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.
Before I get started on all the ins and outs of Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice, I should admit right out the gate that I’m not a huge curry fan. Somehow, I always manage to forget this. “Alright!” I commonly exclaim, “Curry! I love curry!” Then I start eating and I remember that, oh yeah, no I don’t.
The problem is, I think, that at some point my brain got all scrambled up about what curry really is. What I like is Japanese curry, and Japanese curry, like Japanese game shows, is unusual and fascinating.
If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you know that it’s more like a thick brown gravy than a traditional South East Asian curries. Generally it comes from a rue, and nothing really goes in it except maybe some sliced up carrots and potatoes and maybe an onion. Certainly not coconut cream, one of the most common elements of Asian curries, and never anything like morning glory, young coconut shoots, or banana flowers as in Trader Joe’s Thai curry here.I love the hell out of wacky Japanese curry – the real stuff, on the other hand, I’m still getting used to.
The other thing I love about Japanese curry, as long as were on the subject, is how it’s represented in Japan as a non-Japanese food. Without a doubt, no one but the Japanese are making curry in this very particularly Japanese way, but for some reason every package of Japanese curry mix is emblazoned with images of tropical isles , swamis, or Vermont. It’s very perplexing. Presumably the Japanese imagine people in Vermont are always serving each other big plates of Japanese curry all the time – much the same way I imagine people in Vermont are always wearing sweaters and strolling through orchards.
At any rate – Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice is certainly not that. Instead, it’s a rather nice coconut green curry packed into a frozen TV dinner. Trader Joe’s has really gone all out on trying for authenticity here. Take a look at your green curry – what do you have in it. Looks like some bamboo shoots, spinach, and maybe some onion? Ha, no. Try young coconut shoots, banana flowers and morning glory. That’s not just an ingredient list, that’s a line of free form poetry. Obviously these three intriguing ingredients bring their own unique tastes to the meal, but you’ll have a hard time picking any of them out seeing as how they’re slathered in a typically strong tasting curry. What you will notice are the interesting textures they lend – crisp, firm and stringy, respectively. It’s an elegant touch to bring these rare produce to America’s shores, and give the whole dish a feeling of being truly exotic. The spice is there as well. While the whole curry could probably be classified as “Mild Plus”, there is no shortage of piquant and interesting spices to light up your tongue.
While “sai tung” means “take out” in Thai, a phrase commonly bantered about by food vendors on the street of Bangkok, don’t go searching your Thai dictionary for “gaba”. The “Red Gaba Rice” mentioned on the box should actually be “Red GABA Rice”, as in the amino acid chain GABA, aka “gamma-aminobutyric acid”.
The more conventional name for “Gaba rice” is germinated brown rice – unpolished brown rice grains that are allowed to germinate and sprout, in this case for up to 48 hours, before cooking. Germinating your rice is a clever way to increase the nutrients in it, in particular the above mentioned GABA, which in turn gives your rice a better protein profile. You can see that in the Nutrition Facts box – despite being a vegan dish, this curry has 10 grams of protein in it. Of course, it also has 70 grams of carbs, but that’s just the way it goes.
The other effect of letting your rice germinate is that the texture changes. You’ll notice that the rice here is considerably chewier than regular steamed rice. Partnered with a saucy curry like it is here, that’s a welcome feature as it lends more body and substance to an otherwise quite basic meal.
Having disclosed by curry bias, I feel I can admit that I wasn’t in love with this curry. Trader Joe’s has a few really really amazing quick and easy frozen dinners (like this one, and this one). This curry was a nice change of pace, but I wasn’t addicted to it. Of course, I fully expect to hear a dissenting voice from some die-hard fans in the comments on this, and I certainly hope I do.
There’s a lot to love here, especially for vegans and vegetarians seeking cuisine options, fans of authentic Thai, or anyone looking for a good dinner that only costs $2.99. Now if only TJ’s could put a picture of Delaware on it they might win me over.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a classy bit of Thai curry.
Would I Buy It Again: No, but I’m not a big green curry fan.
Final Synopsis: Authentic Thai curry, done cheap and quick.
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free, Raw, Vegan Fruit Bars – (Apple & Strawberry, Apple & Mango, Apple & Banana, and Apple & Coconut)Posted: June 3, 2014
With the addition of Trader Joe’s Apple and [blank] Fruit Bars, they have added another participant to the already crowded Trader Joe’s fruit bar arena. How, I wondered as I picked these up, could Joe possible justify the existence of a third, no nonsense, “healthy” fruit bar?
There are, in fact, many similarities between these fruit bars and Trader Joe’s other fruit bars. Like its competitors, these bars are 100% fruit, with no additives of any sort. Does that mean we’re just talking about more fruit leather? No indeed sir, it does not! While Trader Joe’s other fruit bars all hopped on the fruit leather boat, these Gluten Free Raw Vegan Fruit Bars are another thing entirely.
Open up a pack and take a look. For starters, you’ll notice that they’re not all that flat. Each bar is a good half inch or more thick, with the heft and body of a candy bar. As you pick it up, you’ll notice that they’re not all that sticky either – you can wrap your fingers around any of the varieties without fear of peeling them away to the dreaded sensation of “sticky raisin fingers”.
You’ll notice another big difference as well – unlike TJ’s other fruit bars, these guys look minimally processed. Instead of a uniform fruit paste, each of these bars is visibly full of shredded fruit – be it bits of strawberry, chunks of banana, lumps of mango, or slivers of coconut. That same quality means that each type of bar actually feels very different in the hand. The Apple & Banana is probably most dense and firm, while the Apple & Coconut has a tendency to crumble as you handle it.
Which brings us to the taste. Apple goes into basically every fruit bar ever made because its pulp is simply excellent and binding things together. What that means is that you can expect all of these bars to taste at least a little bit like apple. The question is, how much does it taste like anything else?
Actually, before we even get into that, I’d better mention that these bars are surprisingly unsweet. To be sure, they are definitely sweet as compared to – for instance, dirt. But compared to any of the other TJ fruit bars I’ve reviewed these bars are much more muted. There is none of the light-up-your-tongue zazz you normally expect from these sorts of snacks. In fact, these fruit bars are less sweet even than the fruits they’re made from.
The reason for this, in part, is because of the unsulfured nature of the raw fruit that has gone into the bars. We’ve talked about the sulfuring process
before – and how it preserves the color and taste of fruit once it’s been dried. Without preservatives, and without the chemical changes that occur with exposure to high heat, these bars are essentially just shredded, dried fruit – and as such lose a good deal of their fruit’s original intensity.
Why aren’t the bars exposed to high heat? Because they’re “raw”, of course. The notion of raw food, and the ethos of rawism, is simply too big a topic to tackle in this post. One of the more interesting puzzles of only consuming raw food, however, is deciding at what temperature a raw food should no longer be considered raw. It’s generally agreed that the cut off for vegetables and fruits is between 104 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit (40-49 degrees Celsius). Presumably, these bars abide by that guideline, although there is no official “seal of rawness” yet, so really it’s anyone’s guess.
Which brings us back to the taste – just how good are these raw fruit bars? I’m happy to say that even though they are somewhat unsweet, they’re still quite flavorful. The guest fruit in each bar (banana, coconut, mango or strawberry) really come to the fore in each bite. The sugariness may be gone, but the appealing underlying taste of the fruit is still there, mingling pleasantly with the subtle, mellow apple taste. Essentially, you are getting the taste of the fruit without the sweetness. The Apple and Banana Bar, for example, tastes like a cooked plantain more than a ripened banana. The same applies to the coconut, strawberry and even the mango. You can recognize and appreciate the flavors with the candied sugariness common to many dried fruits.
Are these bars worth your money then? There’s certainly a lot to like about them. They give you a convenient way to keep your blood sugar up, a way to stay committed to your raw food diet, and can act as a substitute candy bar for dieters in need of a cheat. Then again, a regular piece of fruit does all of that just as well – and the fruit tastes better.
Really, it comes down to if you like everything about fruit except the sweetness, or if you’ve been questing for a fruit bar that won’t make your fingers sticky. If either of those qualities defines you, then you’ll want to pick up these bars. For everyone else, I’d suggest giving one a try, if for no other reason than the novel experience.
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, if you need a healthier alternative to a Snickers.
Would I Buy Them Again: I’d buy these before any of the other Trader Joe’s Fruit bars, just because they’re less sticky.
Final Synopsis: A hefty fruit bar that isn’t all that sweet.
I don’t like coconut water. I’m officially on the books as one of those guys who walks around with a half-quizzical, half-angry look on his face, loudly complaining to his friends about how stupid it is that coconut water is being sold everywhere all of the sudden. Granted, I formed my opinion after trying maybe two different types of coconut water (Zico, and something else – something stupid) but that was enough for me. To hell with coconut water! It tastes weird and kind of gross, it routinely costs four bucks a bottle, it’s been co-opted by the uber-trendy – what more reason did I need to forsake it forever?
Forsake it I did until, in a moment of sheer caprice, I picked up Trader Joe’s Coconut Water. now sold in convenient giant box form. Instead of taking it home, trying a warm sip in my kitchen then writing a pissy article about it with one hand while pouring it down the drain with the other, I thought I’d actually give it a fair shake, take this one out into the real world, and field test it.
The one thing that coconut water gains the most acclaim for, and cornerstone to it’s marketing spiels, is how incredibly hydrating it’s alleged to be. Seeing as that all of my encounters with coconut water have been in the comfort of my own kitchen while at 90% hydration, I’m willing to grant that I haven’t really given coconut water a fair shot. What if I was super in to yoga, like the girls in all the coconut water ads? What if I was all sweaty and tired from yoga? Would I have a totally different opinion of this otherwise lame drink?
I executed my plan on one of the 90+ degree Saturday’s Los Angeles has been inflicting on us throughout late summer. I left home with two bottles, a liter of Trader Joe’s Electrolyte Enhanced Water (not reviewed on this blog because, come on, it’s basically just water), and the unwieldy, soft-sided 750 ml box of Trader Joe’s Coconut Water.
The plan,such as it was, was to walk down to a local park, goof around and play Frisbee with friends, and self-hydrate as necessary. I ran into trouble immediately out the door. While attempting to apply sunscreen to my head and walk at the same time, I managed to apply 100 times the required amount of lotion. Operating off of, what I know recognize as deeply flawed logic, I attempted to massage the pool of sunscreen into my scalp. This did not work out well, resulting in a dense mat of oily, greasy hair. While this did provide an all but impenetrable barrier to ultraviolet radiation, it also prevented normal perspiration. After walking two blocks, giant beads of sweat were already crawling down my forehead. I cracked open the electrolyte enhanced water and began to drink.
Two hours and a bathroom break later, the bottle of water was laying empty next to me. Meanwhile, the stealthy hands of dehydration continued their busy work, pilfering my precious bodily fluids. The time had come for coconut water. I popped open the sun-warmed box and took a drink. Folks, believe me when I tell you that I was instantly quenched in a way the water didn’t even come close too.
The coconut water lit up my whole tongue as it hungrily responded to the vital potassium and trace nutrients it contained. When it splashed down into my stomach, I could actually feel a difference in the level of hydration I was receiving – I could feel the coconut water saturating and infusing my whole body. To put it mildly, I was astonished. I expected the coconut water to be a good source of hydration, in a best case scenario I thought it might be on par with water. I certainly didn’t expect it to completely blow away water. Where the water felt like it was nourishing the top of my tongue, but the coconut water felt like it was hitting every nook and cranny, hydrating me throughout my body. Simply put, it was satisfying in an organic, fulfilling way.
Did it still taste gross and slightly off-putting? Yes, absolutely. But what I’ve come to realize is that coconut water isn’t playing the tasty drink game, it’s playing the hydration game – and in that arena it triumphs.
If you, like me, have avoided coconut water on the grounds that it’s gross and expensive,you’re absolutely validated and may continue to do so. If, however, you’re looking for a healthy, natural and very effective way to rehydrate – Trader Joe’s Pure Coconut Water is an excellent solution.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you plan on sweating; no if you want a tasty drink.
Would I Buy It Again: Yup, I’m a coconut water convert.
Final Synopsis: Coconut water will hydrate the hell out of you.
As you may be aware, I have a thing for coconut milk. Maybe not a well thought through thing, but definitely a thing. Basically, if something is made of coconut milk, I go “Wuh? Gimme, somma dat!”
Thus picking up Trader Joe’s Cultured Coconut Milk in blueberry and vanilla flavors was an automatic grab for me. Coconut milk yogurt, awesome, gimme sommma dat. It wasn’t until later that day, as I was unpacking my bags, when the words on the label really sank in. Cultured coconut milk. Not coconut-blueberry flavored yogurt, in fact not even yogurt at all – but a blueberry yogurt substitute made from coconut milk. A vegan, kosher alternative to your dairy product breakfast. Now this was intriguing. Obviously the world is full of human beings, many of them wonderful human beings, who elect not to eat dairy products for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the hankering for dairy products persists – an itch that one perpetually hopes to have satisfactorily scratched by innovative new products such as this one. Not an issue I personally have, but one that intrigues me none the less.
The first question, of course, is does this stuff taste like coconut?
No it does not, not at all. No more than your pot of Dannon tastes like milk. The coconut milk base here is effective obscured and overridden by the “yogurting” process, a process that is scientifically not actually referred to as “yogurting”, but which in this case seems to involve a great deal of flavorless seaweed extracts (our old friends agar and carrageenan among them), and some industrious bacteria.
A second question arrives hot on the heels of the first – how much like regular yogurt is this cultured coconut milk? Not more than a close miss, actually. Coconut milk “yogurt” falls squarely into the imperfect facsimile camp, alongside such not-quite-there simulacra as Tofurkey, Silk, and Fakon. Simply put, you won’t mistake this cultured plant fluid for Yoplait.
That said, Trader Joe’s does score points in two important arena. One, it doesn’t violently merge two words into a terrible vegetarian pun (“cocogurt”, perhaps), and two, cultured coconut milk tastes pretty good in its own right. Taken as a dairy yogurt supplement coconut milk yogurt doesn’t quite hit the mark, but taken as a new sort of breakfast item it’s not bad at all.
Trader Joe’s Cultured Coconut Milk differs from dairy yogurt in two chief ways – it’s much looser, fluidic almost to the point that threatens to spill from your spoon. However, it’s also strangely creamier than other yogurts, with an underlying velvety smoothness that coats your tongue in pleasant way.
The strength of this yogurt substitute depends almost totally on your enjoyment of this novel texture. Taste-wise the coconut milk culture tastes fine – the blueberry tastes like yogurt blueberry and the vanilla tastes like yogurt vanilla. Not much news there. Being able to enjoy the coconut milk culture is simply a matter of being okay with a loose, velvety yogurt over a firmer, less smooth one.
I’d be a convert, honestly, if it wasn’t for one thing. Quickly scroll down and check out the protein content – a single gram. Not much protein in those coconuts, evidently.
The main reason I turn to yogurt for my sustenance in the mornings instead of, say, a bagel or muffin, is because of the aura of healthiness surrounding the concept of yogurt. There might be just as much sugar in a little pot of Yoplait (27 grams) as there is in a whole donuts but yogurt has protein, dammit! That has to count for something. Trader Joe’s Coconut Milk Culture has 20 grams of sugar in it per serving, a considerable payload in it’s own right. Take the protein out of the equation and all you’re left doing is slurping up a sweet, loose paste of dubious nutritional value.
Would I Recommend it: Tailor made form my vegan-Hasidic friend, less compelling for everyone else.
Would I Buy It Again: As an experiment for a smoothie base, maybe, but probably not.
Final Synopsis: An intriguing yogurt alternative, but no protein and plenty of sugar ultimately make it less than desirable.
Ever since the first time I saw a coconut, that summer evening when my father came through the door with this large, brown, sloshing nut, gathered us kids around and proceeded to dismantle it with a power drill, I’ve been drawn to the enigmatic drupe of the tropics. As the power drill story illustrates, however, it’s not very easy to incorporate coconut into one’s diet. As such, I’m a sucker for new approaches to the fruit, and was eager to taste test this brand new item.
Unfortunately, Trader Joe’s Lightly Sweetened Coconut Strips is a close miss at best. Coconut is one of those polarizing foods that cab lead people to violent dispute. I myself have mixed feelings on coconut. I want to love it, I want it to be everything I hope it to be – exotic, refreshing, tasty – but sometimes I’m forced to face facts and admit that it falls short. Which, in this case, it does.
The coconut strips falter in two big departments – taste and texture, texture being the more grievous error. The taste is not bat exactly but the sweetness comes on too stridently. Though only “lightly” sweetened, the added sugar overpowers and clashes with the mild, subtly salty, tropical taste of the coconut flesh. The texture, not to mince words, is a little bit like a firm eraser. There’s such a thing as a pleasant chewiness and a firm tooth feel, but this offers neither. The texture is much too tough and rubbery to make chewing on the thick strips enjoyable.
Overall, the coconut strips feel like a rough draft of a better product. The potential for a delicious snack is in there somewhere, but as it stands this is the sort of party food that everyone tastes once and doesn’t come back to.
Would I Recommend It: Not really.
Would I Buy It Again: Perhaps, if someday my craving for coconut manages to overpower my good sense.
Final Synopsis: Too tough, too sweet.
Mango, goddammit, they had to bring me back in with the mango.
The mango in question is the mango in Dark Chocolate Covered Coconut Mango Bites. For those of you who just joined us, mango drives me crazy. The Strong Anthropic Principal postulates that the purpose of the universe is to give rise to man so that it may experience itself. In my mind, the universe gave rise to man so that he may assist in the propagation of mangoes. Mangoes. Mangoes mangoes mangoes. I’m also fond of coconut.
This particular item was an automatic purchase for me – I don’t even remember the conscious impulse to pick them up. They were just suddenly there, in my hand, waiting to be purchased. Not, mind you, just because of the mango in it. If I were to give into my desire for mango at every turn I would find myself physically unable to push my cart out of the supermarket doors. I must maintain an unshakable iron will on that front. No, in this case it was the decision to enrobe the combination of these delectable exotic fruits in dark chocolate.
As I’ve pointed out before, dark chocolate is rather in vogue at the moment and undeservedly so. Dark chocolate simply cannot be applied to any given desert with same cavalier attitude of milk chocolate. More than one customer, I’m sure, has bitten into a piece of dark chocolate covered whatever and only then recalled, all to late, that dark chocolate is a fundamentally bitter and highly nuanced treat that plays well with very few others.
The existence of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Coconut Mango Bites was then either a further effrontery or a well-considered entrant into the world of taste. Given the sometimes uneven track record of Trader Joe,I was compelled to find out which.
The short answer is more the latter than the former.
Imagine your standard drugstore box of Valentine’s Day chocolates – the soft, rounded bricks of nougat covered in a chocolate shell. In terms of form, that’s what you’re getting here – just without the satin and lace. The texture matches this more common cousin exactly, smooth paste with a touch of coconut grit, and the taste isn’t far off either. Don’t come expecting a mango-flavor blast – they knew what they were doing when the gave it final billing in the product title. I’d describe the taste as only somewhat fruity and if the name had been left out of the title all together, you’d be hard pressed to identify it as such.
Obviously that’s a let down for me, but this blog isn’t about my personal feelings – it’s about whether something is worth eating or not, dammit. And this is worth eating. The dark chocolate’s bitterness is nicely matched with the sweeter candy center. It’s nowhere near as decadent as a Russell-Stover confection log, and that’s to its credit. This is a treat that slides over the tongue easily without the baggage of overbearing sweetness, a delicious morsel you can enjoy after lunch as easily as dinner. It’s a moderately sweet sweet, a sweet for people who find most sweets too sweet.
Would I recommend it: Yup.
Would I buy it again: Yes, mango or no.
Final Synopsis: This is one case where going for dark chocolate was the right move.