It’s the holiday season – Thanksgiving, Christmas, all that jazz. The holidays, more than any other time of the year, are a time of traditional foods – of stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, pie and, yes, cranberry sauce. Of course, just because something is a tradition doesn’t mean Trader Joe’s isn’t going to try and find some way to screw with it. Case in point, the brand new Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce.
When I first saw this, I initially assumed it was some new sort of festive pepper jelly. You know the stuff – comes in little jars, thick like jam, people spread it over cream cheese, only ever shows up around the holidays? That stuff? While pepper jelly and this cranberry sauce do have the same burgundy color the two condiments are actually very dissimilar. After all, this is a cranberry sauce – same as the gelatinous stuff you get in cans and serve with the stuffing. It’s not even particularly thick, and while it certainly might be a nice compliment to cream cheese, that’s not what it was made for. As a cranberry sauce, its natural home is in between the turkey leg and the mash potatoes.
Now, cranberry sauce has a long tradition of being blended with any variety of different flavors – orange zest being the most common – but jalapeno peppers? That’s something I’ve never seen. That said, this jalapeno blend is a natural addition to the cranberry sauce oeuvre. Cranberry sauce is, after all, not so much a sauce as it is a relish – meant to add a burst of outrageous flavor to your seasonal repast. On that count this cranberry sauce works very well, the heat the jalapenos pack melds well with the tart sweetness of the cranberries, kicking the sauce up to a whole new notch of flavor intensity. When Trader Joe’s gives “jalapeno” top billing on the label, you know they’re not screwing around. There’s no mistaking the jalapeno taste in this sauce, but that’s not to say it’s very spicy. There’s only a mild heat to each bite – much more prominent is the flavor of the jalapeno itself, that uniquely green and peppery taste. It’s this savory flavor that mixes with the sweet cranberry sauce, and gives it its overall unusual but intriguing taste.
This new and intriguing taste is certainly something worth trying, but while there’s no reason you couldn’t put it out this coming Thanksgiving you’ll probably want to have some ordinary cranberry sauce on hand as well. It’s a bold and striking flavor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want it on every piece of turkey.
If your jar of Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce doesn’t get used up on Thanksgiving dinner, you might consider using it as an hors d’ouevre. It could easily be used as a tarter substitute for pepper jelly in the aforementioned cream cheese and pepper jelly spread. Simply lay on a thick layer of the cranberry sauce over a slab of cream cheese and garnish with an interesting cracker – Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin seeds could be an excellent fit.
Otherwise, unless you’re serving up a uniquely Mexican-flavored Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner, Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce is probably best thought of as a back up to your main cranberry sauce.
Would I Recommend It: Certainly, and doubly so to flavor-thrill seekers and people looking to shake up the Thanksgiving table.
Would I Buy It Again: Maybe… we’ll see how it goes over this year.
Final Synopsis: A sweet and tasty relish to supplement to your ordinary cranberry sauce.
I’ve been going around eating every type of gyoza Trader Joe’s has to offer, but only now am I finally sitting down with their Gyoza Dipping Sauce. Why the delay, you ask? Because I’m stupid. Thanks for pointing that out – now I feel terrible.
What is there to say about a simple gyoza dipping sauce? We’ll, for one, it’s not what you’d expect. A traditional gyoza dipping sauce, the type commonly used in China and Japan, is essentially a simple mixture of rice vinegar and soy sauce, occasionally touched with a bit of chili pepper. If you happen to have it laying around, it takes about two seconds to make up for yourself and costs almost nothing.
Trader Ming’s gyoza dipping sauce keeps the soy sauce and rice vinegar, but takes it in a different direction by adding load of additional spices – include sugar (in the form of “evaporated cane juice”), ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and cilantro. The result is a much thicker sauce, where the soy sauce and vinegar are pushed into the background by the strong flavors of the other spices. The result is something much more like what you’d get after mixing up a bunch of sauces at a Mongolian BBQ place than a traditional gyoza sauce. The cilantro, in particular, is an intriguing addition. We’re not talking about just a little bit of cilantro here either. Pick up the bottle and you’ll actually see the whole flakes of cilantro floating around ready to make you go “Wow, that really tastes like cilantro.”
None of this is unwarranted in Chinese cooking – cilantro, ginger and garlic all have important places in the pantheon of Asian cuisine – but it does make for a strong tasting, and somewhat unusual dipping sauce. I actually prefer the simpler vinegar/soy sauce concoction to this as the ginger and cilantro in particular really come to the fore of the sauce, and linger on the tongue long after. This, combined with the thickness of the sauce, threaten to overwhelm the taste of your pot stickers if used in more than very small quantities.
Of course, you’re not limited to using this on dumpling, if you don’t want. TJ also suggests trying it with egg rolls or, vaguely, “any Asian food”. While I’m not sure I would go that far, it certainly might work on salads, or with any number of Asian fusion dishes – banh mi, or Korean style tacos, perhaps.
Overall, however, this one feels like a miss for Trader Joe’s. Regular gyoza dipping sauce is simple and tasty by itself that TJ would have to offer something pretty special to lure me into making this a regular purchase. The sauce they delivered certainly has an unique taste – but not necessarily a superior one.
Would I Recommend It: Not really, unless you have some Asian-Mexican fusion recipes in mind.
Would I Buy It Again: No – I’ll stick to mixing soy sauce and rice vinegar, thanks.
Final Synopsis: A curiously thick and cilantro heavy dipping sauce
Well I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Trader Joe’s has always blazed its own, idiosyncratic course when it comes to it’s food offerings. Rarely do they stoop to blatantly biting on someone else’s style, as they do here with Trader Joe’s Sriracha Sauce. Even more surprising, while it may share the name, this very tasty hot sauce is a different beast entirely.
You know sriracha, you love sriracha, you probably have some in your fridge right now. That is, unless you’re an avowed chili wuss like myself. As a rule, I steer clear of the hot stuff, and that means that, until today, I’ve gently skirted my way around Trader Joe’s Sriracha Sauce whenever I crossed paths with it in the store. Finally, like a kitten being introduced to a new squeaky toy, my curiosity has overcome my fear and I’ve made the plunge. The results have been unexpected.
My basis for avoiding sriracha hot sauce for 99.9% of my life has been based on a few, memorable encounters with the sriracha hot sauce, Huy Fong Food’s Tuong Ot Sriracha, aka the rooster sauce, aka the huge, bright red bottle of thick fiery paste.
I may have missed out on a wide variety of BBQ sauces in my youth, but there was no missing this screaming red blast of hot lava, rising like a flaming obelisk over the tables of South East Asian restaurants from NY to LA. Tuong Ot Sriracha! That thick red paste of concentrated burning hot jalapenos. That thick ooze the consistency of axle grease. That famous recipe made with no water-added. (A point of pride at Huy Fong Food. Check it out yourself: no water, just a splash of vinegar five ingredients down the list). Such a mush of pure heat that is impossible to apply in moderation to your food – leading to concentrated pockets of burning pain or to a plate plastered in a thick layer.
Sure, I tried some Sriracha, curious young man that I was. I tried it and it burnt me – hard. I had no more reason to return to the Devil’s teat. No reason, that is, until now.
Not all sriracha sauce, it turns out, is like Tuong Ot Sriracha. In fact, most isn’t. Unlike the Huy Fong Foods version (a Vietnamese-Chinese product) sriracha is originally a Thai invention, hailing from the town of Si Racha, naturally. Authentic Thai sriracha sauce is a much runnier, tangier sauce, more akin to what we’d consider a “normal” hot sauce to be in the west. It’s this Thai style sriracha that TJ’s is basing it’s version off of.
Trader Joe’s Sriracha Sauce is looser than the rooster sauce, and bring actually flavor to the sauce as well. Much tangier, a little tiny bit sweet and a touch bitter – it’s a complex, rich taste that enlivens soups, noodles, entrees, pizza, basically anything and everything, all without the threat of igniting all the mouth’s surfaces.
Is it still hot? Unequivocally, yes. But it’s noticeably a notch down from Tuong Ot Sriracha. Think Cholula compared to Tabasco. I image this might upset some of the hard-line hot sauce die hards out there, those who seek pain before pleasure in the sauces, but please try it before you judge it. You might just find the flavor more than makes up for the slightly cooler heat.
For the rest of us, or even those who fear the flame like myself, this might just make you look at sriracha sauce in a whole new light.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – this sauce is a sriracha revelation.
Would I Buy It Again: …..………maybe. But that’s saying a lot for me!
Final Synopsis: A srircha sauce that straddles the line between the super hot Huy Fong Foods version, and the authentic Thai version.
On the bottle of Trader Joe’s Many Clove Garlic Cooking and Simmer Sauce, Joe himself lays it down, explaining that the jar contains garlic, “minced garlic, roasted garlic, garlic puree and granulated garlic”. That’s a lot of garlic, suckers. This is the sauce that Joe made to compensate for growing up in a garlic deprived household. There’s more garlic in here than there is in a clove of garlic. 110% of your USDA recommended annual allotment of garlic is in this sauce. This sauce is Trader Joe’s way of ensuring that no one ever kiss each ever again. Outside of the Stinking Rose, and Van Helsing’s kitchen, this is the most garlic you’re going to find in one place.
Open this jar up, dip a fork in, and put it right on your tongue. Feel that? That high burn that comes to the fore after a second? The way it zings your tongue? That’s the allicin at work – the same potent compound found in onions and chives. Famed for it’s antibacterial / anti-viral properties, what you’re feeling is Trader Joe’s Garlic Sauce actually cleaning your tongue. What I’m saying is, that’s a lot of garlic.
What we’re really tasting is a sauce known elsewhere as 40 Clove Garlic Sauce. A sauce made with exactly that – 40 cloves of garlic. According to Trader Joe’s own packaging, they didn’t keep count of how many cloves were jammed into this jar, which either means this sauce has more than 40 cloves, in which case someone needs to rein in the madmen in Trader Joe’s R&D, or it has less than 40 cloves, which case the thought of real 40 clove garlic sauce scares me.
But of course, this sauce isn’t meant as a dipping sauce or condiment, it’s a cooking and simmer sauce, and in such a role the garlicky nature of the sauce is much ameliorated. Mixed with pasta, or cooked up with chicken, this sauce retains its strong garlic flavor but mercifully loses the sting. If you like garlic this is a great sauce to work into any Italian inspired cooking. If you don’t, you still might want to give it a shot, because this is a garlic sauce done right. The garlic taste is heavy, but the creamy sauce isn’t – containing only a slender 4 grams of fat and 70 calories per ½ cup serving. The sodium on the other hand, is intense. 930 mg are packed into each serving, roughly 2/3rd of your daily recommend amount. Despite this sodium load, the sauce doesn’t taste notably salty. Mostly it all vanishes in the garlic blitzkrieg.
I like this sauce, but I’m also a man who went through a phase where I chewed up a raw clove of garlic every morning based a vague notion that it was supposed to enhance your endurance. This sauce may well be just too garlicky for some folks there, but for the rest of the population I have to give it a hearty, and healthy, recommendation.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, unless you’re sensitive to garlic, or a Transylvania count.
Would I Buy It Again: A healthy, creamy Italian cooking sauce? Absolutley.
Final Synopsis: Very low fat, very high sodium, very, very garlicky sauce.
Hot dang! Now this is some good BBQ sauce. Though I’m sorry to admit it, barbecue has never been my specialty, however, even I can recognize that Trader Joe’s Carolina Gold Barbeque Sauce is top shelf.
If it were possible to reach back through time and space to tweak one aspect of my childhood, I would probably make it so I came from a proud tradition of barbecuing. There is something incredibly appealing to me about the great American BBQ – a potent blend of technical know-how, manliness and cherished family tradition that culminates in a perfect summer day. As it is, I grew up unaware of the heights barbecue can achieve, and of the four great traditions within it. I speak, of course, of the four chief BBQ regions in the US: Memphis, Kansas City, Texas and, of course, the Carolinas.
Books can and have been written on the character of these distinct styles and their various merits. I have no desire to choose sides on that hotly contested subject, (about as much desire to weigh in on that as I do to choose sides in European Football League) so for the purposes of this post we’ll limit ourselves to the qualities of the sauce itself.
TJ’s leaves it at Carolina on the bottle, but those in the know could place this sauce with far more accuracy. The golden color and strong mustard base place it firmly in central South Carolina, in Midlands region. The hankering pig eaters in those towns were the first to really place mustard based BBQ sauces on the map, and have been knocking them out the park ever since. That’s right – mustard. Carolina Gold still incorporates the tomato puree you find in more name brand sauces, but in a much smaller quantity than the rich yellow mustard and vinegar which are the hall-marks of Carolina sauces.
Thanks to this mustard and vinegar base, this sauce tastes like the half-way point between more traditional BBQ sauces and Honey Mustard. The first thing you’ll taste when you take a bite of that pork rib is the zing and tang of a sharp mustard followed by the even sharper vinegar. That’s just first blush, however. The complex medley of tastes you expect from a good barbecue sauce follow right on the tail of that, softening the edge. Unlike some Carolina sauces, Trader Joe’s Carolina Gold is thick, not watery. This might offend some purists, but makes it great for slathering on pork and beef. In fact, the mustard edge of the sauce allows it to pair with far more foods than another barbecue sauce normally could – try using it on your sandwich or veggies.
There is, however, a dark side. This sauce doesn’t taste very sweet outright, like a Kansas City sauce might, but still packs in plenty of sugar. One serving (two tablespoons) contains a whopping 14 grams of sugar. For comparison, Bull’s Eye’s name brand Carolina sauce only weighs in at 11 grams of sugar for the same serving size. For what it’s worth, this sugar isn’t high fructose corn syrup, like it is in so many other name brand barbecue sauces, but made from cane sugar. How much that means to you is a matter of personal taste, for my part I find that processed sugar tends to be processed sugar.
Even with the high sugar content, this sauce still comes out in the black in my books – hands down the best store bought barbeque sauce I’ve ever had.
Would I Recommend It: There are probably better small batch BBQ sauces out there, but if you haven’t found them yet go for this one.
Would I Buy It Again: I plan on restocking for next BBQ season.
Final Synopsis: A delicious, mustard-based barbecue sauce that goes well with everything.