Before I get started on all the ins and outs of Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice, I should admit right out the gate that I’m not a huge curry fan. Somehow, I always manage to forget this. “Alright!” I commonly exclaim, “Curry! I love curry!” Then I start eating and I remember that, oh yeah, no I don’t.
The problem is, I think, that at some point my brain got all scrambled up about what curry really is. What I like is Japanese curry, and Japanese curry, like Japanese game shows, is unusual and fascinating.
If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you know that it’s more like a thick brown gravy than a traditional South East Asian curries. Generally it comes from a rue, and nothing really goes in it except maybe some sliced up carrots and potatoes and maybe an onion. Certainly not coconut cream, one of the most common elements of Asian curries, and never anything like morning glory, young coconut shoots, or banana flowers as in Trader Joe’s Thai curry here.I love the hell out of wacky Japanese curry – the real stuff, on the other hand, I’m still getting used to.
The other thing I love about Japanese curry, as long as were on the subject, is how it’s represented in Japan as a non-Japanese food. Without a doubt, no one but the Japanese are making curry in this very particularly Japanese way, but for some reason every package of Japanese curry mix is emblazoned with images of tropical isles , swamis, or Vermont. It’s very perplexing. Presumably the Japanese imagine people in Vermont are always serving each other big plates of Japanese curry all the time – much the same way I imagine people in Vermont are always wearing sweaters and strolling through orchards.
At any rate – Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice is certainly not that. Instead, it’s a rather nice coconut green curry packed into a frozen TV dinner. Trader Joe’s has really gone all out on trying for authenticity here. Take a look at your green curry – what do you have in it. Looks like some bamboo shoots, spinach, and maybe some onion? Ha, no. Try young coconut shoots, banana flowers and morning glory. That’s not just an ingredient list, that’s a line of free form poetry. Obviously these three intriguing ingredients bring their own unique tastes to the meal, but you’ll have a hard time picking any of them out seeing as how they’re slathered in a typically strong tasting curry. What you will notice are the interesting textures they lend – crisp, firm and stringy, respectively. It’s an elegant touch to bring these rare produce to America’s shores, and give the whole dish a feeling of being truly exotic. The spice is there as well. While the whole curry could probably be classified as “Mild Plus”, there is no shortage of piquant and interesting spices to light up your tongue.
While “sai tung” means “take out” in Thai, a phrase commonly bantered about by food vendors on the street of Bangkok, don’t go searching your Thai dictionary for “gaba”. The “Red Gaba Rice” mentioned on the box should actually be “Red GABA Rice”, as in the amino acid chain GABA, aka “gamma-aminobutyric acid”.
The more conventional name for “Gaba rice” is germinated brown rice – unpolished brown rice grains that are allowed to germinate and sprout, in this case for up to 48 hours, before cooking. Germinating your rice is a clever way to increase the nutrients in it, in particular the above mentioned GABA, which in turn gives your rice a better protein profile. You can see that in the Nutrition Facts box – despite being a vegan dish, this curry has 10 grams of protein in it. Of course, it also has 70 grams of carbs, but that’s just the way it goes.
The other effect of letting your rice germinate is that the texture changes. You’ll notice that the rice here is considerably chewier than regular steamed rice. Partnered with a saucy curry like it is here, that’s a welcome feature as it lends more body and substance to an otherwise quite basic meal.
Having disclosed by curry bias, I feel I can admit that I wasn’t in love with this curry. Trader Joe’s has a few really really amazing quick and easy frozen dinners (like this one, and this one). This curry was a nice change of pace, but I wasn’t addicted to it. Of course, I fully expect to hear a dissenting voice from some die-hard fans in the comments on this, and I certainly hope I do.
There’s a lot to love here, especially for vegans and vegetarians seeking cuisine options, fans of authentic Thai, or anyone looking for a good dinner that only costs $2.99. Now if only TJ’s could put a picture of Delaware on it they might win me over.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a classy bit of Thai curry.
Would I Buy It Again: No, but I’m not a big green curry fan.
Final Synopsis: Authentic Thai curry, done cheap and quick.
I liked my last taste of East Asian non-traditional savory snack pancakes so much, that I went out this week and tried another one. This time we’re talking about Trader Joe’s Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney – a South Indian flat bread that’s not only vegan and gluten free, but also down right tasty.
I’ll admit right out that I picked up Trader Joe’s uttapam because reading the package made the language part of my brain have a little spasm. As we’ve seen time and time again, if you put a crazy enough word on your package I basically can’t stop myself from buying your product.
In this case, it turns out that uttapam (U-thap-pam, apparently) are smallish, plain pancake/pizza-like flatbreads from the south of India. Each uttapam is about the size of a bagel (a bit smaller than the Pa Jeon) and topped with a healthy scattering of diced onion, green bell pepper and some subtle cilantro. The taste is a mild, but rich with both the flavor of the vegetables and a dusting of traditional Indian spices.
These veggies are all resting on the uttapam itself, a very specifically Indian sort of bread – both doughy, spongy, and slightly sour. I put bread in “quotes” here because the dough is made from a specific mixture of mashed, fermented rice and black lentils called urad dal, which are not things you typically imagine bread as being made out of. In fact, I’m fairly certain urad dal is one of the locations Frodo and Sam had to pass through on the way to Mordor.
You might think that a bread made from rice and beans would taste wildly different from a standard wheat-based flatbread, but shockingly that isn’t the case. The spongy, soft bread base tastes just as good, as any wheat based flat bread – only due to it’s rice and lentil origin it’s miraculously gluten free.
The bread poofs up nice and soft when cooked, like a soft pillow for the minced vegetables to rest on. You can eat them like this
directly, or get fancy with some toppings. Trader Joe’s includes a couple little packets of coconut chutney to throw on top, but I’d recommend throwing them out instead. The included chutney is rather weak and lackluster, and doesn’t do much for the subtle flavors already present in the bread. Instead, I’d recommend applying your imagination and topping them with whatever seems good – be that a better chutney you have laying around or some other food entirely. I threw some fried eggs on mine one morning and discovered that uttapam beat the hell out of English Muffins. At $3.69 for a pack of four, you can afford to get a little crazy with them.
Your box of four uttapam comes frozen, and Trader Joe’s offers two suggestions for cooking them – either microwave or stove top. This is no idle consideration, because each method yields a very different final result. Microwaved uttapam (net time required: < 1 min) stay soft and pliable and more pancake-y. Stove top, on the other hand, takes about 4 or 5 minutes per uttapam, but comes off the griddle toasty crisp. Having tried both, I’d recommend the stove top without hesitation – not just because the creators of the uttapam, the Tamils, have a culture of enjoying elaborate and leisurely cooking – but also because the time on the stove really brings out the redolent smells and flavors of the dish.
Really, I have to consider myself a lucky guy – just two weeks ago I couldn’t name you a single tasty, simple, vegetarian/vegan, super-snackable, savory mini-pancake, and now I know two. I’d recommend picking up the uttapam and pa jeon at the same time, and having yourself an Asian Pancake Frolic to go along with the waffle frolics you are enjoying already. At the very least, they could serve as a decent stand in for those still feeling the pain of loss of Arabian Joe’s Spicy Spinach Pizzas.
Would I Recommend It: Yup – it’s as tasty as it is worldly.
Would I Buy It Again: I most certainly would.
Final Synopsis: Tasty south Indian flatbread perfect for gluten-eaters and gluten-free alike.
I really hope you’ve had sukiyaki before, but if you haven’t, here’s the breakdown. Sukiyaki is a stew like dish, made with thinly sliced beef some noodles and a selection of super Japanese vegetables including Napa cabbage, spring onion (negi), shitake mushrooms and gobo. “Gobo” translates to “burdock root” in English, but unless you’ve actually had burdock root, that probably doesn’t tell you much. Basically, gobo is a long, slender root with a taste part way between carrot and potato, generally eaten after being boiled and shredded.
These ingredients are cooked up bubbling hot in a rich soupy broth made of soy sauce, mirin, and sake. Mirin, being a much sweeter, much less alcoholic form of sake, gives the dish it’s trademark semi-sweet flavor which acts as counterpoint to the savory meatiness of the dish. In short, it’s a hard meal to get right – particularly if you’re trying to figure out a way to flash freeze it, and sell it across the nation for $6.99 a bag.
The word “sukiyaki” is Japanese for “???”. Everyone can agree that “yaki” definitely means “cooked” (as in, teriyaki, teppanyaki, yakitori, etc). It’s the “suki” part that there is no general consensus on. It’s either translated as the noun “shovel”, or as the verb “to make thin”. The verb is explained through reference to the thin slices of meat. The “shovel” claim, on the other hand, is backed up by awkwardly contorted and dubious historical scenarios, one involving a peasant who was so ashamed of his inferior kitchenware that, when a guest showed up at his hut by surprise, he decided to clean off his shovel and cook on that. I hope it’s obvious which translation I prefer to believe.
Even if you haven’t had sukiyaki before, you’ve probably heard the “Sukiyaki Song” at least once. Performed by Kyu Sakamoto, the Japanese Dean Martin, way back in the 1960’s, this happy little ditty rocketed to #1 on the billboard charts in America – a shocking fact given that there isn’t a word of English in the whole song.
Pedants and know-it-alls are quick to point out that the so-called “Sukiyaki Song” actually has nothing to do with sukiyaki at all, and is in fact a heart-rending ballad of a love lost forever saddled with a silly name by savvy American marketers. What these blowhards fail to grasp, however, is that due to the grammatical quirks of Japanese the subject of Kyu’s doleful crooning is never explicitly stated. It’s entirely possible that the love Kyu mourns is, in fact, a really good bowl of sukiyaki that he’ll never have again.
In that light, lines such as “Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars. Sadness hides in the shadow of the moon,” are all the more haunting and resonant.
So how does Trader Joe’s Sukiyaki stack up? Although TJ’s make an admirable effort, their sukiyaki just doesn’t quite cut the mustard. They make their first misstep before you even open the bag. Normally, sukiyaki is made with thick, hearty noodles like udon or chewy “jelly” noodles made of firm konyaku. Not so here – instead Trader Joe’s uses thin, flat, glass noodles made from mung beans. That may sound like a subtle difference, but the result is that the noodles are considerably downplayed in the dish, letting the veggies and meat run wild without a mild counterpart to balance out the stronger flavors.
It’s in those stronger flavors where the sukiyaki really falters. No one was more ready than I to love the hell out of this little dish, but it just doesn’t quite work. The main problem in in the sweetness. Sukiyaki should be sweet enough to intrigue the tongue, but not so sweet that your left grasping for a glass of water. Trader Joe’s Sukiyaki makes exactly this mistake, loading on the sweet mirin (and added sugar) to the point where the sweetness is the primary taste. The beef and sliced veggies certainly make an impression, they just don’t outlast the strong, sweet taste of the sauce.
That brings us to the other problem – the calorie count for this bag of sukiyaki is something to be reckoned with. Each 20 ounce bag is supposed to be broken up into 4 servings. Sadly, if you buy this dish you’ll discover that serving suggestion is a pipe dream. While the helping of meat is generous, there is hardly enough veggies and noodles for two people, let alone four. Sukiyaki is meant to be a standalone dish – or at the very least an entree. Taken at the given proportions, Trader Joe’s is delivering a side soup at best.
That’s not to say this is a bad dish – there’s a lot that Trader Joe’s does well here. The beef and veggies is good quality, and come in a separate bags for ease of defrosting and cooking. There’s a real effort to try and do the whole thing right, and if the flavor palette was reformulated a little bit this would be a killer dish. Until that happens, I’ll just have to walk along, whistling, remembering fonder sukiyakis long gone.
Would I Recommend It: It’s not bad exactly, but I don’t think I would.
Would I Buy It Again: Sadly, I wouldn’t.
Final Synopsis: A good attempt at sukiyaki that ends up too scant, and too sweet.
What? Korea has a sort of dinner pancakes made from more veggies than batter? And Trader Joe’s has brought it to us under the simple, if intriguing, name of Scallion Pancakes? This sort of esoteric awesomeness is exactly what I made this blog for.
What are you, scallion pancakes? What are, as the South Koreans say, pa jeon? I wondered these things as I stood stupid in the frozen food aisle. I tried smelling the bag. No luck there – the strange mystery of scallion pancakes was securely locked inside the cheerful green sack. Was it really just pancakes made with wild green onions? Could that possibly be any good? If pa jeon was a product of, say, Swinton England, I would guess no – but this is a tradition Korean food and I’ve done pretty well by those so far, despite the occasionally debacle, so I was willing to give it the old college try. Was this going to be another Spicy Seaweed Salad or just another dehydrated kimchi? Fortunately, it’s my pleasure to report that Trader Joe’s Scallion Pancakes are totally awesome.
Jeon in Korean (pronounced “jun”) means something like “battered stuff”, while pa means scallions (aka green onions). Pa is by no means the only Jeon out there – the Koreans really went to town on the whole notion. Where Americans were content to put some bananas in their flapjacks then rest on their laurels, the South Koreans diced up basically anything they could get their hands on. While the scallions and batter are usually there, it can come loaded up with any sort of seafood or meat imaginable. Trader Joe’s gives us the most basic version here – plain green onions with a smattering of other vegetables, including leeks and onions plus some carrots and oyster mushrooms.
If pretty much anything can go into a scallion pancake, you might wonder why the Koreans insist on keeping the scallions in there at all. The answer is one, because they are super delicious, and two, because of history. As well as I could dig up, pa jeon owes its existence to a bunch of Koreans that started throwing green onions at retreating Japanese soldiers during one of the numerous Japanese-Korean battles of the the late 16th century. Obviously, that led immediately to people cooking them into pancakes for some reason. There’s no figuring out history folks, it’s just a bunch of crazy stuff like that.
At any rate, scallion pancakes are exactly what they sound like – each bag contains four danish sized “pancakes” made with a wheat and egg batter mixed with, you guessed it, scallions. I put pancake is quotes because the word doesn’t quite do justice to what you’re getting. The shape is approximately that of a nice sized buttermilk flapjack, flat, smooth, rounded and about a ¼ inch thick, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The pa jeon batter is very different from pancake batter. Trader Joe’s uses a mix of wheat flour, corn powder, baking powder, and a touch of egg in their mix, and the result is something more like bread dough than pancake batter – a difference that comes to the fore when you fry them up. Instead of staying light and fluffy, like they are when they come out the bag, the pa jeon become golden and crispy on the stove top. This crispy crunchiness is delightfully toothsome, with a somewhat flaky and pastry-like crunch to the bite.
Once you do throw your scallion pancakes on the stove, get ready for a room filling aroma of mouthwatering proportions. The mixture of onions, leeks, mushrooms and other veggies smells warm, rich and hearty – expect people to be popping their heads in to see what smells so good.
A single glance at these scallion pancakes makes it obvious that they are packed with all sorts of vegetables. What’s more surprising is how much oil is in there as well. Whether you cook these up in a frying pan or in the oven, you’ll notice the pool of oil that forms around each cake. With 7 grams of fat in each pancake and 21 grams of carbs, these are more savory appetizer than health food. On the other hand, with only 160 calories in each pancake, and so much vegetable filler, you can fret the guilt off pretty quickly.
A final note – although Trader Joe’s doesn’t mention it on the bag, you’ll want to eat the scallion pancakes with a traditional dipping sauce of some kind. The most basic type (which worked well for me) is just to mix up a little bit of soy sauce and white (or rice) vinegar. If you’re looking for a fancier sauce recipe, you can try this rather complex one http://www.trifood.com/pajeon.asp.
Would I Recommend Them: If you’ve never tried a savory pancake before, you should try these.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes indeed – these make great snacks/appetizers/sides.
Final synopsis: Crispy, scallion filled pancakes that prove the Koreans know what they’re doing in the kitchen.
I’m sorry, what? Can you repeat that please? Did you say, Trader Joe’s BBQ Rub and Seasoning with Cofffee and Garlic? Does that make any sense at all? This one is truly mind boggling. I knew Trader Joe’s didn’t give a flying fig about convention, I knew that the second I saw them stocking Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil on their shelves, I knew that when I picked up their Avagadro’s Number themed guacamole, but even I didn’t dream they were this dangerously unhinged.
I’d like to put myself in the mindset of the Trader Joe’s food scientist who dreamed up this insane blend of seasonings, but I’m afraid to do so would be to permanently wrench my psyche from it’s bearings. Coffee grounds and garlic – blended together, for the sake of rubbing on your meat. It’s got to be a stunt, right? Maybe there isn’t that much coffee in it, or maybe it’s, like, a type of coffee that isn’t really coffee. Let’s just check out the ingredient label.
Ingredient #1: Coffee. Period.
Okay, we’ll, there’s a bunch of other stuff in here too. Look – brown sugar, salt, garlic, um… paprika… and, uh, clemengold rind,? Which is apparently the skin of the Nandorcott mandarin orange? Okay, that’s a new one. At any rate, it must, like, all blend together in a way that sort of hides the strong coffee taste amid many flavors. Let’s just open it up and take a whiff. Wow – nope, that’s coffee. That is straight up coffee. I can’t imagine this is going to be any good.
And this, folks, is where it gets even crazier. After all that, when you really get down to it, this seasoning is spicy, flavorful, intriguing, nuanced, and totally worth your $1.99.
Crazy though it may sound to me, coffee rubs are not a wholesale invention of Trader Joe’s. Many in the hardcore slow-cooked meat world have experimented with the intriguing addition of robust coffee grounds to otherwise ordinary rubs. Despite the intense coffee smell of the rub, the taste is actually much more diverse and interesting. Coffee, being coffee, has a smell that tends to overshadow everything around it. On the tongue, however, that bold, bitter coffee taste is joined by a medley of other equally strong flavors that stand out on their own. The coffee gives way, in turn, to sparks of sweetness, sudden notes of saltiness, and the simmering, low key spiciness of the garlic and paprika.
These flavors do not blend, but tussle for position on your taste buds, and that’s what makes this rub work. It’s not a single flavor, or polite union of similar flavors, it’s a raucous dust up of competing tastes. It’s a tour of the whole tongue, with fun flavors for every taste bud. I’d be interested to see how this stuff would taste without all the coffee in it, to be honest, but having the coffee is what makes it really stand out. While other rubs commonly play up to saltiness, Trader Joe’s Coffee and Garlic Rub plays up the boldness, and it’s this strong base note that gives the riot of other flavors the grounds to go wild.
Trader Joe’s also suggests that you can use this rub as a seasoning on veggies, fish, etc. I’m not sure I’d recommend that myself. While it isn’t bad, per se, the rub is so intense that it can only really be used in tiny amounts, and even then you probably want to mix in another, more traditional seasoning to round out the taste.
One final caveat – make sure you leave yourself plenty of time for the flavors of the rub to permeate your ribs, steaks etc. Trader Joe’s recommends at least an hour – but the longer you wait the richer the flavor in the end. Give this rub as much time as possible on your meat, and apply it generously, for the full effect. Just don’t wait until too late at night to eat. This is real coffee in the rub and, as I discovered, a late dinner might leave up for hours.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely. This will shake up your life a little.
Would I Buy It Again: I think I’ll stock up on a little more.
Final Synopsis: A bold, mix of bitter, salty and sweet flavors that you should try at least once.
The cavalcade of gluten free, vegan food continues! My stars, but aren’t we having fun? Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt is yet another entry in their huge wall of yogurt variations. This one leaped out at me in particular for it’s soy nature. After having such a good time with the non-ice cream, Soy Creamy, it seemed like a natural follow up. The results were similar – tasty, if you’re willing to accept a certain level of soy bean aftertaste.
You may have noticed that I review a fair number of yogurts. The rather mundane reason is that I habitually have one for breakfast, Monday through Friday, and have done since before I can remember.
In fact, my yogurt habit is rather more than habitual. A not insignificant part of my life is run off of what I like to call the “yogurt clock”. As the most modular food in my diet, I use the yogurt clock as a fail safe to remind my stupid bachelor self that I have to go buy more food on a regular basis. Every time I go to Trader Joe’s, I buy six yogurts. I eat one yogurt a day, Mon – Fri, and when I run out I go shopping again. The extra, sixth yogurt is my emergency back up yogurt so if a friend asks if they can have a yogurt, I don’t have to say, “No, those yogurts are a precision instrument, and only I can eat them.” This situation has never actually occurred, but I’m ready for it.
Planning out a good shopping trip, given the crazy state of life that is modern city living, is more than a trivial consideration, requiring numerous harrowing encounters with all sorts of biological and mechanical foes. As such, the steady, daily ticking of my yogurt clock is probably the third or fourth most important consideration in my daily life – below the internet and my girlfriend, but above the car.
That brings me back, more or less, to Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt. A yogurt that, like so much vegan food, is not legally a yogurt. Trader Joe’s is forced to concede this point several times on the packaging with the subtitle, “a yougurt-style non-dairy food”.
The last yogurt I reviewed from TJ’s, the European-style chocolate-infused yogurts, we’re strikingly off-putting in their zesty taste. There’s no such non-American trickery at play here. Despite the fact that no milk has ever gone into this soy yogurt, it tastes very very similar to your ordinary Dannon or Yoplait.
The yogurt is smooth and thick, with a heavy “whipped” style texture and nice bits of chopped up fruit in it. It’s a remarkably close approximation to ordinary, dairy based yogurt, and at first bite you’d never suspect it’s vegan. Both types of the yogurt are also very sweet – too sweet for me in fact. The peach yogurt has 18 grams of sugar per serving, while the strawberry version has a considerable 21 grams of sugar in it – the equivalent of 6-7 packets of sugar in each yogurt. Considering that you can polish off a yogurt in about 6-7 spoonfuls, that’s a serious sugar load for first thing in the morning. While this amount of sugar is certainly not unusual in the super sweet world of grocery store yogurt, it’s more than I like to eat over breakfast.
The other consideration, as I hinted at above, is the soy bean-y aftertaste you can expect. Trader Joe’s does their best to keep this under control, but once you’ve finished one of one of these pots you won’t have any doubts that you’ve just had some soy beans. The soy aftertaste is still mild, a gentle graininess of beans on the tongue, but slightly stronger than the Soy Creamy aftertaste. It certainly wasn’t enough to ruin the overall tastiness of the yogurt, but as a guy used to dairy it did give me pause from time to time.
Even if I was dedicated to the vegan lifestyle, I probably wouldn’t replace my yogurt clock with Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt. Though tasty, there’s just too much sugar in guys to eat on a daily basis. I’d much rather swap in fruit or something else a little better for me. The yogurt is a fine and tasty treat, just not a particularly healthy one.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes to vegans, but not in general.
Would I Buy Them Again: No, they’re too sweet for me.
Final Synopsis: A good yogurt, and a great vegan option, as long as you don’t mind a lot of sugar.
Holy crap guys, I dare you to string three words together that make less sense than “Cypriot Pyramid Salt”. What does that mean? Is it salt from the pyramids of Cyprus? The code name of a covert military strike force? Surely it couldn’t be salt actually shaped like tiny pyramid. Surely anything but that. I’ve seen some pretty unbelievable things in the 30 or so revolutions I’ve taken on this little ball we call the Earth, but nothing in my experience has ever prepared me for salt that self-assembles into large, pyramid-shaped crystal. And yet, dear reader, that is exactly what we are talking about today.
Honestly, there’s not much more to say about Trader Joe’s Cypriot Pyramid Salt. Is it from Cyprus? Yup. Is it salt? Yup. Is it inexplicably shaped like little pyramids? Double yup. That’s basically case closed. Do you want your eggs to look more like Egypt? You’re all set. There’s nothing I can say or do to detract from the demonstrable reality that this salt looks like little pyramids. Well done, Trader Joe’s – you win again.
I mean, I guess the only real big question we need to answer here is, why is Trader Joe’s getting their Pyramid Salt from Cyprus, instead of somewhere else? There’s nothing specifically uniquely Cyprian about pyramid salt – similarly shaped salt naturally occurs around the world from Bali to England. The interesting phenomenon of “pyramid salt” falls under the broader salt category of “flake salts”, as opposed to granular salt. These flake salts are capable of taking all sorts of forms, although usually just irregular shapes or potato-chip like laminated crystals. Pyramid shaped salt crystals are just one of those remarkable quirks of life on this here planet, and a cool example of the amazing structures that nature is apt to produce when you do things like evaporate the water from a saline solution.
Unlike the Himalyan Salt with Truffles that we reviewed before, there is nothing shocking or strange about this salt’s taste. It simply tastes like salt. So why pick it up, when you already have a big box of Molson’s in the cupboard? Because of the unusual shape, of course. I may be no selmelier, but even I can appreciate the interesting texture you get from these little hollow pyramids. For one, there’s an exciting crunch to each of these crispy, hollow crystals. That same, thin form means that each salt crystal has a huge amount of surface area as well – the crystal hits the tongue all at once then melts away in a moment. As Trader Joe’s says themselves on the jar – these tiny pyramids of salt add bursts of flavor.
Okay, but what are you adding flavor to with this stuff? Well, like most flake salts – this pyramid salt is best used as finishing salt. What’s a finishing salt? Honestly, I’d really love to just dig into that question, but I’m not sure it’s possible to hold forth on the finer points of finishing salts and not feel like an asshole. Simply put a finishing salt is basically a garnish to top off your dish. Flaking some of this pyramid salt over a broiled fish, or rimming a margarita glass with these angular shards is just one more way to add an intriguing new dimension to your food.
If that extra touch of flair is worth it to you, then this is an easy accessory to pick up. If, on the other hand, your ordinary shaker gets you by alright, this is probably an embellishment you can skip.
Would I Recommend It: I would if you like impressing dinner guests.
Would I Buy It Again: I doubt I’ll ever use up the container I’ve got.
Final Synopsis: Pyramid shaped salt that gives adds an interesting crunch.
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free, Raw, Vegan Fruit Bars – (Apple & Strawberry, Apple & Mango, Apple & Banana, and Apple & Coconut)Posted: June 3, 2014
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
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.
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.