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.
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.
Flavored vodkas, you guys. You see them up there on the billboard, looking all delicious, sparkling glasses wreathed in sweet, exotic flowers and boughs heavy with succulent berries. It makes you think, Damn, that looks delicious. So you get some and try and sip and you remember, a deep grimace crawling over your face , Oh yeah, it’s still just vodka.
Fruit infused, unsweetened tea is just the same way. You crack open a bottle, take a sip – and you grimace. Why the hell are they putting fruit in it if it isn’t sweet?, you ask, but the bottle is silent. It has no answers for you, only the tea.
Honestly, it’s beyond me as well. Same goes for fruit-infused, unsweetened water. You don’t see it quite as much as you used to in the 90’s, but it’s still out there, lurking on the highest rack of the grocery store shelves, slowly gathering dust.
These drinks fall squarely into the acquired taste category, no one ever picked up one of these drinks and fell in love with it out of the blue. Not in the America I know. Drinks like this blueberry and pomegranate green tea are the fall backs of people who, for one reason or another, simply can’t enjoy a beverage sweetened to all get out by high-fructose corn-syrup but can’t quite make a clean break of additive flavoring. Maybe it’s their health, or maybe it’s their conscience that’s got them, I don’t know.
So it’s a weird category I have to judge this bottled drink against. It’s not sweet, as advertised, but the fruit flavoring gives it a tongue-tingling taste that makes you wish it were. Blueberry is a fine taste, but I have to take umbrage here with pomegranates. I love pomegranates, they are easily in my top 5 favorite fruits of all time (FFOAT), top 3 even. There is nary a more delectable experience than splitting open a pomegranate and the leisurely plucking of it’s juicy seeds. That said, the horse has been beaten to a brutal death, long, long ago. The question I have to ask is, who was the madman who decided to start flavoring everything with it. Did he ever taste the pomegranate? Did he not realize, it’s tart as hell? Tart as shit even? Flavor something with pomegranate juice and the moment it hits your tongue it curls up and then goes dead for ten minutes. It has the same effect here – lending it’s astringent properties to the already slightly astringent green tea. The net effect? A tea that let’s you know when it’s been drunk. This is no guzzling tea, like the awesome Teajava, but a sipping tea. A tea that tells you what to do and how long to do it for. “Just a little bit,” it says, “Stop now.”
Is this a terrible thing? Not necessarily, it certainly makes the tea last, but between the tartness on the tongue and the way it leads you on without actually being sweet makes me relegate this to a highly selective drink I might enjoy once per summer, if parched on a hot day at the beach.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, but only if you’re already a buyer of unsweetened fruit-infused beverages (grandma’s, etc)
Would I But It Again: Once a year, maybe.
Final Synopsis: Good tea, but I just don’t get it.