One time, at a Hawaiian themed buffet, I loaded up my plate with chocolate pudding, put a big spoonful in my mouth, and discovered that it was actually sour poi . Until now that was the most shocking food surprise I’d ever had. Having tried Trader Joe’s Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa, that is no longer the case. This salsa, or “salsa” I should say, and I hope the judicious use of italics and quotation marks conveys my dubiousness, is incredibly sweet. Sweeter than most confections, in fact. Sugary sweet, corn-based salsa. I’m going to say that again, in case you haven’t thrown up in your mouth yet. Sugary corn salsa.
This is really a very crazy and very unpleasant thing for me to write about. Know, first of all, that I love salsa. I love salsa in, I thought, all of its many forms. I love it all the way from the simple jar of mild Pace picante sauce to the artisanal batches of peach and mango salsa. I liked cowboy caviar, I liked papaya and mango salsa, I thought I would like this as well, but I never imagined they would just out and out make a super sweet, barely spicy, salsa.
I’ll admit I shouldn’t be so surprised – they do mention it on the label after all, “A sweet combination of corn, red peppers and onions” they say. But this sweet? This sugary? That is the sort of information that shouldn’t be hidden in a small font under the title – it should be called out in huge letters proclaiming “WARNING: This salsa is 20% sugar by volume” or more to the point “WARNING: This salsa is really gross tasting”.
It’s really hard for to stress how sweet this salsa is. Think syrup, then take it up a little bit. The whole kernels of corn, which are otherwise fine, are suspended in what is essentially a clear, simple syrup, mixed in with some minced onion and red pepper. Really, what we’re talking about is a very nice, very mild corn salsa that someone decided to ruin by pouring a ton sweetener into it. I really don’t know why anyone would do this or, more accurately, I don’t know why you would do this and call it a salsa. I have nothing against gross tasting condiments, they just need to go by their proper name – relish. Despite Trader Joe’s labeling here, this is clearly a corn relish, not a tomato-less salsa. If it had been billed as such, I wouldn’t have undergone the eye-popping surprise I experienced when I dug my first tortilla chip in and took a big bite. Instead I would have spooned a tiny amount into a sandwich and experienced it that way. Would I still consider it gross? Most definitely, but relishes, like ajvar, get the sort of leeway that salsa doesn’t.
At the end of the day, I don’t suppose it really matters. If you’re one of the dozen or so people world wide that find themselves constantly spooning sugar onto their corn because it isn’t sweet enough, this is for you. For everyone else, I’d recommend taking a miss on it. That said, a shocking 14 million+ jars of this stuff have be sold by Trader Joe’s as of this post, which boggles my mind and makes me question my place among humanity. Please, if you enjoy this “salsa”, let me know in the comments and explain, if you can, its appeal.
Would I Recommend It: Never.
Would I Buy It Again: At gunpoint…maybe.
Final Synopsis: Think very sweet, corn relish rather than salsa.
Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar Salsa is, hands down, the grossest product name in the store. I’m no marketing expert, but if you want to sell someone your strange, globular salsa you might be thanked not to name it after fish eggs pulled from the ugliest fish in the Caspian. That aside, this corn-filled, black bean-based salsa is a bold, tasty alternative to your standard yellow-cap Pace and worth a look for anyone.
I should say that the blame for the name is not strictly TJ’s fault in this case. Cowboy caviar was first crafted into existence in the 1950’s by Helen Corbitt, famed chef, fresh food advocate, innovator of bold new cuisine and, ultimately, head chef at the flagship Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas – famed at the time (and known still) for its fine eating. The South, as every good southerner knows, has a hankering for black-eyed peas – a hankering that includes, but is not limited to, mandatory black-eyed pea consumption on New Years Day. Thus the decree that Neiman Marcus was to roll out an “all-Texas” menu, prominently featuring the beans was no surprise. No, the surprise was that Helen Corbitt, herself a Yankee girl from New York, detested black-eyed peas, and couldn’t bring herself to serve them in a traditional way. Instead, she pickled them in onions and served them as a chill dip – and lo history was made.
Trader Joe’s differs from its primogeniture by introducing the aforementioned corn, plus onions, red bell pepper and , perhaps hereticaly, swapping black beans for black-eyed peas. The chunky veggies are mortared by a mix of chipotle peppers, adobe sauce and lime juice – and the result is a dang good, medium salsa that give you plenty to chew on chip by chip. In addition to the touch of fire, you’ll pick up a citrus tang and even a hint of sweetness, which makes this an interesting salsa all around.
I myself am a die hard salsa fan, willing to take it any way I can get it, and to me this is one astounding find. Even with the sudden coming into vogue of non-traditional salsas (mango & papaya salsa, for example) there’s still a paucity of tomato-free varieties. Why not get the tomatoes the hell out of there? It’s the 3rd millennium A.D. isn’t it? “Nothing is sacred” is all but the mantra of our epoch – I don’t see why we should stop at tomatoes as salsa.
If you’ve ever been to a Trader Joe’s you know that they have a host of intriguing chips to go along with this salsas and dips. Why not try a bag of Super Seeded Tortilla chips when you pick up your southwester, rough-ridden, saddle-packed jar of cowboy caviar.
Would I Recommend It: Surely I do.
Would I Buy it Again: It’s a good change of pace salsa, if not an everyday kind of salsa.
Final Synopsis: Pickled corn and beans? As a salsa? Yessir, and damn good one.
This little pot of salsa enticed me with it’s name. Most any time a food product puts three or more adjectives in it’s title, I can’t help but be enticed by it’s purported charms. Sometimes this works out, but far from always. Today I was unable to resist, and sat down to give it a shot.
The packaging proclaims that it has a mild zesty flavor, and it very much does so. It’s a tremendously mild salsa, a bit more burn than our papaya-mango medley, but not by miles or anything. This is a very fluidy salsa, without even chunks of onion or pepper to mix things up. The packaging also pitches the salsa as a potential “spread”, and it could certainly go over your bread without much trouble. Is it worth the effort though? There was one taste in particular I kept being brought back to as I supped my way though this slurpy sauce – the Spaghetti-O’s of my youth. Between the loose, tomato-puree base of the salsa, and the somewhat tangy, somewhat zesty herb choices, my tongue was repeatedly thrown into a flavor flashback. While it wasn’t exactly bad, for me this wasn’t what I was looking for in my salsa, nor what I was expecting from such an elaborately named sauce.
Would I Recommend It: To those in search of a good mild, tangy salsa.
Would I Buy It Again: Not to my liking, thanks.
Final Synopsis: Like the love child of Chef Boyardee and the Chalula Lady