Trader Joe’s Chile Spiced Mango

Trader Joe's Chili Spiced Mango

I mean, they look fiery, don’t they?

Did I eat the entire bag of Trader Joe’s Chile Spiced Mango slices in one day? Yes. Did it taste very good? Not really, no.

My ongoing struggle with the world’s most addictive fruit has been well documented. If there is mango in my house, dried or otherwise, there is an increasingly likelihood, day by day, that I will enter a mango frenzy, stuff it all into my mouth and once, then burst into the streets looking for more. Even now I feel the mango-craving beast within stirring in my breast, it’s insatiable hunger for mango only whetted by this offering. I hold it safely in check – for now. If the chile spiced mango had been a tastier treat, it’s unlikely that would be the case.

A brief lapse in my mango defenses resulted in me buying this sachet of dried fruit the other day. The chili spiciness is what got me. Faithful readers might remember this post about chile spiced dehydrated pineapple from early on. The ecstasy of that sweet napalm still tingles on the edge of my tongue, and the thought of that but in mango form was a lure I could not resist. Sadly, the reality was a faint shadow of the dream.

By no means was this my first encounter with chili powder on fruit, let alone mango. As a denizen of that astonishing salmagundi we know as Los Angeles, I’ve purchased my share my share of fresh, sliced fruit from curbside cart pushers. Always it’s handed to you with a healthy dusting of rusty red cayenne pepper. Not necessarily

my favorite way to enjoy fresh fruit, but certainly a tasty option. My hope was that Trader Joe’s, with their network of chefs and deep coffers, would have perfected this local delicacy. What I got was something no self-respecting street vendor would give you.

Trader Joe’s Chile Spiced Mango is bland. With every bite you’re expecting a blast of intense hotness, tempered by the profound amplitude of succulent mango. This is what you never get. This is the worst dehydrated mango I’ve had from TJ’s. The mango taste is subdued and flat, not so much hidden by the chile powder as absent all together. Meanwhile, the chili powder itself is practically impotent. I get that when you’re selling to a national market you need to tone down the heat, but I’ve had mild salsa with more kick than this chili pepper. There’s a brief hint of fire, like a match threatening to light, that immediate vanishes into a dusty, indistinct taste.

It’s two ingredients, Trader Joe’s! If you’re going to spice something with chili powder, actually spice it. If you’re going to use mango, then let us taste the mango. Yes, I’ll eat the entire bag (it is mango after all), but I’m not going to like it.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Not unless you like bland mango.

Would I Buy It Again: Not until it’s the last mango available to me on Earth. Then yes.

Final Synopsis: “A bland, timid entry, suitable for patients recovering from surgery.” -Homer Simpson

Trader Joe's Chili Spiced Mango - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Chili Spiced Mango – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Black Figs

Trader Joe's Fresh California Black Figs

The 11,000 year old, black beauties.

Trader Joe’s Black Figs. They seem interesting, I like the name, but how do you eat them? It’s a question that betrays by ignorance as a novice fig eater. My childhood home had plenty of the mundane fruit – your apples, oranges and bananas, but the wider world of fascinating fruit was unknown to me until adulthood. Certainly not figs. Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated by exotic plumcots and saturn peaches. Once you figure out what to do with these figs (just put them in your mouth and chew, it turns out), you’ll have to decide if you like sweet, meaty drupes or not. We’ll get to that in a second.

The intriguing thing about fruit, for me, is that it’s always a very interesting food to interface with. Unlike, say, a hamburger, there’s always some sort of trick to eating a fruit, and every fruit’s trick is different. Whether it be natural or cultural, it seems there’s always a technique that makes the eating of any given fruit more fun/tasty/neat, the not knowing of which leaves you facing a messy, unpalatable or even inedible enigma.

The first time I picked up a whole persimmon, I remember just staring at it, turning it over in my hands. It was like suddenly reverting back to the mind set of a monkey, just me and a new piece of food, wondering “Do I peel this or what?”

Of course, somewhere in the world someone knows exactly the best way to eat a persimmon. “Let it soften and use a spoon!” they’re yelling, just like someone knows the best way to peel a banana or how to slice a mango. Nature isn’t spending any money in the Market Research department, standing around and saying, “Yes, but will our target demographic like getting the coconuts open?” Unlike Target or Apple, Nature isn’t bothered by the user interface. It brings its product to market regardless, it’s up to us if we’re going to figure out how to use them.

All of this fig eating ignorance on my part is very ridiculous considering that figs are possibly the first crop ever grown by man – with historical evidence tracing fig cultivation back to 9000 BC – about 11,000 years ago. The fact that we’re still munching on figs nowadays suggests that the fig must be a real crowd pleaser.

The first thing you’ll notice when you get your Trader Joe’s fig is the yielding, fleshy texture of the fruit. This is an ordinary characteristic of ripe figs, but slightly off putting as well. Hold the fig by the stem and bite in – the taste is lusciously sweet, but also complex. The smooth skin, the meaty fruit and the crunchy seeds all combine for a fruit that is completely different from anything I’ve had before. The inside of the fig is a bright, strawberry pink color, which contrasts beautifully with the purple-black exterior. I found I could enjoy a handful of these 2 or 3, but the sticky sweetness and the taste of high dietary fiber (like that of a ripe prune) warned me off of having any more. Overall, it was a good experience, but not one that I’d need to have daily or even weekly. That said, there are a number of interesting ways to incorporate the figs into other foods or cuisines if you don’t necessarily warm up to them as snacks.

Trader Joe’s might have the best suggestion themselves on their website – try cutting a fig in half, adding a few blue cheese crumbles and a touch of honey. Voila, the perfect hors d’oeuvre.


Breakdown:

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, this is an intriguing, tasty and different fruit. If you’ve never had a fig, you should go out and try these.

Would I Buy Them Again: Probably not, except maybe to impress guests.

Final Synopsis: Sweet and fleshy – interesting fruits to shake up your boring fruit bowl.

Trader Joe's Fresh California Black Figs - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Fresh California Black Figs – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Tropical Sweetened Matcha Green Tea Mix

Trader Joe's Tropical Sweetened Matcha

I picked this up and went, “Whaaa?” audibly and entirely involuntarily.

You never know what’s going to sound bizarre but be surprisingly good tasting at TJ’s. Trader Joe’s Tropical Sweetened Matcha Green Tea Mix is not one of those cases. I should have known better, I actually had forewarning – this isn’t the first powdered green tea with mango flavoring I’ve had. My first experience was with Crystal Light brand Green Tea with Mango, that purveyor of powdered drink mixes. Granted, it had no passion fruit, but the concept was the same – a powdered tea mix with certain tropical fruits mixed in. The Crystal Light product, ordinarily a satisfactory brand, was all but undrinkable in this case – a revoltingly heavy mango flavor having its way with an otherwise okay powdered green tea.

Perhaps by including passion fruit TJ’s had hoped to avoid the same fate. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain. Trader Joe’s Tropical Sweetened Matcha is every bit as repugnant – a terribly mismatched set of flavors putting the nail in the coffin of a perplexing offering.

I think the first question has to be, who in the world’s been asking for this – a big tin of loose, powdered green tea mixed with arbitrary fruit flavoring? It’s the same question I ask myself whenever I order the green tea at Starbucks. “Oh yeah,” I grimace, “They mix mint in with mint.”

Look, green tea is delicious on it’s own, sophisticated and relaxing when served hot, refreshing and invigorating when served over ice, we don’t have to go and mix it with all sorts of other flavors just because we can. It’s a facet of the same madness that compels every sushi place to offer spicy tuna rolls. Guys, straight up fatty tuna is as good as sushi gets – so why is your sushi menu dominated by a dozen variations on minced spicy tuna? Are you all crazy?!

And okay, I’ll grant you that the Starbucks mint and matcha isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, it’s just not my cup of tea. If, however, you’re dead set on adding fruit to green tea for some reason, why are we dabbling in such total non-sequitors as mango and passion fruit? Let’s all just be frothright and admit that no one has ever made a good-tasting mango flavor additive. Whether it’s been distilled from the juices or ginned up in a lab, mango flavoring has never worked well as a flavoring for other foods. Just let mango be mango. Muddling the mix, TJ’s throws some in passion fruit flavoring, a fruit that, in a blind taste test, I wouldn’t be able to identify in it’s natural state.

This is a classic example of less being more. Green tea is a great, nuanced, clean taste in it’s own right. It needs to be given room to express itself. Throw in a bunch of flavorings and you end up with a beverage that is passable at best, but never excellent. If you must add a fruit to it, and I recommend against this, then keep it to something equally simple a clean. A hit of strawberry or something, not just a bunch of tropical fruit.

I could go on forever about this product, it perplexes me so. Instead, I’ll just briefly nit-pick a couple more things. One, it comes in a giant tin of loose powder. This is sloppy, lends itself to big messes and benefits no one. I would guess it’s packaged this way because Two, the serving size is a hefty 4 teaspoons per 7 oz cup. That’s not a ridiculous number until you notice that Three, the prime ingredient is sugar, which means this is no health drink lady. They also misuse the word matcha on the package, but really at this point I’m just pooped out.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: No, it’s just not very good tasting.

Would I Buy It Again: Man, are you clownin’ me?

Final Synopsis: Basing a sweet tea mix around green tea and tropical fruit is a mistake, and people should stop doing it.


Family Tree Farms Plumogranate Plumcot (Pluot)

Plumogranate Plumcot

The Plumogranate Plumcot. I’m apologizing to my spell check already.

Trader Joe’s continues to populate their food aisles with the occasional eccentric choice from some 3rd party vendor. So far, with few exceptions, these has failed to entice me with the levels of eccentricity and full out cheekiness that Trader Joe’s brings to their food products, and so I have passed them by with a sniff of my nose. There was no passing up this boggling fruit today. Any food whose name makes me do a double take, then makes me stare at the name as I try to puzzle it out, then makes me doubt my own sanity, gets an in any day.

Plumogranate Plumcots. Plumcots, I suppose I am to take it, of the plumogranate variety. An already twisted noun strapped onto an adjective that might be an out and out act of war on the English language. A plumcot, as you might have experienced at some point in your life, is the result of cross-breeding a plum and an apricot. Alternatively, you may have encountered a pluot, which is the very same thing but which sometimes goes by a different name due to a trademark battle to tedious to get into here.

That’s fine. I’m not happy with people going around, brandishing clumsy, uninspired, fruit-based portmantaus, but that’s the world we live in and I’ve made my peace with it. Plumogranate, on the other hand, is beyond the pall for me. I have a short list of words that I will never ever say out loud, and plumogranate is sitting in fresh ink at the bottom.

I picked up this piece of fruit based on the very exciting assumption that Family Tree Farms had somehow managed to breed a pomegranate with a plum with another plum with an apricot, and were selling them for $0.50 a pop in a big cardboard box over by the dog food. The reality is somewhat of a let down. The plumogranate plumcot is simply a sub-genre of plumcot with ruby red flesh and a very high antioxidant count. (Allegedly, we’re talking quadruple the amount of antioxidants found in a pomegranate, but I have been unable to substantiate this claim, and therefore will not commit it to print.).

So the name is unwieldy, annoying and misleading. The taste, however, is perfectly wonderful. It’s a good fruit that does well on first bite and in the mouth, but also costs considerably more than its basically similar parents. The promise of the plumcot and reason it still exists, is because it combines the smooth, thin skin of the apricot with the chewier, meatier flesh of the plum. Despite the evocation of the pomegranate in the title there is nothing of the tartness of the pomegranate in the fruit. It is sweet and mellow throughout – very sweet actually. Hold one of these close to your nose and inhale, the alluring aroma of complex fructose is not lying to you, it’s sweet. This is a fruit perfect for desert, baked on a grill, juiced with citrus or just eaten raw – if you don’t mind throwing down at fifty cents a piece.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you’re looking for a sweet summer fruit to slot between the peaches and cherries.

Would I Buy It Again: No. Unless the antioxidant thing is true, this hybrid didn’t stand out enough to replace its parents.

Final Synopsis: A tasty hybrid that costs too much to replace a good plum or apricot.

Plumogranate Plumcot - Nutrition Facts

Plumogranate Plumcot – Nutrition Facts (Approximate)


Trader Joe’s 4 Dried Whole Persimmons

Trader Joe's 4 Dried Whole Persimmons

They are being very clear about how many you get. You get four.

What a totally cool item – good job Trader Joe’s! Four frozen (frozen!) tiny, whole persimmons served straight to you from Korea. Even with your history of craziness, that was an unexpected move, TJ. Nothing could have called out to me more – a tiny, dark box, sitting next to the ice cream as if it were no big deal, a total mystery even as it plainly stated that it was, in fact, 4 dried whole persimmons. It’s the sort of boldly simple statement that’s impossible to let slide – like a man who walks up to you on the street and says he can eat his own fist. What does that mean? Why are you even here? Unable to resist the pull, I took the mystery box home to investigate.

With such a straightforward title as Trader Joe’s 4 Dried Whole Persimmons you would think no one should be surprised by what they’re going to get. And yet I was more surprised by this product than I’ve ever been by anything at Trader Joe’s. I’ve covered persimmons before – I delved into the ins, the outs, and the evocative poetry of the fruit when I covered them here. Before opening the box, that’s exactly what I was expecting – four mushed up, wrinkled and brown hachiya persimmons, served cold. What I got were tiny works of art. Check these out:

Trader Joe's 4 Dried Whole Persimmons - Frozen

Examine that delicate whiteness tracing the edges of the fruit – since these were just taken from the freezer you might expect that to be frost. It’s not though, it’s actually the fruit’s own crystallized sugar, extruded through the skin during the long drying process and carefully preserved.

The delicacy of the dried, whole persimmon is known as gotgam in Korea and by other names in China, Japan and Vietnam. What everyone can agree on is that they’re a delicious, sweet treat. Trader Joe’s, in their continual bid for excellence, has sourced these persimmons directly from the green rolling hills of Gyeongbuk, South Korea where they are harvested each fall and then immediately dried and frozen. The drying part is common world wide – it’s the freezing part that’s uniquely Korean. Functionally meant as a way to preserve the sugary, moist fruit for the long term, it also makes for a unique way to cool down in the summer heat with a totally natural treat.

Although I’m a big fan of this strange item on the grounds of it’s unusual nature alone, there’s less I can say about the taste. Despite being frozen, these dried persimmons taste just like any other dried persimmon. Their beautiful exteriors don’t do anything to change that wonderful sweet and mealy persimmon taste of sweet potato, pumpkin and brown sugar. This isn’t a bad thing, I like the taste of persimmon, but it doesn’t really make a case for the exotic freezing, high price ($3.99 for four persimmons), or TJ’s breathless product copy.

The value of this item comes from the mystique surrounding it. If you can produce your fancy box of frozen persimmons to a few choice friends (or kids), read off the box copy (“made from the perfectly ripe hachiya persimmons of Gyeongbuk”), and pass around the gorgeous treats you’ll make a memory. Beyond that, there isn’t much difference between these and any other dried persimmon you may choose.


Breakdown:

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, if you’re a persimmon fan looking for a single memorable experience or a Korean ex-pat.

Would I Buy Them Again: The appeal of these is primarily in their novelty, so no.

Final Synopsis: Like regular dried persimmons, but colder.

Trader Joe's 4 Dried Whole Persimmons - Nutrion Facts

Trader Joe’s 4 Dried Whole Persimmons – Nutrion Facts


Trader Joe’s Boysenberry Fruit Bar and Trader Joe’s Apple & Raspberry Fruit Wrap

Trader Joe's Dried Fruit Bars, Boysenberry, Passion Fruit, Raspberry, Apricot

Boysenberry? Who does boysenberry?

Holy of holy’s folks, it’s a two for one review today.

I, like many Trader Joe’s regulars, have passed up the bracketfuls of dried fruit bars at the checkout lines on countless occasions. Finally, not unlike with their chocolate nibs, the persistence of their offering has succeeded in wearing down my defense, leading me to pick up both the Trader Joe’s Boysenberry Fruit Bar and the Trader Joe’s Apple and Raspberry Fruit Wrap.

Trader Joe's Organic Fruit Wraps - Apple-Strawberry, Apple-Blueberry, Apple-Strawberry

Fruit wraps that, enigmatically, are not wrapped around anything at all.

Are these strips of pounded fruit good enough to quality as an impulse purchase? Are they secret delicious treasures, or uninspired after thoughts. More importantly, how do they match up against each other? To answer all these questions and more I unwrapped and bit in.

Mash up some fruit with some pectin, and sugar, leave to dry. That’s about all there is to a fruit bar/ wrap – so why are there two different, competing brands? And why market one a as a bar and one as a wrap? Which is superior? Are we seeing a rehash of the classic Fruit Roll-Up / Fruit Leather rivalry in the TJ microcosm? Is this the manifestation of rival department heads battling it out to lay claim to the under-a-dollar-fruit-based-strip-snack-impulse-buy crown? For the purposes of this post I’m certainly going to assume so.

In charge of the Fruit Bar Division (Boysenberry, Apricot, Raspberry, Strawberry, Passionfruit) we have Jerry O’Conal, 42 trim, and coincidentally homophonic twin of actor Jerry O’Connell.

In charge of the Fruit Wrap Division (Apple-Raspberry, Apple-Banana, Apple-Blueberry, Apple-Strawberry) is Igmar Eisenlumb or “Iron Tusk”, a German immigrant, also 42 and trim.

Jerry’s Irish-Catholic upbringing and growing up in the shadow of his over-achieving older brother, has generated a deep, almost neurological compulsion to succeed in his every endeavor  Conventional wisdom holds that Jerry cannot be stopped. Igmar immigrated to Boston at a young age, where he picked up a Southie accent he has never totally shaken. His unusual past and a tendency to ruthlessly apply logic to every situation has rendered him a perpetual outsider – albeit one with an exceptional track record in the fruit wrap field.

Obviously the scene is set for an incendiary confrontation. Let’s see how Jerry and Igmar’s combatants stack up, shall we?

Table 1-2: Fruit Bar/Fruit Wrap Battle

 
Trader Joe’s Fruit Bars
Trader Joe’s Fruit Wraps
Legible font?
Not really (Bosenberrn?)
Very legible
Handmade?
Yes
No
100% Dried Fruit?
Yes
Yes
Sugar Added?
No
No
Kosher in New Zealand?
Yes
No
Entirely made of fruit from British Columbia?
No
Yes
Certified Organic?
No
Yes
Cost
$0.59
$0.49
Weight
20 grams
14 grams
Calories
50 calories
50 calories
Total Carbs
14 grams
12 grams
Grams from Sugar
13 grams
11 grams
Grams from Fiber
1.5 grams
Less than 1 gram
Breaks the iron law of arithmetic?
Yes
Yes, but not as badly
Is it actually a wrap?
No
No
Apples in it?
Some
Oh yeah
Basically just fruit leather?
Yes
Yes, but stickier

As you can see, the outcome is far from decisive. The fruit bars are slightly more filling, with more fiber packed into the same number of calories, and more exotic varieties to choose from. On the other hand, the fruit wraps are certified organic,  but harder to handle.

The important takeaway from this is that both Jerry and Igmar should take a step back and see that their differences are minuscule and that both products are essentially identical. Are they both good to eat? Absolutely, they both taste like delicious, preservative free, all natural, fruit leather.  If you need a fruit bar from Trader Joe’s either of these will do you just fine. If forced at gun point I’d go with the fruit bar over the fruit wrap because, in the end, I like my fingers to be clean.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I’d recommend either of these to anyone interested in revisiting their childhood lunch bag or fixing their kid’s sweet tooth.

Would I Buy Them Again: I might pickup a few Fruit Bars for a car trip or hike.

Final Synopsis: Fruit leather, by any other name, tastes just the same.


Trader Joe’s Cultured Coconut Milk – (Blueberry & Vanilla Flavors)

Trader Joe's Cultured Coconut Milk (in Blueberry and Vanilla)

Cultured coconut milk, not yogurt. How could you even begin to confuse the two?

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.


Breakdown

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.

Trader Joe's Coconut Milk Culture (in Blueberry and Vanilla) - Nutritional Information

Trader Joe’s Coconut Milk Culture (Blueberry) – Nutritional Information


Trader Joe’s Raspberry and Vanilla Cream Bars

Trader Joe's Raspberry and Vanilla Cream Bars

Behold the clever angle the bars are displayed at. Surely the stick is down there somewhere, right? Just out of view maybe?

I don’t normally review items that are obviously delicious. For example, I’m not writing a review of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels.

Trader Joe’s Raspberry and Vanilla Cream Bars would seem to fall into this category. I mean, frozen fruit juice bars? It’s not like no one’s every thought of doing this before. Do you really need to be told if you’ll like this or not – especially if you’re at Trader Joe’s where, if you’re in the mood for a frozen fruit bar, you have a choice of about three options?

Let’s just consider the ingredient list – raspberries, sugar, vanilla, cream. Does this sound like something you’d like to eat in a frozen bar form? Of course it does! It really seems like a waste of perfectly good turns of phrase, not to mention everyone’s time, to dig much deeper.

So that’d be it, article over, if it wasn’t for the fact that someone in the Trader Joe’s corporate chain of command is either a twisted madman, or a genius in thrall of a dream beyond our comprehension. In either case the visions that torment him have been made manifest in this bar for, you see, this bar has no stick.

NO STICK. It’s just a little plastic envelop with a lump of frozen fruit and cream in it.

In all honesty, Trader Joe’s expects you to take out one of the small bags, tear open the plastic wrapper, and devour their Raspberry and Vanilla Cream bar right there as is. There is simply no way to take it out of the wrapper without sticky-ing your fingers. I suppose you could drop it onto a plate, at which point you will stare at the sad, stick-less lump and wonder why TJ’s would do such a thing.

The history of civilization is the story of man striving to develop the perfect frozen treat delivery system – whether sandwiched between cookies, pushed up a cardboard tube, enrobed in chocolate and wrapped in foil, served in tiny tubs, sugar cones, waffle cones or chocolate-dipped waffle cones progress has marched on! And throughout it all the stick has remained most simple, most pure and cost effective method – the father and platonic ideal of all frozen treats delivery systems. All this progress out the window!Trader Joe’s is trying to single-handedly undo all the progress frozen novelties have achieve in the past centuries and drag it kicking and screaming back to the dark ages.

This is madness Trader Joe’s! Put sticks in your fruit & cream bars! We are not animals! We will not mess our faces like beasts at the trough. If you wanted to serve ice cream in a little pouch, than call it ice cream in a little pouch. Don’t call it a bar and stick it in with the rest of the iced novelties as if that were somehow sane.

Also, the bars are a little bit small. Each bar comes in at 40 grams, or 1.4 ounces, which makes them about as big as your cell phone’s battery back, or about two bars of guest soap set side to side. That’s may not be much to chew on, but the cream is so sweet and the fruit so rich that it eats slow It is an intense and delicious taste sensation that brims over with real raspberry taste and sweet vanilla cream that would lend itself to slowly nibbling – if only it had a stick.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you don’t mind tiny bars that are doomed to be messy.

Would I Buy It Again: No, it’s just not fun to eat.

Final Synopsis: A delicious bar, fatally flawed by the lack of a stick.

Trader Joe's Raspberry and Vanilla Cream Bars - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Raspberry and Vanilla Cream Bars – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers

Trader Joe's Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers

Disappointingly, the banana tree leaves are not included.

Like another syntactically ambiguous citrus product, Trader Joe’s Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers confounds the English tongues ability to parse. Come on TJ, is this a Thai preparation of shrimp with lime, or Thai limes on shrimp?

Spurned to action by this irksome lack of clear-sightedness, I threw myself into a burst of quick detective work. The answer, it turns out, lurks in the ingredients.

I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, proudly listed on the second line, the kaffir lime.

Yes, the kaffir lime – the very sort commonly used in Thai cuisine! A Thai lime, if you will. Long did I suspect this particular ingredient was one of those overly elaborated upon nouns used for marketing purposes – as in “optic white” or “full serving”.

The truth is quite to the contrary. Kaffir limes are not just a distinct species, smaller, uglier and native to southeast Asia, but are also largely inedible. In fact, kaffir limes are used in cooking not for their citric juices, like the garden variety lime, but for the fragrance of their leaves. A grilled shrimp spritzed with citrus is delicious, but this isn’t that. This is a shrimp prepared in a very Thai way, with the aroma of lime but not its zest.

Trader Joe’s Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers come uncooked but ready to pop on the oven or grill for your non-bar mitzvah party event. The box holds five skewers of five shrimp, each simply herbed with flakes of the kaffir lime leaf and assorted other spices. The taste is subtle, but distinct – laying on top of the shrimp taste as a counterpoint rather than working with it like a butter or cream.

The end result is a simple, and simply prepared, dish that captures the taste of Thai cuisine. The taste is difficult to summarize, after all kaffir lime leaf is not that common here in the West, but if you’ve ever had a Thai curry or Tom Yum Gai you’ve tasted it.

Trader Joe’s Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers would make a great addition to the buffet table, as a fun option for a family meal or, if you pluck the shrimp from their skewers, a fantastic addition to your curry or light noodle dish.

Two words of warning. First, don’t think “citrus” when you buy this – be ready for an exotic taste of Thailand.

Second, each skewer is as long as the box they come come in. If you’re prepping them on the range, make sure you have a big, and preferably square, skillet. I used my largest frying pan, but found I could only fit two skewers across it’s diameter at the same time. A square skillet eliminates such geometric hassles, as would cooking them up on the grill.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, to party planners or Asian cuisine dabblers.

Would I Buy It Again: Next time I tire of ordinary shrimp.

Final Synopsis: An easy, healthy way to get a taste of Thailand.

Trader Joe's Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers - Nutritional Information

Trader Joe’s Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers – Nutritional Information


Trader Joe’s Quince Paste

Trader Joe's Quince Paste

Behold the quince – the most bourgeois of all fruits.

What is quince? And what, really, is paste? These are two questions I found myself wrestling with as I held Trader Joe’s Quince Paste in my hand. Some serious research would have to be done, that I was sure of, but would it all be worth it in the end? With my trademark, devil-may-care laugh I tossed the quince paste into my basket and checked out – ready, as always, to gamble on a reckless impulse. If only I knew then what I know now – that I’d just been duped into buying an inferior product!

Trader Joe’s Quince Paste was so prettily packaged, hanging on the rack like a pack of new cards, and so exotically named (not jelly, not jam – but paste) that I just had to go for it. The package screams decadent exoticism – quince! Imported for New Zealand! Perfect compliment to artisanal cheese! I was unbearably excited to get it home, sit down with my block of Trader Joe’s Quintupled English Cheese and try it out. You, my good friend, need not get so excited yourself.

The quince paste is little more than a rather ordinary slab of jelly in unusual packaging. Paste, to me, calls to mind a thick, heavily textured spread – tomato paste, for instance, or bean paste, or a nice liver paté. This is just a jelly, maybe a bit thicker than ordinary jelly – a little bit – , but still just jelly.

So that’s illusion number one popped. If you’re looking for an exotic paste, don’t get this, because it’s gelatinous and jiggly and just a mundane, regular jelly.

But it’s still quince, right? Exotic quince, brought to us from far off shores? The fabled quince of legend – that Adam and Eve are rumored to have eaten ‘ere the fall? The fruit rumored to possess a sweet, intense aroma reminiscent of pineapple, guava, pear and vanilla all at once? The flesh of which is all but inedible while raw, but which transumtes to a sweet, translucent pink when cooked? That quince?

The very same. I’ve never had quince before – all the above has come to me by rumor, hearsay and Wikipedia articles – but this, I can tell you, does not live up to the legend. Trader Joe’s Quince Paste is so thoroughly processed and sugared up that it has lost any of it’s innate character. It just tastes sweet, with some faint fruity undertone that isn’t strong enough or distinct enough that you could put any sort of name to it.

I was forced to put my block of fine cheese down, disappointed. Quince paste isn’t a bad jelly, but it isn’t any more than a jelly, a jelly just like any other. If I had the dollars back, I’d spend it on a different, more interesting condiment, or at least a larger jar of some other regular jam. As it stands, if you buy Trader Joe’s Quince Paste you’ll have to be wowed by the exotic name alone – the product simply doesn’t do it.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: There’s nothing really to recommend it by.

Would I Buy It Again: Not while fine jellies, jams and preserves are available.

Final Synopsis: Try out a different jelly before bothering with this lackluster spread.