Just a quick post today to talk about Trader Joe’s Sriracha Potato Chips. After really bringing down the hammer about Trader Joe’s underwhelming Ghost Pepper Potato Chips, I was surprised to see that they immediately doubled down and released another spicy potato chip.
|What it is:||Mildly spicy, tangy potato chips.|
|Price:||$2.29 for an 8 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes, these are great to snack on.|
Obviously that raised too many questions to avoid picking it up. Would this chip actually be spicy? Even if it wasn’t, would it still be spicier than the Ghost Pepper chip? Would it capture Trader Joe’s uniquely tangy take on Srircha sauce?
The answer to all these questions is a firm yes. While I can think of a dozen brands off the top of my head that are much spicier than these, they are at least spicy enough to actually make it into the “Spicy” category – even if it’s only under the heading for “Mild”.
These chips actually manage to be a little spicier than their disappointingly mild Ghost Pepper brethren, and they do so delightfully – replicating the full, zippy flavor profile of Trader Joe’s Sriracha Hot Sauce. While that hot sauce is far milder than the more widely known Hoy Fong Rooster Sauce, it makes up for it by actually being flavorful – a tasty, vinegary-blend of all sorts of spices. That same flavor is replicated in miniature on these chips, making them a pleasure to munch on. That’s much better than the dull exercise that eating the Ghost Pepper chips ended up being.
In fact, that vinegary, spicy side of the sriracha sauce makes these chips taste more like a hybrid between Salt & Vinegar chips and Jalapeno chips than a simple spicy chip – something I’ve never had before.
The better flavor of these chips also helped me to appreciate the great waffle-cut texture of these kettle-baked chips. Thick, crispy and big, these chips stay crunchy and hold up in dips remarkably well – certainly far better than your run-of-the-mill Lays would.
That, plus the fact that they aren’t saddled with trying to fill impossibly large shoes (as was the case with the ghost pepper chips) made them pretty damn enjoyable.
Looking at these Sriracha chips alongside the Ghost Pepper chips actually made me wonder if this isn’t all some marketing scheme gone wrong. Is it possible that the “Ghost Pepper” chips were simply supposed to be the “Plain” variety of potato chip – laying the ground work for more interesting flavors, like this Srircha variety. Did the marketers find themselves struggling with a mental block, unable to conjure up a tasty sounding way to pitch bland, barely spicy chips? Did they panic? Was the product rushed out, some executive making the decision to stick “Ghost Pepper” on the label, hoping all would be forgiven when the more flavorful varieties were rolled out?
Extremely likely – in this blogger’s opinion. Watch out, you shadowy figures of the Trader Joe’s Marketing Department…I’m on to you.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, they’re good if you’re looking for something not too spicy.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes – these are some of my favorite chips I’ve had at TJ’s.
Final Synopsis: Crispy potato chips that faithfully capture the tang of Trader Joe’s Sriracha sauce.
Trade Joe’s has a variety of gyoza, from the ordinary chicken and pork gyoza, to the more adventurous thai vegetable and green curry shrimp gyoza. I may have preferred some over others, but personal taste aside they’re all pretty great.
|What it is:||Very weird gyoza|
|Price:||$3.79 for a 16 oz. sack|
|Worth it:||No. A weird mix of flavors.|
The number of success the Trader Joe’s R&D department has racked up in this category seems to have egged them on to Kanyean levels of hubris. Surely only the iron-clad belief that your every move is golden could lead someone to put out a product titled, and I quote, Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza. That is simply a combination of words that shouldn’t appear next to each in print, let alone on an ingredient label.
In short, out of all of Trader Joe’s delicious gyoza offerings, Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza simply does not work.
Let me start by first reiterating my stance that I think experimentation with food is one of finest endeavors undertaken by man. By all means, let us mix, match and blend weird things together. Just make sure you taste test it first before releasing it to the general populous. There are certain elements that make a gyoza (or potsticker) delicious, and to just discard those things is to invite disaster.
Take, for instance, the dough of the dumpling. All of Trader Joe’s other gyoza stick to the same, standard glutinous wheat dough wrapping – and for good reason. More than anything, more than even whatever contents it wraps up, the doughy exterior of a dumpling is what makes it delicious. Chewy, yielding and supple, with a bit of pan-fried crisp along the bottom edge, this is what makes a well-cooked gyoza simply irresistible. Swapping out that award-winning dough for a whole-wheat based variety may be a more healthsome choice, but it simply doesn’t work as well as a dumpling.
The whole wheat wrapping is much thicker and more textured than the usual gyoza dough, and tastes of the bread-y nuttiness of a slice of whole wheat bread. It’s not bad, to be honest, but it certainly doesn’t scratch that gyoza itch like their other offerings.
If the filling of the gyoza where something more usual, I might be able to find a place in my heart (and freezer) or these pot stickers. Unfortunately, they decided to fill them with a strange combination of mashed butternut squash, whole edamame beans, carrots, sweet potato and Japanese green pumpkin (kabocha). The result is a squishy, sweet squash mash with big beans in it. It’s not bad – on its own – but it’s hard to imagine something more wildly different from what is normally put in gyoza. Instead of a filling with a bit of body, maybe something savory or rich, you basically get sweet mashed potatoes – mashed potatoes with whole soy beans stuck in ’em.
It’s a very, very odd combination, and it didn’t work for me at all. Between the weird dumpling and the weird filling there just wasn’t anywhere to get my footing. I couldn’t even figure out a condiment that worked well with them. Typical gyoza dressings (soy sauce, vinegar, red pepper sauce…) simply did not work with these lumpy hybrids – the sweetness of the stuffing, and the squishy consistency, made them clash with everything I tried. Maybe if I had some spare gravy on hand I could have whipped up a batch and eaten them like an Asian-fusion Thanksgiving side.
Overall, I just found these baffling. While the sweet squash filling is fine on its own, it’s not what I’m looking for in a gyoza, and the whole-wheat wrapping feels completely out of left field. Maybe if these had been marketed as a type of whole wheat pirogi, and the soy beans had been left out, it would have been a bit easier to understand. As it is, unless you’re holding that Asian-fusion Thanksgiving dinner I mentioned, I can’t think of a reason why you should pick these up.
Would I Recommend Them: No. They’re not awful… but they’re just not all that good either.
Would I Buy Them Again: Only to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
Final Synopsis: A swing…and a miss.
Now that the season of pumpkin madness has subsided, and the cooling winds of dark November have arrived, I can finally catch up on a backlog of other, truly out-there Trader Joe’s products that they tried to slip onto the shelves without anyone noticing.
The craziest addition has to be Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips. This new addition to the snack section may well be the biggest let down of any Trader Joe’s product to date.
|What it is:||Not very spicy potato chips.|
|Price:||$2.29 for a 7 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||No, not if you’re looking for spicy chips.|
If Trader Joe’s has a failing, it’s that it sometimes over promsises. That’s unavoidable for a group that dreams as big as they do – bringing us such exotic oddities and far-flung favorites as frozen Kouigns Amann, Tamil Uttapam and, of course, the wonders of Scandanavian Cookie Butter. I’m deeply grateful there’s a mainstream grocery store that regards the average American consumer highly enough to gamble their business on such unusual products. On the other hand, sometimes they come out the gate with what sounds like a great idea but absolutely fail to deliver on it. It’s like the Marketing team gets really excited and doesn’t listen to what the R&D guys are telling them. The result is packaging that signs a check the contents simply cannot cash.
That’s absolutely the case with Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips. It’s commonly known that the Ghost Pepper is the absolutely hottest pepper in the world. Not just hot, and not just really hot, but like legendarily, pinnacle of the pepper pyramid hot. It’s weird that most people seem to know this, but they do. Every now and then the populous at large latches onto some bit of esoterica that seems like it should otherwise be languishing in obscurity. Keep your jalapenos and keep your habaneros, the people say, if you’re looking for pure, tongue-blistering, utterly unenjoyable HEAT, you want a ghost pepper.
Just in case you need a refresher on the spiciness of peppers, there is a more-or-less scientific scale that was devised to measure the relative hotness of peppers. Called the Scoville Scale, it measures the spiciness of peppers in so-called Scoville heat units, or SHU’s. A nice sweet bell pepper comes in at 0 SHUs. Banana peppers are about 100 units, a good jalapeno pepper is about 1,000 SHUs. The pepper referred to as the “Ghost Chile”, on the other hand, weighs in at 2 million SHU’s or more. Just by way of comparison, some law-enforcement grade pepper sprays only contain about 500,000 SHU’s. Four times hotter than pepper spray – that’s the ghost chile for you.
So what in heaven and hell could Trader Joe’s have been thinking when they released the absolutely mildest, gentlest “spicy” potato chip I’ve ever tasted?
I’ve spoken at length before about my light weight, or “chili wuss”, status when it comes to spicy foods. Pace brand Mild salsa is sometimes a little too hot for me. As a rule, I avoid the jalapeno potato chip. If I happen to munch down a couple by mistake I usually have to take a long break to fan my mouth. My brothers and cousins can all pile them into their mouths by the truck full, but even the gentler brands often leave me sweating.
I bring this up because even I find these ghost pepper potato chips contemptuously mild. They’re only spicy in so far as they suggest the notion of spiciness. If you smell the bag, you might think “Oh, these smell like they might be slightly spicy”. Savor that feeling, because that illusory impression is as spicy as these chips get. Bite into one of these cross-cut “lattice” style chips and you’ll catch just a hint of peppiness that immediately fades out and leaves you with basic, plain ol’ potato chip taste. I’ve had BBQ flavored potato chips that are spicier.
That’s not to say these potato chips are bad – they’re just bad at being spicy. The potato chips themselves are very satisfying to snack on – the thick, waffle-cut chips are very crispy and crunchy and entirely munchable. I found the mild spiciness to actually be a nice alternative to the spicier mainstream brands, in the same way that Trader Joe’s Sriracha sauce is a nice, less-spicy alternative to Hoy Fong Sriracha sauce. Finally, an only-sorta spicy potato chip I can enjoy! I just never thought I’d find them under the guise of ghost pepper chips.
If TJ’s had billed these chips as “Mild Jalapeno Flavor”, or “Potato chips – With Just A Touch Of Heat”, I would be writing a very different review right now. But by calling them Ghost Pepper Chips, and then doubling down on all their website and product copy about how insanely hot they are, Trader Joe’s is just making a fool of itself. Do not be suckered in by this marketing gimmick – unless you’re looking for a mildly spicy potato chip, these will disappoint you.
Would I Recommend It: Only to people who like not-particularly spicy potato chips.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes. I’m going to ignore that these say “ghost pepper” in the title and just put them out for parties.
Final Synopsis: It would be hard for these potato chips to be much less spicy.