Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Edamame

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Edamame 1

You’re calling this dark chocolate? C’mon now, be honest.

People are willing to put dark chocolate on just about anything. While I applaud the adventerous spirit, the problem is that dark chocolate is not so universal as people hope. Just because the word “chocolate” is in there doesn’t mean it’s a confection. The strong, bitter, almost astringent taste, of a high purity dark chocolate is an acquired taste and should be introduced into a dish only with forethought. Thus it was with trepidation that I picked up Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Edamame.

I like dark chocolate, or at least I want to like dark chocolate. I certainly like it enough on its own. The trouble is, it’s hard to find it done right. One place I seem to continually encounter it is on roasted coffee beans, which has always truck me as very strange. Obviously coffee is a good thing. Coffee keeps America running. I, for one, recently fell in love with Trader Joe’s Cold Brewed Coffee Concentrate. However coffee beans are not coffee. They are the cast off husk that we extract that essential nectar from – the thing that gets in the way between us and the coffee. Why then does it seems to anyone likea  good idea to cover the whole beans and eat them? It’s not like we eat them in any other way – nobody is throwing a handful of roasted coffee beans on their salad, or mixing them into their pasta. We grind them up and make coffee out of them or, in extreme cases, add it to steak rubs. We don’t just munch them down whole.

I bring this up because Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Edamame are essentially an improved form of the chocolate covered coffee bean. There’s a shell of dark chocolate around a crunchy, munchable core of dry roasted edamame.  What’s surprising to me is that really these things are pretty good.

“Now wait a minute”, you’re probably thinking.”Aren’t edamame just soybeans?” Yes, that’s true – but don’t let the rather long history of soybean bashing turn you against me right from the start. It’s true that soy beans are mostly used to make salty and savory dishes – for example, as soy sauce, miso soup, and tofu. However, anyone who’s ever had a bowl of salted, fresh soybeans at a bar or as finger food, served still in the their little green pods,  knows that they also have a very mild taste with an addicting crunchiness.

The truth is, you’ll barely taste the edamame beans in Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Edamame at all. They could have just as well called these Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Crunchers. The flavor of the heavy, dark chocolate coating is so strong that you don’t get any taste from the dry roasted soybeans at all. All you get is texture – the crunchy body and satisfying grist of the light, sere bean. The added benefit is that this snack actually has a pretty good protein content. A 1/4 cup serving contains 7 grams of protein – 49 grams in the whole container.

The other thing that Trader Joe’s did right with their dark chocolate edamame is not actually using dark chocolaTrader Joe's Dark Chocolate Edamame 2te at all. Seriously. A
quick inspection of the ingredients reveals only a mention of “semi-sweet” chocolate. Semi-sweet is a far cry from dark chocolate, sometimes containing as little as 35% cocoa. Trader Joe’s doesn’t state the percent of cocoa in these beans, but a safe bet might be  around 50%.

Normally I decry this sort of misleading wordplay, but in this case I’m actually not that upset. For one, semi-sweet chocolate is still “technically” considered dark chocolate, even if it wouldn’t necessarily be considered as such in the vernacular. Secondly, and more importantly, it’s actually a good move. Dark chocolate tends to be unpalatable quickly as the purity increases. By going with a semi-sweet dark chocolate, Trader Joe’s has succeeded in making a eminently snackable chocolate treat perfect for setting out at bridge groups, high caliber sporting events, and other informal social gatherings. A chocolate treat that isn’t too sweet, or too bitter.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a fine use of dark chocolate.

Would I Buy It Again: Sure, I could see putting this out for guests.

Final Synopsis: Semi-sweet chocolate beans with a pleasantly crunchy center.

 

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Edamame - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Edamame – Nutrition Facts

 

About these ads

Trader Joe’s Gluten Free, Raw, Vegan Fruit Bars – (Apple & Strawberry, Apple & Mango, Apple & Banana, and Apple & Coconut)

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Apple Fruit Bar

TJ’s, you’re killing me with these generic fruit bar names. C’mon get some adjectives in there!

With the addition of Trader Joe’s Apple and [blank] Fruit Bars, they have added another participant to the already crowded Trader Joe’s fruit bar arena. How, I wondered as I picked these up, could Joe possible justify the existence of a third, no nonsense, “healthy” fruit bar?

There are, in fact, many similarities between these fruit bars and Trader Joe’s other fruit bars. Like its competitors, these bars are 100% fruit, with no additives of any sort. Does that mean we’re just talking about more fruit leather? No indeed sir, it does not! While Trader Joe’s other fruit bars all hopped on the fruit leather boat, these Gluten Free Raw Vegan Fruit Bars are another thing entirely.

Open up a pack and take a look. For starters, you’ll notice that they’re not all that flat. Each bar is a good half inch or more thick, with the heft and body of a candy bar. As you pick it up, you’ll notice that they’re not all that sticky either – you can wrap your fingers around any of the varieties without fear of peeling them away to the dreaded sensation of “sticky raisin fingers”.

You’ll notice another big difference as well – unlike TJ’s other fruit bars, these guys look minimally processed. Instead of a uniform fruit paste, each of these bars is visibly full of shredded fruit – be it bits of strawberry, chunks of banana, lumps of mango, or slivers of coconut. That same quality means that each type of bar actually feels very different in the hand. The Apple & Banana is probably most dense and firm, while the Apple & Coconut has a tendency to crumble as you handle it.

Which brings us to the taste. Apple goes into basically every fruit bar ever made because its pulp is simply excellent and binding things together. What that means is that you can expect all of these bars to taste at least a little bit like apple. The question is, how much does it taste like anything else?

Actually, before we even get into that, I’d better mention that these bars are surprisingly unsweet. To be sure, they are definitely sweet as compared to – for instance, dirt. But compared to any of the other TJ fruit bars I’ve reviewed these bars are much more muted. There is none of the light-up-your-tongue zazz you normally expect from these sorts of snacks. In fact, these fruit bars are less sweet even than the fruits they’re made from.

The reason for this, in part, is because of the unsulfured nature of the raw fruit that has gone into the bars. We’ve talked about the sulfuring process

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Apple Fruit Bar - Inside

Now those are some meaty fruit bars!

before – and how it preserves the color and taste of fruit once it’s been dried. Without preservatives, and without the chemical changes that occur with exposure to high heat, these bars are essentially just shredded, dried fruit – and as such lose a good deal of their fruit’s original intensity.

Why aren’t the bars exposed to high heat? Because they’re “raw”, of course. The notion of raw food, and the ethos of rawism, is simply too big a topic to tackle in this post. One of the more interesting puzzles of only consuming raw food, however, is deciding at what temperature a raw food should no longer be considered raw. It’s generally agreed that the cut off for vegetables and fruits is between 104 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit (40-49 degrees Celsius). Presumably, these bars abide by that guideline, although there is no official “seal of rawness” yet, so really it’s anyone’s guess.

Which brings us back to the taste – just how good are these raw fruit bars? I’m happy to say that even though they are somewhat unsweet, they’re still quite flavorful. The guest fruit in each bar (banana, coconut, mango or strawberry) really come to the fore in each bite. The sugariness may be gone, but the appealing underlying taste of the fruit is still there, mingling pleasantly with the subtle, mellow apple taste. Essentially, you are getting the taste of the fruit without the sweetness. The Apple and Banana Bar, for example, tastes like a cooked plantain more than a ripened banana. The same applies to the coconut, strawberry and even the mango. You can recognize and appreciate the flavors with the candied sugariness common to many dried fruits.

Are these bars worth your money then? There’s certainly a lot to like about them. They give you a convenient way to keep your blood sugar up, a way to stay committed to your raw food diet, and can act as a substitute candy bar for dieters in need of a cheat. Then again, a regular piece of fruit does all of that just as well – and the fruit tastes better.

Really, it comes down to if you like everything about fruit except the sweetness, or if you’ve been questing for a fruit bar that won’t make your fingers sticky. If either of those qualities defines you, then you’ll want to pick up these bars. For everyone else, I’d suggest giving one a try, if for no other reason than the novel experience.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Sure, if you need a healthier alternative to a Snickers.

Would I Buy Them Again: I’d buy these before any of the other Trader Joe’s Fruit bars, just because they’re less sticky.

Final Synopsis: A hefty fruit bar that isn’t all that sweet.


Trader Joe’s Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookies

Trader Joe's Inside Out Carrot Cake

Notice the Playboy bunny tastefuly incorporated into the label.

Well this is a tasty surprise. Trader Joe’s does a wonderful job giving you things you didn’t know you wanted, like their Kouigns Amann, and/or wouldn’t have asked for even if you did, like their Quinoa Sushi Rolls. In this case, somehow some genius at Trader Joe’s looked at a slice of carrot cake and thought, “You know, I bet you could invert that.” Thus was Trader Joe’s Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookie born.

Yes, it turns out, you can invert carrot cake – by pulling the cake off the bottom, splitting it and two and making a sandwich out of the thing you can have a portable, easily snackable, mini slice of cake that you can eat with your fingers. And it’s actually as good as it sounds.

The goodness of the Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookie is due more to the tasty carrot cake recipie TJ’s uses than the novelty of the dish. The cake bit is soft, spongy, moist and mildly spicy with just a hint of carrot taste, while the cream cheese icing is thick, sweet and surprisingly fluffy. An all too common mistake of carrot cake is to load it up with almost heart-stoppingly rich cream cheese frosting that 1) totally hides the cake, and 2) limits you to eating about a postage stamp sized slice of cake at risk of have your blood turn to syrup. Good though that is on occasion, Trader Joe’s goes for a sweet, but not overwhelming recipe here.

There are numerous variations on the carrot cake recipe – from straight cake to cake loaded with nuts and pineapple. Trader Joe’s goes for a pretty traditional version, sprinkling a handful of raisins into their batter and leaving it otherwise alone.

Carrot cake has always intrigued me. Unlike, say, France, we don’t stand much on tradition when it comes to food in America. Any which way you can think of making a cake, you are positively encouraged to do so. Wanna put red food coloring in the chocolate cake? Go right ahead, red velvet. Wanna mold the Battle of Hastings (1066) out of eleven pounds of fondant? You’re the boss… the Cake Boss.

And yet, when it comes to a few particular cakes we insist on certain formulas. Carrot cake always has white cream cheese frosting and, if at all possible, little frosting carrots on it. Isn’t that strange? And who even thought of putting a bunch of carrots in a cake in the first place? In carrot cake we have one baked product that isn’t just tradition bound, but incredibly tradition bound – like five centuries tradition bound.

Carrot cake comes to us, believe it or not, from medieval Europe, circa 1500 – possibly earlier. It’s been awhile since I’ve really delved into carrot history, but the time has come again and, like before, it means we get to turn to our old friend the World Carrot Museum (if you stop by, be sure to check out the Musical Instruments page. Required reading.) This is an absolutely amazing website for anyone who is interested in the intricate history of carrots and/or early 90’s website design. If only more websites showed this level of dedication to straight forward navigation and depth of knowledge of subject the world would be a much better place.

As you will read, carrots have long been a part of cakes due to their relatively high sugar content – highest among all vegetables save the sugar beet. This raises the question of why we’re not all enjoying delicious sugar beet cake, but I suppose that’s beside the point. With their high glucose load, carrots make a reasonably good natural sweetener in baked goods – perfect for sugar-poor peoples like your average medieval knave. The carrot cake pioneered in the dark ages experienced a resurgence mid century by sugar deprived, but resourceful, housewives during the great wars. They added their own touches, including the cream cheese frosting and, for some reason, the little icing carrots.

As you hold your Trader Joe’s Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookie in your hand, reflect that it’s not merely a riff on Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Creme Pies, it’s the cutting edge of carrot cake development, the peak of an ever cresting wave that stretches all the way back to a wattle and daub hut in some feudal serfdom five hundred years ago. Carrot cake.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yeah! It’s a tasty and snackable way to eat carrot cake.

Would I Buy It Again: I’ll probably buy it a little more often than I buy regular carrot cake.

Final Synopsis: Portable, well-made carrot cake slices – with raisins.

Trader Joe's Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookies - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookies – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pane Guttiau – Sardinian Parchment Crackers

Trader Joe's Pane Guttiau Sardinian Parchment Cracker

We might as well be in Sardinia right now.

Sometimes you’re just hankering for something from Sardinia. Maybe the Big Game is about to come on, or maybe the kids are driving you up the wall? Times like these, nothing hits the spot like a little something Sardinian. Not only does Trader Joe’s Sardinian Parchment Crackers bolster the relatively anemic roster of the Sardinian products available from your grocer, but it also has the added benefit of sounding like the hotly contested artifact a dashing archaeologist might be racing Nazis for.

So it’s a great name – but what is a Sardinian Parchment Cracker?Well get ready for some excitement folks, because it’s very thin, flat, unyeasted cracker bread milled from semolina. In other words, a taste explosion. This might be expected given the origin of these crackers – invented circa 1000 BC by wandering shepherds trying to make a portable lunch. No bread lasts so well as a good, dry cracker, and so this it was that this simple, broad, flat snack entered the world.

Joking aside – Trader Joe’s Pane Guttiau is a good tasting cracker with some intriguing applications. In terms of flavor, these crackers are very close to saltines, only enlivened by a touch of olive oil and served much thinner. Much, much thinner actually. The more jocular name for pane guttiau is carta di musica or “music sheet” – either because these wafer thin crackers resemble wrinkled sheets of paper, or because they’re so thin that you can actually read a sheet of music through them. This is no exaggeration – I was able to see my hand through a sheet of pane guttiau, which is not something most crackers can brag of.

There are two main reasons you’re going to want to come to these crackers – for the size and for the texture. The taste, though good, won’t blow you away – it’s the huge 4-5” size of each cracker and their light, crispiness that lets you snack on these in a whole new way. You won’t necessarily be digging into a tub of hummus with these crackers – though you can manage it if you’re careful enough. Instead, they lend themselves to being layered with thin slices of salami and cheese, or dabbed with a nice tapenade and had as an antipasta.

There’s something really enjoyable and liberating about dealing with crackers this size. Instead of being forced into dealing with a set size of cracker out of a box, these parchment crackers allow you to easily snap off any sized section you want from the larger cracker. Nibble on a broken-off corner or stack a plate with multiple layers – the versatility of the pane guttiau is tremendous.

A final note, despite the thinness of the crackers, I found that Trader Joe’s packed a good number into each box. I wound up running out of things to put on the parchment crackers before the parchment crackers themselves ran out.

If you’re going to try these – get some good cheese and meats, some nice spreads, and enjoy a little free-form snacking.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, particularly if you’re exhausted by traditionally sized crackers.

Would I Buy Them Again: Eventually, maybe when I have guests over.

Final Synopsis: These ancient, wafer-like crackers are a whole new way to snack!


Trader Joe’s Poutine

Trader Joe's Poutine

A font that fancy even makes poutine look classy.

Put on your checkered, ear-flap caps readers, because today we’re going full Canadian with Trader Joe’s Poutine.

Poutine – what is poutine? What is this strange word, this strange brown bag smiling broadly at us from the depth of the freezer section? What do french fries, cheese curds and gravy have to do with each other? To put it simply, poutine is French Canadian nachos – only instead of tortilla chips you have fries, and instead of melted cheese you have gravy, and instead of jalapenos you have melted cheese. Yes, I know that’s confusing, but there’s no avoiding that. Only a Canadian can truly understand poutine – just as only Aussies can truly understand Vegemite, only Scots can truly understand Irn-Bru and only Americans can truly understand root beer. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to explain.

Basically, what you get with Trader Joe’s Poutine is a big bag of frozen french fries, a packet of beef gravy and a packet of cheese curds. The idea is, you cook the fries in your oven, while warming the gravy and curds on the stove top. Once everything’s ready, you top the fries with the curds, drizzle the gravy over the whole lot, then eat it with a fork/your fingers. It’s a sloppy heap of messy, salty savory junk food perfect for anytime you feel like abandoning your goals and dreams in favor of immediate mouth-stuffing gratification – again, not unlike nachos.

I’d never had poutine before, which presented me with a unique challenge. How could I fairly review Trader Joe’s Poutine, and thus avoid incurring Cannuck ire, without anything to compare it against? Where was my control group? A Google search revealed the depth of my problem. Although poutine is wildly popular in the barren polar regions of North America, it doesn’t have much of a presence anywhere so far south in America as Los Angeles, CA.

I was able to find a number of upscale restaurants offering their own nouveau fusion versions of poutine designed to downplay the more uniquely Canadian side of poutine (read: giant salty cheese curds) in favor of a more marketable, bastardized dish, but little in the way of real, authentic poutine. For a moment I thought I’d found a lucky break in the form of the Gravy Train Poutinerie – a poutine slinging mobile food truck promising real, home-style poutine – but an examination of their Twitter account revealed that they moved operations to the greener pastures of Salt Lake City, UT in October 2013. Things were getting depressing.

Trader Joe's Poutine cooked on a plate

If nachos are the nachos of Mexico, and poutine is the nachos of Canada, what are the nachos of the US? Still nachos?I’m not sure, but leave your best guess in the comments.

Finally, I found success at Little Fork, Hollywood – a cool little box of a restaurant dedicated to serving Canadian food up right. Over a couple cheap Molsens I enjoyed my first real poutine – smoked meat gravy, gooey cheese curds and all. Folks, it was a delicious heap of a hot mess.

So it was with considerable anticipation that I cooked up Trader Joe’s Poutine on my stove. After following the direction and digging in – I’m sorry to report that I didn’t like it very much at all.

The gravy is fine, and the cheese curds, though saltier than I like, are as thick and squeaky as you could ask for. The problem, unfortunately and unavoidably, is in the fries. It’s next to impossible to cook fries in an oven and have them be anywhere as near as good as fries out of a deep fryer. Countless brands have tried to do it, but none, not ever Trader Joe’s, has succeeded. Without the deep fryer, fries aren’t fries – they’re just dull potato planks.

There are some other minor difficulties with Trader Joe’s Poutine – I found it hard to heat up the cheese curds without them melting together into a big blob, even by heating them in a water bath, but these are only petty concerns. The heart of a good poutine is in the good fries – take those away and your might as well just have your cheese and gravy on a baked potato. Honestly, you’d be much better off buying some good fries from a takeout joint and adding the curds and gravy to them than you would be buying this frozen bag of flat potato slices. Thank you, Trader Joe’s, for bringing us the delicacy of rural Quebec, but these fries simply won’t do.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not with these fries I wouldn’t.

Would I Buy It Again: No – I’ll just wait for the Poutinere to wheel it’s way back here.

Final Synopsis: The great Quebecoise cuisine brought low by inadequate fries.


Trader Joe’s Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark

Trader Joe's Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy BarkWell, we’ve seen some good names from Trader Joe’s before, but Trader Joe’s Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark may take the cake for over-the-top product naming. Some marketer somewhere is recovering from a spraining their brain muscle after coming up with this one.

Calling a pretty standard chocolate bark “cowboy bark” to begin with is already a wildly out of the box move – it’s not like there’s anything particularly “cowboy” about this chocolate bark in the first place. In fact, a decadent, dark chocolate treat sprinkled with cookies and toffee is one of the harder things to imagine a weather-beaten cowboy pulling out of his saddle bag on the range. Consider that, on top of this, they’ve added not just a self-aggrandizing adjective, but a totally unnecessary adverb as well and you’ve got my attention.

I really wanted to like this chocolate bark -not just because I’ll seize any excuse to buy junk food again and again, but because almost nobody is tossing adverbs into their food titles anymore. Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup is a dime a dozen, but good luck finding a can of Superbly Chunked Chicken Noodle Soup. Who doesn’t feel for the poor, overlooked adverb, ignored step-child of the parts of speech family? Who doesn’t wish they encountered more deftly modified adjectives on their daily errands? I definitely do.

So it’s got a good name – a crazy name, but a good one. It seems like we’re dealing with a shoe-in for next years best of list, right? After all, it’s dark chocolate with toffee, pretzels, Joe Joe’s Oreo Cookie knock-offs, peanuts, almonds and, to top it all off, a sprinkling of salt – what’s not to like?

The problem, as you may perhaps have guessed, lays in the dark chocolate base. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but dark chocolate is not a confection to be tossed haphazardly into just any dish that you’d normally use milk chocolate in. Dark chocolate isn’t just some joke of a candy you can slather on whatever, dark chocolate is a high-yield plutonium warhead to be deployed only after considerable soul searching. Use it too frequently or in too great a quantity, and nothing else you add to it is going to matter. Case in point, despite the tantalizing selection of toppings included on the bark, you only taste two things – dark chocolate for days, and a hint of salt. That’s certainly not bad – dark chocolate dusted with salt is a wonderful treat – but it makes the rest of the bark vanish into pointlessness. If Trader Joe’s was simply selling a bar of “dark chocolate with salty bits” I’d be singing it’s high praises – as it stands, there’s little reason to waste your calories on Oreo cookies and toffee you can’t taste. It’s a pretty good snack, but it’s not going to blow you away, and certainly isn’t worth the money when there are some many other amazing treats at TJ’s.

Trader Joe’s, I’d love to see a milk chocolate version of this that lets the rest of the flavors shine through – until then, there’s no reason to come back.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: It’s okay, but there are better buys out there.

Would I Buy It Again: Not until there’s a milk chocolate version.

Final Synopsis: A great idea, drowned out in too much dark chocolate.

Trader Joe's Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramallows

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Caramallows

Ohhh yeahhhh.

Brother, cousin, or just close friend of the family to the chocolate covered marshmallows that I reviewed on an ill-fated day previous, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramallows are as delicious a confection of a word as they are a delicious confection.

If you’re still with me after that bit of tortured grammar, than you must be wondering what Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallows did wrong that Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramallows did right.

Well, for starters, they put caramel in it. A bunch of caramel. When you bite into one of these it’s pretty much half caramel half marshmallow. Mankind has wrought many a sweet treat but, with the possible exception of cookie butter, we have never made anything so tasty that a little caramel doesn’t improve it.

Second, obviously, is the wonderful product name, so whimsical that it makes me chuckle with mirth whenever my twinkling eye lights upon it.

And that’s all well and good, but as my most fervent, dedicated and imaginary readers have no doubt already noticed, neither of these two points refutes my argument against TJ’s regular old chocolate covered marshmallows – that they’re essentially just repackaged Easter candy. And, honestly, that criticism still stands, the only difference is that this is repackaged Easter Candy done right.

The thing that I really enjoyed about these guys, beside the tooth nuking sweetness of the caramel and marshmallow cream, is the bitter kick of the dark chocolate shell.

The cynic in me wants to chock up this sophisticated touch to the craze of putting dark chocolate on everything that you’re already putting milk chocolate on. Whether or not that’s the case, the bitter undertones of the dark chocolate act as a really wonderful counterpoint to the intensely sweet caramel and marshmallow. Of course, the other marshmallows had dark chocolate on them as well but the extra spongy texture of their marshmallow core made them practically bounce off your tongue. Where those were springy and chewy, the caramallows are ooey and gooey – they really just want to glue themselves to the top of your mouth and melt. That’s when the dark chocolate comes in, blunting the sugary edge of changing the character of the candy from empty calories to confection.

And that, ultimately, is where my preference falls. As death tugs the hem of my bath robe inexorably closer to the grave, I’ve noticed that I can’t just wolf down the sweets like I used to. When I do make room for them on the budget, I like them to be something special. There are a million ways to spin sugar into carbo lumps, and most of them aren’t worth wasting the chocolate on. Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramallows might be just as cheap, but they’re actually meaningful to eat.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: If you aren’t diabetic yet, pick up a box before the season ends.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, my girlish figure be damned.

Final Synopsis: A dark chocolate covered marshmallow that’s worth picking up.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Caramallows - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramallows – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Triple Ginger Cookie

 

Trader Joe's Dark Choclate Triple Ginger Cookies

Once again, the power or dark chocolate has been under estimated.

It doesn’t seem like you could go wrong with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Triple Ginger Cookies. It’s holiday time, these are gingerbread cookies, it’s a match made in heaven! All you have to do to succeed, in my book, is deliver at least an average gingerbread cookie and I’ll keep you on my kitchen shelf though the New Year. These triple ginger cookies promise to do that and more, so I was pumped before I even picked up the box. Then I got a chance to rady the product copy. Let’s take a look at the promise on the beautiful, holiday themed package:

“Made with 3 types of giner, fresh, ground and chunks of crystallized ginger, then enrobed in a thin layer of dark chocolate, this is a snappy cookei with a acrunchy bite and a rich chocolate finish.”

Sounds sweet, right? But despite all this ginger, somehow, someway, these cookies conspire to taste completely un-gingery.

I think it’s safe to safe that if you’re going to claim that your cookies are not just double but triple ginger you had better put some damn ginger in them. Despite the claims on the packaging, despite even the list of ingredients detailing the types of ginger, these cookies simply do not taste very much like ginger. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you’d be hard pressed to detect the taste of ginger in these at all. Surely he’s not being serious. Yes, folks, I am. What you get in these cookies is the strong, lingering taste of the dark chocolate (which is, actually, quite good) followed by nothing or, if you’ve bitten into one of the crystallized ginger bits, a faint taste of ginger that last for a brief moment. Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Cookies are, at best, a lie whose only purpose is to ruin your holiday festivities.

Perhaps I go to far.

After all, these are pretty decent cookies when all is said and done. They may not taste like ginger very much at all (a brutal failure for a gingerbread cookie, to be sure), but the dark chocolate still works perfectly well. If you’re looking for a nice, small bittersweet chocolate cookie this would fit the bill perfectly. If these had been called “Trader Joe’s Super Dark Chocolate Cookies with a bit of Ginger”, I’d be writing a very happy article right now. Should have but didn’t – and it’s too late now to repair my hurt feelings.  If stripped of the dark chocolate, I dare say the ginger would rise admirable to the fore. Beneath the thick shell of ominipresent chocolate however, it is pushed so far into the background it nearly disappears.

My only other complaint with these is that the chocolate covering frustrates any attempt at achieving a satisfying dunk. While cookies are perfectly fine taken dry, most everyone can agree that a glass of milk or spot of tea can elevate even a very humble cookie to heavenly realms. Despite my best efforts to dunk these cookies in both tea and milk I was frustrated in every attempt. The same chocolate shell that dominates the taste is completely impermeable to liquid. I thought that a nice hot cup of Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend might melt away some of that cocoa bean carapace and give me a nice soft cookie upon which to sup, but all I got were chocolate smeared fingers and mugs.

Really, this would be an excellent cookie if they left the ginger out or took the chocolate off. Both together seems pointless.


The Breakdown

Would I Buy Them Again: No, without ginger they hold no appeal for me.

Would I Recommend Them: Only to people who want a dark chocolate cookie with a little, but not much, ginger taste.

Final Synopsis: Gingerbread cookies that taste like chocolate instead of ginger .

Trader Joe's Dark Choclate Triple Ginger Cookies - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Dark Choclate Triple Ginger Cookies – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

Trader Joe's Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

Cranberries and pumpkins seeds in baked pita. Why not?

Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds are a fine, crispy cracker, though it’s applications are limited. More interesting, I’d say, is that they decided to put pumpkin in a pita chip at all.

Accuse Trader Joe’s of anything you want: that their interior décor is garish, that their food nomenclature is erratic at best, that they struggle with keeping listeria out of their salads, whatever – but I dare you to accuse them of not providing enough seasonal foods. I effin’ dare you. Because Trader Joe’s would kick your ass up and down the block if you even opened your mouth to say that. Have you seen the Fearless Flyer for this month yet? Taken a little peak inside? Let me just save you the trouble and summarize a few of the entries right here:

  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Toaster Pastries
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Soup
  • Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
  • Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Canned Pumpkin
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpin Spice Rooibos
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Croissants
  • Pilgrim Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Macaroons
  • Trader Joe’s Country Pumpkin Granola
  • Trader Joe’s Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bar Baking Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Body Butter
  • Trader Joe’s “This Pumpkin Walks Into a Bar” Pumpkin & Cereal Snack Bars
  • Trader Joe’s Greek Pumpkin Yogurt
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps
  • Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberry and Pumpkin Seeds
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Biscotti
  • ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider
  • KBC Pumpkin Ale
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Flavored Dog Treats
  • Trade Joe’s Pumpkin Trees
  • and, of course, regular Pumpkins

And I’m pretty sure this is only a partial list.

I swear to you I didn’t make any of this up – not even “pumpkin trees”, a phrase which you’d be entirely justified in using as an excuse to write off this blog as surreal and joke-prone if it weren’t actually, really a thing they really have.

Pumpkin dog treats? Pumpkin greek yogurt!?!? These people are goddamn crazy. This is not the output of a sane company. No one needs this many pumpkin products for fall – in fact, no one needs this many pumpkin products over the course of their entire lifespan.

Somebody get in there and restrain these lunatics. I’m not joking, someone is in serious need of restraint and possibly anti-psychotics. Somewhere in the upper offices of Trader Joe’s Monrovia enclave an executive is stomping around, frothing at the mouth, demanding more and more pumpkin dishes, occasionally bursting into the R&D department and executing employees for not thinking “pumpkin” enough. I wish I could think of an alternative scenario that would explain this level of pumpkin output, but I really can’t.

I can only imagine the chaos overtaking the Trader Joe’s processing facilities. Huge dump trucks full of pumpkins backed up down the road, honking at each other so they too can send their load tumbling into the giant pumpkin hopper, itself already clogged with huge, bright orange pumpkins as the special, industrial pumpkin masher below, a specialty unit flown in from Germany, overheats under the strain of too many pumpkins.

Which brings us to the first entry on the ludicrous list of Trader Joe’s pumpkin products – Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps and Pumpkin Seeds. I’ll be hitting as many of these items as possible before the end of pumpkin season and, arbitrarily, I’ve chosen to start here. Keep an eye on the pumpkin list though – I’ll update it with links to articles as I go.

These really are excellent crackers. Case in point, they’re made with whole wheat and whole seeds, they’re toasted to a crispy brown, and they’re made by a small family owned bakery in Canada. That’s a very nice pedigree.

The pita crisps find a very nice little spot between sweet and salty. The saltiness (sea salt) is quite slight, just enough to grace the tongue and heighten the sweetness (organic cane sugar and the sweetened cranberries). Neither is so strong that it detracts from the earthy, whole grain taste of the toasted wheat and roasted pumpkin.

The fact is, I’d probably have preferred the crackers more it they didn’t have the cranberries at all. It’s an excellent snacking cracker in and of itself, thick, with a nice snap and good crunch that isn’t too dry. The cranberry bits are fine, they lend a slight chewiness to each cracker in addition to their sweetness, but they also infuse it with a berry flavor that fights a lot of other foods. This means that you’re limited as to what you can eat these pita crisps with. Most cheeses are just fine, especially Trader Joe’s fruity goat cheeses, but that’s about it. However most dips, particularly hummus and salsa, clash with the berry taste, which really curtails their table top use.

As compliments to cheeses or eaten by themselves the crackers are very nice – they’re just going to have a hard time rising out of the novelty, holiday food niche.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, if you’re planning ahead to a nice cheese plate.

Would I Buy Them Again: Good though they are, I’ll be buying less specialized crackers in the future.

Final Synopsis: A very, very good cracker, but a bit too sweet to go with many foods.

Trader Joe's Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls – Lentil & Potato Snack

Trader Joe's Crunchy Curls

Nothing says snack food like lentils!

If there’s one thing Trader Joe’s is good at, it’s making me do a double take. Case in point, Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls, a bag of puffed up, curly snack thing that blends seamlessly into the endless wall of junk food until you notice it the bag tacks on “A Tasty Lentil & Potato Snack!”

Double take.

The first thing I’ll say is, I really wish they had made these into chips instead of crunchy spiral snack tubes, because there is no easy way to say “crunchy, spiral snack tube” in the English language. Let’s agree to call them “curlicues” right up front and get on with things.

So, TJ’s, why make a lentil and potato curlicue snack? Are there not plenty of crunchy snack options around? Is America not the land where you can walk down a 60′ long, triple-tiered aisle of snack chips every time you go to the supermarket? The land of the mighty Dorito, undulating Ruffle and tubular Pringle? Do you really think a bland looking, lentil and potato based thing that just happens to be a spiral is going to be able to stand it’s ground in the face of Cheetos, Funyuns, Bugles, Fritos, et al.?

Before we condemn these lentil-based curlicues with a thunderous cry of “Unnecessary!”, let’s look a bit closer. Notice, if you will, that Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls are both gluten free and vegan. It goes without saying that gluten free, vegan snack foods are few and far between in this world. Try a Google search for the term and have fun choosing from all three options you get. I have vegan friends, I feel for their plight. I know it must be hard to maintain your resolute moral bearing while guys like me stroll around stuffing their mouths with tender beast flesh, sauteed mushrooms, moist, flaky croissants, etc. A gluten-free, vegan snack crunchy, salty snack just answered a lot of people’s prayers.

The big question, of course, is if it’s actually worth buying. Unfortunately, these curlicues left me flat. The taste isn’t the problem – they’re salty enough to scratch that salty food craving but not so salty that you’re rushing for your glass of water. The lentil/potato flavor is palatable if uninteresting with that long, starchy aftertaste – basically similar to munching down on a few Lays at once. The thing that disappointed me was how hard and crunchy the curlicues were. I know “crunchy” is right there in the title, but this snack combines “crunchy” with “hard”. Because of the thickness of each curly cue, each bite is like a fresh assault on a fortified compound. You don’t have to worry about mindlessly munching these down – pop a handful in your mouth and you’ll be busy for a minute or so.

In the end, however, that’s quibbling. If you’re in the market for vegan / gluten-free chips, these are basically fine. You won’t hate them, and they’ll hold up in your hummus dip. If you’re under no such strictures, however, there isn’t much reason to prefer these over anything else in the aisle.


Break Down:

Would I Recommend Them: Only if you’re on a vegan / gluten-free diet.

Would I Buy Them Again: Barring a major lifestyle change, no.

Final Synopsis: A good snack food – for being vegan and gluten-free.

Trader Joe's Crunchy Curls - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls – Nutrition Facts


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