Trader Joe’s preserved lemons are unlike any other sort of lemon you may have tried before. People do lots of weird things to produce that they store in jars. Sometimes they’re pickling it, sometimes they’re making it sweet, sometimes they’re just packing it in tons and tons of oil. Whatever it is, it’s always impossible to tell what you’re going to get until you actually pop the jar open and give it a try. In this case, I was surprised to find that what they were doing was making the lemons less sour. The lemons in TJ’s Preserved Tunisian Lemon Slices contain all the flavor of that famous yellow citrus fruit, but none of the acidity or sourness. The result is a slightly unnerving but intriguing food experience.
I was really, really not expecting this. Frankly I didn’t even know it was possible to unsour lemons. Really, I didn’t know what expect when I picked these up – and Trader Joe’s was not in a helpful mood when they created the packaging. Search the jar and you’ll find no description of what to use these lemons for, or how they might taste. The one clue that TJ’s sort of lets on to is when they casually mention “Be sure to rinse under water – unless you really like salt.” That might lead you to believe these lemons will be salty. And while yes, indeed, the brine they’re packed in is very salty, that salinity doesn’t make its way into the taste of the lemons. The only reason the lemon slices are soaking in a salt bath is because salt draws out and neutralizes the bitterness of the lemon peel and acidity of the lemon juice.
The result is lemon slices that taste and look like lemons, but don’t make you pucker or wince. If you’ve never had them, it may hard to imagine what non-sour lemons taste like. Basically, they taste like lemon-sceneted dish soap smells. While that is a strange little thing to deal with, mentally, it’s not the only slightly off-putting part of these preserved lemons. As a necessary part of the preserving process, these lemons are saturated, soaked and soggy. Washing them off and patting them dry is about all the strain they can take without falling apart on you. You’ll have no trouble slicing through the rind of these lemons with the edge of a plastic spoon.
So what are you to do with a jar of un-lemonafied lemon slices? The answer is, pretty much anything. The best way to think of these preserved lemons is as a solid slices of lemon juice. Adding a slice, either diced or whole, gives a refreshing zest to any dish. The real boon here is that you can’t over load on these. With the face puckering sourness of the lemon nullified all you’re really adding is a burst of citrus flavor. The classic way to use preserved lemon is in a Moroccan tagine soup, but they really dress up any dish that would benefit from a touch of lemon zest. Dice it up and mix it in a salad, add a slice to a sandwich, or serve as a garnish for roasted chicken. If the somewhat unnatural texture and taste of the lemons doesn’t bother you, they’re an easy and interesting way to dress up almost any dish.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes – these have all the perks of lemons without any of the downside.
Would I Buy Them Again: One jar should last me a long time, but I’d consider it.
Final Synopsis: All of the flavor of a lemon without the acid.
There’s never been a shortage of pancakes with stuff mixed in. Just pop your head into a Denny’s any given Saturday – pancakes with blueberries, pancakes with banana, pancakes with walnuts or pecans – the list goes on. However, never before now have I seen anything like Trader Joe’s Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix. For some reason, no on has really bothered to mix tiny bits of crisped, sweet coconut into pancakes – and that’s surprising because the results are quite good.
Trader Joe’s starts things off with an amazing new pancake mix. Instead of their ordinary buttermilk pancake mix that requires eggs, milk, etc, this new mix requires nothing but a little water. On to this they throw in a good helping of crunchy pieces of toasted coconut. The result is super easy to make pancakes with a natural sweet crunch to them.
Pancakes are one of those delicious breakfast foods that everyone can agree on. And when I say everyone, I mean world wide. Some sort of pancake variation has been, at various points throughout history, invented indepedentently on every continent except Antarctica. From Ethopian injera to Tamil uttapam to Swedish pannkakor to the American flapjack, batter sizzled up in a griddle and served hot has become something of a worldwide staple. Of course though they may all share the name, the pancake varies widely from iteration to iteration. Sweet, savory, thick, thin, round, flat – the variations know no end.
Here in the States, the main pancake question is whether or not you’ll be getting thick and fluffy ones, or thin, crepe-like ones. This can be a thorny questions, with fans coming down firmly in favor of both types. Trader Joe neatly side steps the issue by providing directions for both kinds of pancakes on the side of the box. In fact, TJ couldn’t make preparing these pancakes any easier. The mix is all inclusive, all you need to bring to the kitchen is the water, and the pancake mix does the rest – no eggs or milk necessary.
Of course, this magical convenience is only possible because the mix includes dry, powdered milk and egg in the batter mix. While in theory these dehydrated and canned ingredients should be inferior to adding the real thing, in practice I found that the pancakes didn’t really suffer from it. In fact, these pancakes are just as good any you’ll get from any other off-the-shelf boxed mix. Depending on the proportion of water to batter you control how fluffy/dense your griddle cakes come out – from full-blown fluffy flapjacks to the paper-thin Swedish style and anything in between.
What really sets this mix apart, of course, is the toasted coconut. Joe doesn’t skimp on this part of this mix, and you can expect every bite of your pancake to contain at least a touch of crispy coconut. The coconut does two things for the pancakes, both of them sublte. The first is that they add a bit of unexpected texure. After coming off the griddle the bits are postivley crispy, and give the flapjack a bit of extra, crunchy bite. This isn’t necessarily a big selling point, but it didn’t really bother me much either.
The more subtle effect is on the taste. The toasted coconut infuses the pancakes with a light coconut taste. Noticeable, but not so heavy that it leaves you smacking your lips or anything. It’s more of a low key sweetness, a light touch that is easily lost under a moderate amount of maple syrup or butter. That said, they’re sweet enough from these coconut bits that you’ll probably find you’ll want to use less syrup than usual. In fact, in the best tradition of bluberry pancakes, the coconut is nearly sweet enough that you might consider forgoing syrup at all. Almost, that is, but not quite. After one pancake without syrup, you’ll probably reach for the Aunt Jemima’s
In the end, these are perfectly ordinary pancakes with a little novel touch of coconut to them. How much that sells these for you depends on how much you like coconut. There certainly aren’t any flaws to the mix, but it’s also not something I would feel compelled to buy again just for the sake of getting a little more coconut in my breakfast. Out of everything the mix has to offer, it’s actually the ease of preparation that sells them the most. Being able to whip up tasty pancakes with just a bit of water was downright enjoyable.
If TJ’s starts making more pancake flavor variations with this same mix I’ll happily pick them up. Until then, this box will probably last me quite a while.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, the sweet coconut is a natural complement to the pancake batter.
Would I Buy It Again: No, probably not.
Final Synopsis: A novel and easy-to-make, but otherwise ordinary, pancake mix.
Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are the answer to the unasked question of “What would happen if you just kept on dehydrating mango?” The result? These dehydrated, crispy (and, yes, crunchy) mango chips bring you all of that sweet mango flavor, without getting your fingers sticky.
Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are just the latest addition to Trader Joe’s “Crispy Crunchy” fruit snack line. Previously we looked at TJ’s Crispy Crunch Jackfruit Chips and ruminated in an abstract way if it was possible to cook jackfruit bonda with them. While the jackfruit chips didn’t blow me away, the second I saw this new mango variety I knew I had to pick them up. Long time readers of this blog know that I have a certain, pathological addiction to that sweet, heavenly expression of nature’s golden teet also known as MANGO. I will lie for mango. I will steal for mango. If you get in between me and that luscious fruit, I’ll even kill for mango. These may be simple tenets to live by but they’ve served me well or, at least, ended up getting me a ton of mango.
I’ve held off on reviewing any mango based products for a while now (more than a year?!) because once those floodgates open, they’re hard to close again. In this case I relented, simply because dehydrated mango chips weren’t something I’ve ever seen before.
Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips take whole slices of thick, succulent, juicy mango and dehydrates them down into little, withered, french fry-sized sticks. Surprisingly, this is actually much better than it sounds. The resulting chips end up being light and very crispy, with plenty of satisfying snap and crunch. These wouldn’t be great qualities in and of themselves, if it wasn’t for the intense mango flavor that is packed in each chip. Through the dehydrating process, TJ’s managed to retain and concentrate much of that sweet mango flavor. Snap into one and you’ll be shocked at how flavorful each bite is. They’re not as sweet as the actual mango itself, but they bear far more resemblance to it than you would expect – certainly much more than your average apple chip or banana chip bears to their progenitor fruits.
The fact that there is some slight reduction is sweetness is actually a good thing. A ripe mango can be so sweet that eating even one is overpowering. By moderating the sweetness, these chips become much more snackable. In fact, they approach the perfect index of snackability – packed full of flavor, sweet, crunchy, easy to eat, and portable. It’s easy to munch on just one of these chips at a time, nibbling one down and enjoying the experiencing before going back to the back for the next one – a much more enjoyable experience than jamming handful after handful of Lays potato chips into your mouth.
I’ve never regarded dehydrated fruit chips as a particularly high-level snack . I’ve always felt they’re only really sold to people seeking a moderately healthier form of junk food. Since that defeats the purpose of junk food, and dehydrated fruit is often expensive, I’ve never really sought them out. These mango chips have turned me all around on the issue. These aren’t just another half-hearted substitute for genuinely tasty chips, they’re a superior snack food in their own right – more savory, more healthy, and more enjoyable than any bag of lays you’ll ever find.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, these are a superior snacking experience.
Would I Buy Them Again: I’d pick these up over a can of Pringles any day.
Final Synopsis: Tasty, simple, dehydrated snack food with loads of mango flavor.
Holy-moly – Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider is a dang good cider. I certainly love a good apple, whether straight off the tree or freeze-dried. Apples are, as far as I’m concerned the perfect fruit. Apples have it all – nutrition, sweetness, crispness, juiciness, an easy to store, easy to carry package, a pleasant shape and an appealing aroma. It’s entirely possible that apples are my favorite fruit of all time. Sure, I like me some mango, but that’s more of a tragic obsession than love. When it comes to the fruit you’d want to be married to, that’s an apple, no question.
As much as I love apples, what I love even more is apple cider, that most delicious of all apple-based beverages. Why they even bother to make apple juice when cider is so clearly superior I’ll never understand. I’m sure some of you out there might be saying “Isn’t the line between apple cider and apple juice hazy at best, with no one authority having definitively establish the criteria for what separates apple cider from juice?” Well, that may be so, anonymous educated cider guy, but to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewarts‘ ruling on obscenity, I know it when I taste it.
A better question might be, why should I buy this apple cider when Trader Joe’s standard Spiced Apple Cider (and, to a lesser extent, pear cider) have always done me just fine? Well, friend, that’s what I used to say too. TJ’s spiced apple cider is delicious, could this cider really be that much better? Yes – yes it absolutely is. In fact, this is the best grocery-store available apple cider I’ve ever had. It may not beat a fresh pressed cup of cider straight from the orchard, but it’s close.
The secret of the deliciousness is in its simplicity. Take a look at the side of your jug of TJ’s spiced apple cider – you’ll notice that it’s adulterated with a variety of other fruit juices in addition to the eponymous spices. Now look at the side of Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider. One ingredient – just one. Honey crisp apple juice. That, my friends, is a dedication to purity that you can taste in the finished product. Each cup of Trader Joe’s Honey Crisp Apple Cider is an explosion of deep, complex mellow sweetness, cut through with bright, tart notes. Any given mouthful is a flavorful journey into a country where the forces of sweetness and tartness war with each other. At any given moment one side winning out, in the next moment the other. It’s a hard fought war, but the victor is always deliciousness.
If you ask me, this should be your go to cider for the rest of the season. I haven’t found a cider on the market that competes with the richness and intensity of fresh flavor that Trader Joe’s delivers here. If Autumn just hasn’t felt like Autumn to you yet, pick up a bottle of this today, and let the seasonal feeling seep into your soul.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is some excellent cider.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes – and I hope it will be coming back next year as well.
Final Synopsis: A 100% pure apple cider with tart notes that does cider right.
We may have left Trader Joe’s season of pumpkin madness behind, but it is still autumn and that means there’s still a whole cornucopia of harvest foods to review. Case in point, Trader Joe’s tasty Cranberry Apple Butter.
Every season has certain foods associated with it – from the lemonades of summer to the hot choclate of winter, but no season is more intimately tied to food and food traditions than the fall. There are the pumpkins, of course, but that’s not to mention turkeys, pies, stuffing, cranberries, apples or many more besides. Trader Joe’s has decided to take these latter two and combine them into one delicious condiment for us with their new Cranberry Apple Butter.
Apple Butter is one of those niche condiments that the majority of Americans maybe encounters once or twice in a decade. In it’s most basic form, it can be thought of as something like apple sauce MAX. Apple sauce is made by stewing up a load of apples with sugar and water until it forms a pleasant mash. Apple butter simply takes that process to it’s extreme – keeping the apple sauce on heat until the fructose in the apples caramelizes into a rich, deep brown.
This apple spread was first concocted by German and Dutch monks back in the Middle Ages, when monasteries included large orchards. The enormous, annual crop of apples had to be managed somehow, and what couldn’t be eaten was turned into the shelf stable apple preserve we now know as apple butter. Although it never really caught on in Europe outside of the regions of the Rhineland and Limburg, migrants to America brought the recipe with them and it can be found nowadays as a staple in Pennsylvania Dutch country, as well as more widely available in boutique grocery stores here and there nation wide.
That’s all well and good, but if you’re anything like me you’ve often scratched your head over the whole “butter” part of apple butter. After all no butter, or any dairy product, goes into apple butter. The misnomer apparently comes from the soft, easily spreadable nature of the food product, which apparently lead some miserable medieval peasant to remark, “Oy- these apples is like butter, isn’t they?”
Of course, you and I know that’s stupid, as butter is only seldom that easy to spread. If we’re going strictly by consistency Apple Margarine would have obviously been the better term – or maybe Apple Toothpaste. At any rate, it’s in the history books know and I’ll be damned if I know what can be done about it.
Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, had no such shortage of ideas. In a rather clever move, they’ve gone and added a heavy dollop of cranberry puree to the tradition apple butter, giving the condiment a tart zest. How much of a dollop are we talking about? Plenty, actually. Cranberry is actually the primary ingredient in the spread, followed by apples. That’s a choice you can taste – the cranberries are front and center here, in fact they taste so strong that this apple butter could be mistaken for cranberry sauce on first blush. However, once the sharp cranberry taste has subsided, the mellower sweetness of the apple butter remains, taking some of the bite off and making the preserve more palatable than a straight cranberry sauce would be. Although it’s the “apple butter” part of the title that catches the attention, this is probably better thought of as a cranberry sauce first, and an apple butter second.
So what do you do with a hybrid cranberry-apple spread? Put it on your turkey is the obvious answer. And while this would be a perfect addition to Thanksgiving dinner this year, it also makes a tasty spread on toast and English muffins. If you wanted to get crazy with it, you could even add it to a turkey sandwich for a little of that pseudo-thanksgiving taste!
Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you like cranberry sauce.
Would I Buy It Again: Probably not, honestly. Regular cranberry sauce usually does it for me.
Final Synopsis: Like cranberry sauce, with a mellower apple butter follow through.
One thing that Trader Joe’s cannot be accused of lacking are options is the dried fruit department. I’m endlessly charmed by the lengths and methods TJ’s will go to in order to bring us a fourth type of dehydrated apricot, or a new way to make banana chips.
However, even I was surprised by Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Jackfruit Chips. For one, it’s weird to see such a massive fruit in such a tiny bag. The first time I encountered jackfruit in real life, I was shocked and a little taken aback, that fruit could get so big. How big is it? Big enough that I was momentarily afraid I had been shrunk to the size of bug. A fully mature jackfruit can be up to 3 feet long, weigh up to 80 pounds, and grow in bunches on trees – meaning they straddle the line between fruit, and natural hazard.
Your average jackfruit could kill a horse if it happened to drop at the right moment, helped along by the fact that they are covered in spiked, armored plates – as if Nature decided to stop screwing around after this pineapple thing. It’s rare to find a fruit where two, stacked on top of each other, could beat me in a fight.
Despite its relative obscurity here in the West, jackfruit has been a staple in India and South East Asia for thousands of years thanks to its size, resiliance and versatility as an ingredient. Like papayas, jackfruit are used for much more than simply a sweet snack. It is roasted, added to soups, fried into cutlets, mashed into kati and otherwise eaten all over the placed. In fact, jackfruit is so adored that it’s the National Fruit of Bangledesh. It’s not surprising, then, that Trader Joe’s got the idea to dehydrate them into chip. After all, that’s been a popular snack throughout South East Asia for many years.
In their natural, raw state the jackfruit tastes something like a banana crossed with a very mellow mango. By drying jack fruit out, Trader Joe’s reduces this flavor profile greatly. Regardless of the exotic origin and taste of jackfruit, what we’re encounter here is basically a nice-sized banana chip. It may be a hint sweeter, and there are subtle tones of mango and pineapple hiding in the background, but these more exotic flavor are not nearly pronounced enough to over power the starchiness of the chip. It’s the size and softness of the jackfruit chips that makes them most different from banana chips – each piece is a mouthful, and they yield rather more pleasantly to the tongue than the brittle banana chip.
One other thing the jackfruit is famous for is its trade mark odor. Fortunately lost during the dehydrating process, the fruit is generally described as having an unpleasantly overripe musk often compared to smelly feet.
Overall, it’s only subtle touches that set these jackfruit chips apart. If you’re a banan chip fan, these will be interestig to pick up by comparison. If you’re looking for a fresh new taste, however, something exotic to tingle the tastebuds, Trader Joe’s Cripsy Crunch Jack Fruit chips aren’t going to blow you away.
That left me a little disappointed, but not defeated, so I went looking for a recipe that could give second life to this otherwise limited snack chip. I may or may not have found it. The recipe below is for traditional jackfruit bonda – a type of small, South Indian snack dumpling. Ideally you make these by grinding fresh jackfruit into a paste but, dammit, we just don’t live in an ideal world. Until TJ’s starts stocking their shelves with smelly, 80 pound monster fruits, I guess I’ll just have to make do with their jackfruit chips instead.
The concept behind re-purposing this recipe is to somehow reconstitute the dehydrated jackfuit chips with a bit of water (or juice) in order to create a paste. This paste is then, conceivably, used to cook with. Unfortunately, my food processor couldn’t manage the task and I was left with an unusable slurry. Next time I’ll try taking a mortar and pestle approach, and pulverize the jackfruit chips before trying to reconstitute them – so stay tuned for that!
In the meanwhile, if anyone has more luck with this recipe, please share with us in the comments!
Impossible(?) Jackfruit Bondas (using dehydrated Jackfruit chips)
- 1 cup of dehydrated jackfruit chips
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup farina or semolina (cream of wheat will do)
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 tsp of fun exotic spices (Recommended options: a mix of dried ginger and cardamom, with a pinch of salt and black pepper, but really you can get crazy with this part)
- oil to fry with
- Somehow grind jackfruit chips into a fine paste (maybe with a mortar and pestle?)
- Combine jackfruit paste, sugar, farina, coconut and spices.
- Let sit for 15 minutes
- Roll into small balls (about 1/2 the size of an egg, or so)
- Heat up a frying pan, fill with oil, and start frying the suckers.
- Eat them bonda up!
Notes: Real bondas should be made with jaggery and rava – two Indian ingredients that I barely understand and can’t get into here. Instead, I substituted brown sugar (for the jaggery) and cream of wheat (for the rava). Both of these substitutions will probably piss off anybody who makes real bondas, so be careful.
Would I Recommend Them: Not really, these weren’t much better than banana chips.
Would I Buy Them Again: I have to! I’m not resting until I figure out this bonda recipe
Final Synopsis: Like banana chips, but a little softer and a subtly more exotic tasting.
Trader Joe’s has renewed it’s fruit bar producing efforts of late. We just took a look at their new line of thick and hearty two ingredient only fruit bars. Not content to rest with a mere 14 varieties of fruit bars across three separate labels, TJ’s has released yet another one – this one simply called “Fruit Bar with Flax and Chia Seeds.” The hardest part about covering these bars are their homogeneous names, a trend that TJ’s has decided to double down on by not even telling you what kind of fruit this bar has in it. Fruit, it suggests to you coyly, with seeds! Okay TJ, that weird enough to get my attention.
The reason, it turns out, that Trader Joe’s leaves the fruit name off this one is that, for once, it’s a blend of the whole orchard. Apple puree is the primarily ingredient, followed by a mixture of pear, elderberry and strawberry touched with lemon juice.
I went in to the bar with low expectations – after reviewing every fruit bar TJ has to offer, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have any more surprises for me. I was wrong. This bar easily bests all of the Apple & Whatever bars I reviewed last month. That maybe shouldn’t be such a surprise really – when you limit yourself to just 2 ingredients, you’re also limiting our flavor palette. Trader Joe’s Fruit Bar with Flax and Chia seeds has a much deeper, more nuanced taste, injecting each chewy, tacky bite with a density of flavor, one fruit mingling harmoniously with the next in a way that teases the tongue to probe each bite. The lemon juice, in particular, has an appreciated presence, giving the bar a zesty bite that sets it aside from its starchier, blander siblings.
In and of itself, Joe has a winner here. However, they don’t stop there, mixing in a pinch of flax and chia seeds to boost the nutritional profile. Both flax and chia seeds have been very much in the public eye of late for their “super nutrient” qualities. While their purported qualities owe as much to marketers as they do to science, these seeds are undeniable potent sources of nutrients and fats. Each bar brings a full 1000 milligrams of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, advertised right there on the front of the wrapper. That’s a fun perk if you’re trying to get more into your diet, and an interesting concession to texture for the rest of us.
As already mentioned, the bars is gooey and tacky in that “stick to the wrapper” kind of way. The added seeds give the bar a touch of crunch to each chewy bite that lends them a touch of welcome body.
The result is a surprisingly tasty, fruity, and munchable fruit bar. If you’re looking for single ingredient fruit bars (or fruit leather), you’ve got plenty of choices out there. However, if you’re just looking for a good fruit bar to snack on, this is the best TJ currently has to offer.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you like fruit bars, or need natural alternatives Fruit Roll Ups.
Would I Buy It Again: I’m not a big fruit bar guy, but if I was this is the one I’d go for.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s tastiest fruit bar.