Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are the answer to the unasked question of “What would happen if you just kept on dehydrating mango?” The result? These dehydrated, crispy (and, yes, crunchy) mango chips bring you all of that sweet mango flavor, without getting your fingers sticky.
Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are just the latest addition to Trader Joe’s “Crispy Crunchy” fruit snack line. Previously we looked at TJ’s Crispy Crunch Jackfruit Chips and ruminated in an abstract way if it was possible to cook jackfruit bonda with them. While the jackfruit chips didn’t blow me away, the second I saw this new mango variety I knew I had to pick them up. Long time readers of this blog know that I have a certain, pathological addiction to that sweet, heavenly expression of nature’s golden teet also known as MANGO. I will lie for mango. I will steal for mango. If you get in between me and that luscious fruit, I’ll even kill for mango. These may be simple tenets to live by but they’ve served me well or, at least, ended up getting me a ton of mango.
I’ve held off on reviewing any mango based products for a while now (more than a year?!) because once those floodgates open, they’re hard to close again. In this case I relented, simply because dehydrated mango chips weren’t something I’ve ever seen before.
Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips take whole slices of thick, succulent, juicy mango and dehydrates them down into little, withered, french fry-sized sticks. Surprisingly, this is actually much better than it sounds. The resulting chips end up being light and very crispy, with plenty of satisfying snap and crunch. These wouldn’t be great qualities in and of themselves, if it wasn’t for the intense mango flavor that is packed in each chip. Through the dehydrating process, TJ’s managed to retain and concentrate much of that sweet mango flavor. Snap into one and you’ll be shocked at how flavorful each bite is. They’re not as sweet as the actual mango itself, but they bear far more resemblance to it than you would expect – certainly much more than your average apple chip or banana chip bears to their progenitor fruits.
The fact that there is some slight reduction is sweetness is actually a good thing. A ripe mango can be so sweet that eating even one is overpowering. By moderating the sweetness, these chips become much more snackable. In fact, they approach the perfect index of snackability – packed full of flavor, sweet, crunchy, easy to eat, and portable. It’s easy to munch on just one of these chips at a time, nibbling one down and enjoying the experiencing before going back to the back for the next one – a much more enjoyable experience than jamming handful after handful of Lays potato chips into your mouth.
I’ve never regarded dehydrated fruit chips as a particularly high-level snack . I’ve always felt they’re only really sold to people seeking a moderately healthier form of junk food. Since that defeats the purpose of junk food, and dehydrated fruit is often expensive, I’ve never really sought them out. These mango chips have turned me all around on the issue. These aren’t just another half-hearted substitute for genuinely tasty chips, they’re a superior snack food in their own right – more savory, more healthy, and more enjoyable than any bag of lays you’ll ever find.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, these are a superior snacking experience.
Would I Buy Them Again: I’d pick these up over a can of Pringles any day.
Final Synopsis: Tasty, simple, dehydrated snack food with loads of mango flavor.
Back when I reviewed Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning I was delighted to discover it was one of Trader Joe’s hidden gems. Easy to overlook on shelves full of peppercorn grinders and rock salt, this South African style seasoning is imbued with a whole different dimension of flavor – the savory, rich taste of smoked meat.
When used on hamburger, steak, chicken, or anything you might like to barbecue, it’s a killer seasoning that brings to the fore the richer, meatier flavors hidden in any meat – a little magic touch of South African umami.
Of course Trader Joe’s would be Trader Joe’s if they could just leave it there. Which has lead, apparenlty, to Trader Joe’s throwing this seasoning designed for meat onto potato chips with the new Trader Joe’s Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning.
It’s an innovation that could go either way. On the one hand, we live in an age of out-of-control potato chip creativity. Bold, daring and, some might say, insane flavors of potato chips are not just possible to find, but aggressively marketed from supermarket shelves. 10 years ago about the most “out there” chip you could find was jalapeno. Nowadays you can dabble in the sorts of epicurean excess that would have made Nero take note. Chicken & waffle flavored potato chips, mac & cheese, wasabi ginger, balsamic vinegar & rosemary, – even cappuccino, by god, cappuccino! It’s an age of snack madness, and one that Trader Joe’s is clearly unafraid to get in on. Already they’ve weighed in on with their non-standarad Beurre Meuniere Popcorn. Throwing a meat seasoning onto potato chips is almost tame by comparison.
So we can’t doubt the boldness of Trader Joe’s resolve or vision – the question is, does this seasoning actually go well on potato chips. The answer, sadly, is no.
The same qualities that make the South African Smoke Seasoning so savory on meat work against it here – it’s simply too salty and strong tasting for the simple potato chips. Divorced of a meat base, the seasoning has nothing to work off of. The result is sort of like throwing a handful of the seasoning directly into your mouth. It’s not that the taste of the seasoning is bad, it’s simply overpowering. When used on a grilled steak or hamburger, the smoke seasoning simply blends in to the complex profile of the flavors at hand. Here, on its own, it has the very strong taste of bratwurst, or as one taste tester put it, “burnt hot dog”.
How much you’re going to like these chips, then, depends on how much you like that heavy, bratwurst taste, without getting the juicy bratwurst bite. This wouldn’t be as much of a dealer breaker if it wasn’t for the strength of the taste. Trader Joe’s isn’t mincing around here – each chip is blasted with a full on shot of seasoning that is close to overwhelming. These chips are best not eaten by the handful, but slowly, one by one, or not at all.
For me the intensity of the flavor simply didn’t work together very well. Between the serious saltiness, and the heavy seasoning these chips tended to overshadow whatever I was eating them with. When your potato chips taste more like hot dogs than the hot dogs themselves, it’s generally not a good thing.
The chips may not work very well as chips because of the seasoning, but what if they were the seasoning. That barely coherent thought is what lead me to cook up the recipe below – country fried steak, with crushed potato chips instead of breading.
Trader Joe’s South African Style Seasoning Potato Chip-Fried Steak
- 2 steaks, about 1/2″ thick
- 1 cup flour (any sort, I don’t care)
- 1 cup pulverized Trader Joe’s African Style Seasoning Potato Chips
- 2 or 3 eggs, beaten
- About a 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Maybe a delicious gravy?
- Pulverize the hell out of your chips. You can do this with a food processor, or by putting them in a baggy and smashing the hell out of them. (This is the most fun part of the recipe.)
- Spread the flour around in one dish, and the potato chip dust in another dish.
- Have the eggs ready in another dish or shallow bowl.
- Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour. (This is the third most fun part of the recipe)
- Dredge the meat in the potato chips dust, followed by the egg, and finally in the potato chips again. (This is the second most fun part of the recipe.)
- Repeat these steps with all the meat.
- Place enough of the vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a skillet and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully add the meat.
- Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.
- Serve the steaks (with some of the delicious gravy?)
Notes: This recipe delivers a crunchier steak than you might otherwise get, and the African Smoke Seasoning lends it’s helping hand, giving it a robust, BBQ sort of taste.
Turning chips into the seasoning instead of just adding the seasoning directly might be considered taking the long way around, and that’s a fair criticism, but dammit we live in the world of the Mini Waffle Stick Maker and Segway. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in an unnecessarily, silly way.
A delicious gravy is bound to help these steaks out, but that’s beyond the purview of this post.
Would I Recommend It: Not unless you usually feel your brautwurts aren’t brautwursty enough.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t think so.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s excellent south african style seasoning should stick with meat instead of potatoes.
Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds are a fine, crispy cracker, though it’s applications are limited. More interesting, I’d say, is that they decided to put pumpkin in a pita chip at all.
Accuse Trader Joe’s of anything you want: that their interior décor is garish, that their food nomenclature is erratic at best, that they struggle with keeping listeria out of their salads, whatever – but I dare you to accuse them of not providing enough seasonal foods. I effin’ dare you. Because Trader Joe’s would kick your ass up and down the block if you even opened your mouth to say that. Have you seen the Fearless Flyer for this month yet? Taken a little peak inside? Let me just save you the trouble and summarize a few of the entries right here:
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Mix
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Toaster Pastries
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake Mix
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Soup
- Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
- Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cheesecake
- Trader Joe’s Organic Canned Pumpkin
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee
- Trader Joe’s Pumpin Spice Rooibos
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Croissants
- Pilgrim Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Macaroons
- Trader Joe’s Country Pumpkin Granola
- Trader Joe’s Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bar Baking Mix
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Body Butter
- Trader Joe’s “This Pumpkin Walks Into a Bar” Pumpkin & Cereal Snack Bars
- Trader Joe’s Greek Pumpkin Yogurt
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps
- Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberry and Pumpkin Seeds
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Biscotti
- ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider
- KBC Pumpkin Ale
- Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Flavored Dog Treats
- Trade Joe’s Pumpkin Trees
- and, of course, regular Pumpkins
And I’m pretty sure this is only a partial list.
I swear to you I didn’t make any of this up – not even “pumpkin trees”, a phrase which you’d be entirely justified in using as an excuse to write off this blog as surreal and joke-prone if it weren’t actually, really a thing they really have.
Pumpkin dog treats? Pumpkin greek yogurt!?!? These people are goddamn crazy. This is not the output of a sane company. No one needs this many pumpkin products for fall – in fact, no one needs this many pumpkin products over the course of their entire lifespan.
Somebody get in there and restrain these lunatics. I’m not joking, someone is in serious need of restraint and possibly anti-psychotics. Somewhere in the upper offices of Trader Joe’s Monrovia enclave an executive is stomping around, frothing at the mouth, demanding more and more pumpkin dishes, occasionally bursting into the R&D department and executing employees for not thinking “pumpkin” enough. I wish I could think of an alternative scenario that would explain this level of pumpkin output, but I really can’t.
I can only imagine the chaos overtaking the Trader Joe’s processing facilities. Huge dump trucks full of pumpkins backed up down the road, honking at each other so they too can send their load tumbling into the giant pumpkin hopper, itself already clogged with huge, bright orange pumpkins as the special, industrial pumpkin masher below, a specialty unit flown in from Germany, overheats under the strain of too many pumpkins.
Which brings us to the first entry on the ludicrous list of Trader Joe’s pumpkin products – Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps and Pumpkin Seeds. I’ll be hitting as many of these items as possible before the end of pumpkin season and, arbitrarily, I’ve chosen to start here. Keep an eye on the pumpkin list though – I’ll update it with links to articles as I go.
These really are excellent crackers. Case in point, they’re made with whole wheat and whole seeds, they’re toasted to a crispy brown, and they’re made by a small family owned bakery in Canada. That’s a very nice pedigree.
The pita crisps find a very nice little spot between sweet and salty. The saltiness (sea salt) is quite slight, just enough to grace the tongue and heighten the sweetness (organic cane sugar and the sweetened cranberries). Neither is so strong that it detracts from the earthy, whole grain taste of the toasted wheat and roasted pumpkin.
The fact is, I’d probably have preferred the crackers more it they didn’t have the cranberries at all. It’s an excellent snacking cracker in and of itself, thick, with a nice snap and good crunch that isn’t too dry. The cranberry bits are fine, they lend a slight chewiness to each cracker in addition to their sweetness, but they also infuse it with a berry flavor that fights a lot of other foods. This means that you’re limited as to what you can eat these pita crisps with. Most cheeses are just fine, especially Trader Joe’s fruity goat cheeses, but that’s about it. However most dips, particularly hummus and salsa, clash with the berry taste, which really curtails their table top use.
As compliments to cheeses or eaten by themselves the crackers are very nice – they’re just going to have a hard time rising out of the novelty, holiday food niche.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, if you’re planning ahead to a nice cheese plate.
Would I Buy Them Again: Good though they are, I’ll be buying less specialized crackers in the future.
Final Synopsis: A very, very good cracker, but a bit too sweet to go with many foods.
If there’s one thing Trader Joe’s is good at, it’s making me do a double take. Case in point, Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls, a bag of puffed up, curly snack thing that blends seamlessly into the endless wall of junk food until you notice it the bag tacks on “A Tasty Lentil & Potato Snack!”
The first thing I’ll say is, I really wish they had made these into chips instead of crunchy spiral snack tubes, because there is no easy way to say “crunchy, spiral snack tube” in the English language. Let’s agree to call them “curlicues” right up front and get on with things.
So, TJ’s, why make a lentil and potato curlicue snack? Are there not plenty of crunchy snack options around? Is America not the land where you can walk down a 60′ long, triple-tiered aisle of snack chips every time you go to the supermarket? The land of the mighty Dorito, undulating Ruffle and tubular Pringle? Do you really think a bland looking, lentil and potato based thing that just happens to be a spiral is going to be able to stand it’s ground in the face of Cheetos, Funyuns, Bugles, Fritos, et al.?
Before we condemn these lentil-based curlicues with a thunderous cry of “Unnecessary!”, let’s look a bit closer. Notice, if you will, that Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls are both gluten free and vegan. It goes without saying that gluten free, vegan snack foods are few and far between in this world. Try a Google search for the term and have fun choosing from all three options you get. I have vegan friends, I feel for their plight. I know it must be hard to maintain your resolute moral bearing while guys like me stroll around stuffing their mouths with tender beast flesh, sauteed mushrooms, moist, flaky croissants, etc. A gluten-free, vegan snack crunchy, salty snack just answered a lot of people’s prayers.
The big question, of course, is if it’s actually worth buying. Unfortunately, these curlicues left me flat. The taste isn’t the problem – they’re salty enough to scratch that salty food craving but not so salty that you’re rushing for your glass of water. The lentil/potato flavor is palatable if uninteresting with that long, starchy aftertaste – basically similar to munching down on a few Lays at once. The thing that disappointed me was how hard and crunchy the curlicues were. I know “crunchy” is right there in the title, but this snack combines “crunchy” with “hard”. Because of the thickness of each curly cue, each bite is like a fresh assault on a fortified compound. You don’t have to worry about mindlessly munching these down – pop a handful in your mouth and you’ll be busy for a minute or so.
In the end, however, that’s quibbling. If you’re in the market for vegan / gluten-free chips, these are basically fine. You won’t hate them, and they’ll hold up in your hummus dip. If you’re under no such strictures, however, there isn’t much reason to prefer these over anything else in the aisle.
Would I Recommend Them: Only if you’re on a vegan / gluten-free diet.
Would I Buy Them Again: Barring a major lifestyle change, no.
Final Synopsis: A good snack food – for being vegan and gluten-free.
I did not intend to buy Trader Joe’s Cheddar and Horseradish Chips, not in the least. While it might seem like exactly the sort of misfit I’m drawn to, not unlike this insane chip mash up, this product just failed to grab my gustatory attention. Why, for instance, was this product championed as if it were unspeakable outré, by its own packaging nonetheless (“Cheddar and…horseradish?!”), but poor Beurre Meuniere Popcorn, released at exactly the same time, has been left omitted from the Fearless Flyer and left to languish in obscurity? Conspiracy? Perhaps. But in this case, as with the Elvis’ assassination by teamsters or New Coke, the conspiracy has won. Compelled, as if by forces beyond myself, I bought a bag and crunched in. What I found was much what I feared – a nice chip that is sharply spicy, sort of cheesy, but overall not as interesting as hoped for.
First, before I go all crazy on the mingling of tastes and all, a word on horseradish. I’ve often wondered just where the “horse” in horseradish comes from, a question that was piqued in my mind by the boldly emblazoned horseshoe on the package. It’s a common association, and one that’s all the more interesting given that the horseradish is actually poisonous to horses. Why the conflation? The answer can be traced back, like all else that is good in the world, to the filthy peasants of late 15th century England. Evidently, at some point a peon hefted one of these large roots before his eyes and remarked, “Cor, what a horse radish!” Horse being the word for “large” or “strong” at the time. The peasants, being no slouches, knew a good turn of phrase when they heard one, and the name stuck.
The presence of horseradish in these chips is downright undeniable. I was actually warned multiple times at the register by a cashier who was perhaps overly concerned that these chips were for horseradish lovers ONLY. I certainly fancy myself that, but at the risk of appearing haughty, I’d say a single, mild warning would do. There chips do come in with a sharp horseradish kick, but it flares out in half a second, sliding into a quick cool down and the arrival of some generic cheese flavor. Notably horseradishy definitely, but not quite a strong taste and nowhere near the real thing. While Trader Joe’s Cheddar and Horseradish chips do get hotter on the gongue than your standard, long-burn jalapeno chip, the effect is much shorter and the overall experience a milder one.
While the horseradish definitely delivers, there is less to talk about on the cheddar side of things. After the burn, the cheese taste is an anticlimax, muted and uninteresting by comparison. I’m not necessarily a fan of the super cheesy Cheetos approach to snack foods, but these chips could certainly benefit from a more complex flavor. The chip itself is thick, very crunchy, kettle-cooked and wavy – a strong chip that requires a moment to chew through and ensures you get the full horseradish blast.
Would I Recommend Them: Not particularly. Give’m a shot if you love horseradish, or need a new weird chip flavor.
Would I Buy Them Again: For me, these aren’t quite compelling enough.
Final Synopsis: A sharp, fun bite, followed by a more or less average chip.
Kale – who really knows anything meaningful about this stuff. I, like most of humanity I suspect, don’t pay much attention to the seemingly countless varieties of leafy green veggies that basically just go on salads. I do know someone who does care though, who cares deeply – Trader Joe’s. These guys push the kale hard – they really believe in kale. Where most retailers in the world might go “Maybe let’s hold back on the kale, I’m not sure this is something the public is really hungry for,” Trader’s Joe’s says, “Screw it – we’re doing kale chips.”
Now, I know kale chips are no new thing, and yes, you can find on the shelves of your Fresh and Easy and other idiosyncratic supermarkets, but the bold audacity of the TJ’s Kale Chips packaging, the outright assertiveness of the stuff, is what sets Trader Joe’s apart. How could I say no?
I could spend all day on the packaging honestly, a perplexing take on what it would be like if Superman was an air-crisped bowl of greens surmounted with the words “Meanwhile, zesty nacho…” This is, without a doubt, the least sensible thing I’ve ever read in a supermarket. TJ’s mad ad wizards were up late fabricating this head-scratcher, I’m sure. Presumably the kale-comic book mashup was the brain child of the same guy who thought up combining tropical islands and supermarkets.
The problem is that with all the set up, the overly free use of the adjective “super-duper”, the literal word “POW!” emblazoned on the front, etc, you can’t help but be disappointed by the drab, flaky, crusted up leaves you find inside. If it were up to me, I’d have stuck these in a nondescript, brown paper bag with the word “Kale chips” stenciled bleakly on the side and maybe a dreary man’s face staring listlessly out at you. Then at least the contents would look fun and exciting by comparison. As it stands, the kale chips resemble the packaging, and in particular the actual image of the chips on the front, as little as possible. They are dark olive drab instead of the depicted perky, spring green and rather than getting the crisp, individually differentiated chips I was promised I found leaves caked together in patties, or flaked across the bottom of the bag, more or less like fish food.
As for taste, well, there are two school of thought here. Let’s suppose you are on a serious diet, not an I-feel-chubby-I’m-cutting-back-on-the-chocolate diet, but real, I-don’t-fit-into-my-wedding-dress-and-the-ceremony-is-in-a-month diet. A serious diet. If you’re eating nothing but blocks of tofu and steamed broccoli I can see these “alternatives to traditional chips” being a delightful indulgence, and the hint of cheese-free crud crusted on them probably tastes like real nacho cheese. Such is the madness of a serious diet.
If, however, you live in the ordinary, lack-a-day world where Doritos and their ilk are cheap, plentiful and an occasionally justifiable snack, these bland, plant-y tasting flakes aren’t really worth the brittle, crumbly hassle – or the price tag.
A final tone – although billed as a chip alternative, compare these guys to a serving of Santitas Tortilla Chips (the ones in the ubiquitous yellow bag).
Trader Joe’s Kale Chips Santitas Tortilla Chips
Regular chips have less calories, less fat, and a carb difference which, though notable, is far from enough to make up for resorting to the much less satisfying, harder to eat kale chips.
Would I Recommend Them: Only to dieters who are starting to lose it.
Would I Buy Them Again: Never.
Final Synopsis: An ineffectual, not-quite tasty alternative to chips.
Another sweet and salty chip, but do these rather more sanely presented chips have anything on the milk chocolate potato chips?
I am, in no uncertain terms, a sweet potato lover, the oranger the better I say, but I’m an old school sweet potato lover. Give me ‘em whole and baked or smushed into Thanksgiving casserole and I’ll eat until I’m sick and all dieting resolutions have been obliterated. While I do enjoy sweet potato fries, I have to wonder if we need to sweet potato-ify everything once made from the common Idaho.
I was ready to abandon this idea when I bought Trader Joe’s Ridge Cut Sweet Potato Chips. It was the “ridge-cut” modifier in particular that caught my attention. Ridge-cutting is, and has always been, the domain of Ruffles (and Ruffle’s knock-offs). A ridge-cut (or crinkle-cut, in more proper kitchen nomenclature) potato chip is saying one thing to me – this is some serious snacky junk food. Ridge-cut chips are not bought to be rationally portioned out, they are bought to cram into your gob in handfuls while sitting in a darkened room, illuminated only by the flickering pale light of a TV screen playing a show designed to insult your intelligence. Also for picnics.
To achive this sort of status, however, a junk food needs to be straight forward and unengaging – not to challenge your taste buds, but to allow your body to slip steadily toward a sort of waking coma. What’s so strange about the sweet potato chip is that it doesn’t allow you to do this. The mild sweetness of the potato mingles strangely with the mild saltiness of the chip. Neither one is particularly forceful, and they allow the natural flavors of the sweet potato to come out. To me this was a disadvantage.
The chip had a strangely confused taste- leading my taste buds partly down one path, then partly down another. The overall effect was that it never really took me anywhere, not clashing, but not quite in harmony either. Because of the flavor mixture, I couldn’t find a dip or condiment that would suit them. Too sweet for ranch or salsa, too salty for a desert dip, it felt like these things were just meant to be eaten plain, but without a single strong taste to suck me in I couldn’t imagine snacking on them over a nice salty chip like Ruffles.
I know there is a lot of love for sweet potato products out there, but this product failed to win me over. It seemed to me it would have been a better product if it had been salt-free, letting the natural sweetness of the potato speak for itself.
Would I Recommend Them: No.
Would I Buy Them Again: I can’t think of a reason why.
Final Synopsis: A novel approach, but fails to do anything better than your average potato chip.