The statement “I love jerky” is pointless and trivial. Of course you love jerky, we all do. In addition to jerky, many people also love smoked salmon. But these are two very different foods, and in my life thus far, as wild and adventurous as it has been, I have never been tempted to combine the two. Someone was however, and of course that person was an employee of Trader Joe’s. God bless those crazy mad men.
I’m sure that you, like myself, have encountered jerky in many forms beyond the simple “beef” of yore. Turkey jerky, elk jerky, emu jerky, gator jerky, even alien jerky (if the market shills in Barstow, CA are to be trusted at any rate) – all seem to taste, in the end, basically the same. That’s the miracle of jerky, you get some meat, jerk the hell out of it, dehydrate (or smoke) ‘til dried, slap it in some burgundy-colored bag and mark it up 500%. Bam, jerky. The tang of the spices is what you’re paying for, the meat itself never seems to make that much of a difference. But terrestrial animals are one thing – what about fish? They are, for one, famously fishy tasting. There is something of the river or ocean inherent in the meat of the fish that is not easy to simply jerk and dry away. Or is it?
There are a couple things that immediately stand out about Trader Joe’s Wild Salmon Jerky. One is the texting cowboy riding the giant fish (miniature cowboy riding regular sized fish?) which is fine, whatever. Considerably more interesting are the ingredients that are going into our wild salmon snack – a brine of brown sugar, caramelized sugar, molasses, maple syrup and a touch of salt. Sounds a little sweet, doesn’t it? “But” you might be thinking, “Using salmon for jerky is novel enough – surely they aren’t making sweet salmon jerky.”
Hold onto your pants, because they damn well are.
Trader Joe’s Wild Salmon Jerky is, hands down, the sweetest, most sugary jerky I’ve ever had. Your fingers come away tacky with molasses from each bite, that’s what we’re talking about here. And why not? If you can have BBQ jerky and Teriyaki jerky and “X-box presents: Call of Duty 4: X-trm Habenero” Jerky, why not a fish jerky reminiscent of pancakes?
Honestly, I like this stuff. I like its moxy. I like that TJ’s doesn’t give a flying fig about what everyone else is doing, they’re going to put sugar on salmon and call it jerky. Now, the flavor is not my favorite, but I’ve also never been a fan of teriyaki jerky and plenty of people love that. There’s nothing wrong with the taste – it’s intriguing and new – it’s just not my taste.
That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out a couple of points.
One, there is a strong odor at play here, and not an entirely pleasant one. Open the bag and you’re hit with the combined smell of dried fish and maple syrup – try not to think about cat treats, it does taste better than that.
Two, the pieces are thick and hard. The texture is very different from what you get with long, thin pieces of beef jerky. The salmon jerky is much chunkier, and the toughness of the pieces don’t have the pleasing give to the bite that other jerky does, it’s much more work to chew one of these guys up.
Would I Recommend It: Certainly, if you’re a sweet jerky lover – not that I’ve ever met any of those.
Would I Buy it Again: I’ll stick to my beef, turkey, deer, bison and ostrich jerkies, thanks.
Final Synopsis: An experience that’s more novel than pleasant, but just might tickle the pallet of a sweet jerky lover.
Kale – who really knows anything meaningful about this stuff. I, like most of humanity I suspect, don’t pay much attention to the seemingly countless varieties of leafy green veggies that basically just go on salads. I do know someone who does care though, who cares deeply – Trader Joe’s. These guys push the kale hard – they really believe in kale. Where most retailers in the world might go “Maybe let’s hold back on the kale, I’m not sure this is something the public is really hungry for,” Trader’s Joe’s says, “Screw it – we’re doing kale chips.”
Now, I know kale chips are no new thing, and yes, you can find on the shelves of your Fresh and Easy and other idiosyncratic supermarkets, but the bold audacity of the TJ’s Kale Chips packaging, the outright assertiveness of the stuff, is what sets Trader Joe’s apart. How could I say no?
I could spend all day on the packaging honestly, a perplexing take on what it would be like if Superman was an air-crisped bowl of greens surmounted with the words “Meanwhile, zesty nacho…” This is, without a doubt, the least sensible thing I’ve ever read in a supermarket. TJ’s mad ad wizards were up late fabricating this head-scratcher, I’m sure. Presumably the kale-comic book mashup was the brain child of the same guy who thought up combining tropical islands and supermarkets.
The problem is that with all the set up, the overly free use of the adjective “super-duper”, the literal word “POW!” emblazoned on the front, etc, you can’t help but be disappointed by the drab, flaky, crusted up leaves you find inside. If it were up to me, I’d have stuck these in a nondescript, brown paper bag with the word “Kale chips” stenciled bleakly on the side and maybe a dreary man’s face staring listlessly out at you. Then at least the contents would look fun and exciting by comparison. As it stands, the kale chips resemble the packaging, and in particular the actual image of the chips on the front, as little as possible. They are dark olive drab instead of the depicted perky, spring green and rather than getting the crisp, individually differentiated chips I was promised I found leaves caked together in patties, or flaked across the bottom of the bag, more or less like fish food.
As for taste, well, there are two school of thought here. Let’s suppose you are on a serious diet, not an I-feel-chubby-I’m-cutting-back-on-the-chocolate diet, but real, I-don’t-fit-into-my-wedding-dress-and-the-ceremony-is-in-a-month diet. A serious diet. If you’re eating nothing but blocks of tofu and steamed broccoli I can see these “alternatives to traditional chips” being a delightful indulgence, and the hint of cheese-free crud crusted on them probably tastes like real nacho cheese. Such is the madness of a serious diet.
If, however, you live in the ordinary, lack-a-day world where Doritos and their ilk are cheap, plentiful and an occasionally justifiable snack, these bland, plant-y tasting flakes aren’t really worth the brittle, crumbly hassle – or the price tag.
A final tone – although billed as a chip alternative, compare these guys to a serving of Santitas Tortilla Chips (the ones in the ubiquitous yellow bag).
Trader Joe’s Kale Chips Santitas Tortilla Chips
Regular chips have less calories, less fat, and a carb difference which, though notable, is far from enough to make up for resorting to the much less satisfying, harder to eat kale chips.
Would I Recommend Them: Only to dieters who are starting to lose it.
Would I Buy Them Again: Never.
Final Synopsis: An ineffectual, not-quite tasty alternative to chips.