savoury bun is flavoured with Coles' special burger sauce and pickle pieces, topped with cheese. 

Which begs the question: when does a hot cross bun cross the line and become something else entirely? Can a savoury bun with a cross on it even be considered in the same category as traditional hot cross buns? (According to CHOICE verifier Jane, "No. That's wrong.")

Along with the savoury bun, the supermarket has also delivered two sweet treats in the form of cake/hot cross bun hybrids: red velvet and carrot cake buns, filled with frosting. 

These delights/culinary crimes aren't cheap at $5 for a four-pack – especially compared with Coles' traditional hot cross buns, which cost 67 cents each. 

woolworths indulgent caramilk hot cross buns

Woolworths released the Caramilk hot cross buns in December 2021.

The Woolworths NXBs

In comparison with Coles' buns, Woolworths' NXBs were quite restrained, not straying too far from traditional hot cross bun territory.

Woolworths actually took out the top spot in our official hot cross bun review – and in fact, three of the top four traditional products were from Woolies. 

Choc-chip hot cross buns are old hat now, so Woolworths hasn't completely rewritten the rules of hot cross bunnery by adding in Caramilk choc chips. 

And the mocha product somewhat replicates the way many people would eat their choc-chip hot cross buns: with a cup of coffee. 

However, Woolies' plain Cadbury hot cross buns cost just 67 cents per bun, compared with $1.25 per bun for the mocha version – so you could get the same effect by making a coffee and eating the original chocolate hot cross buns, but for much less money!

cut up hot cross buns

Here's how the Special Burger Sauce NXBs look out of the packet.

The Coles Special Burger Sauce NXB

This is the hot cross bun that's sparked so much controversy – but does it live up to the hype? 

You could be forgiven for thinking that Coles announced this NXB as some kind of April Fool's joke but got the date wrong. But we can tell you that, yes, it really exists. 

Most people, before they'd even tasted it, thought it sounded unappealing: "gross" and "no thank you" were two reactions. 

"I'm not having the burger one. Not for any money," said content designer Siobahn. "I'm kind of scared to try that one," engineering lead Andrea said. "Why would you do that??" said verifier Mel.

hot cross buns taste test questionable sniff

The Coles Special Burger Sauce NXB: Marg's face says it all.

While we can't say one way or another that a savoury bun qualifies as a hot cross bun, we can tell you that our tasters had some strong reactions to it (to put it mildly). 

  • "It looks like a hot cross bun might look like in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Concerningly orange." – Marg
  • "Absolutely diabolical aftertaste. Total bile burp territory." – Simon
  • "Not even a patty would make this palatable." – Elaine
  • "Sweet and doughy with an aftertaste of yuck." – Kim
  • "Acidic, tastes like vomit." – Liam
  • "It's not as bad as it sounds, if you get over the fact that it's trying to be a hot cross bun." – Jane

So, would any of our taste testers buy it again? "YOU COULDN'T PAY ME," quipped managing editor Marg. She scored it -1000 out of 10. (Yes, that's a negative sign in front of the 1000.)

"Never," said engineering manager Simon. 

ehsan with hot cross buns plate

Ehsan: the special burger sauce NXB's biggest fan.

It's worth noting that none of our taste testers finished the quarter of a bun we served them, except for web developer Ehsan, who asked for more. Of the entire test panel, he was the only person who said he'd happily buy it again. 

His opinion? "Genius idea! I reckon it tastes really interesting. It's something different, right? Because a hot cross bun is always sweet," he says. 

But perhaps Ehsan is exactly the target market for not cross buns: "I kind of like all of them," he said. 

red velvet hot cross buns

The Red Velvet not cross bun is filled with a cream cheese icing.

Coles Red Velvet Filled hot cross bun

Another one from the "but why would you make that?" category, the Red Velvet hot cross bun is filled with a cream cheese frosting.

It certainly looked impressive, but most of our taste testers weren't enamoured of it. 

The frosting wasn't evenly distributed, so people's experiences differed somewhat depending on how much frosting they had. Without frosting, the general consensus was that it was dry.

  • "It's very dry and very bland." – Andrea
  • "The red velvet is a disappointment because it looked like it was going to be good." – Simon
  • "It looks much more exciting than it actually tastes." – Andrea
  • "I know there's a lot of hate for the red velvet one, but I like it. It is pretty intense, though, so you've got to be ready for it. It's not a casual bun." – Liam
  • "I don't know what they're trying to do with this. It's kind of bun-ish, but I'm expecting a red velvet cake. It's weird. *Puts the remainder in the bin* It's not sweet enough for red velvet." – Jen
coles carrot cake hot cross buns

Coles Carrot Cake filled hot cross buns.

Coles Carrot Cake Filled hot cross bun

Considering how significant a departure the two previous buns are from traditional hot cross buns, Coles' carrot cake NXB is much closer to the original thing. 

There's quite a bit of crossover between carrot cake spice and hot cross bun spice, so this bun at least makes some degree of sense. (Although surely if you want to eat carrot cake, you should just buy carrot cake, not a flavoured not cross bun!)

  • "I'm a fan of the carrot cake. It's kind of right in between a hot cross bun and a carrot cake. It's more bread-y than a carrot cake but the flavour is good and it's moist." – Andrea
  • "It does taste a bit like a carrot cake – but not a good carrot cake." – Deanna
  • "Leaving aside that it's not really a hot cross bun, I think the icing helps. But I think the carrot cake filling lends itself better to a hot cross bun." – Jen
  • "It was the best of a bad bunch. If I was hungry and there wasn't anything better to eat, I would eat one." – Deanna
hot cross buns taste test group

Tasting not cross buns is serious work.

Woolworths Caramilk hot cross bun

People go bananas for anything Caramilk – when it was briefly released in Australia in 2017, people were selling blocks for up to $150 on eBay. There's clearly a lot of love for this chocolate!

Now Caramilk products abound: Marvellous Creations, Breakaway, Easter Bunny, Twirl, Top Deck, Marble, Flake… so it makes sense that Woolworths would cash in on the hype at Easter. 

Woolworths first released the Caramilk hot cross bun in late 2021. Its reappearance this year indicates that it was wildly popular.

Caramilk lovers will no doubt be keen to get their hands on this bun, which is basically a choc-chip hot cross bun with the milk chocolate swapped out for Caramilk. 

But what did our taste testers think of it?

  • "It's not amazing but it's inoffensive." – Simon
  • "Very bland; tastes sweet but boring." – Deanna
  • "Tastes like a souped up version of a regular bun, without fruit. Not for diabetics." – Elaine
  • "The Caramilk is actually better than I thought it would be." – Jen
  • "It's very artificial tasting. It's like having a coffee and a cake somewhere chain store-ish, like Gloria Jeans." – Siobahn
  • "My favourite was the Caramilk one, followed by the red velvet. I might buy the Caramilk one if it was around. The other ones, nah, I wouldn't buy them." – Liam
mocha hot cross buns

The mocha NXB: you're probably better off just having a coffee and a choc-chip hot cross bun.

Woolworths Cadbury Mocha hot cross bun

Responses to this NXB were mixed: some testers thought it tasted like coffee, while others couldn't detect the coffee flavour at all. 

Regardless, there wasn't a lot of love for this NXB, and plenty of our testers thought you'd be better off just having an actual coffee with your choc-chip hot cross bun. 

  • "It's awful. Very disappointing because it sounded like it would be nice." – Deanna
  • "Tasted more like burnt coffee than mocha, I think." – Liam
  • "I don't drink coffee but this one tasted like coffee to me." – Marg
  • "Burnt aftertaste – not at all coffee-like. It's bitter and dry – where is the chocolate? There's no coffee taste to me, but I drink long blacks." – Kim
  • "My favourite was the mocha." – Jen
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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.