MANGO MADNESS! MANGO MADNESS! MANGO MADNESS!
|What it is:||Nice taffy that tastes like mango.|
|Price:||$3.99 for a 12 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes, if you like mango and taffy.|
Pumpkin Madness? That I can handle. Over time I’ve started to come to terms with Trader Joe’s annual pumpkin deluge – the October tradition of stocking the store so full of pumpkin derived products that they spill from the shelves and choke the doors.
What I was absolutely not prepared for is my favorite fruit in the entire world, getting the same treatment. My hands are quivering, I’m still breathing hard – and I went in the Trader Joe’s YESTERDAY. Guys, every aisle – every nook and cranny – is absolutely bursting with mango products, each item more outlandish than the last.
I should be thrilled – swinging from the lamp posts – but instead I find a strange uneasy churning in my stomach.
First, I’m not sure my grocery budget can take the strain of purchasing every new Mango product. But even more nervous-making, I’m worried for the mango itself.
Pumpkin is one thing. Pumpkin is the dependable, workman-like squash of the vegetable world. You can do anything to pumpkin and it won’t complain – mash it, roast it, puree it, spice it, candy it, press it for oil – whatever. It’s a mellow gourd with an unassuming, laid-back taste.
So which side of the line does Trader Joe’s Mango Taffy fall on?
Trader Joe sidesteps this pitfall – delivering a mango taffy actually tastes like mango. Close your eyes and concentrate and you can nearly taste the juiciness of a nice bite of ripened, succulent mango flesh. It’s not quite there, obviously, but it’s a fair simulacra, and certainly deserving of the mango name.
The price is reasonable, to boot. If you’re looking for a confection that will really blow your socks off, you could do better in the magical candy aisles of Trader Joe’s, but if your a mango fan or a taffy fan, you’ll not go wrong picking this up.
Would I Recommend It: Sure – this is pretty good taffy.
Would I Buy It Again: Yeah, I guess so.
Lives Up To The Name “Mango”: Yup – real mango flavor in these taffies.
Final Synopsis: Good mango taffy.
Every summer Trader Joe’s parades out a new selection of beverages with the goal of quenching your thirst. Sometimes these are legitimately quenching, like Trader Joe’s Coconut Water, and sometimes they’re just picking your pocket book, like Trader Joe’s Maple Water.
|What it is:||Green tea with a touch of mint.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 64 oz. jug|
|Worth it:||Yes. Great tea at a good price.|
What makes something truly refreshing? I couldn’t tell you – but I can say that Trader Joe’s Moroccan Mint Tea definitely has *it*. A cool, quenching not-too-minty, subtly sweet green tea that is here just in time to beat back the summer heat. It might just be tea, but it’s tea done right.
What’s so good about it? This green tea is infused with both spearmint and peppermint, then sweetened with a touch of cane sugar. Unlike most mint teas, which tend to be overpoweringly minty, or cloyingly sweet, TJ’s Moroccan Mint Tea gets it just right. Take a big swig of this, and the first thing you’ll taste is… tea. The actual kettle-brewed flavor of a cool green tea. Notice the deep mellowness of it – not too astringent, certainly not sweet – just right. Only as you begin to take a gulp does the minty back show itself, enhancing the flavor of the tea and cooling the palette without overwhelming the natural flavor of the brew.
It’s a similar play with the cane sugar – just a hint has been added. Just enough to balance out the naturally bitter edge of tea, but not enough to make it a traditionally sweet drink.
Trader Joe’s attributes this tea to Moroccan, but this sort of sweetened mint tea is common throughout the Mediterranean regions – or anywhere that the sun gets too damn hot. If that sounds like where you live, you’ll definitely want to consider picking up at bottle.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – extremely refreshing!
Would I Buy It Again: Most certainly.
Final Synopsis: Perfectly balanced, wonderfully quenching tea.
|What it is:||Really good marshmallows.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 10 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes. Dense, sweet and creamy.|
Beets, man. I keep giving them a chance, and every time I do, they squander their opportunity. Our example today is Trader Joe’s Just Beets. I got suckered in this time the same way as every time. “Surely,” I thought, “they wouldn’t just sell you dehydrated beet slices if they weren’t secretly delicious, right?” It’s a lesson life first tried to teach me when I was at a restaurant that had a special “Jiffy Burger” on the menu – a hamburger slathered in peanut butter. “Surely,” I thought, “they wouldn’t just sell you a hamburger with peanut butter on it if it wasn’t secretly delicious, right?”
That hamburger wasn’t delicious, and neither are these beets. Admittedly, that’s just my opinion. If you already like beets, you’re probably going to like these.They are, as the bag says, just beets. In fact, the best thing I can personally say about these beets is that, with proper application of a dramatic pause, it’s fun the say the name.
“Do you want some of this?
“What is it?
“Trader Joe’s….Just beets!”
Is an example of the sort of conversation I’ve been having. Unsurprisingly, this has not proven to be an effective way to pitch the product.
What you’re signing up for is right there on the label… and in the ingredients… and inside the bag. Just beets. Dehydrated beets in fact. The product copy proudly touts that “97% of the water has been removed.” If only they could have kept on going and removed the beets as well.
To be fair, of all the beet products I’ve tried from Trader Joe’s, aside from the rather tasty the beet hummus, this is probably my favorite – if only because most of that ruinous beet flavor has been extracted from them. As in most dehydrated foods, the bold flavor of the fresh produce has been muted. That’s just an unavoidable part of the dehydrating process, and, in this case, a perk. However, the vivid deep purple coloration is still there, as is the signature beet aftertaste – that long lingering flavor of the earth that simply won’t leave you be.
In short, I hate beets and think they’re ruining the world – but hey, I’m prejudiced. With that in mind I reached out to a good friend to serve as a special guest taster. She spent time living in New England, and developed a taste for beets, turnips and all the other dire root vegetables of those dour, cloud-saddled states. She loved them flavorful beet chips – calling them, “awesome”. Not only are they still quite beet-y tasting, they’re cut thick enough that even after dehydration most of the chips were intact – perfect little burgundy circles that pack a strong, satisfying crunch. Even more, she loved them as an easy way to get at that distinctive beet flavor in an easy to manage and accessible way.
Assuming you like beets, the only other caveat I’d mention is the price. You’ll pay well for access to this delicious taste – $2.99 for a 1.3 oz bag. I know that dehydrated food tends to be expensive, but doesn’t that seem a little steep for what is, by their own admission, just beets?
If for some reason you’ve subscribed to a love of beets – a love I can only describe as sinister and Lovecraftian – then you’ll probably really enjoy Trader Joe’s Just Beets. You could probably go crazy and dip them in your beet hummus and wash it down with some TJ’s beet juice. Or if you’re sane, like me, then you’ll want to give them a wide berth.
Some time ago I published my review of Trader Joe’s original Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. The product was, needless to say, an instant hit. 24 ounces of fine, dark coffee, cold press-expelled and concentrated 2-to-1. It not only scratched that caffeine itch, but it did it in a damn nice way. It was, in its own way, the cookie butter of the coffee drinking world – a remarkable game changer that everyone can agree on.
Now, I’m not much of a coffee drinker myself – my monthly coffee intake is roughly equivalent to what most people drink in one morning. I bring up this as a sort of inverse bona fides – I really know next to nothing about coffee. Nevertheless, even I, untrained palette I, was able to appreciate the fine, if subtle, qualities present in Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. In fact, TJ’s cold brew coffee is responsible for the very first redaction I ever ran on this blog. After giving it an initial rating of “Eh, I don’t get what the big deal is”, I ended up going back to the bottle time and time again, until I’d polished the whole thing off. It’s that good. Even an untrained, unsophisticated coffee drinker preferred it to ordinary brewed coffee.
What’s the appeal? The biggest difference is that cold brew coffee is almost unbelievably mellow and unacidic, compared to ordinary brewed coffee – even for “low acidity” blends. When coffee grounds are cold brewed they’re basically just soaked – soaked in cool water for a day or more until gentle osmosis has impregnated their medium with all the flavor and caffeine of the bean. This lengthy process is the reason you have to buy your cold brew coffee pre-made – and why Starbucks runs out of it part way through the day. You simply can’t brew up more of this stuff on command.
As a result of this patient process, the resulting coffee avoids any of the acrid components that show up in hot-brewed, or over-cooked coffee, while also teasing out more subtle aspects of the bean that obliterated by being exposed to boiling temperatures. The coffee is still as bold, bitter and brawny as it would be of it was hot brewed, it’s just easier on the palette, teeth and, importantly, stomach.
So if Trader Joe’s cold-brew coffee is already such a hit, what does this new variety have to offer? Why bother with a French Toast? To be honest, there’s really not a whole lot of difference between the new brew and the old brew – more crunchy cookie butter vs. smooth than of cookie butter vs. oreo cookie butter.
“French roast” just refers to how long a
coffee bean has been roasted for, before grinding. In this case, a very long time. On the informal scale of bean roasting, the French is the penultimate roasting designation – only the Italian roast subjects beans to more heat for longer. As you might expect, a longer roast results in more of that smokey, toasty, roasted taste, but at the cost of burning away any individual characteristics of the original bean. As such, it’s not usually the coffee conisseur’s first choice. However, that same extended roasting process also breaks down the acid in the bean, making it a naturally choice for those looking for a lower acidity brew.
The end result means that this brew is a little bolder and even less acidic than its forbearer. Those are both pluses in my book. If you’re looking to expand your cold brew experience, or just trying to find the least acidic coffee on the market, you’ll want to give this one a try.
Would I Recommend It: Yup – if you like cold brew coffee, you’ll like this.
Would I Buy It Again: This jug is a 2x concentrate, so it should last me a year or so.
Final Synopsis: More of what you live in a cold brew.
If life gives you parsnips, you make parsnip chips. This is another Trader Joe’s product that, like Avacado’s Number Guacamole, I can’t help but feel existed as a clever name first, and only a product as an after thought. A rhyming snack food that uses an obscure vegetable? How could anyone at TJ’s say no to that? Certainly it’s what I’m always on the look out for.
|What it is:||“Potato” chips made from a different root vegetable.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 5.2 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes – sweet and crunchy.|
But if a product exists only to serve novelty, can it really be all that good? In this case, the answer is a surprising “Yes!”. Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips are a wonderfully flavorful, surprisingly sweet, crunch alternative to run-of-the-mill potato chips. It’s a classic case of “Try it, you’ll like it.” But what exactly is a parsnip anyway?
In the wild, the parsnip looks, to the untrained eye, exactly like a big, white carrot. In fact, the parsnip is a close relative to the carrot. Originally native to Eurasia, the parsnip was imported to the Americas by early European settlers in the 1600’s. By the 1800’s, the root vegetable – firmly ensconced in three continents and with a long history of use that extends back to the Roman Empire – was basically forgotten, sidelined as modern agricultural and shipping practices replaced it with other vegetables on an industrial scale. Nowadays, the parsnip is really only encountered by most people in certain niche applications or as the basis of regional traditions.
While the parsnip may not be as popular today as it was in ages past, these parsnip chips make a good case for a comeback. You might not expect a colorless root vegetable to be sweet and flavorful, but these chips are exactly that. Inside the bag, the chips themselves are small, thin and brittle with a tendency to bunch up in clusters – definitely unsuited for dips, but good for general snacking. The frying process has made the parsnip slices curl and brown, more like a plantain chip than a potato chip. However, as soon as you take find that they pack an over-sized taste – long sweet and mellow, with a vaguely carrot-y aftertaste.
I’ve written before about the surprising sweetness of carrots – well it turns out that parsnips are naturally sweeter than even its own close cousin. In fact, in ancient times, before sugar canes or sugar beets were grown, it was parsnips that were used to sweeten meals. It’s this sweetness that is the most notable feature of the parsnip chip, but a very mild sort of sweetness that satisfies without overloading you on sugar. That sweetness, combined with the nuanced, earthy, root vegetable taste, is a real delight.
I was expecting something dry and bland from these chips, but instead I found a wonderful substitution for other “naturally sweet” type chips – in fact I liked these parsnip chip so much better than, for instance, the sweet potato chips you find around. However these chips are far from a healthy alternative – due to the fact that these parsnips have been fried up in a serious amount of oil. With a rather surprising 12 grams of fat per 12 chip serving, these are some very oily chips. Expect some greasy fingers after polishing off a bag.
To my taste, I found these parsnip chips more than just a novelty. For a list of ingredients that is nothing more than “parnsips, oil, salt” I was completely surprised by the fullness of flavor – a world away from the one note starchiness of potato chips. If they were healthier I’d be eating them all the time. As it is, I’ll enjoy picking them up a few times a year for an interesting snack that has stands out from a pack of monochrome competitors.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes – these are worth a taste.
Would I Buy Them Again: Not often, but I will.
Final Synopsis: A completely different sort of “potato” chip.
As I mentioned in my last post and as is, I suppose, self-evident, I’ve returned from my indefinite hiatus to write – you know –some more stuff about food or whatever.
|What it is:||Sweet and tangy bacon spread.|
|Price:||$4.49 for a 8.5 oz jar|
|Worth it:||Yes – if you like new flavors.|
It may have been the dried whole baby bananas that stuck with me during my time away, but it was the numerous encouraging voices that checked in with my blog of out genuine concern that spurred me back into action. Well, that and one other thing – Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam.
There are some challenges that simply must be risen to. By releasing Bacon Jam TJ’s was practically daring me to return to blogging. After all, who else could possibly write off-beat, off-the-cuff, man-on-the-ground style articles with just a dash of snark? Who else, other than the numerous other Trader Joe’s review blogs, some of which directly rip-off my website design? Obviously the world needed me.
When I see products like Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam, I can’t help but think that there’s someone, somewhere in the high echelons of TJ’s who is compelled by a Joker-style urge to unmake the order of the world. Only instead of throwing bombs, his tool is novel food products – and he wields that tool like a hammer against the glassine walls of reality. If you wanted to break down the shared consensus of what is logical and what is madness, you could do worse than mass producing products like Trader Joe’s pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds, pickle popcorn, dehydrated kimchi, etc.
Add to that list Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam. If I assigned myself the task of thinking up the most outlandish, bacon-food mashup up, I could work for hours (Bacon Candy? Bacon Beer? Bacon Pie?) and never have come to Bacon Jam. Incidentally, all the other things I came up with are actual, real products as well.
Of course, the same could have been said about cookie butter, and look where cookie butter is now, – ascended to Olympus to bathe us all in its warm, loving gaze. To be clear, Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam is nowhere near the same caliber of delicious as cookie butter, but a sort of strange parallel does present itself. Cookie butter…bacon jam… we may have to face the very real possibility that Trader Joe’s ideal target demographic is late career Elvis. It’s now easier than ever for me to take two slices of bread and with a few easy moves make an unholy cookie butter and bacon jam sandwich. Deep fry that and throw on a white sequined suit and you’re ready to die mysteriously on a toilet!
Actually the most surprising thing about bacon jam is that it isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s a surprisingly edible and spreadable condiment. From the name you might expect it to be quite sweet, and while it certainly contains some sugar, this isn’t a pork version of Smuckers. Instead, it’s a vinegary and tangy spread with a mellow, apple-y sweetness. It immediately reminded me of that classic American recipe, green beans and bacon (or the similar recipe for spinach and bacon salad). This bacon “jam” has that same baked-in-vinegar taste that that the bacon dressings in those recipes have – it’s just as if all that dressing was gathered up and packed in a jar for your convenience.
The result is as sort of quasi-congealed, spreadable bacon condiment that can add that meaty, zingy sort of taste to… well, whatever you want to put it on, I guess. What that is, exactly, is up to you. Trader Joe’s makes the half-hearted suggestions of using it on burgers, BLTs and pizzas, although none of those struck me as killer app (-itizer…ha.) Like some of Trader Joe’s other novel food creations, it might make an interesting addition to the cabinet, but fails to scratch any real itch.
Would I Recommend It: Yes to the adventerous, no to the staid.
Would I Buy It Again: I can’t think of a reason to.
Final Synopsis: Tangy, vinegary bacon spread. Not bad, but not really essential.