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Trader Joe’s Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil

Trader Joe's Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil

Foreground: Toasted pumpkin seed oil; Midground: Toasted pumpkin seed oil can w. bread; Background: My table

Trader Joe’s Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil sounds interesting, looks off-putting and costs $9.99 a can. Maybe you’re intrigued by it – but can you really justify such a purchase? If you write a blog where that’s your only function you can!

Let me save you some time, and ten bucks, right now. This oil is not worth your hard earned cash, but before I start maligning it, let’s talk about what Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil is in the first place.

Toasted pumpkin seed oil owes its entire, modern day existence to the region Styria in south east Austria. Styria is probably most famous for being the home of 2004’s Nobel Prize in Literature winner Elfriede Jelinek. If for some reason you’re unfamiliar with Jelinek’s musical use of voices and counter voices in such important works as The Piano Teacher, then I should probably mention that Sytria is also the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At any rate, toasted pumpkin seed oil is, as Trader Joe’s puts it, “a distinct culinary specialty in Styria”. The fact of that matter is, that’s a gross understatement. The pumpkin as we know it is a New World crop – with no existence in Europe until Chrisopher Columbus brought some back with him from his exotic expeditions. The famous orange gourd spread to Austria where, in the 1600’s, someone got the bright idea to roast the pumpkin seeds then, instead of eating them like a barbaric ape, run them through a press and collect the intensely dark green/brown oil that dribbled out. It was an instant hit.

Such a hit, in fact, that the Empress of Austria felt compelled to ban the stuff in 1773 out of fear that people were guzzling it all up. The edict stated: “This healthy oil is unique and much too precious for using it in tasty meals and therefore should rather be used as a medicine. So it shall not be used as a culinary delicacy anymore but shall be collected and distributed only by the apothecaries.”

The medicinal qualities of the oil being somewhat dubious, it eventually returned to general use in Austria where it is generally consumed in one of three common ways: as a simple salad dressing, as a dip for bread or, strangely, as a condiment for vanilla ice cream. What it absolutely cannot be used for is cooking. Trader Joe’s even warns you against this right on the can, and I quote: “Don’t use it for cooking as it burns easily.”

Given all that, plus the high price tag, plus the strange and enigmatic can, you’re bound to assume this is some dynamite stuff, right?

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this obscure oil, I was totally nonplussed by it. The big selling point of the pumpkin seed oil is its “intense nutty flavor”. And it certainly is true that the oil has a strong nutty taste – but it also tastes an awful lot like slightly burnt pumpkin seeds. Stronger, and longer lingering, than the nutty taste is this slightly charred taste, and of course the very pumpkin-y flavor of the pepitas.

On paper that still sounds like it should be reasonably good, but in reality it was very flat, and somewhat bland. Feeling certain that I must be wrong, I conducted an informal tasting panel with the oil and some of Trader Joe’s fine artisanal bread. All four voices found the same as myself – the oil is okay, but there’s nothing particularly winning about it. As one taste tester put it – it’s fine, I’d eat it if I had it in front of me, but I’d never request it. When you’re trying to sell 250ml of oil for ten bucks, that’s quite the damning review.

I’ll wrap this up on two final thoughts. The first, and most perplexing, is why Trader Joe’s didn’t wait until their annual Pumpkin Madness in October to trot out this product. It really doesn’t seem to have enough value to stand on it’s own, but it would have looked wonderful next to the pumpkin cider and pumpkin trees.

Second, my favorite thing about the oil was it’s color. The TJ’s product copy calls it “eerily dark green”, and while that’s about right it’d actually be more accurate to say it’s “eerily dichromatic”. When you pour this oil onto a white plate, it’s a thick blackish red, almost like a balsamic vinegar. When spread out thin, however, it becomes an intense spring green. That may not be enough to win me over, but it is pretty cool.

Really, the main issue here is that Trader Joe’s Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As far as bread dips and salad dressings go, it’s alright but I’d go for some nice olive oil of this stuff every time. At least I can cook with the olive oil. If it wanted a little extra nuttiness I’d pick up some dukkah as well.

Like the Himalyan Salt with Truffles before it, Trader Joe’s Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil might make a good gift for your gourmand buddy, but that’s about it. It’s not that the oil is without value, it’s just not worth the price of admission.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not unless they drop the price.

Would I Buy It Again: No, I already have more than I need.

Final Synopsis: A nutty specialty oil that costs more than it’s worth.

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Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken

Trader Joe's Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken

See, there’s some chicken right there in the far back corner.

All salads are chock full of vegetables by definition – but Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad really hammers that notion home in a robust new way with this aggressively vegetable laden cud fest. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.

I love a salad that takes the salad formula in strange new directions, like the Artichoke and Hearts of Palm Salad, but I also have a great deal of respect for the classic salad formula pulled off right. Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken is one variation of that classic salad formula, huge hearty salad where the sheer robust presence of veggies completely eclipses the meat. It’s the perfect palette cleansing salad – a return to the roots of what a salad is meant to be: huge mouthfuls of hearty, filling veggies served on a thick bed of lettuce. Which isn’t to say the salad is so straight laced that it doesn’t dabble in absurdity. Case in point, the huge, uncut green beans laid out front and center on top of the whole shebang. “Are we really supposed to eat these?” and  “Why did Trader Joe’s do this?” are a couple of the reasonable questions you’ll immediate ask yourself. It’s not like Trader Joe’s doesn’t have sliced green beans. We know you have those, Joe.  No, these green beans are here on purpose, to convey a message – and that message is that you’re going to need a knife just to eat the vegetables in this salad. It’s boldness and simplicity intertwined – a masterful representation of Trader Joe’s high salad artistry.

The “eat your veggies” message is further hammered home by the choice of a creamy dijon dressing. Dijon? Certainly. Creamy? Not so much. It’s a fairly loose dressing actually, more like a vinaigrette than a heavy sauce and, more importantly, the acerbic dijon works like a vinaigrette, accenting and highlighting the chewy greenery instead of obscuring their flavor under thick, overpowering emollients.

To be sure, there are non-vegetable elements in this salad, the titular chicken, along with some cubes of white cheddar cheese and half a boiled egg, and it’s these touches that make the salad work. Vegetables for vegetables sake can quickly become boring – but the charbroiled taste of the chicken meat and thick cubes of cheese break up the homogeneity with sudden bursts of fatty flavor.

In all in all, it’s very well done – but that’s not to say it’s a must buy. Trader Joe’s put this salad together with one point in mind, to remind you about vegetables. If you’ve forgotten about vegetables, you’re sure as hell going to remember them as you sit idly chewing on a big mouthful of corn kernels and green beans, really tasting those flavors at their most basic. And while that’s an important message, it has its time and place.  If you remember vegetables quite well already and enjoy them frequently in your day to day life, you might appreciate one of Trader Joe’s more subtle or unusual salad over this bruiser. If, on the other hand, you need a palette cleanser, a vegetable side dish, or simply want to wipe the slate clean after a long sojourn among fast food, you couldn’t do better. As daily meal in itself, however, you might find that this salad tends to side a little too closely with the roughage.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a fundamentally good salad.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, the next time a need a simple, serviceable side salad.

Final Synopsis: A hearty garden salad that highlights the vegetables.

Trader Joe's Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken - nutrition facts

Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders

Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders

I wanted to include more of the tenders in this pic, but I accidentally ate a bunch of them.

I’ve got to hand it to Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders – they’re some of the best fake meat I’ve had to date. I’ve commented before on the common pitfalls of vegetarian cuisine attempting to ape meat instead of just doing its own thing. Usually this ends in a painfully tortured product name that attempts to acknowledge that it’s totally vegetarian but tastes just like meat, wink wink. (cf. Tofurkey). Generally this is an outrageous lie, or, more generously, extremely wishful thinking by a meat-starved demographic.

            I’ve already expounded on my metaphysical sympathy for vegetarians. I can support the cause – I advocate the idea of abstaining from meat, and would do so myself if only my intensely bon vivant lifestyle would allow for it. Nevertheless, like the soy creamy ice cream substitute before it, I bought some crispy chickenless teneder because I needed a non-meat alternative for my (one) vegan friend. As fate would have it, I accidentally forgot to cook them in time for the meal, she ended up having nothing, and I was left with these chickenless tenders until tonight, when continued poor planning left me with nothing else in the house to eat.

            Fortunately, Trader Joe’s Chickenless Tenders are not just edible, but downright tasty. They actually taste more or less like chicken tenders. How close? Close enough you could probably fool an unwary guest if you served them up without fanfare. There is still that tell-tale aftertaste of “soy-ness” that hangs around, but it’s pretty mild and is more or less totally cloaked by whatever dipping sauces or dressings you’re going to be ingesting the chicken tenders with. The only strange part is that the strips have been “breaded” in a variety of oats and flours that result in a crumbly, quasi breading that’s generally inferior to ordinary breading. The reason for this substitution, I cannot quite fathom.

 TJ’s has managed to capture not just the taste, but also the texture of breaded chicken strips. The tenders are precisely that, coming out of the oven tender, moist, and just toothsome enough to give you a nice balance between chewy and yielding. They even pull apart more or less like real chicken, which is a difficult feat to accomplish when your medium is soy protein isolate.

            How did TJ’s manage such a thing? I have no idea, but apparently it involves a large number of strange sounding, if allegedly natural, ingredients.

 Water, soy protein isolate, and canola oil make up the first three ingredients, naturally enough. It might seem unusual that oil is ingredient #3, but remember that these are oven-baked “chicken” fingers we’re talking about. Like fish and or shrimp nuggets, when you take them out of the oven you’re going to be picking them up out of a little pool of their own oil.

 After these three ingredients things get a little crazy. Pea protein pops up in a prominent position. Are peas known for their protein? Is it possible to tell someone, out loud, that your food has a lot of pea protein in it and not make it sound like an unspeakable form of bio-waste recycling? Not as far as I’m concerned.

After that we get into the ancient grain flours – including quinoa (natch), millet, and everyone’s favorite, amaranth. Rounding all that out is a good helping of Kamut®. “What the hell is Kamut®, and why is it trademarked?” is the very reasonable question you might be asking yourself right now. We’ll have to save that can of worms for another day, but the short answer is it’s a proprietary form of ancient wheat known as Khorasan wheat, originally from round about Afghanistan and nowadays lorded over by two Montana farmers.  Also there’s beet root fiber in the tenders.

  Somehow, in the end, all of this comes together to make strangely delicious vegan chicken tenders, with only thrice the fat of regular chicken tenders. For me it’s less important how it all works out, then the fact that it does. They might not replace regular, flesh and blood chicken in my life, but it’s good to know there’s a good back up option should it ever come to it.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I would, if you’re a vegan/vegetarian.

Would I Buy It Again: This seems like a good fit for Meatless Monday.

Final Synopsis: Eerily good vegan chicken tenders.

Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders - Nutrtion Facts

Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders – Nutrtion Facts


Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices – Unsweetned & Unsulfured

Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices

Even better than the look on the package.

It’s time again to turn our attention to Trader Joe’s freeze dried produce section – with Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apples. We’ve seen considerable range in Trader Joe’s dessicated produce, from freeze dried grapes to dehydrated kimchi to vacuum fried banana chips. It would appear that Trader Joe’s has never met a piece of produce they didn’t want to turn into a dry, crunchy snack.

These apple slices appealed to me immediately because they entomb, for perpituity, my favorite apple, the glorious Fuji. So much better than mundane Red Delicious or unexceptional Gala, the Fuji is invariably dense, sweet and crisp – a thoroughly delicious apple that satisfies to the final bite. I can still remember my first bewitching bite of a Fuji apple to this day, as sweet as an illicit kiss on a rainy summer afternoon.

Fuji apples are, as you might imagine, quintessentially Japanese – originating in the far northern province of Aomori back in the 1960’s and taking the world by storm. The secret the Fuji hides, however, is that it is actually the result of cross-breeding two American apples – the ubiquitous Red Delicious and the lesser known Virginia Ralls Genet. These two strains were first genetically collided at an agricultural research center in the town of Fujisaki in the 1930’s. The apple subsequently took the name of the town as its own and never looked back. Whether out of a sense of national pride or, more probably, simple good taste, the Japanese have embraced the Fuji apple on a massive scale. 900,000 tons of the apples tumble out of northern Japan into grocery stores across the country every year, utterly eclipsing the sales of all other apple cultivars. Here in the states, the Fuji has yet to catch on so dramatically. It ranks fourth in popularity, behind the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and, shockingly, the Gala. Wake up America – there are better apples out there!

The same qualities that the Japanese and myself admire in the Fuji apple – the sweetness and crispness – are the same qualities that make it such a good candidate for freeze drying. Like most fruits, the apple is nearly all water. The act of sucking the water out (or in this case, flash sublimating) is tremendously violent the apple itself, and hard to do without turning your apple slices into something squat and unrecognizable. The firm, crisp quality of the Fuji apple helps retain the shape of the slices, and it’s sweetness means that the apple’s whole, crisp and sweet taste is better preserved than it might be in lesser fruits. This is all the more impressive considering that these apple slices are unsweetened and unsulfured. These steps are usually taken to keep the dehydrated fruit looking and tasting something more or less like they do on the branch. The Fujis are simply so good that neither additive is necessary in the first place.

Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apples are entirely delicious. Each slice is perfectly preserved in miniature, and bursts with sweet apple flavor as soon as you snap into its dry, airy form. While the taste is there, I’m left wondering how exactly one is meant best to enjoy them. They can be casually snacked on, like chips, but the 1.2 ounces of apple in the bag doesn’t last very long, even if the $2.99 price tag does justify the purchase. Trader Joe’s suggests tossing them on a salad or putting them in a trail mix, both of which seem reasonable within limits. The apples very sweet and might easily replace dried cranberries, although at a much higher price per ounce. Trail mix certainly couldn’t be a more natural fit – and I’ll consider including adding it in the next three or four times this decade that I have a reason to make trail mix.

Trader Joe’s final suggestion, to throw them on your cereal or oatmeal seems like the best idea, and probably the easiest way to incorporate these tasty little guys into you life. If for no other reason, pick a bag of these up to experience the Fuji apple in a whole new way.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you can think of a way to eat them.

Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t buy a lot of dried fruit, but I’d probably get these guys again anyway.

Final Synopsis: A fresh new way to eat delicious Fuji apples.

 

Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus European Style Low Fat Yogurt – Mocha and Chocolate flavors

Trader Joe's Coffeehaus Lowfat Yogurt

Possibly the most unwieldy name Trader Joe’s has unveiled to date. I’m not even sure I’ve got it right.

Tangy coffee – do you like it? If you can answer that one question for yourself, there will be no need to read the rest of this post about Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus “European style” low fat yogurts. I will repeat it once again – do you like the taste of tangy coffee?

Very probably you have never had tangy coffee before, you might be confused by these words – angered by them even. No problem, friend. Just relax, sit back, close your eyes… and imagine. Imagine sipping a cup of coffee, imagine that unmistakable coffee aftertaste, that bold, full-roast dark coffee flavor that sits on the tongue like burnt toast. Now imagine it’s also real tangy. Tangy like a glass of Tropicana orange drink. Tangy, tangy coffee, sitting on your tongue, and also it’s cold. Do you like that idea?

If you’ve said yes, hold on tight because we are going to get into this. If, and I’m guessing this is more likely, you said no then you can feel free to navigate away from this browser tab right now. You sir, will not like Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus yogurts because if there’s one thing they have, it’s a serious tanginess.

Let’s unspool this for a moment. There’s about five different things going on in the name of this product alone, and it could do with a little unpacking before we start laying into if I, personally, enjoyed this thing or not.

To begin, let’s start with what a “European style” yogurt might be, and why Trader Joe’s feels they need to single that notion out for some reason – not just by name, but by packaging, iconography and font as well. How, in fact, is European yogurt different from the Greek yogurts, French yogurts and Swiss yogurts which can all also be found in Trader Joe’s yougurt aisle? The straight forward, if basically uncorrect, answer is that “European style” yogurt is called as such because it isn’t going to sit well with the average American. More specifically, it’s much less firm than standard grocery store yogurt, and much more tangy due to the presence of the many live, active bacteria cultures fermenting it full of lactic acid.

Now, every yogurt in the world is a product of bacteria cultures – that’s just the basic nature of its existence, but it’s not a fact that the big commercial yogurt companies like to play up on TV here in the States. The “now full of more live bacteria colonies than ever before” pitch is just not one that appeals to the standard demographic. As such, the bacterial nature of yogurt has been downplayed to the point where it’s almost totally overlooked. For the same reason, your usual grocery store yogurt varies between “slightly tangy” and “not tangy at all”.

Much more common in the US are the standard, “custard” style yogurts where fruit and thickening agents have been blended into a firm, sugary, low-bacteria yogurt. Confusingly, custard style yogurt can also be called French or Swiss style yogurt, despite the fact that they are much more American than European in sensibility. In fact, real Swiss yogurt (yogurt made by the Swiss in Switzerland) must, by Swiss law, contain a certain minimum number of bacterial colonies to even be considered yogurt.

So, to summarize, by saying “European Style” Trader Joe’s is singling that this is going to be some bacteria-filled, tangy yogurt, and you’d better be ready for that. They are as good as their word as well – each type of their coffeehaus yogurt comes packed with four different live and active cultures: S. thermophillus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Aciodphilus, and Bifidus. I don’t know quite enough about biology to expound on what all the important differences are between these, but I can tell you that you can sure as hell taste them in every tangy, zingy bite.

The other unusual aspect of these European style yogurts are their rather continental flavors. Dannon and Yoplait may have turned every type of cream pie and sherbet into a yogurt flavor, but even they haven’t yet done a straight up mocha or dark chocolate yet. While that might not go over very well in a custard style yogurt, it makes for a very nuanced bite here. The subtle bitterness of the dark chocolate and the mocha both play against the sourness of the yogurt, the tang of the lactic acid and the gentle sweetness of the added sugar. The result is a yogurt that challenges the tongue to a unique flavor experience, not merely a confection of high sugar content sweetness that passes the gums unnoticed.

So do I like tangy coffee? In this case, yes. I’ve had sweet yogurt, and I’ve had unsweetened yogurt, but I’ve never had yogurt that takes a path separate from sweetness all together. Tangy, bitter yogurt is an intriguing development, and one that I could easily see myself enjoying on my classier mornings.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – if you’re willing to give a whole new yogurt experience a chance.

Would I Buy It Again: I’d like to think that I’m just cultured enough to do so.

Final Synopsis: A very tangy, somewhat bitter, somewhat sweet, sophisticated yogurt.

 

Trader Joe's Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt - Mocha

Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt – Mocha

 

 

Trader Joe's Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt - Chocolate

Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt – Chocolate


Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler

Trader Joe's Watermelon Cucumber Cooler

Ah, luminous pink – the color of summertime refreshment!

Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler is one of those surprising products that doesn’t quite seem to fit at Trader Joe’s. Do-it-yourself fusion sushi? Sure. Popcorn seasoned with brown butter and french herbs? Why not. But a watermelon cooler? A summery, watermelon drink called a “cooler”. That seems oddly plebeian on the shelves next to Trader Joe’s French Market Sparkling French Berry Lemonade, and Trader Joe’s Italian Blood Orange Soda.

As much as I like Trader Joe’s, my blue collar roots sometimes rebel at the rather fancy image Joe likes to cultivate for himself. It’s a bit of a relief to see them throw the word “cooler” around on a relaxed summer drink – much in the tradition of Cactus Cooler and HI-C’s long mourned Ecto-Cooler. That may sound like I’m trying to damning this product with faint praise, but I mean it genuinely. Whether it’s pink lemonade or cherry coke, summer is the time for unnatural sugary drinks to bring out the kid in us. It’s the time for pretensions to fall to the way side and kick back with a nickle glass of Kool-aid and a slice of watermelon.

It’s in that very spirit that Trader Joe’s has given us this Watermelon Cucumber Cooler – a jug of refreshing, sweet and tasty juice flavored beverage. There’s not much to dislike with this beverage. What you see is what you get. Pour yourself a cool cup and you’ll taste exactly what it promises on the side, a sugar-sweetened, watermelon-flavored drink with the cool aftertaste of cucumbers.

I’m actually a fan of cucumbers in water. There’s something about the long, mellow aftertaste of a chilled cucumber that seems to slake the thirst as much as the water itself. The unsweetened cucucumber presence in this drink makes for an elegant grace note to what could have easily been one more too-sugary fruit drink. The Watermelon Cucumber Cooler strikes a balance closer to the unsweetened end of the drink spectrum than the overly sweet end. That makes it a rare participant in the summer drink wars – a beverage that satisfies the sweet tooth, quenches the thirst, refreshes with cucumber, and goes easy on the sugar.

Pairing watermelon off with cucumber in the first place might seem like a random choice – but not so random as it sounds. Both watermelon and cucumber are close cousins in the plant kindgom, siblings of the Family Cucurbitaceae, known generically, along with gourds and such, as curbits. This familial association makes for a fine flavor pairing, with the strong watermelon flavor blending seamlessly into the more understated cucumber, leaving you uncertain as to where the one taste ends and the other begins. Shine on you crazy curbits!

Sure, there’s still 23 grams of sugar per glass, but at least it’s from organic sugar and watermelon juice and not high fructose corn syrup. It’s not a health drink by any stretch of the imagination, just a fresh and refreshing take on the summer drink scene. If you’re not on the bad wagon with cucumber water to begin with, there may not be much here for you. If, on the other hand, you like cucumber water or have simply never tried it, I’d recommend this drink to quench your summer thirst.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – as long as you’re okay with the flavor of cucumbers.

Would I Buy It Again: I’ll pick one up the next time I head down to the beach.

Final Synopsis: A refreshing, sweet-but-not-too-sweet summertime libation.

 

Trader Joe's Watermelon Cucumber Cooler - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler – Nutrition Facts

 


Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad with Tumeric Garbanzo Beans

I may occasionally give Trader Joe’s a real tongue lashing, like I felt compelled to do the other day with their strange and terrible pseudo-salad, but only when the really deserve it, and in any case I like to try and give TJ’s the chance to settle the score. In that spirit, I went out and picked up Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad with Tumeric Garbanzo Beans.

As you might gather from the picture, or the long, strange name, this is another entry in Trader Joe’s new line of little grain-salads-in-a-tub, and close cousin to Trader Joe’s underwhelming Nutty Grain Salad.  Surely TJ’s wouldn’t have released two, tiny, grain-based salads unless they had damn good reason to think people would actually enjoy them. They couldn’t both be as bad as the first one I tried, right?

The fact of the matter is that Trader Joe;s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad is miles better than it’s counterpart in both taste and nutritional content, and I was glad I picked it up. That said, it’s every bit as twisted and insane as the Nutty Grain salad, just on a different axis.

The main thing you’ll probably notice when you pick this salad up is how it is topped with bright yellow chickpeas. Oh, great, you might think – Curry, that’s brilliant. I bet curry could taste really good on a salad like this.  

Only it’s not curry, it’s just tumeric. All the other rich and exotic spices that give curry it’s magical kick – the cardamom, the cumin, the garam masala in general, aren’t present. Just musty old tumeric – wonderful for color, but dull and dusty when it comes to taste. In fact, given the overall taste of the salad the garbanzo beans are a total non-sequiter. I went into this bulgur salad expecting it to taste something like Trader Joe’s Vegetable and Country Grain Salad – one of my all-time favorite TJ’s salads, and place holder on my Best of 2013 list. Instead of the nutty and mellow tastes of that salad, or something that would work well with tumeric, we get the strong flavor of orange juice. Yes, orange juice is the primary flavoring agent in this salad and I swear to god that you can taste it in every bite. This whole salad is infused with the strong zing of not just citrus, but real oranges, real oranges and a hint tumeric.

It’s incredible. Taken back to back with the Nutty Grain salad, it feels like Trader Joe’s has started to curate a small selection of recipes broadcast to it from a parallel universe several degrees separate from our own. “Mmm-boy! Serve me another plate of cooked bulgur and a tall galss of orange juice!” demand the insect-headed denizens of that universe before scuttling off to work in their cities beneath the sea.

The other flavors you’ll experience with this salad are the slightly nutty taste of the bulgur, and the strong, lingering taste of carrots. Surprisingly, the cilantro that gets top billing in the product name is only present as a subtle background touch, emerging mid chew, then vanishing again without a trace.

All in all, this salad tastes more like an orange/carrot juice drink than anything else. In salad form, that makes for a very strange eating experience but not necessarily a bad one. Once I got used to the fact of the thing, I happily munched this salad up. There’s enough texture and chewiness to the dish that it lasts you a surprisingly long time for only eight ounces, and the orange and carrot flavor works together, if not perfectly, than well enough.

The other nice difference between this salad and the Nutty Grain salad is that it has a much more reasonable calorie count. There are only 240 calories per serving, and only a slender 10 calories from fat. There is still a considerable 54 grams load of carbs in the tub, but that’s too be expected from so much grain, and it’s ameliorated somewhat by the 9 grams of fiber in it as well.

Overall, it might be the most unusual salad I’ve ever had – even stranger than the Korean Spicy Seaweed Salad – but isn’t that what we go to Trader Joe’s for? Whether it sort of work out, like today, or misses entirely, like with the Nutty Grain salad, I have to take my hat off to Mr. Joe if for nothing more than his boldness of vision.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not to the populous at large. This is a unique salad with an unusual taste.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so. It was okay, just not good enough to justify repeat purchases.

Final Synopsis: A small, bulgur salad flavored with orange juice.

Trader Joe's Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad – Nutrition Facts