Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt – Strawberry and Peach FlavorsPosted: June 10, 2014 Filed under: Peach, Strawberry, Trader Joe's Brand, Yogurt | Tags: 3 stars, Gluten-Free, Organic, peach, soy yogurt, strawberry, trader joe's yogurt, Vegan 8 Comments
The cavalcade of gluten free, vegan food continues! My stars, but aren’t we having fun? Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt is yet another entry in their huge wall of yogurt variations. This one leaped out at me in particular for it’s soy nature. After having such a good time with the non-ice cream, Soy Creamy, it seemed like a natural follow up. The results were similar – tasty, if you’re willing to accept a certain level of soy bean aftertaste.
You may have noticed that I review a fair number of yogurts. The rather mundane reason is that I habitually have one for breakfast, Monday through Friday, and have done since before I can remember.
In fact, my yogurt habit is rather more than habitual. A not insignificant part of my life is run off of what I like to call the “yogurt clock”. As the most modular food in my diet, I use the yogurt clock as a fail safe to remind my stupid bachelor self that I have to go buy more food on a regular basis. Every time I go to Trader Joe’s, I buy six yogurts. I eat one yogurt a day, Mon – Fri, and when I run out I go shopping again. The extra, sixth yogurt is my emergency back up yogurt so if a friend asks if they can have a yogurt, I don’t have to say, “No, those yogurts are a precision instrument, and only I can eat them.” This situation has never actually occurred, but I’m ready for it.
Planning out a good shopping trip, given the crazy state of life that is modern city living, is more than a trivial consideration, requiring numerous harrowing encounters with all sorts of biological and mechanical foes. As such, the steady, daily ticking of my yogurt clock is probably the third or fourth most important consideration in my daily life – below the internet and my girlfriend, but above the car.
That brings me back, more or less, to Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt. A yogurt that, like so much vegan food, is not legally a yogurt. Trader Joe’s is forced to concede this point several times on the packaging with the subtitle, “a yougurt-style non-dairy food”.
The last yogurt I reviewed from TJ’s, the European-style chocolate-infused yogurts, we’re strikingly off-putting in their zesty taste. There’s no such non-American trickery at play here. Despite the fact that no milk has ever gone into this soy yogurt, it tastes very very similar to your ordinary Dannon or Yoplait.
The yogurt is smooth and thick, with a heavy “whipped” style texture and nice bits of chopped up fruit in it. It’s a remarkably close approximation to ordinary, dairy based yogurt, and at first bite you’d never suspect it’s vegan. Both types of the yogurt are also very sweet – too sweet for me in fact. The peach yogurt has 18 grams of sugar per serving, while the strawberry version has a considerable 21 grams of sugar in it – the equivalent of 6-7 packets of sugar in each yogurt. Considering that you can polish off a yogurt in about 6-7 spoonfuls, that’s a serious sugar load for first thing in the morning. While this amount of sugar is certainly not unusual in the super sweet world of grocery store yogurt, it’s more than I like to eat over breakfast.
The other consideration, as I hinted at above, is the soy bean-y aftertaste you can expect. Trader Joe’s does their best to keep this under control, but once you’ve finished one of one of these pots you won’t have any doubts that you’ve just had some soy beans. The soy aftertaste is still mild, a gentle graininess of beans on the tongue, but slightly stronger than the Soy Creamy aftertaste. It certainly wasn’t enough to ruin the overall tastiness of the yogurt, but as a guy used to dairy it did give me pause from time to time.
Even if I was dedicated to the vegan lifestyle, I probably wouldn’t replace my yogurt clock with Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt. Though tasty, there’s just too much sugar in guys to eat on a daily basis. I’d much rather swap in fruit or something else a little better for me. The yogurt is a fine and tasty treat, just not a particularly healthy one.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes to vegans, but not in general.
Would I Buy Them Again: No, they’re too sweet for me.
Final Synopsis: A good yogurt, and a great vegan option, as long as you don’t mind a lot of sugar.
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free, Raw, Vegan Fruit Bars – (Apple & Strawberry, Apple & Mango, Apple & Banana, and Apple & Coconut)Posted: June 3, 2014 Filed under: Apple, Banana, Coconut, Fruit, MANGO!, Snacks, Trader Joe's Brand, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tags: 3 stars, Fruit Bar, raw fruit bars, trader joe's fruit bar, trader joe's vegan food, trader oe's raw food, Vegan 8 Comments
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.
Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices – Unsweetned & UnsulfuredPosted: May 20, 2014 Filed under: Apple, Fruit, Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 3 stars, dried apples, Dried Fruit, freeze dried fruit, fuji apples Leave a comment
It’s time again to turn our attention to Trader Joe’s freeze dried produce section – with Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apples. We’ve seen considerable range in Trader Joe’s dessicated produce, from freeze dried grapes to dehydrated kimchi to vacuum fried banana chips. It would appear that Trader Joe’s has never met a piece of produce they didn’t want to turn into a dry, crunchy snack.
These apple slices appealed to me immediately because they entomb, for perpituity, my favorite apple, the glorious Fuji. So much better than mundane Red Delicious or unexceptional Gala, the Fuji is invariably dense, sweet and crisp – a thoroughly delicious apple that satisfies to the final bite. I can still remember my first bewitching bite of a Fuji apple to this day, as sweet as an illicit kiss on a rainy summer afternoon.
Fuji apples are, as you might imagine, quintessentially Japanese – originating in the far northern province of Aomori back in the 1960’s and taking the world by storm. The secret the Fuji hides, however, is that it is actually the result of cross-breeding two American apples – the ubiquitous Red Delicious and the lesser known Virginia Ralls Genet. These two strains were first genetically collided at an agricultural research center in the town of Fujisaki in the 1930’s. The apple subsequently took the name of the town as its own and never looked back. Whether out of a sense of national pride or, more probably, simple good taste, the Japanese have embraced the Fuji apple on a massive scale. 900,000 tons of the apples tumble out of northern Japan into grocery stores across the country every year, utterly eclipsing the sales of all other apple cultivars. Here in the states, the Fuji has yet to catch on so dramatically. It ranks fourth in popularity, behind the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and, shockingly, the Gala. Wake up America – there are better apples out there!
The same qualities that the Japanese and myself admire in the Fuji apple – the sweetness and crispness – are the same qualities that make it such a good candidate for freeze drying. Like most fruits, the apple is nearly all water. The act of sucking the water out (or in this case, flash sublimating) is tremendously violent the apple itself, and hard to do without turning your apple slices into something squat and unrecognizable. The firm, crisp quality of the Fuji apple helps retain the shape of the slices, and it’s sweetness means that the apple’s whole, crisp and sweet taste is better preserved than it might be in lesser fruits. This is all the more impressive considering that these apple slices are unsweetened and unsulfured. These steps are usually taken to keep the dehydrated fruit looking and tasting something more or less like they do on the branch. The Fujis are simply so good that neither additive is necessary in the first place.
Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apples are entirely delicious. Each slice is perfectly preserved in miniature, and bursts with sweet apple flavor as soon as you snap into its dry, airy form. While the taste is there, I’m left wondering how exactly one is meant best to enjoy them. They can be casually snacked on, like chips, but the 1.2 ounces of apple in the bag doesn’t last very long, even if the $2.99 price tag does justify the purchase. Trader Joe’s suggests tossing them on a salad or putting them in a trail mix, both of which seem reasonable within limits. The apples very sweet and might easily replace dried cranberries, although at a much higher price per ounce. Trail mix certainly couldn’t be a more natural fit – and I’ll consider including adding it in the next three or four times this decade that I have a reason to make trail mix.
Trader Joe’s final suggestion, to throw them on your cereal or oatmeal seems like the best idea, and probably the easiest way to incorporate these tasty little guys into you life. If for no other reason, pick a bag of these up to experience the Fuji apple in a whole new way.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you can think of a way to eat them.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t buy a lot of dried fruit, but I’d probably get these guys again anyway.
Final Synopsis: A fresh new way to eat delicious Fuji apples.
Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber CoolerPosted: May 13, 2014 Filed under: Cucumber, Drinks, Juice, Watermelon | Tags: 3 stars, cucumber water, Juice, watermelon 8 Comments
Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler is one of those surprising products that doesn’t quite seem to fit at Trader Joe’s. Do-it-yourself fusion sushi? Sure. Popcorn seasoned with brown butter and french herbs? Why not. But a watermelon cooler? A summery, watermelon drink called a “cooler”. That seems oddly plebeian on the shelves next to Trader Joe’s French Market Sparkling French Berry Lemonade, and Trader Joe’s Italian Blood Orange Soda.
As much as I like Trader Joe’s, my blue collar roots sometimes rebel at the rather fancy image Joe likes to cultivate for himself. It’s a bit of a relief to see them throw the word “cooler” around on a relaxed summer drink – much in the tradition of Cactus Cooler and HI-C’s long mourned Ecto-Cooler. That may sound like I’m trying to damning this product with faint praise, but I mean it genuinely. Whether it’s pink lemonade or cherry coke, summer is the time for unnatural sugary drinks to bring out the kid in us. It’s the time for pretensions to fall to the way side and kick back with a nickle glass of Kool-aid and a slice of watermelon.
It’s in that very spirit that Trader Joe’s has given us this Watermelon Cucumber Cooler – a jug of refreshing, sweet and tasty juice flavored beverage. There’s not much to dislike with this beverage. What you see is what you get. Pour yourself a cool cup and you’ll taste exactly what it promises on the side, a sugar-sweetened, watermelon-flavored drink with the cool aftertaste of cucumbers.
I’m actually a fan of cucumbers in water. There’s something about the long, mellow aftertaste of a chilled cucumber that seems to slake the thirst as much as the water itself. The unsweetened cucucumber presence in this drink makes for an elegant grace note to what could have easily been one more too-sugary fruit drink. The Watermelon Cucumber Cooler strikes a balance closer to the unsweetened end of the drink spectrum than the overly sweet end. That makes it a rare participant in the summer drink wars – a beverage that satisfies the sweet tooth, quenches the thirst, refreshes with cucumber, and goes easy on the sugar.
Pairing watermelon off with cucumber in the first place might seem like a random choice – but not so random as it sounds. Both watermelon and cucumber are close cousins in the plant kindgom, siblings of the Family Cucurbitaceae, known generically, along with gourds and such, as curbits. This familial association makes for a fine flavor pairing, with the strong watermelon flavor blending seamlessly into the more understated cucumber, leaving you uncertain as to where the one taste ends and the other begins. Shine on you crazy curbits!
Sure, there’s still 23 grams of sugar per glass, but at least it’s from organic sugar and watermelon juice and not high fructose corn syrup. It’s not a health drink by any stretch of the imagination, just a fresh and refreshing take on the summer drink scene. If you’re not on the bad wagon with cucumber water to begin with, there may not be much here for you. If, on the other hand, you like cucumber water or have simply never tried it, I’d recommend this drink to quench your summer thirst.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – as long as you’re okay with the flavor of cucumbers.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll pick one up the next time I head down to the beach.
Final Synopsis: A refreshing, sweet-but-not-too-sweet summertime libation.
Trader Joe’s Dried Fruit – Soft and Juicy MandarinsPosted: April 15, 2014 Filed under: Fruit, Oranges | Tags: 4 stars, dehydrated fruit, dehydrated oranges, mandarins, oranges 11 Comments
It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed any dehydrated fruit. On the one hand, this is surprising because Trader Joe’s has more dried fruit than a mountain man’s cabin. Seriously, whenever I walk into the fruit and nut section of my local TJ’s I feel like I could be standing in a rustic general store in some picturesque moutain town that probably only exists in the movies. On the other hand, this is not surprising, because all dehydrated fruit more or less tastes the same. Trader Joe’s apricots taste basically just like the dried apricots you’re going to get anywhere else. Thus I tend to limit my dried fruit selections to truly unusual offerings – like vacuum fried banana chips – or precious, precious mango. For that very reason, I’ve long avoided the winking gaze of Trader Joe’s Soft and Juicy Manadrin Slices. Pretty much I felt I was capable of guessing what these were going to taste like, and if that’s the case, why the hell would I need to bother with reviewing it. Finally, after about of year of seeing these sitting lamely in the “New!” section, I bit.
Boy howdy, I’m glad I did.
If you’ve had dehydrated oranges before, they probably rank among your least favorite dehydrated fruits. Usually a slice of dehydrated orange becomes something like a desicate flap of leathery skin, and tends to adhere itself to your teeth the moment you take a bite. Not so here.
These slice are every bit as soft and juicy as they are set up to be. Not only are they piable, chewy and soft, but they’re amazing flavor and sweet to boot. Now make no mistake, there is added sugar here, but it’s the natural brilliant orange flavor of these mandarin slices that really shines through. I know that doesn’t sound like anything too special, but believe me when I say the first one of these you try is going to make you sit up in your chair. It’s hard to believe that they did it, but Trader Joe’s has really managed to capture that juicy, citric zing and sweet, warm flavor of perfectly ripe oranges.
The thing that really impresses me about these sugared, sulfured orange slice though, is just how damn healthy they are. The serving size is a generous 14 slices, for a total of 140 calories. That’s right – only 10 calories per plump slice of sweet, natural orange flavor. I’m well aware that the most cliched thing I could say right now is these orange slices are nature’s candy, but dammit these orange slices are nature’s candy. In fact, they’re better than candy. If you sat a bag of these delicious little orange slice in front of me, and a bag of stupid Skittles or something, I’d go for the dehydrated orange slices every time – they’re really that good.
Just how does Trader Joe’s manage to deliver such plump and juicy dehydrated fruit slices? Isn’t dehydration supposed to result in the exact opposite of that? Ggodo question – the answer is sulfur dioxide, that handy preservative that locks in the flavor and color of dried fruit. This is the very same sulfur that is being referenced when a dried fruit product boasts of being “unsulfured” – generally also identifiably by the dead brown color that tends to be the result of the sulfuring process. Without a doubt, if these mandarin slices were unsulfured they wouldn’t taste half so tangy and sweet. If sulfur dioxide is so helpful, why don’t we just sulfur all our fruit, you may well be asking. The answer, of course, is that people have a tendency to dislike preservatives in their food, especially in something so primal as dried fruit – hence the variety.
Generally, I go for unsulfured fruit myself, but when the results are as delicous as these mandarins, I have no qualms about sulfuring the hell out of them. I recommend you give them a taste and see if you agree with me.
Would I Recommend Them: I already have.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, I’ll go for these next time my sweet tooth demands a sacrifice.
Final Synopsis: Dehydrated mandarin slices are nature’s candy.
Trader Joe’s Pomegranate VinegarPosted: February 13, 2014 Filed under: Condiments, Pomegranate, Vinegar | Tags: pomegranate, pomegranate glaze, Trader Joe's, vinegar 9 Comments
The little burgundy bottle of Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Vinegar has been staring me in the face for weeks now, daring me to buy it. I finally picked it up the other day, and I’ve really been wrestling with what the hell to do with it ever since.
Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Vinegar certainly isn’t the sort of product that you’re reaching for everyday in the kitchen. TJ’s seems to focus on two distinct categories of products – standard fare done in the Trader Joe’s style (soup, salad, bacon, etc) and exotic items designed to appeal to the gourmands and foodies of the world. Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Vinegar falls squarely into this second category. Unless you are living a very specialized sort of life, you’re going to find this a difficult product to just casually make use of from day to day.
Where I usually run into trouble in my comment section is with these more refined food products (ex: dolmas). As an Average Joe, I don’t have too much trouble wrapping my head around the minestrone soups out there, it’s the niche, world-cuisine stuff, the himalayan tuffle salts if you will, that usually leave me boggled. The advanced culinary spheres are only dimly known to me. I still only have a white belt in kitchen jujitsu. I tend to caramelize my simple syrups while other are already eating their crepes.
With that said, I purchased this vinegar knowing full and well that it might best me – but I was determined to give it my best shot. If you haven’t tried this vinegar yet, think of it as tasting like an apple cider vinegar, but with pomegranate instead of apple. A lot of pomegranate. This is a tremendously potent – and flavorful – vinegar, absolutely brimming over with the smells and tastes of pomegranate. The trouble, of course, is that pomegranate is a challenging flavor to incorporate into a meal. I’m mentioned this before, but I think the recent fad of throwing pomegranate flavoring around all over the place is foolhardy. Pomegranate is so tart that it’s just not that good when distilled down to it’s bare essence. Pomegranate seeds are one thing, I’ll gobble them by the handful, but take those seeds, squeeze the juice out of them, and mix it with a strong, acerbic vinegar and you’re talking about a very specific, very difficult flavor to incorporate in your dishes.
The vinegar bottle suggests trying it on salad or with chicken. I gave both of these a shot, and in both cases I found that the intense flavor was off-puttingly strong – almost medicinal in taste. But just laying on some lettuce leaves isn’t a pomegranate vinegar’s natural habitat, it was born to grace foods and dishes as exotic as itself.
So what is pomegranate vinegar rightly used for? Primarily, it would seem, as a condiment for fancy appetizers, as a dressing on carefully constructed salads or, and this one appealed to me, simmered down into a tangy glaze. In order to do full justice to this product, I felt that I must at least give the glaze a shot. After a little bit of searching I settled on this simple but elegant recipe from Il Fustino, and cooked it up with a dish of fresh grilled chicken breast.
The results were exactly what I’d been promised – a fruity, tangy glaze with considerable complexity and none of the acerbic or mediciney hang ups of the straight vinegar. Down right tasty, in other words – all the sweet flavor of pomegranate with just an edge of zing. Was I delighted? Yes. Am I a convert now? No.
To be honest, if I’m looking for a tangy, fruity glaze for my chicken, I’ll grab my bottle of Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze before I start stewing some up from vinegar. If TJ’s had released a Pomegranate Vinegar Glaze instead of a straight vinegar I might be singing a different song right now, as it is – this is a fine, well made vinegar, it just has an incredible narrow focus of use.
Would I Recommend It: Not unless you’re eating a lot of artisnal cheese or like to simmer your own glazes.
Would I Buy It Again: One bottle should about do me.
Final Synopsis: An intensely strong, pomegranate-infused vinegar perfect for making a glaze and maybe like one other thing.
Trader Joe’s Gone BananasPosted: January 14, 2014 Filed under: Banana, Chocolate, Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: banana, Chocolate, chocolate banana 3 Comments
Apparently, Trader Joe’s has gone bananas…one bite at a time, which sounds harrowing but, going by the package graphics, actually seems to be quite a wacky adventure. Admissions of madness aside, someone at Trader Joe’s must have a pretty damn good idea what’s going on, because these chocolate-covered, frozen banana bites are delicious. Munch-tastic I might even say.
The strangest thing about this this banana snack is that we don’t see it in freezers across the nation. Covering sweet, frozen banana in a thick coating of sweet milk chocolate is as brilliant as it is tasty but, outside of certain episodes of Arrested Development, it’s rare to see a really good frozen banana in this country. Let’s get on this, America! The Bluth’s don’t have a monopoly on frozen banana stands – they don’t even really exist!
The second strangest thing about Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas is the very non-traditionally Trader Joe’s packaging. The Trader Joe’s MO is generally something austere, psuedo-victorian, and plastered with at least one bit of vaguely congruous stock clip art – an approach they take to everything from minestrone to salmon jerky. This package, on the other hand, is bold, features an honest-to-goodness product shot and a playfully cartoon-ish sock monkey. I keep having to look at the Trader Joe’s label to remind myself that it’s really a Trader Joe’s product.
But a Trader Joe’s product it is, and it’s one of the simplest products they have on the shelf. Exactly two ingredients go into it, bananas and chocolate. Thankfully they decided to go with milk chocolate instead of trendier, and more problematic dark chocolate. The result is a sweet, thick chocolate shell, that gives way to a surprisingly sweet and creamy banana core. It works together so well that there’s no need for anything else – between the two you’re taken on a voyage of mingling, complex flavor with every bite-sized bite.
As the cute name, cute packaging and bite-sized portions may suggest, this is a great snack/desert for kids. The portion size is easy to control and, as far as deserts go, it’s a natural and healthy alternative to more sugary food. The only real caveat? The frozen bites tend to stick together in hard to separate clumps. Letting them thaw a little helps get them apart, but leave them out a few minutes too long and they start to go mushy on you. Get distracted or pulled out of the room and you might come back to find that you’ve got some soft, chocolate-covered banana lumps on your hands.
That said, these still aren’t exactly health food. Four of these little bites packs in 130 calories, 70 of that from fat. In fact, one serving has 34% of your daily saturated fat allotment. That’s not unexpected for something with so much chocolate in it, and all else considered it can still boast that there are only 14 grams of sugar per serving.
Really though, the sell here is on the amazing taste. I’d buy these again even if they were twice as bad for me. In fact, for those of you looking to get really decadent with it, Trader Joe’s has published their recipe for the Gone Banana’s Split – a gooey, sweet mess of chocolate covered banana goodness.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – these are great for kids or adults.
Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely – they’ve got it all figured out.
Final Synopsis: Who would have thought simple chocolate covered banana bites could be so good?
Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds SaladPosted: October 15, 2013 Filed under: Feta, Pomegranate, Salad, squash, Trader Joe's Brand, Vegetarian | Tags: feta, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds Leave a comment
I picked up Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds Salad the other day after a moment’s hesitation. Greens and seeds? Seeds are not normally my go to salad toppings. I was even more surprised by the ingredients: butternut squash, feta cheese, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. First off, I’m not sure butternut squash counts as anyone’s idea of “greens”, but more than that, who’s ever heard of mixing pumpkin and pomegranate seeds together. Nevertheless, remembering the rather delicious lessons Trader Joe’s couscous and cabbage and quinoa and wheat berry salads taught me, I decided that I’d better just suck it up and give it a try.
Folks, I’m glad I did. The salad mix might be unconventional, but the taste is right on. This is exactly the kind of salad I go for – a hearty, robust mouthful that hits every taste bud on the way down. Where salads like Trader Joe’s Walnut & Gorgonzola focus on a narrow, rather bland taste profile, the greens and seeds in this mix cover the whole pallet. The butternut squash is savory with mellow, earthy tones, the feta is as intensely flavorful as a nice fragrant fetid should be, the pomegranate packs that astringent, high-toned zing, and the pepitas are salty and nutty. It could, and maybe should, be the taste equivalent of dressing in a tux, sandals, and a clown wig, but somehow it manages to all hang together. The eclectic assortment of tastes are helped in no small part by the excellent salad dressing pairing – a zingy and creamy honey dijon balsamic. The dressing is strong, quite mustardy and vinegary, so you might only want to put about a third of it on at first, but it’s this strength that unites and accentuate the tastes of the other ingredients.
Two potential marks against the salad. First, it’s meat free. I’m perfectly happy to make a meal of salad alone, which generally means I’m looking for something with at least a little meat in it. That said, all the cheese and seeds in this salad means that you’re getting 11 grams of protein per serving. That’s not bad. The other caveat is that the squash is, as you might expect, a bit squishy. That doesn’t bother me, but if you get hung up on texture this may not be the salad for you.
Trader Joe’s rolls out new salads all the time, but this rather wild salad combination has come out this fall for more reason than mere happenstance. Spring mix and summer salads abound, but this is one of the few truly autumnal salads I’ve ever had – a pointed and purposeful concoction made with only those ingredients that are in season during the harvest – or so they say on the company website, at least. I’m a food fan, sure, but I’m an even bigger fan of food born out of high concept musings. Kudos on this happening salad, TJ!
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you don’t mind squishy squash in your salad, you’ll love this one.
Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely, I’m adding it to the shopping list now.
Final Synopsis: A hearty salad with a tasty autumnal bent.
Trader Joe’s Pure Coconut WaterPosted: September 24, 2013 Filed under: Coconut, Drinks, Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: coconut water 6 Comments
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.
ACE Hard Pumpkin CiderPosted: September 19, 2013 Filed under: Alcoholic, Apple, Drinks, Pumpkin, Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: apple cider, Cider, hard cider Leave a comment
Every now and then I feel compelled to review a product at Trader Joe’s that isn’t on the actual Trader Joe’s brand. I’ve done it once or twice before, and only if I’m sufficiently intrigued by the weird nature of the product. When I saw ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider in the store the the other day, I simply couldn’t contain my curiosity. I’ve heard of apple ciders before, obviously, and even pear ciders. But pumpkin? That’s just crazy enough to get you on this blog.
A good hard cider isn’t an easy thing to come by in the states. They have a rather more robust history in the old UK and across the continent, but never took off in a big way in America – this despite a strong start in the nation’s infancy. In fact, for a non-trivial portion of America’s history hard cider was drunk like water, literally. In the colonial era, the notion of practical sanitation was a far off dream. As a result of water-borne illnesses, the populous quickly started looking for alternatives to keep them healthy, hydrated and maybe get them a little drunk to boot. The common solution was hard apple cider, which became the most common beverage to drink with meals.
As time went on, of course, public sanitation came into vogue. Water lost its stigma of being unhealthy, and beer rose to the position of most patriotic beverage. Nevertheless, the way was paved for pumpkin cider which, despite my high hopes, is not actually squeezed out of pumpkins in a giant pumpkin press, but made by adding natural flavorings to ordinary hard cider.
How does it taste? Well, a bit like pumpkin, really. The apple juice that makes up the base of this cider is still the primary and unmistakable component of the drink, but ACE doesn’t skimp on the natural pumpkin flavoring either. Crack open the bottle and you’ll get not only a bouquet of pumpkin up your nose right off the bat, but a rich blend of spices that embodies all of late fall. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I bought this drink was because, standing there on the supermarket floor, I couldn’t really conceptualize what pumpkin smelled like and I hungered for the experience. (The other reason, of course, was to give me an excuse to get drunk). The pumpkin you find in this bottle is similar to the pumpkin you find in a good pumpkin pie, not overly sweet but a more basic, essential pumpkin mixed with allspice, cinnamon and cloves. If you can drink this and not be transported back to a childhood memory of crunching leaves underfoot then you are probably dead inside (or grew up in a tropical -to-semi-tropical climate, one of the two).
Speaking of deadening yourself, the cider packs a reasonably strong punch – 5% alcohol by volume. That puts it toe to toe with most beers on the market. The over-sized 22 oz bottle, on the other hand, ensure that once you open this thing up you won’t be going out for the evening.
I’m going to stay out of the cider vs. beer controversy on the grounds that it is stupid. Cider and beer can and should exist happily side by side, although if we’re keeping score ACE’s pumpkin cider is gluten-free and has lower calorie than beers with the same alcohol content.
I haven’t had a hard cider that I’ve ever really liked before, everything I’ve ever tried has seemed too sweet or too cheap, but I liked this cider and I’d go back to it again. That said, pumpkin cider is ultimately a seasonal drink and a novelty. It’s never going to replace beer, or even a hypothetical, good, hard apple cider, but it could absolutely find a place on the counter next to the egg nog.
Would I Recommend It: If you’re into novel seasonal drinks, absolutely.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, next fall.
Final Synopsis: A quality cider, with or without the pumpkin gimmick.