Well, it happened – a fall from grace I never saw coming. After and unending streak of not just good, but down right delicious salads, Trader Joe’s has finally served up a stinker. A salad that’s not just kind of bad, or hard to get down, or somewhat unpalatable. No, I found Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad actually inedible. Inedible! There’s almost nothing from Trader Joe’s I’ve found inedible – and that’s coming from the guy who actually finished off Trader Joe’s gelatinous Shrimp Nuggets. I’ve even managed to finish of things I don’t like (like that tub of marinated beets). But with this salad I just couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t for lack of trying either. I really wanted to like this salad. Salad is one of my favorite foods in the world. For me, discovering a new salad is like unearthing a small, rare treasure. How could this have happened?
Before I launch into my criticism here, I’m perfectly willing to admit that it’s probably my fault that I didn’t enjoy this salad. Trader Joe’s has such a stellar record with their salads that it’s hard for me to accept that they could put out one so completely unpalatable. The far more likely scenario is that I’m an uncultured heathen whose crude taste buds failed to appreciate the higher art the salad was devised by. I’m fully expecting to see some resounding condemnations of my review in the comment section and, frankly, I welcome them. I’d rather live in a world where I’m a confused nitwit than a world where Trader Joe’s puts out lame salads.
Okay, so on to the salad.
It’s awful, guys. Nothing in it really seems to work. I should have maybe been tipped off to this by the name – a combination of kale, soy beans, and sweetened cranberries just sounds like trouble. On the other hand, there’s nothing about roasted squash, quinoa and wheatberries that sounds like they’d be particularly delicious and I enjoy that salad so much that I’m actually eating it now, as I type this.
The first problem with the Kale and Edamame sald is, I think, the kale. There’s no other green in the salad but kale. I like me some kale in my salad – I loved TJ’s Cruciferous Crunch for exactly that reason – but kale needs to be used sparingly. It’s wonderful for texture and body, but when you make your salad out of nothing but kale, like TJ’s did here, it feels like you’re eating a pine tree from the tip down.
If you can get past the kale, you’ve still got to deal with the gangs of edamame soybeans, cranberries, grape tomatoes and scallions. These tastes just simply did not go together well for me. The sweetness of the cranberries fought against the waxiness of the beans, and the scallions practically reeked, overpowering the other tastes. The big, button-sized beans and whole tomatoes didn’t help either, it just made it so I had to take lots of giant mouthfuls.
Finally, and perhaps worst of all, was the salad dressing. The package bills it as a lemon herb dressing, and I had hope for it. The dressing looked thick and creamy perhaps, I reasoned, it would have just the right flavor to balance the rest of the salad’s intense elements. Sadly, it did not. The lemon herb dressing lacks sweetness, or tanginess or depth. What it delivers seemed more like mustard to me than anything – harsh and astringent, clashing with everything else in the bowl.
It was after the addition of the dressing, when I found myself sitting there chewing a huge mouthful of chopped kale covered with lemon juice and pungent herbs, that I simply put the fork down. I couldn’t go on. I need at least one good element in a food to muscle my way through it, one ray of light. In the case of Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Salad I couldn’t find any.
Would I Recommend It: No, just no.
Would I Buy It Again: It was such an unpleasant experience that I might have to get it again, just to convince myself it was real.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s worst salad.
Those word geniuses at Trader Joe’s have done it again, by gum! I never thought they’d top Avacado’s Number, and while Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch may not have dethroned my favorite math-pun named guacamole, it comes close. After all, who in this wide world of popular appeal and lowest common denominator chooses to name their product after a tongue-tangling Latinate family? Trader Joe’s, that’s who. Keep up the good work, whoever it was at Trader Joe’s who was in charge of that! Some R&D wonk, maybe!
The Cruciferous Crunch Collection, as is not at all clear from the title, is a bag of shredded kale, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage and red cabbage. It is, in short, the nightmare scenario of every little kid sitting down to the dinner table. Back in the day that would have been me panicking at the site of kale, however since growing to adulthood I’ve developed a certain fondness for robust salads. To the modern day me, this bag of greens is a god send. The texture and heft of your greens are aspects of salads that go criminally under appreciated. Every time you’ve ever sat down do a cold plate of watery iceberg lettuce, someone has taken the texture and heft of their salad greens for granted. The absolute bastards.
Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch mix brings vibrant tastes and textures to your salad, shading the other elements with the nutritious, nutty flavor of kale, the crunch of crisp shredded cabbage, and the dense chewiness of sliced Burssels sprouts. Throwing an handful of two of this mix in with your bed of baby spinach, romaine or, dear I say it, arugula, is the easiest thing you could do to upgrade your entire salad experience.
A word or two must be spared for the outre name of this bag of greens. Cruciferae is the Latin family name for a whole range of of dark, leafy greens – from broccoli to wasabi – and refers to the cross shaped leaves of the plants. Confusingly, cruciferous plants are also known under the more generally used family name brassicaceae, for no good reason other than to make trouble for botanists. I assume Trader Joe’s opted for cruciferous over brassicaceous because it’s marginally easier to pronounce, and because “Cruciferous Crunch Collection” sounds better than “Brassicaceous Bunch Bag”.
In any case, I would certainly assert that the bag is amazingly named, and that if you’re at all a fan of good, satisfying salads this is an essential addition to your fridge’s crisper drawer.
Would I Recommend It: To salad makers everywhere.
Would I Buy It Again: I already have.
Final Synopsis: An awesome name for an awesome bag of salad greens.
Ah, another delicious salad from Trader Joe’s – but like most TJ’s salads, their Broccoli Slaw and Kale Salad with White Chicken Meat has a unique set of quirks and shortfalls. Somewhere out there is the perfect Trader Joe’s salad, and while I’ve come close before it still eludes me. Nevertheless I press on, searching for that pot of leafy greens at the end of the rainbow.
Things get a bit weird from the word go as we face the fact that this is a kale-based salad – an uncommon choice in a world of iceberg and baby spinach. I have been underwhelmed by kale before, but at least now it’s being utilized for it’s intended purpose. Kale is a tough, flavorful leaf – a mess of roughage just waiting to scrub your insides clean, and as such demands a flavorful and carefully balanced composition to justify such a bold base. TJ’s finds exactly this with the addition of such hearty ingredients as cranberries, sunflower seeds, a coarse grating of broccoli slaw white chicken meat and, though it goes unheralded on the label, finely sliced red onion. Thin shavings of red onion are one of my favorite additions to any salad and they do beautifully here, adding a bit of zing to the broad, nutty flavors of the kale and sunflowerseeds.
What works a little less well for me is the broccoli slaw. Not that I have anything against broccoli slaw – in fact I buy Trader Joe’s Broccoli Slaw by the bagful for use in my own salads. That, however, is exactly the problem. The broccoli slaw on this salad is indisputable the same kind they’re peddling to me from the produce aisle three feet to my left. While that doesn’t necessarily drive me into a rage or anything, it does make me feel a bit cheap.
I suppose it was a little naive of me to think that Trader Joe’s might have a separate storehouse of special ingredients they use to make their salads and that weren’t just dipping into the common trough of their consumer goods and slapping something together. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see someone get dressed up if they’re courting your tastes. If you look at your little pail of food and realize it’s just just a diverted conveyor belt away from whatever goes into the bulk, economy bags the magic fades a little.
Aside from that rather abstract gripe, there’s only one other thing that bothers me about this otherwise very fine salad – the salad dressing. The packaging bills it as a “Sweet and Spicy Vinaigrette” which begins to approach the truth of the matter but then explodes in a burst of absurdity. Sweet and spicy? Yes, and very tasty to boot. Vinaigrette? Not on any planet I’m familiar with. The thick dressing that rolls sluggishly about its little plastic tub has more in common with 1000 Island than any vinaigrette I’ve seen in my life. In fact, a quick survey of the ingredients, or a quick taste, reveals that the dressing is primarily made from mayonnaise. Is this bad? Not necessarily, certainly not if you don’t mind a delicious but hugely fatty dressing on your kale. For my part, I substituted in Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinaigrette and was much happier for it.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – even if you’ve never liked kale before you might like this.
Would I Buy It Again: Despite a couple short-comings, absolutely.
Final Synopsis: A robust, healthy salad with an unhealthy dressing.
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.