Trader Joe’s is no stranger to slaw based salads, so their new all-slaw salad might be unprecedented but isn’t a surprise. Like their broccoli slaw, and Chinese chicken salads before it, Trader Joe’s Rainbow Slaw Salad is a big pile of shredded veggies. What’s different about this version is the riot of colors and flavors at play.
|What it is:||Lots of veggie slaw|
|Price:||$3.49 for an 11 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes – healthy and refreshing|
Slaw has always been the laziest form of salad. Unlike some of Trader Joe’s rather well thought through salads – like the very pretty Grain Country salad – a slaw salad doesn’t have to worry about presentation or what to layer where or even freshness of produce, a slaw salad just runs everything through an industrial dicer and dumps the resulting shreds into a single, undifferentiated pile. Like “dump pies“, the result might well be tasty, but they don’t really impress anyone.
However, Trader Joe’s Rainbow Slaw Salad bucks this slaw trend. By combining a variety of colorful and tasty produce Trader Joe’s has produced a slaw salad that’s actually worth talking about.
Take one look at the Rainbow Slaw Salad and you’ll immediately notice two things – one, that this is a lot of slaw we’re looking at, and two, that it really is very colorful. At the very least, we can say that Trader Joe’s has fully delivered on the “rainbow” and “slaw” parts of the salad. In this case, the myriad of bright colors comes from the many colorful veggies that go into this really massively vegatatious salad. Said vegetables include cabbage, sweet onions, kale, celery, mustard greens, corn kernels, and every color of carrot from the aptly named Carrots of Many Colors. All julienned up together, the result is a truly rainbow-hued mix that ranges from pale yellow, through greens, yellow and reds to vivid purple.
Very nice to look at – but what about the taste? Is that also nice? Well, yes – I suppose. The Rainbow Slaw Salad tastes good in so far as it tastes very healthsome and nutritious – you can really taste the vitamins and nutrients in each vegetable packed bite. To balance out the all vegetables/all the time approach, TJ’s has also seeded the salad with finely chopped bits of tart green apple, which pop up here and there to inject a bit of sweetness.
The honey herb dressing – a sort of sweet, seasoned vinaigrette, helps to add a lot of life to the salad – perking up the greens with a light zestiness that does a good job heightening the natural flavors of the mix rather than masking them. As I chewed away at mouthful after mouthful, I couldn’t help but feel like I was appreciating the subtle sweetness and inherent flavor of these so often sidelined vegetables in a whole new light. If there’s one thing this salad does well, it’s letting wholesome veggies speak for themselves.
On the other hand, it’s certainly not the most delicious Trader Joe’s salad I’ve ever had. In fact, if I’m being honest, it doesn’t even rank in the top 50%. Placed back to back with the Bacon and Spinach salad, or even the Arugula and Pimento Salad, Rainbow Slaw just feels incomplete. While I liked what it was doing, if I was hungry for slaw and vinagraette, I’d be far more likely to pick up Trader Joe’s Honey-Glazed Miso Salmon Salad which does a lot of the same things, just a little better.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, it certainly makes for a good side.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, if I wanted to add some veggies to a meaty entree.
Final Synopsis: A healthy and light veggie salad.
Ever since they introduced their own brand of (rather delicious) sriracha sauce last year, Trader Joe’s has been actively working it into as many different products as possible. We’ve seen spicy sriracha ranch, sriracha BBQ sauce and, not to be overlooked, sweet sriracha glazed bacon jerky. These have been heady months.
What better time, then, to introduce a brand new form of hot sauce to the shelves – Trader Joe’s Green Dragon Hot Sauce – a bolder, hotter variation of their tasty sriracha.
|What it is:||A spicy, jalapeno-based hot sauce|
|Price:||$2.99 for an 18 oz. bottle|
|Worth it:||Yes, spicy and bold!|
I should note, just in passing, that this is a pattern that exactly follows what Trader Joe did with their amazing cookie butter. First, filling the shelves with as many cookie butter infused products as they could spin out (seriously, there’s a ton), then introducing a brand new member of the cookie butter family with their “Oreo” based cookie butter.
Although packaged in nearly identical bottles, and emblazoned with a similar dragon logo, there isn’t a lot of family resemblance between these two hot sauces. What’s different? For one, the green dragon looks a lot wussier than the rad red dragon – but more importantly the Green Dragon Hot Sauce dispenses with the flavorful, sweet tang of the red sriracha sauce in favor of a bolder, more herbaceous, and overall spicier taste.
The green color in the Green Dragon comes from replacing the ground chili peppers in the original sriracha sauce with a jalapeno and tomatillo pepper puree. You’ll find the same vinegar and garlic base in both, giving them that slightly acidic zing – however the new Green Dragon sauce also adds a strong dose of cilantro to the mix. This results in a very strong, earthy flavor that lingers long on the tongue.
The difference between these two sauces is almost like the difference between those famous, commonly related seasonings salt and pepper. The red sriracha sauce is more like salt – zippy, very flavorful and, for all intents and purposes, the more popular choice for putting on everything. On the other hand, the green pepper sauce is better for adding a more complex, heavier and spicier dimension to your food – and because there’s so much cilantro on board, a few dashes is probably all you need of it.
In fact, cilantro has such a strong presence in this hot sauce, that I’ve found that it makes it particularly suitable for spicing up Mexican dishes – tasty with eggs (ranchero-style or otherwise), tacos, burritos… the whole enchilada. Combined with the distinctive taste of jalapeno and tomatillo peppers, this sauce feels as Mexican as it does Thai.
Trying them both back to back, I can’t help but prefer the red sriracha sauce. It’s still my go to hot sauce from Trader Joe’s – improving on Hoy Fong Foods famous rooster sauce by sticking closer to the authentic Thai recipe. However, while it may not get as much use as the red sauce, the green dragon sauce is still a welcome tool to have on the spice rack.
Would I Recommend It: I would – there aren’t a lot of sauces out there like this right now.
Would I Buy It Again: This bottle should last me a while, but I might pick up another one in a year next year.
Final Synopsis: A bold, spicy hot sauce with plenty of jalapeno and cilantro.
Every now and then, after Trader Joe’s comes out with a particularly weird or goofy food product, I get to feeling a little bit superior to Trader Joe’s – sort of like they’re my wacky next-door neighbor.
|What it is:||A hummus like spread made from|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 8 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes. A delicious hummus substitute.|
“Pickle-flavored popcorn, TJ?” I’ll think to myself, shaking my head, “You’re just lucky I love you so much, you big goof!”
And without exception, every time I start to feel this way, Trader Joe’s turns around and absolutely embarrases me with a product that is elegant, nuanced, and grounded in a rich culinary tradition that I’ve never even heard of.
“What d’ya got this week, TJ?” I ask, sauntering into the store, “Another wacky popcorn flavor?”
“Actually,” Trader Joe’s casually informs me, “This is muhammara – a middle eastern condiment similar to hummus but made from walnuts and pomegranate juice. A product of ancient Syria, of course. Ahahaha – no, don’t try and pronounce it, you’ll just make yourself look silly.”
Yes, today we’re reviewing Trader Joe’s Muhammara – a delicious, hummus-like spread with a cool, dark red color and a smooth, gently earthy, mildly piquant taste.
Unlike hummus, that can taste a bit grainy or mealy due to the garbanzo beans it’s made from, muhammara is a blend of walnuts, roast red peppers, pomegranate juice, olive oil and bread crumbs. While that sounds like it would result in a weirdly lumpy or heterogenous texture, it couldn’t be more smooth and velvety – perfect for veggie dip, cracker spread, or pita filling.
The taste itself has quite a bit of the mildness of a red pepper roasted to softness, and only a subtle touch of the nuttiness of walnuts, and even less of the tart pomegranate flavor you might expect. In fact, muhammara is generally made with pomegranate molasses, much more similar to the pomegranate syrup we made up than mouth puckering pomegranate juice. As such, the muhammara also has an understated touch of sweetness to it that makes go down particularly smoothly.
Despite never hearing of it before, I enjoyed the hell out of my muhammara. It was good with pretty much whatever I tried it with, and made an excellent “before dinner” snack with just a handful of Triscuits I had at hand. I’ve always been a little bit ambivalent on hummus – which generally ears out it’s welcome with me after a few bites. Muhammara has all the qualities I like about hummus, the soft spreadable texture and cooling, snackable taste, with an added edibility and improved texture.
As you may have guessed from the walnuts and olive oil, muhammara shares hummus’ high fat content – but thta’s simply the nature of the beast. Buy a tub, enjoying it moderation, and you won’t regret it.
Would I Recommend It: If you like hummus, give this a try.
Would I Buy It Again: I do think so.
Final Synopsis: Just like hummus, but a little tastier.
I’ve seen some pretty shocking things appear on the Trader JOe’s shelves over the years – chocolate/wine drinks, pumpkin greek yogurt, chocolate bars made with bacon – but I’m usually able to take it all in stride. When you shop at Trader Joe’s you have to expect the unexpected. However, Trader Joe’s Srirach Ranch Dressing I was totally unprepared for. Ranch dressing? Available at Trader Joe’s? Holy crap!
Unfortunately, however, this new salad dressing offering is a mixed blessing.
|What it is:||Very spicy ranch dressing.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 16 oz. bottle|
|Worth it:||Good for wings, but too spicy for salad.|
As you might have gleaned from the frequency I write about them, I’m a fan of salads. I’m a fan of salads in the same way that rats are a fan of untended grain silos – which is to say I eat salads with a ravenous, unstoppable intensity. With their plethora of fresh produce, Trader Joe’s is a real boon for salad lovers like me – except that they seemed to miss the memo on two important points.
One, for some reason Trader Joe’s refuses to sell reasonable quantities of croutons at reasonable prices. You can buy a small sachet of artisinal cheese bagel rounds for $4.99, and that’s it. How can you carry two types of salmon jerky, but no croutons, Trader Joe? Madness.
Two, Trader Joe’s refuses to expand their salad dressing line. The salad dressings they offer are good, sure. I love a little bit of Asian Sesame Seed Dressing or Balsamic Vinaigrette on my freshly washed greens, but the quantities are laughable. Only available in small, solid glass, 8 oz bottles, picking up salad dressing at Trade Joe’s feels more like picking through potions at a medieval apothecary than shopping for condiments.
So as exciting as a new flavor of Trader Joe’s dressing is – and being able to buy ranch dressing at Trader Joe’s is *very* exciting – what I was most shocked by was the new, full-sized, 16 oz. salad dressing bottle. The bulbous plastic bottle with screw on cap might seem weirdly plebeian by Trader Joe’s standards, but it’s nice to see Trader Joe’s do something like a normal person every once in a while as well.
So at $2.99 per bottle the price is right, the size is right, and since this is just spicy ranch dressing we’re talking about, surely the flavor is just fine as well. Right? Right? Well, no – not really.
Look, I’ve had spicy ranch dressing before. I know what to expect from spicy ranch dressing – that familiar buttermilk creaminess spiced up with some piquant red pepper. Trader Joe’s Sriracha Ranch Dressing may look like it’s taking this route, but they actually deliver something far more intense.
Taking the “Sriracha” part of the name seriously, they’ve loaded up this simple dressing with a mouth blistering blast of pure chili paste. I’m not kidding – this “ranch dressing” might even be spicier than Trader Joe’s own Sriracha knock-off. How does that even work?
Overall, the whole ranch dressing part takes a serious back seat to the sriracha. That means if you want to use this dressing to kick up your burger and fries, add flare to your tacos, or serve as a dipping sauce for chicken wings you’re in good shape. However, if you want to slather it on a bed of lettuce and carrots, you had better be ready for your lips to blaze with the fire of a thousand raging suns. It’s far more a hot sauce than a salad dressing.
As far as I’m concerned, I could maybe see incorporating this into an Asian noodle salad or similar, but this was way to spicy for my daily salad needs.
Would I Recommend It: Only if you like your salads hot.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope, too spicy for me.
Final Synopsis: A good hot sauce substitute, but not great on salads.
Trader Joe’s can now proudly claim they belong to that class of supermarkets that doesn’t have canned pineapple, or beans, but does carry two different kinds of salmon jerky. Which is to say that Trader Joe’s is in a class all by itself.
|What it is:||Jerky made from salmon|
|Price:||$5.49 for a 3 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||No. Fish jerky tastes weird.|
Trader Joe’s Wild King Salmon Jerky is, yes, the second salmon jerky Trader Joe’s has brought to market. The original Wild Salmon Jerky I reviewed way back in 2012 when I first started this blog. Back then I had two big issues with their jerky. ( Or three, if you count the fact that it’s weird to jerk salmon in the first place).
The original salmon jerky was very fishy smelling, almost like the smell you get from a box of fish food, and, worse, very sweet due to the addition of brown sugar, molasses, carmelized sugar, and maple syrup. As a result I gave the original salmon jerky a big thumbs down.
Trader Joe’s acknowledges on their own website that the original salmon jerky had some issues, and so decided to reformulate it – hence our new, slightly different named, wild king salmon jerky. However, is the new version any better?
On both accounts, it actually is. This new salmon jerky has a far milder smell – nowhere near as fishy as the original version. TJ’s attributes this to the use of Alsakan king salmon instead of the previous chum salmon. I’d imagine there was probably a change in processing as well.
I’m also happy to report that even Trader Joe’s is capable of stepping back from the howling abyss of madness, and decided to cut down way down on the amount of sickly sweet sugar going into this fish jerky. Like any good jerky brine, there’s still a dose of brown sugar in there, but it isn’t nearly as much. The result is a much cleaner taste, that lets the dried salmon taste speak for itself.
Which brings up back to that third point from way up above. Yes, it’s a marked improvement on their last salmon jerky – but is it actually something you would want to eat? What does this fishy jerky taste like?
Trader Joe’s indicates that this salmon was smoked as part of the jerking process, and that’s what you’ll taste most of all – the distinctive, musky flavor of smoked salmon. If you’ve ever had that, just imagine drying it out it’s hard, and spicing it with a dash of salt and garlic.
It’s not necessarily the best taste in the world, but it is edible. I never found myself really enjoying it at any point in the way I might happily gnawing on a fine piece of beef jerky. That said, the flavors were more odd, than objectionable. I could imagine slowly becoming acustomed to it over time, but I can’t think of a reason why I would want to when Trader Joe’s offers a selection of other tasty jerkies – like their sriracha bacon jerky, and South African biltong jerky.
While it’s certainly an improvement, there are better ways to eat your salmon, and better ways to eat your jerky. No need to take this detour aside from general human curiosity.
Would I Recommend It: Not while there are so many other tasty types of jerky out there.
Would I Buy It Again: No, I would not.
Final Synopsis: An improved fish jerky – but still, it’s fish jerky.
Trader Joe’s Popcorn in a Pickle is pickle brine flavored popcorn. Let’s just get that out of the way up top.
|What it is:||Popcorn that tastes like dill pickles.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 5 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes – a wildly new taste.|
Now, weve seen some pretty outlandish popcorn moves from Trader Joe’s – their unpronoucable Beurre Meuniere Popcorn comes to mind, not to mention their partially popped popcorn kernels, and of course the bacon-esque white cheddar variety.
I thought, perhaps, that Trader Joe’s mad sciene-style popcorn high jinks had run their course. How sorely I was mistaken. Trader Joe’s new Popcorn in a Pickle is their wildest creation yet – a melding of ordinary salted popcorn and dill pickles.
When I was a kid I would sometimes put ketchup and mustard on my popcorn, and that got me branded as something of a local nut job. I daren’t think what would’ve happened if I’d started pouring liberal doses of pickle brine on it too. Instituionalized, probably. Clearly Trader Joe’s doesn’t give a flying hoot what anyone things, because this is a boldly original taste that delivers exactly what they promise – this popcorn really does taste like dill pickles and, what’s more, it’s actually pretty good.
Full disclosure, I’m somewhat fond of pickle brine. I have, on more than one occasion, taken a sip from the pickle jar – just to get a touch of that unique, salt and vinegar flavor blast you don’t experience anywhere else in life.
This popcorn seems to be trading entirely on people who have felt the urge to that illicit thrill – the brine sippers who say, “Bitter? Salty? Herbal? Sour? Just what I’m looking for!” If you’re looking to replicate the the flavor, if not the feel, of a classic kosher dill (and it is, by the way, kosher) this popcorn has it all.
If that’s not you, you can safely give this popcorn a pass. Trader Joe’s is clearly counting on a very narrow slice of the market for this one. Of course, that’s exactly the sort of thing major chip manufacturers, like Lays, Pringles and Doritos, have been doing over the last couple years as they bring out increasingly outlandish flavors. I still see those Lay’s “Wasabi and Ginger” potato chips on store shelves. Sometimes even the most outlandish novelties can make that surprising change into a new classic.
Unlike many of those weird flavors, however, Trader Joe’s really nails the authenticity of what they’re going after. This isn’t a “dill pickle-ish” taste, in the way that, say, sour cream and onion potato chips are “sour cream and onion-ish”. These kernels taste like they were each soaked in a jar of pickle juice and left to dry out again. Like Trader Joe’s Bacon-esque popcorn, this is a popcorn to be savored slowly – not munched down by the idle handful. Each popped piece is saturated with so much pickle flavor that you’ll want to chew on one at a time.
If you love pickles, or live life with a fearless joie de vivre, try picking up a bag of this stuff while it lasts on the shelves. It’s easy to imagine it’ll have a limited run, and you’re not likely to find something like this ever again. On the other hand, if you’ve never felt an urge to sample a drip of brine then feel free to steer clear. This bold taste is for adventurous eaters only.
Would I Recommend It: Yes to the bold, no to the meek.
Would I Buy It Again: I actually might!
Final Synopsis: The best pickle brine flavored popcorn on the market.
Hello all you wonderful people, out there in the world.
I’m on vacation all this week, probably relaxing in a hammock even as you read this, so I’m breaking my usual posting schedule. Instead, I’ll be treating you to a round-up of my favorite ever blog posts, one a day, until we resume our regular posting schedule on August 4th.
I’ll be back and posting like regular shortly. In the meanwhile, I’m taking a break from the Spam Bots to cover a posting by a real person.
This comment is actually the first negative feedback I received on my blog. The author goes on at such length, and takes such a castigating tone, that I never had the guts to publish it before. The topic, of course, is coffee – a subject which arouses considerable passion among armchair elitists the world over. It’s one of the food topics I tend to avoid, along with wine and cheese, on account of the number of people who enjoy these things on sophisticated, and utterly humorless, levels.
I’m taken pretty savagely to task regarding my snarky opinions which, I suppose, I probably deserve. To everyone out there who has ever wished they could tell me to just shut my stupid, uneducated, untrained mouth, this one is for you.