Trader Joe’s Meatless Breakfast Patties

Trader Joe’s Meatless Breakfast Patties are not sausages, but they’re not bad. I’ve reviewed Trader Joe’s vegetarian cuisine before, but I find it always puts me in a tricky position seeing as how I’m an unapologetic meat eater. Not only am I content to sit by while the lambs are, literally, led to the slaughter, but I’ll grill their corpses and eat them afterwards. This means that I’m not the target audience for things with names like “meatless breakfast patties”. Nevertheless, Trader Joe’s vegetarian output intrigues me – on both intellectual and gustatorial levels. Intellectually, I’m intrigued by the idea of vegetarians who want their food to look like meat, smell like meat and taste like meat, but find eating actual meat repugnant. Such internal conflict! Gustatorially, I’m curious about how close they can actually get these plant-based simulacra to the real deal.

The taste is close enough to real sausage that you might be fooled if you had to get up early enough. The smokiness and savoriness of roasted pig is somehow magicked into the wheat/soy patty via a variety of artificial flavorings. It’s not an exact match, but it’s close enough that even an inveterate meat eater like myself found it a reasonably pleasant breakfast substitute – closer to enjoyable than to tolerable. The flavor is helped in a big way by the very meaty smell, which is probably the closest match to an actual sausage product. Close your eyes as you cook these up on the skillet and you can loose yourself in the illusion of real pork.

The texture is where things break down, literally. While the taste is admirably close, nothing of the chewiness of real meat is present in the patties. The patties are surprisingly fragile, with a tendency to break in two or crumble while cooking. The skillet approach is particularly prone to disaster. As soon as the patties thaw they need to be flipped with great delicacy – too much handling and they’ll bust up into crumbs.

The microwave proved to be better for the integrity of the patties, but even then – once the cooked patties are removed you’ll notice that they have a tendency to break up under the fork. It’s this fragility that really breaks up the illusion that you’re eating meat. Under the pressure of tooth and tongue the meatless patty gives way immediately without any of the chewiness or resistance of actual meat.

This simply means that, as a meat eater, I have no reason to buy this product. As a hypothetical vegetarian, on the other hand, this is a surprisingly good bit of simulacra. While a more robust texture would be nice, I’m happy to trade chewiness for some pretty realistic flavor. Not unlike using turkey bacon in place of regular bacon, it isn’t exactly the real thing, but it’s close enough to get the job done.

The nutritional profile warrants a quick look as well. While not health food by any means, the meatless breakfast patties have it over on their meaty kin in a big way. 56% of the patties calories come from fat, which sounds like a lot, but is a world of difference from the ~90% fat you’d expect from a good ol’ Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage. Consider as well that each meatless patty only offers a meager 80 calories per patty and 56% fat isn’t all that terrifying. The bigger problem is eating enough of these to make it to lunch.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend These: Yes to vegetarians, no to meat eaters.

Would I Buy Them Again: Not unless my girlfriend joins PETA.

Final Synopsis: Good, for fake sausage.

Trader Joe's Meatless Breakfast Patties - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Meatless Breakfast Patties – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds Salad

Trader Joe's Seeds and Greens Salad

Greens and seeds *and* squash, is more like it.

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!


The Breakdown

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 Gorgonzola & Walnut Salad

Trder Joe's Gorgonzola & Walnut Salad

A very attractive old timey font on this salad. Not much else to brag about though.

Oh, Trader Joe’s your salads are so uneven. Sometimes your salads are so good that I do little dances in my kitchen, and sometimes they simply fall flat. Trader Joe’s Gorgonzola and Walnut salad seemed like it was going to land in the first category, but ended up squarely in the second – rather bland and generally unexceptional.

How do you go wrong with such a simple concept? This salad has the fewest ingredients I’ve seen in basically any salad ever. They are, all inclusively, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, gorgonzola and walnuts. Five ingredients, that’s it. Such a pure, simple recipe, such a confident delivery – it’s enough to make you think those few ingredients are actually enough to make the  salad taste good. It’s enough to make you think that gorgonzola and walnuts by themselves will be enough to make you sit up and go, “Yowza, I can’t believe this salad!” This, my friends, is not the case.

Gorgonzola has been served alongside walnuts since time immemorial, for the very good reason that they pair well. You’d think these two would be a delicious meal in and of themselves, salad or not. Splash a little  zingy balsamic vinaigrette on that, mix with some greens and you’d think we’d be talking about a definite winner. The fact that this salad actually tastes so plain and uninteresting is rather perplexing.

The problem here lays in the cheese. When you think of a nice gorgonzola, you’re probably picturing something like a rich, aromatic wedge of veined bleu cheese. This istandard gorgonzola, the most popular kind, is known as gorgonzola piccante or gorgonzola naturale. It is this type of firm, crumbly, strong tasting gorgonzola that isn’t packaged in this salad.  Instead, we are dealing with lumps of gorgonzola dolce, or “sweet” gorgonzola. This is your option B among gorgonzolas – a softer and much, much milder cheese.

I’m quite boggled as to why TJ’s went for this mild variety. The stronger gorgonzola naturale would have melded deliciously with the nutty bitterness of the walnuts and the acidic pop of the balsamic dressing. Instead, the mild gorgonzola dolce fades into the unimpressive wallpaper of the lettuce and cabbage. The overall effect is that you’re left with a salad that never really seems to get started.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not this one, no.

Would I Buy It Again: There are too many delicious salads at TJ’s to waste time on this one.

Final Synopsis: A perplexing cheese failure wrecks what could have been a great salad.

Trader Joe's Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad - Nutrtition Facts

Trader Joe’s Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad – Nutrtition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pizza Veggie Burgers

Trader Joe's Pizza Veggie Burgers

Not quite a burger and not really a pizza, but something new and interesting.

Pizza in a burger, folks. Think about that. Has it really taken us this long to combine two of America’s favorite foods into one delicious food? Isn’t that strange? What’s even stranger is that it took Trader Joe’s Pizza Veggie Burger to do it. I myself am an unrepentant carnivore and steer clear of the veggie burgers unless a particularly whimsical spirit seizes me, nevertheless I am a huge fan of these. Go pizza burgers! Show us the way to a better future!

All the veggie burgers I’ve had in my life to this point have been a disappointment. When you get the hankering for a nice, sloppy burger it’s never satisfying to sit down to a heavily processed mass of tofu studded with whole peas and corn kernels. I always have been disappointed, and I expect I always will be in the future (Trader Joe’s excluded) for the simple reason that veggie burgers are playing a losing game. Vegetables simply cannot replace meat. They are beautiful and wonderful in the own right, but even the absolute best slice of marinated seitan is going to come second to a middling steak. Yet for some reason vegetarian food providers return to the well of ersatz meat products – foisting not just veggie burgers, but tofurky and chik’n and vegetarian bacon and countless other so-called “meat analogs”. It’s this sort of weird fixation on replicating meat that turns so many of the vegetarian-curious away from the shores of meatlessness. Try as you might, a soy protein patty isn’t going to be mistaken for a ground beef patty.

On the other hand, vegetables can do all sorts of excellent things that meat can’t. Where vegetarian cuisine embraces it’s flexible, malleable and adaptable nature it champions greatly. There are a million ways to cook delicious vegetarian meals that don’t resort to imitating meat products – take the world of Indian cuisine for instance. There’s no reason that a veggie burger has to try and force itself to taste like a ground beef burger – by branching out into a world of other interesting tastes, in this case pizza, Trader Joe’s flips the game on its head by setting its own standard of success. It’s not trying to be a regular burger – it’s trying to be a pizza burger, and on those grounds it succeeds.

Trader Joe’s Pizza Veggie Burger is made from a big chunk of reconstituted soy protein, yes, but it’s also chock full of tomato, basil and melted mozzarella cheese. Yes, it is as good as it sounds.

Two things really work to sell you on these before you get to the taste. First is the color, while most veggie burgers are a variation on beige, the pizza burgers are a dark, almost incarnadine red, thanks to the tomato infusion. Second is the smell, which is very reminiscent of cheese pizza.

I zapped my burgers in the microwave, and they came out piping hot and smelling great after a couple minutes. I added the usual burger toppings and a bun, and the first bite turned me into a fan. These pizza burgers don’t taste like your usual burger, but they don’t taste like a veggie burger either. They occupy their own unique space – moist, chewy, and really bursting with the flavors of a margarita pizza. I was particularly impressed by the texture, which held up well, felt natural and didn’t crumble or fall apart during either cooking or eating – a typical weak point of vegetable patties.

Unlike their rather unfortunate attempt to make a new type of sushi, Trader Joe’s can chalk their pizza burgers up as a solid success. They are a delicious alternative to beef and vegetable burgers alike, and a real contender for my future barbecuing purposes.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes. In fact, I might choose them over beef patties.

Final Synopsis: An tasty melding of pizza and burger that does vegetarians proud.

Trader Joe's Pizza Veggie Burgers - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pizza Veggie Burgers – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Quinoa Teriyaki Mushroom Rolls

Trader Joe's Quinoa Teriyaki Mushroom Rolls

Yes, there is quinoa in sushi now. No one shall escape quinoa!

Holy crap – I mean, guys, words fail me. We’ve seen some pretty bold and unpredictable moves from Trader Joe’s before, but I’ve never seen anyone, anywhere, seen anything like Trade Joe’s Quinoa Teriyaki Mushroom Rolls.  Swapping the rice out of sushi for quinoa? That is some mad scientist level tinkering there, mad science that has resulted in an abomination not fit to dwell on God’s green earth.

Look, I like Trader Joe’s, you like Trader Joe’s, but let’s be honest here – no supermarket has ever made reasonable sushi. Supermarkets on the coast of Japan don’t even do sushi well. If you want sushi, you go to a sushi restaurant. If you want cold patties of clammy rice and old fish, you go to supermarket. I can only imagine that it’s only due to the abysmal standards of supermarket sushi that Trader Joe’s thought they could get away with such an outlandish concoction. Replace the seafood with marinated mushrooms? Why not? Infuse the rice with quinoa? Who’s to stop you?

It’s not that I can’t see their thought process here – a healthy, vegetarian option for sushi lovers is a noble goal – but the execution here is unconscionable. The marinated mushrooms themselves are alright – a bit slimy, but tasty and nicely saturated with teriyaki flavor. If the product was mushrooms alone, I’d have little to complain about. The real culprit in making these rolls inedible is the unpleasant quinoa/rice wrapping – served soggy, tremendously dense and mealy. Those are characteristics shared by most supermarket sushi rolls, granted, but these were without a doubt the worst I’ve had of that dubious ilk. Was it adding quinoa that pushed it to the bottom, or would these have been just as bad with rice alone? It’s hard to say.

What would you expect the primary ingredient to be in a quinoa roll? Quinoa, perhaps? You would be mistaken, I’m afraid. I like quinoa, I’ve discussed it before, but it’s inclusion here is tragic. If the roll was entirely made of quinoa, that’d be one thing – I expect I’d even like a roll made entirely of quinoa. But that’s not what we have here. What you’re really getting is rice, sprinkled with a bit of quinoa.

Consult, if you would, the picture above. Notice the little yellow dots? That’s the quinoa. Everything else? That’s rice. It hardly seems honest, really, to bill these as quinoa rolls. If TJ’s really wanted a healthier sushi roll, they should have gone with a brown rice. You can’t just mix up an 80-20 rice to quinoa mix and call them quinoa rolls – that’s farcical, Joe. Knock it off.

If you’re a vegetarian and you love sushi, I feel for you I really do. For the time being, however, I’d suggest sticking to your cucumber and daikon rolls. I hope that Trader Joe’s will do something else with the teriyaki mushroom bits. Until then, I must award these quinoa rolls with the ignoble “Worst Thing I Have Ever Eaten from Trader Joe’s” award. Congratulations.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: No. Really, really no.

Would I Buy Them Again: Not until opposite day, the day when you buy the things you hate and throw away the things you love.

Final Synopsis: Why would Trader Joe’s do this to sushi?

Nutritional Info, per 3-pc serving

Calories: 120
Total Fat: 3g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg (duh, since it’s vegan)
Sodium: 430mg (before the soy sauce of course)
Potassium: 0mg
Total Carbs: 21g
Dietary Fiber: 1g
Sugars: 4g
Protein: 2g

Vitamin A: 25%
Vitamin C: 4%
Calcium: 2%
Iron: 4%


Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls – Lentil & Potato Snack

Trader Joe's Crunchy Curls

Nothing says snack food like lentils!

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!”

Double take.

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.


Break Down:

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.

Trader Joe's Crunchy Curls - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Crunchy Curls – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar Salsa

Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar Salsa is, hands down, the grossest product name in the store. I’m no marketing expert, but if you want to sell someone your strange, globular salsa you might be thanked not to name it after fish eggs pulled from the ugliest fish in the Caspian. That aside, this corn-filled, black bean-based salsa is a bold, tasty alternative to your standard yellow-cap Pace and worth a look for anyone.

Trader Joe's Cowboy Caviar Salsa

Do not confuse with Rocky Mountain oysters.

I should say that the blame for the name is not strictly TJ’s fault in this case. Cowboy caviar was first crafted into existence in the 1950’s by Helen Corbitt, famed chef, fresh food advocate, innovator of bold new cuisine and, ultimately, head chef at the flagship Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas – famed at the time (and known still) for its fine eating. The South, as every good southerner knows, has a hankering for black-eyed peas – a hankering that includes, but is not limited to, mandatory black-eyed pea consumption on New Years Day. Thus the decree that Neiman Marcus was to roll out an “all-Texas” menu, prominently featuring the beans was no surprise. No, the surprise was that Helen Corbitt, herself a Yankee girl from New York, detested black-eyed peas, and couldn’t bring herself to serve them in a traditional way. Instead, she pickled them in onions and served them as a chill dip – and lo history was made.

Trader Joe’s differs from its primogeniture by introducing the aforementioned corn, plus onions, red bell pepper and , perhaps hereticaly, swapping black beans for black-eyed peas. The chunky veggies are mortared by a mix of chipotle peppers, adobe sauce and lime juice – and the result is a dang good, medium salsa that give you plenty to chew on chip by chip. In addition to the touch of fire, you’ll pick up a citrus tang and even a hint of sweetness, which makes this an interesting salsa all around.

I myself am a die hard salsa fan, willing to take it any way I can get it, and to me this is one astounding find. Even with the sudden coming into vogue of non-traditional salsas (mango & papaya salsa, for example) there’s still a paucity of tomato-free varieties. Why not get the tomatoes the hell out of there? It’s the 3rd millennium A.D. isn’t it? “Nothing is sacred” is all but the mantra of our epoch – I don’t see why we should stop at tomatoes as salsa.

If you’ve ever been to a Trader Joe’s you know that they have a host of intriguing chips to go along with this salsas and dips. Why not try a bag of Super Seeded Tortilla chips when you pick up your southwester, rough-ridden, saddle-packed jar of cowboy caviar.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Surely I do.

Would I Buy it Again: It’s a good change of pace salsa, if not an everyday kind of salsa.

Final Synopsis: Pickled corn and beans? As a salsa? Yessir, and damn good one.

Trader Joe's Cowboy Caviar Salsa - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar Salsa – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Crunchy Black and White Rice Rolls

Trader Joe's Crunchy Black and White Rice Rolls

The put the little window on there like, “Check out the crazy colored rice!” But there is no crazy colored rice. What is your end game here TJ’s?

Trader Joe’s Crunchy Black and White Rice Rolls are just rice folks, slightly sweetened, crunchy rice in a little roll. They’re good tasting, pretty healthy and convenient. That’s about all there is to say on these, folks. I mean, c’mon, really – it’s just rice. I suppose I should be thrilled by coming across such a cheap, tasty, and healthy snack, but I’m not a mom. I’m a guy with a slightly faulty “Act Like A Normal Person” switch in his head. The light is steady from time to time, but mostly it sort of blinks on and off. I suppose I’m just a little disappointed by such a utilitarian, ordinary snack after the aggressively weird brown butter, lemon and parsley popcorn the other day. We must wonder, however, what is black rice, and why cylinders instead of disks?

The main reason I picked these rolls up was because of the intriguing mention of “black rice” in the title. Now, there are several kinds of black rice cultivated around the world, form the “forbidden rice” once reserved only for the Chinese Emperor’s table to Thai black jasmine rice. The exotic lure of the promise of such a deviation in color pulled me in, much as the promise of black eggs, or black milk would have done. Unfortunately, I found myself left to disappointment. Not only is it impossible to taste any difference between the “Black Pearl Rice” and “Sushi Rice” used, but impossible to even see any difference. Black rice usually cooks up to a deep purple color, but whatever cooing method Trader Joe’s employed has denatured any chromatic differences between the two. Perhaps I should champion these black and white rice rolls as a paragon of color-blind, racial harmony, but instead it feels bland and sterile. Even TJ’s, usually so florid with their food descriptions, can’t seem to muster much enthusiasm for their generic rices in the product copy. Humph.

This, I sense, may be my own idiosyncratic quibble. As I already said, these really taste quite good – rice cake or not. Even better, they appear to be air puffed, like a bunch of lightly sweetened corn pops smushed lightly together, giving the whole roll a light and airy feeling. This certainly an advancement over ordinary rice cakes whose density can sometimes make a snacking session feel like an arduous slog.

So, sweet, light and crunchy – what’s not to like, really? It may, of course, be possible to take issue with the shape. Why cylinders, TJ? Is the traditional disk shape too square for you? Not hip enough for the educated, middle-income crowd? Functionally, this is not actually much of an issue, except in one important way – it’s difficult to layer or spread any condiments on the rice rolls. As a man who always has some room for a nice puffed rice cake smeared with a thickness of peanut butter, this qualifies as a design flaw.

A final word, unlike some other items I’ve reviewed, the rice rolls compare very well to their mainstream alternatives. Despite the differences in shape and texture, Trader Joe’s Black and White Rice Rolls are nearly identical in sugar, carbs and calories to Quaker’s ubiquitous sweetened rice cakes.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend These: Yes, especially to moms.

Would I Buy Them Again: As I have no kids and enjoy spreading peanut butter, probably not.

Final Synopsis: A good, but chromatically perplexing, rice snack.

Trader Joe's Crunchy Black and White Rice Rolls - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Crunchy Black and White Rice Rolls – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad

Trader Joe's Super Spinach Salad

Why do the little grape tomatoes get left out? Poor little grape tomatoes, always overlooked…

An interesting salad, this Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad, an intriguing salad, but not necessarily a very good salad.

Spinach is an incredible base for any salad – tender, and flavorful, and supple, and yielding to the ardent bite, and nutritious, and, and, and – well, I could go on. I have a deep and abiding love for leafy, raw spinach that manifests itself in a refrigerator stuffed full of salad greens and dirty looks I throw at petulant children. My adoration of spinach, I’ll admit, is partially irrational. You see, I lost my salad virginity to spinach.

I was a young man, a college freshman. I hadn’t been looking for love, I didn’t even think I was interested in salads. I had grown up around plates of iceberg lettuce and, apart from the occasional juicy crouton or Baco Bit, they did nothing for me. But then I saw it, there in the dorm cafeteria’s buffet , demure but intriguing. I remember stuffing my mouth full of the delicious young sprigs, the juicy blast of nutritious flavor. I can taste it still. That day changed my life, leading me into the wonderful world of salads, and though I’ve often played around with exotic radicchios and roquettes I’ve always returned home to those tender, loving fronds.

So you’d think a TJ’s spinach salad would be an almost perversely easy slam dunk, right? Not so. Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad offers up the sort of charmingly eclectic list of ingredients see in some of their other excellent salads, quinoa, carrots, cranberries, chickpeas, edamame, tiny little tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds, but they simply do not work as well as a unit. It’s hard to say where the salad goes wrong. The main problem seems to be the carrot ginger miso dressing, which is, one, a strange combination of ingredients that don’t work very well with the salad mix, and two, unusually thick, almost like a very gritty mayonnaise that resists spreading evenly across the salad. Worse, the dressing leaves a strong aftertaste of onion in your mouth that lingers on long after the salad is finished.

The veggies do make for a crunchy, crispy unit that’s not bad for munching on, and I would suspect that if you ditched the dressing and substituted it for a personal favorite the salad would benefit greatly by it.

Even worse than being unpalatable, the dressing commits the all-too-common sin of wrecking the otherwise very healthy nutritional profile of the salad. Check out these post dressing stats: 19g of fat (a third of your daily intake), and a whopping 53g of carbs which, even controlling for the 10g that come from fiber, is more than a Big Mac packs.

I’ve got nothing against the occasional decadent salad (perhaps choked with gorgonzola and candied pecans), but it has to be pretty fantastic tasting to make the calories worth it. This salad fails to deliver anything like the level of enjoyment I’d demand for blowing my diet for the day.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: With a caution – lose the salad dressing and substitute a healthy alternative.

Would I Buy It Again: Not I, there are far more interesting salads to explore.

Final Synopsis: A very promising salad ruined by a very poor salad dressing.

Trader Joe's Super Spinach Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad – Nutrition 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.