Before I get into talking about Trader Joe’s Dried Baby Bananas, I should probably acknowledge by absence lo, these last 4 months. After posting twice a week, every week for the last 4 years, I just got tired. That, combined with a new ad revenue sharing model implemented by WordPress (“Thanks for the increased traffic – we’d like to start paying you half as much.”) meant that a short Christmas hiatus turned into a long-term indefinite hiatus.
|What it is:||Super tasty, tiny, dried bananas.|
|Price:||$1.99 for a 6 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||More than worth it.|
And honestly, that indefinite hiatus would probably still be going on if it wasn’t for two factors – first, Trader Joe’s started all but taunting me with some of the stuff they’ve been stocking, but more importantly, I received some very touching, very concerned e-mails from fans of the blog. I certainly wasn’t expecting that – and it simply melted my heart. Sure, I could get by without the blog, but how could I deny you, the reader, of my rambling, unprofessional, knee-jerk screeds? That’s what really kept me up at night.
So anyway, I’m back. I’ll be making a couple tweaks in the weeks to come – in particular I’ll be posting only once a week going forward, and maybe making some changes to the format, but really when Trader Joe’s comes out with whole baby bananas, dried into tiny, chewy brown fingers, the time has come again to weigh in.
These whole, dried bananas showed up a couple months ago, but I simply can’t get them off my mind. When it comes to dried fruit, I tend to think that there aren’t any real advances to be made in the field since, say, the Babylonians. It’s dried fruit – once they figured out you could dry fruit for storage it probably took them all of an afternoon to explore every available option. You wanna put apple slices in there? Sure, why not. Apricots? Orange slices? Mango? Pretty straight forward stuff. Maybe someone remembered to try persimmons a day or two later. This is low tech, elemental stuff.
So why have I never before in my life seen whole dehydrated bananas? It’s certainly not because they’re not delicious, because these dehydrated baby bananas are the very definition of nature’s candy. Starting with whole baby bananas out of Thailand, Trader Joe’s simply dries them until they wrinkle up into desiccated, little brown fingerlings – a few inches long, and about half an inch wide. The sugar in the banana concentrates down as the bananas shrink, resulting in that mild, mellow banana sweetness and taste, only sweeter and stronger. Think jelly belly compared to jelly bean – more flavor in a smaller package.
The resulting texture is still soft, but also vaguely leathery and chewy – making them extremely enjoyable to snack on. This, combined with the wrinkled, flaccid, tanned appearance is perhaps a bit off putting. I’ll admit that the notion that this must be a little bit what munching on a mummy’s fingers would be like did flash through my brain on more than one occasion while eating these – however they’re so tasty and snackable that they easily overcome any reservations about texture or appearance.
Trader Joe’s suggests that these make an excellent snack for “little hands and large hands alike”, which only reinforces the whole “I’m eating fingers” thing, but still makes a good point. You may only get about 20 of these baby dried bananas per 6 oz. bag, but they satisfy so well, and are so cheap, that they should last a a whole carful of munchkins, or an office of inquisitive co-workers.
Final Synopsis: Delicious, tiny, dried bananas – nature’s answer to the fun-sized candy bar.
Would I Recommend Them: Absolutley.
Would I Buy Them Again: I already have.
French bread, as we all know, is one of the most delicious breakfast options known to man – a top tier breakfast, right up there with oven-fresh cinnamon buns or heart-clogging monte cristos. It’s so good no one has really been bothered about innovating it much over the last few hundred years. No one, that is, until Trader Joe’s showed up on the scene. I should have seen it coming, given that we just saw them introduce such radical breakfast foods as candied-ginger pancakes, and pumpkin glazed cinnamon rolls, but Trader Joe’s has blown my mind again with their candied citrus and vanilla custard infused Panettone French Toast.
|What it is:||French toast with candied fruit in it.|
|Price:||$3.49 for 4 slices.|
|Worth it:||Not really. A little expensive for what you’re getting.|
If you aren’t already familiar with the festive, bread-like cake known as panettone, you can read about some of Trader Joe’s previous takes on it here, for their classic panettone, or here, for their strange new pumpkin-infused panettone. Long story short, Italians like to fill sweet, airy breads with bits of candied fruit peel and globs of mascarpone and cream. Think of it as occupying the opposite end of the Festive Holiday Cake Spectrum from traditional English fruit cake – airy and buoyant instead of damp and dense.
If you, like myself, are not a big panettone fan, it’s likely you’ve got an issue with how dang bready the loaf is. I go to cake for cake and bread for bread – there’s not a lot of satisfaction from settling in at the half-way point. However, in a real stroke of genius, Trader Joe’s has taken this perceived flaw and turned it into a strength. Too bready? Not if you’re making toast out of it. And that’s exactly what Trader Joe’s has done – they’ve reached into their stockpile of panettone, sliced them up, dipped them in some eggy custard and dropped them on the griddle. The fully cooked french toast is then frozen and boxed up for easy pre-heating.
The result are thick slabs of french toast that happen to be studded with raisins and bits of candied fruit peel, here and there. I expected the french-toastification process to change the basic flavor of the panettone, but it hasn’t. These big slices of toast taste exactly as if you sawed a few slices off your Christmas panettone loaf and toasted them. Each bite is a bit stiff, a bit dry and, while denser than traditional panettone, still a bit airy. The candied citrus peel and raisins still taste just as they did before – sweet and sugary.
I didn’t find Trader Joe’s Panettone French Toast to be any better or worse than ordinary french toast, just different. The sweet fruits are an interesting touch, but unless you’re a huge fan of bits of candied fruit, they don’t really do much to elevate the french toast. That’s too bad, as I was ready for this french bread to blow my mind. It’s a perfectly find french toast, and if you don’t mind paying $3.49 for 4 slices of it, it makes for a sweet breakfast treat, but isn’t a game changer.
Would I Recommend It: Not especially strongly.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so.
Final Synopsis: Not bad, but not amazing.
Trader Joe’s Greek Whole Milk Yogurt – Maple Brown Sugar & Trader Joe’s Greek Whole Milk Yogurt – Chocolate MoussePosted: December 16, 2015
Trader Joe’s has never been afraid to “go there” – in terms of yogurt development and placement. Like most grocery stores they offer a virtual cornucopia of yogurt flavors, types, and fat content. Unlike most grocery stores, they’ve been known to put out holiday versions of their classic greek yogurt.
|What it is:||Greek yogurt in two new flavors.|
|Price:||$1.29 for an 8 oz. cup|
|Worth it:||Not really. Both new flavors are only mildly interesting.|
Last year we saw the debut of their Pumpkin Greek Yogurt over the October Pumpkin Madness. It must have worked well, because this year Trader Joe’s has debuted two new flavors for the winter holidays – Maple Brown Sugar, and Chocolate Mousse. Those might not be the flavors that come to mind when you first think “Christmas”, but that’s why we love Trader Joe’s isn’t it? They zig when everyone else is zagging.
Unlike the pumpkin Greek yogurt last of last fall, these two new flavors are whole milk, full fat yogurts. 320 calories wait for you in each 8 oz tub, 12 grams of fat (7 grams of that saturated fat) and 37 grams of carbs.
3 gallons of milk go into 1 gallon of Greek yogurt, so this is the nutritional density you’re paying for – not to mention the whopping 16 grams of protein. If you eat both of these, you’ve basically had a pretty heft meal. So, are these novel yogurt flavors worth it?
What you certainly can expect is what you always get from a whole milk Greek yogurt – thick, smooth, velvety and thick again. A greek yogurt needs to be eaten slowly, regardless whether you enjoy the flavor or not.
The flavors, in this case, are intriguing, but not incredible. The Maple Brown Sugar Greek Yogurt has a wonderfully evocative name, but doesn’t taste particularly special. It’s a combination of real brown sugar and real maple syrup (naturally, this being Trader Joe’s). Sugar and syrup, however, even brown sugar and maple syrup, are just your basic sweeteners. Basic sweetness is about what you get out of them here. The more nuanced notes of the sugar and syrup are lost in the generally yogurtiness of the yogurt. However, the sweetness is a nice counterpoint to the considerable tang of the yogurt cultures. Overall, a nice, fatty yogurt.
The Chocolate Mousse Greek Yogurt is a more complex matter. Some time ago, I reviewed Trader Joe’s European-style chocolate yogurts, and found them intriguing and sophisticated, but ultimately a bit off-putting. This chocolate greek yogurt is a lot thicker than those little yogurt pots, but hte flavor is the same – tangy chocolate. If you can hold those two words together in your head at the same time and not shudder a little, then you will probably enjoy this yogurt. The chocolate flavor comes courtesy of cocoa powder touched up with some sugar and vanilla extract, and it’s done well. The chocolate is strong tasting, bold and verging on the bitterness of dark chocolate, but it comes paired with the strong, undeniable tang of active yogurt cultures. Tangy chocolate folks – it’s here again.
I love novelty, and for some reason I really love novel yogurt flavors, but these two yogurts left me underwhelmed. The Maple Brown Sugar was too generically sweet for me to buy again, and if I wanted to try chocolate yogurt again I’d go with the European versions that are still on the shelves.
I’m tempted to recommend these as a desert surrogate, but honestly if you have room in your dietary budget for 300 calories of sugar and fat, just eat a real chocolate mousse. Aside from that, I think only Greek yogurt fans in desperate need of a little variety can really justify making this purchase.
Would I Recommend Them: Only in the faintest of terms.
Would I Buy Them Again: Me? No.
Final Synopsis: Fatty yogurt available in a couple mildly interesting flavors.
Trader Joe’s annual Pumpkin Madness in October is always my favorite time of the year, if just for the sheer thrill of seeing which products Joe decides to green light – but I also love it because once those gates are thrown open they stay open for the rest of the year. With the pumpkin products receding into the distance behind us, we now find ourselves fording the wild rapids of Holiday product season.
|What it is:||Gyoza filled with seafood paste.|
|Price:||$3.99 for a 7.6 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||No. There are tastier potstickers out there.|
We don’t usually see anything quite as crazy as we do in October over the holidays, but Trader Joe’s still manages to slip one or two out there products in when no one is looking – like chocolate milk mixed with wine.
What surprised me most, as I was perusing the aisles, was this extremely unusual holiday (???) offering – Trader Joe’ Seafood Sriracha Potstickers with Shrimp and Crab.
Seafood potstickers don’t generally scream “Christmas”, but hat hasn’t stopped TJ’s from wrapping these dumplings up in red and green dough. Let the festive, merry colors of crimson red and evergreen greet you in this mixed meat, Asian-style, seafood dumpling. It’s a weird choice, sure, but there’s no denying they’ll fit right in at the annual Christmas potluck. The rest of the year, assuming these stay around the rest of the year, I guess they’ll just be weirdly out of place.
These potstickers are very similar to Trader Joe’s many other gyoza offerings – namely they are cheap, tasty and easy to cook. Despite the difference in color, each dumpling is filled with same filling – a combination of shrimp, crab, mung bean noodles, and water chestnuts. These flavors all blend into each other, however, so don’t go expecting big, tasty pieces of either crab or shrimp. Instead, the ingredients have been blended into a uniform paste that has been pumped into each casing. This makes these gyoza much less substantial than their pork and chicken brothern, and gives them a consistency much closer to a classic, mashed potato filled potsticker. Presumably, that’s why they left “gyoza” off the label and went with “potsticker” – although it makes the choice to call the whole-wheat and squash version “gyoza” even more bizarre.
In any case, if you don’t mind the soft texture, and weird coloration, these potstickers are reasonably tasty and a welcome return to form over the dreaded wholewheat version debuted last month. The inclusion of some sriracha spice in the filling is a nice touch, although TJ’s is careful to keep the heat in the mild range band. If you want to spice these up, you’ll want to bring some TJ’s Sriracha hot sauce or cilantro Green Dragon hot sauce – or even a nice chili sauce of your own.
Personally, I thought these were fine, but nothing to write home about. The seafood doesn’t really standout in the prepared product, and without that it’s just a sort of mildly, inoffensive dumping. Trader Joe’s has a LOT of gyoza varieties to choose among nowadays, from the mundane to the adventerous. Once you get past the eye-catching colors, there isn’t anything to set these potstickers ahead of the pack.
Would I Recommend Them: Not really. They’re fine, but there are better gyoza on the shelf.
Would I Buy Them Again: No, I prefer the chicken and pork versions.
Final Synopsis: A good appetizer for a holiday-themed party, but not much more.
Another season, another tin of powdered drink mix. Despite a wealth of previous data suggesting that Trader Joe’s should not be powdering drinks and selling them in cans, they’ve gone ahead and done it again with Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Latte a “naturally flavored” drink mix. The result is predictably terrible, BUT it’s also surprisingly awful. Yes, a bit of a mixed bag with this one.
|What it is:||Terrible, flavored coffee mix.|
|Price:||$4.49 for a 10 oz. tin.|
|Worth it:||No, dreadful.|
Do not buy, drink or serve Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Latte Naturally Flavored Drink Mix. If someone else buys it for you or serves it to you, you should come up with some way to punish them. (Throw a cup of cold water on them while they’re in the shower?) If they drink it themselves, just leave them alone – that’s punishment enough.
Trader Joe’s has disappointed before with similar powdered drink mixes – such as their Tropical Green Tea Powder, and Green Tea Matcha Powder, both of which were unpleasant tasting, messy, and bad for you. This Gingerbread Latte Mix is all that and more. The first thing I want to bring up is how fatty and sugary this stuff is. There’s a lot I can forgive in a healthy food. As I’ve written about before, you have to grade health food on a curve. If Trader Joe’s is serving you some low-cal spinach dip, it’s not fair to hold it up in comparison to a full calorie, and undoubtedly more delicious, spinach dip. To a point, you’re not buying diet food for the the taste, you’re buying it because you’re on a diet.
Well, as far as I’m concerned, the opposite case is in effect with high-cal, fattening food. I will gladly eat you, you globs of sugary fat, but you’d better taste good enough to justify it. For instance, if you’re going to serve me unpalatable kale chips as a replacement for Doritos, they had better not have more calories than the Doritos.
This Gingerbread Latte is the absolute textbook case of something not being worth the calories. In each 28 gram serving of drink mix, there are 20 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of fat. The other 2 grams? The coffee and spices I guess. This is literally nothing but sugar and fat, and tastes terrible. Terrible and feeble. If you pour enough of the drink mix into a cup of hot water in it will taste sweet, however any sort of gingerbread taste, or “notes of ginger, clove and cinnamon”, are completely masked by the awful artificial creamer stuff that makes up the bulk of this mix. This dried creamer consists of coconut oil, lots of maltodextrin, and all sorts of other gross powders used to artificially render a sort of quasi-dairy taste into white, shelf-stable powder.
Fine, yes, it has artificial creamer in it. That makes it bad coffee, but God knows I’ve resorted to artificial creamer more than once in my life. The real problem is that this creamer simply does not dissolve – not in water, not in milk. Heat it all you like, stir it up all you like, leave it to sit as long as you want – you’ll still be left with scores of tiny, undissolved flecks of some oily substance – little globules that scum up on top of the coffee and stay plastered to the side of your mug when you’re done.
This latte mix is cheap and it’s terrible and it tastes bad and it’s bad for you. If you need to wake up in the morning and this is all you have in the house, just slam your hand in the oven and go to work. At least there are fewer calories that way.
I’m not saying don’t drink hot cups of spiced coffee over the winter, I’m saying you can do better than this. Hell, you can do better than this in your own kitchen with some coffee, whole milk and cinnamon-sugar. Or just go to Starbucks, if you don’t care about the calories. That Starbucks coffee is pretty good – and it’s waaaaaaay better than lame excuse for a pick-me-up. Even the Trader Joe’s instant powdered coffee stuff is way better (As we’ve talked about before with Trader Joe’s powered coffee packets).
The general point I’m trying to make is, I don’t like this latte mix and I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it. I could go, but it’s almost time for the next blogger guy to come in so I’d better wrap things up. To ensure a happy holiday season, skip this stuff.
Would I Recommend It: Hmmmm, no.
Would I Buy It Again: *Shakes head, slowly and sadly*
Final Synopsis: Really gross instant coffee.
Just a quick post today to talk about Trader Joe’s Sriracha Potato Chips. After really bringing down the hammer about Trader Joe’s underwhelming Ghost Pepper Potato Chips, I was surprised to see that they immediately doubled down and released another spicy potato chip.
|What it is:||Mildly spicy, tangy potato chips.|
|Price:||$2.29 for an 8 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes, these are great to snack on.|
Obviously that raised too many questions to avoid picking it up. Would this chip actually be spicy? Even if it wasn’t, would it still be spicier than the Ghost Pepper chip? Would it capture Trader Joe’s uniquely tangy take on Srircha sauce?
The answer to all these questions is a firm yes. While I can think of a dozen brands off the top of my head that are much spicier than these, they are at least spicy enough to actually make it into the “Spicy” category – even if it’s only under the heading for “Mild”.
These chips actually manage to be a little spicier than their disappointingly mild Ghost Pepper brethren, and they do so delightfully – replicating the full, zippy flavor profile of Trader Joe’s Sriracha Hot Sauce. While that hot sauce is far milder than the more widely known Hoy Fong Rooster Sauce, it makes up for it by actually being flavorful – a tasty, vinegary-blend of all sorts of spices. That same flavor is replicated in miniature on these chips, making them a pleasure to munch on. That’s much better than the dull exercise that eating the Ghost Pepper chips ended up being.
In fact, that vinegary, spicy side of the sriracha sauce makes these chips taste more like a hybrid between Salt & Vinegar chips and Jalapeno chips than a simple spicy chip – something I’ve never had before.
The better flavor of these chips also helped me to appreciate the great waffle-cut texture of these kettle-baked chips. Thick, crispy and big, these chips stay crunchy and hold up in dips remarkably well – certainly far better than your run-of-the-mill Lays would.
That, plus the fact that they aren’t saddled with trying to fill impossibly large shoes (as was the case with the ghost pepper chips) made them pretty damn enjoyable.
Looking at these Sriracha chips alongside the Ghost Pepper chips actually made me wonder if this isn’t all some marketing scheme gone wrong. Is it possible that the “Ghost Pepper” chips were simply supposed to be the “Plain” variety of potato chip – laying the ground work for more interesting flavors, like this Srircha variety. Did the marketers find themselves struggling with a mental block, unable to conjure up a tasty sounding way to pitch bland, barely spicy chips? Did they panic? Was the product rushed out, some executive making the decision to stick “Ghost Pepper” on the label, hoping all would be forgiven when the more flavorful varieties were rolled out?
Extremely likely – in this blogger’s opinion. Watch out, you shadowy figures of the Trader Joe’s Marketing Department…I’m on to you.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, they’re good if you’re looking for something not too spicy.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes – these are some of my favorite chips I’ve had at TJ’s.
Final Synopsis: Crispy potato chips that faithfully capture the tang of Trader Joe’s Sriracha sauce.
Trade Joe’s has a variety of gyoza, from the ordinary chicken and pork gyoza, to the more adventurous thai vegetable and green curry shrimp gyoza. I may have preferred some over others, but personal taste aside they’re all pretty great.
|What it is:||Very weird gyoza|
|Price:||$3.79 for a 16 oz. sack|
|Worth it:||No. A weird mix of flavors.|
The number of success the Trader Joe’s R&D department has racked up in this category seems to have egged them on to Kanyean levels of hubris. Surely only the iron-clad belief that your every move is golden could lead someone to put out a product titled, and I quote, Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza. That is simply a combination of words that shouldn’t appear next to each in print, let alone on an ingredient label.
In short, out of all of Trader Joe’s delicious gyoza offerings, Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza simply does not work.
Let me start by first reiterating my stance that I think experimentation with food is one of finest endeavors undertaken by man. By all means, let us mix, match and blend weird things together. Just make sure you taste test it first before releasing it to the general populous. There are certain elements that make a gyoza (or potsticker) delicious, and to just discard those things is to invite disaster.
Take, for instance, the dough of the dumpling. All of Trader Joe’s other gyoza stick to the same, standard glutinous wheat dough wrapping – and for good reason. More than anything, more than even whatever contents it wraps up, the doughy exterior of a dumpling is what makes it delicious. Chewy, yielding and supple, with a bit of pan-fried crisp along the bottom edge, this is what makes a well-cooked gyoza simply irresistible. Swapping out that award-winning dough for a whole-wheat based variety may be a more healthsome choice, but it simply doesn’t work as well as a dumpling.
The whole wheat wrapping is much thicker and more textured than the usual gyoza dough, and tastes of the bread-y nuttiness of a slice of whole wheat bread. It’s not bad, to be honest, but it certainly doesn’t scratch that gyoza itch like their other offerings.
If the filling of the gyoza where something more usual, I might be able to find a place in my heart (and freezer) or these pot stickers. Unfortunately, they decided to fill them with a strange combination of mashed butternut squash, whole edamame beans, carrots, sweet potato and Japanese green pumpkin (kabocha). The result is a squishy, sweet squash mash with big beans in it. It’s not bad – on its own – but it’s hard to imagine something more wildly different from what is normally put in gyoza. Instead of a filling with a bit of body, maybe something savory or rich, you basically get sweet mashed potatoes – mashed potatoes with whole soy beans stuck in ’em.
It’s a very, very odd combination, and it didn’t work for me at all. Between the weird dumpling and the weird filling there just wasn’t anywhere to get my footing. I couldn’t even figure out a condiment that worked well with them. Typical gyoza dressings (soy sauce, vinegar, red pepper sauce…) simply did not work with these lumpy hybrids – the sweetness of the stuffing, and the squishy consistency, made them clash with everything I tried. Maybe if I had some spare gravy on hand I could have whipped up a batch and eaten them like an Asian-fusion Thanksgiving side.
Overall, I just found these baffling. While the sweet squash filling is fine on its own, it’s not what I’m looking for in a gyoza, and the whole-wheat wrapping feels completely out of left field. Maybe if these had been marketed as a type of whole wheat pirogi, and the soy beans had been left out, it would have been a bit easier to understand. As it is, unless you’re holding that Asian-fusion Thanksgiving dinner I mentioned, I can’t think of a reason why you should pick these up.
Would I Recommend Them: No. They’re not awful… but they’re just not all that good either.
Would I Buy Them Again: Only to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
Final Synopsis: A swing…and a miss.