Trader Joe’s Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies

These pumpkin scone cookies are cakes. That's confusing. Why must we live in such a complex world?

These pumpkin scone cookies are cakes. That’s confusing. Why must we live in such a complex world?

You never know what to expect when you pick up a new Trader Joe’s pumpkin product. Sometimes the pumpkin is overwhelming, other times the pumpkin is more of a vague suggestion. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Scone Cookies fall into the former camp – very satisfactory, soft cookies with a very strong pumpkin taste.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Soft, sweet, pumpkin spiced cakes.
Price: $3.49 for 18 little cakes.
Worth it: Yes – they’re tasty little snacks.

When it comes to scones, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re signing up for. I’ve had soft scones and hard cones, sweet scones and salty scones, pretty round scones and massive, bumpy scones. These scones fall into the first category on all accounts – soft, sweet and small. In fact, they’re not really much like a typical scone at all. It looks like Trader Joe’s tried to head this off by sticking “cookie” on the end of the product title, although they could have just as well put “mini cake” or “petit four”.

Each one of Trader Joe’s 16 Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies are absolutely light and delicate – dainty, soft rounds of cake glazed with a light brown icing that sparkles subtly. In taste, they’re very much like lightly glazed, molasses cookies. In fact, looking at the ingredient list, they share many of the ingredients with a typical molasses cookie.

Where they differ, is the tremendous pumpkin taste packed in each little bite. I remember being shocked by the concentrated flavor in Trader Joe’s citrus-packed Key Lime Tea Cakes. While these aren’t quite that intense, they’re close.  TJ’s has clearly gone to great lengths to ensure each bite is permeated with not just redolent pumpkin spices, but also rich, pumpkin puree. As a result, just one of these little cookies goes a long ways. Each little nibble is packed with plenty of pumpkin flavor, and they’re soft enough and sweet enough to make the nibble experience quite pleasant.

They would certainly go very well with tea, or other hot, seasonal beverage, and look very well sitting on the plate. At only 120 calories per 2 cookies, they aren’t all that bad for you either – assuming you could stop yourself at two…

Trader Joe’s releases hundreds of new pumpking products every year, it feels like. But with these pumpkin-flavored scone cookies, they’ve succeed in coming up with the perfect seasonal snack. I wouldn’t necessarily stock my larder with them year round, but they manage to so nicely encapsulate something of the autumn feeling, that I’ll be looking forward to seeing them again next year.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, these are very snackable, little seasonal treats.

Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, I’ll pick some up again next year.

Final Synopsis: Pumpkin packed little molasses cookies.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Scone Cookies - Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter

Seeing new cookie butter turns me into Cookie Monster right in the store. “COOKIE COOKIE COOKIE… butter”

Oh no. Now I’m really starting to get alarmed. Trader Joe’s has innaugarated this year’s Pumpkin Madness in a big way – with the introduction of a brand new type of cookie butter – Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Cookie Butter.

Ranking: 5 stars 5 stars

What it is: Cookie butter that tastes like pumpkin pie.
Price: $3.99 for a 14.1 oz jar.
Worth it: Yes – it’s cookie butter.

Look, on the one hand this is nothing if not welcome news. Any time Trader Joe’s wants to expand their absolutely heavenly line of cookie butter products is fine by me. Previous entries include Trader Joe’s Crunchy Cookie Butter, Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter and Nutella, Trader Joe’s Oreo-based Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter, not to mention all the countless offshoots and ancillary confections made with that tongue-melting, heart-stopping emulsified cookie sweetness.

In certain ways, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Cookie Butter is the most radical new member to the family. Here, for the first time ever, do we have a cookie butter not actually based on any real cookie. This is a huge move, on par with the introduction of the Cookies and Creme cookie butter. That Oreo-based cookie butter excited me because it suggested Trader Joe’s would start introducing new cookie butters based on entirely different types of cookies, not just the gold standard speculoos cookie. Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter takes it one step further, throwing the doors open to any sort of spice or confection imaginable.

This terrifies me slightly – in the same way that staring into the unshielded face of God himself would terrify me. Trader Joe’s has essentially taken us all one huge step closer to just selling us frosting as a sandwich spread. The Cookies and Creme cookie butter was close enough already – without cookies in the equation, there’s nothing holding them back. Give it a few more years, and we’ll be seeing Trader Joe’s Tahitian Vanilla “Cookie Butter” spread, that’s nothing more than a screw-top jar of creamy delicious frosting that we’ll all have been Pavlovian conditioned eat straight from the jar. Is that the dystopia or utopia?

Or maybe I’m just getting over excited. In any case, this is a delicious new entry into the cookie butter family. It tastes just like you hope a pumpkin pie spice cookie butter would taste. A sweet hint of pumpkin is the first taste that will hits your tongue, as well as the lingering aftertaste. In between, you’ll be treated to a gooey, nuanced mix of cookie bits, with pumpkin puree, pumpkin powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves.

Instead of speculoos cookies this time around, Trader Joe’s makes use of some sort of pumpkin, sugar cookie crumbs. These cookie crumbs are made with pumpkin puree and organic pumpkin powder, but they’re much too small to really get a taste of. This forms the basis for the crunchy bits of cookie crumb in the mix (more like crunchy cookie butter than the creamy kind), but it’s actually the least delicious part. Far more interesting are the complex notes of the pumpkin pie spices, and the enduring pumpkin flavor, all of which are captured in excellent clarity.

More than anything this cookie butter tastes like a slice of pumpkin pie (complete with crust) that has been blended down into delicious sludge – a gooey pumpkin pie in a jar. How amazing would it be to make a pumpkin pie out of this pumpkin spice cookie butter, rather than traditional pumpkin filling? Pumpkin Pie-ception

Like all other types of cookie butter, the biggest question is, “What do you actually do with this stuff?” The most obvious answer is “just spoon it straight into your face”, but for those of us who try to maintain a bit of decorum, it’s also great on waffle, pancakes and even in peanut butter sandwiches. It can also work as a seasonal dip for pretzels, apples or even celery.

Another big question – is Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter actually any better than Trader Joe’s regular cookie butter? Once again, I have to say that while this is interesting addition and delicious in its own right, it still doesn’t dethrone our glorious reigning king, the original cookie butter. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome addtion to my patry this autumn and, a seasonal treat to be looked forward to like egg nog or Halloween candy. Here’s hoping it returns again next year.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: It’s cookie butter, so yeah.

Would I Buy It Again: I have, like, three different cookie butters in my cabinet right now. Of course I will.

Final Synopsis: Pumpkin cookie based cookie butter, with plenty of pumpkin spices.


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin-Spiced Salted Caramels

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin-Spiced Salted Caramels Box

Beautiful, intriguing… delicious?

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Madness continues, and we really have something unusual for you today.

“But surely it couldn’t be more unusual than the Pumpkin Panettone we read about in the last post?”, I hear you asking, glancing at each other in puzzled concern.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Very salty, heavily spiced caramels
Price: $4.99 for a 6.2 oz box.
Worth it: Yes – if just for the unusual experience

The thing is – while Trader Joe’s pumpkin-filled panettone is clearly the product of a mind deranged by over-consideration of gourds, it is still a product easily recognizable and identifiable. Trader Joe’s Dark Choclate Pumpkin-Spice Sated Caramels, on the other hand, have no analog on this planet Earth.

They certainly sound ordinary enough – salted caramels, sure those are delicious, dark chocolate, why not, and of course pumpkin-spice, because this is October and we can’t control ourselves.

Yes the combination of these three components results in a truly intense and wholly new sort of taste completely unlike most chocolate bonbons I’ve experienced – a taste that is nearly savory, rather than sweet.

The issue is that while “dark chocolate”, “pumpkin spice” and “salted caramel” sound good together on a box, they don’t really mingle with each other harmoniously on the tongue. Eating one of these is a little like wearing black-and-white checkerboard shorts with a plaid shirt. They components clash in bold and unusual ways.

Let’s start with the salt. A little salt goes a long way, regardless of what you’re cooking, and doubly so when it comes to candy. When I tried Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Jumbles, I was really impressed with the elegance they showed with applying the salt – just a few grains place carefully on top. One glance on these caramels and it’s obvious that the same restraint was not shown. Each caramel is packed with a huge clump of vivid red Hawaiian sea salt. While I applaud the gorgeous color effect it has (and really, the presentation of the whole box couldn’t be classier), this is way too much salt. On first bite you’re immediately overwhelmed by a nearly painful burst of saltiness.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin-Spiced Salted Caramels 2

The very next flavor you’ll notice is the rich, dark chocolate. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, but dark chocolate should never simply be used as a substitute for milk chocolate. Yes, it sounds classier, looks better, and people will pay more money for it – but it simply isn’t the sort of light confection that milk chocolate is. In this case, Trader Joe’s is only using 55% dark chocolate in the candy shell, but in context the bitterness really comes to fore. This semi-bitter dark chocolate collides with the intense salt, and immediately starts a violent war over your tastebuds.

This bitter/salty conflict is the start of the savory taste I was talking about above. What really drives it home, however, is the combination of “pumpkin-spices”. As we all know, “pumpkin-spice” is short-hand for a wide selection of strong spices used to turn pumpkin into something redolent and flavorful. In this case, TJ’s is using cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, and no shortage of it.

Right as you bite into the caramel core, as you’re recovering from the wild ride of the outer shell, this combination of spices hits you so strongly that they nearly overpower the typical caramel sweetness. The result of all this is that for a moment, you might actually believe you’re biting in a slice of meat pie, or some other savory, salty, meaty treat.

Only after a few moments, when the initial barrage of taste sensations die down, do you finally get to taste the long, mellow finish of the caramel – punctuated here and there a few parting sallies from the salt.

On the back of the box, Trader Joe’s writes: “You think you’ll know what to expect, and yet, you’ll be pleasantly, pumpkinly surprised.” Surprised, certainly. Pleasantly is a matter of opinion. I will admit, after getting over the initial shock of the first few pieces, these caramels have started to grow on me. I’d hesitate to call them “good”, in the traditional sense of the word at least, but they are incredibly intriguing – a candy unlike anything else available in the store.

While these aren’t for everyone, if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary to snack on and ruminate over, these are fascinating little morsels.

If you need a nice little hostess gift (and you don’t want to bother with a panettone), you might be tempted to pick up a box of these. The presentation is certainly up to the job – but realize that you’ll be giving them something more challenging than delicious.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Hesitantly, if I knew their palette well.

Would I Buy Them Again: I’m still trying to come to terms with the first box.

Final Synopsis: Extremely intense chocolates, with a nearly meaty taste.


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Panettone

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Panettone

The kind of panettone Jack Skellington would have been made.

As you may have noticed from my unofficial first post last week – Pumpkin Season has returned again to Trader Joe’s! Today, we really get right into the swing of things with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Panettone – a pumpkin-spiced, pumpkin-cream filled, Italian desert bread stuffed with candied pumpkin.

Ranking: 3 stars 

3 star ranking

What it is: A bready cake made with candied pumpkin.
Price: $5.99 for a 26.5 oz cake.
Worth it: No – not as good as regular panettone.

Yes, as you can tell from the last sentence the annual pumpkin madness has fallen upon us again – the most exciting and, occasionally, harrowing time of the year. There’s no telling what fresh chimeras or monstrous hybrids the Trader Joe’s food scientists have cooked up in their labs, secreted far from judging eyes in the protective, pumpkin-scented bedrock of TJ’s Monrovia headquarters.

The season of Pumpkin Madness at Trader Joe’s is a time to mentally prepare yourself before you go shopping – there’s no knowing what what miracle or nightmare may be lurking around every corner – from the heavenly delights of Trader Joe’s pumpkin-glazed, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, to the terrors of Trader Joe’s Non-Fat Pumpkin Greek Yogurt, to the mind-wrenching bafflement of Trader Joe’s pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds and Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s.

Where does Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Panettone fall in this pumpkin spectrum? That depends in large part how you feel about panettone in general.

As you may or may not know, panettone (pronounced, approximately: “pa-nuh-toe-ni”) is a traditional Italian Christmas “cake”. I put cake in quotes here, because even though it’s generally referred to as such, panettone is much airier and “bread-ier” than the more common sort of American cakes. Like fruitcake, panettone is more of a concept than a set recipe, and is made as many different ways as there are people who make it. Nevertheless, all panettone are linked by a couple universal factors – they’re laced with dried or candied fruit, dabs of marscapone cream, and are always airy and bready.

Trader Joe’s does carry regular panettone around the holidays, so they know how they’re made. This year it seems they couldn’t contain their excitement for the sweet bread any longer, and decided to bring us a unique, pumpkin-based version. Instead of candied citrus and raisins, there’s candied pumpkin. Instead of marscapone cream there’s pumpkin-flavored cream. There’s even dried pumpkin powder worked into the dough. With that much pumpkin, you might expect the cake to be a double-fisted pumpkin punch to the jaw. Instead, it hardly tastes like pumpkin at all. All you’ll really taste is the traditional, bready panettone cake, and the sugary sweetness of the cream and sugar. The actual pumpkin bits – as numerous as they are, have been denatured of their natural pumpkin flavor. At best, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice a very, very subtle pumpkin aftertaste and that’s it.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Panettone 2

Pannettone – featuring candied pumpkin and pumpkin creme.

The overall effect is somewhat bizarre. It’s like having a glimpse into some alternate universe where the twisted occupants make panettone for Halloween instead of Christmas. In fact, this is probably what Trader Joe’s has in mind for this product. Each Pumpkin Panettone comes packaged in a very nice looking gift box, including a pretty little ribbon handle – perfect for a little host/hostess gift.

In terms of a nice looking gift, you could do worse. Show up with a Pumpkin Panettone and a bottle of wine to the seasonal autumn party of your choice and you’ll look quite dashing. Just don’t wait around the buffet table fishing for compliments – this panettone is likely to impress visually, but the taste is more likely to leave people scratching their heads than going back for seconds.

If you like Christmas panettone you are likely to enjoy this – the pumpkin hardly makes an appearance, and the sweet bread aspect is dominant. If you’ve never much enjoyed panettone, or if you’re looking for something heavy on the pumpkin, you should pass this up.

Alternatively, I would highly recommend punching it. The high, domed form of the panettone, combined with the soft and airy interior, make it an absolute delight to deliver a devastating front punch to. If you buy a Pumpkin Panettone, and you don’t like it, I’d definitely suggest winding up and letting one fly directly at the top of the dome before taking it back to TJ’s for a refund.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not really – unless you like panettone that doesn’t taste like pumpkin.

Would I Buy It Again: No thanks.

Final Synopsis: Very satisfying to punch.


Trader Joe’s Magic Beans

Trader Joe's Magic Beans

Do not trade a cow for these.

Trader Joe’s is no stranger to whimsy, and what could be more whimsical then bringing a bag of magic beans to market? That’s precisely what Trader Joe’s has done with their mysterious new offering, Trader Joe’s Magic Beans! An extremely enigmatic offering that combines vagueness with and strange product impulses into a bewildering product.

Ranking: 2 stars2 star rating 

What it is: Milk chocolate over crunchy nougat.
Price: $3.99 for a 7.7 oz bag.
Worth it: No, not very good quality sweets.

Trader Joe’s Magic Beans are certainly magical. Not necessarily in the way that wizards and dragons are magical, and not in the way that rainbows and a child’s smile are magical, but in that way a that mild concussion is magical – by turning ordinary things into an set of surreal and perplexing stimuli that don’t really make sense.

Upon seeing a bag of Trader Joe’s Magic Beans for the first time, many questions immediately spring to mind. Magic beans, really? What makes them so magical? What are they exactly? Where do they come from? None of these questions are answered in the slightest anywhere on the bag. You are presented with a strange, plastic sack of oblong candy, a product name, and no more.

One of Trader Joe’s more infuriating traits is a tendency to leave off the product copy. When they do include copy, it’s uniformly delightful and well considered – equal parts gently amusing and gently educational. However when they elect not to include copy, it’s almost always in instances like this – on their most unusual and unique items.

TJ’s is giving us nothing to go on here. “Mystery Beans” might be a better name. All we’re told is that they’re chocolate covered nougat beans. The surprise is that not only is the chocolate shell hard and crunchy, but so is the nougat in side.

Yes, crunchy nougat – not the typical soft and pliable stuff so pleasantly yielding to the tooth. This nougat has been hardened to a brittle condition. Biting into one of these over-sized beans is an act of crunch, crunch, crunching – like biting into some chocolate covered brittle or toffee.

That’s the other unusual thing. The nougat is crispy hard and almost buttery sweet – not at all like ordinary nougat, much more like toffee or crunchy caramel.

I’d never had crunchy nougat before. It’s certainly not something I ever though to ask for. Are there people out there who appreciate crunchy nougat? Is this a thing? I have to say it wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but going in expecting nougat made it a little off putting.

The chocolate part can pass largely without remark. It’s your basic, low quality Halloween candy-style milk chocolate making up a quarter inch thick cocoon. Not the best Trader Joe’s has to offer by any means.

Interestingly, these beans have also been shellaced – literally. Shellac is listed as the eighth or ninth ingredient. As you probably know, shellac is a resin generally encountered as a wood or nail polish varnish. Typically, that’s not something I’m looking for in my food – even though it is technically edible and a somewhat common food glaze.

In the end, there’s nothing really for me to recommend these on. Unless you’re intrigued by the concept of crunchy nougat, it’s hard to imagine anyone picking up these mysterious shellaced beans, even if I highly recommended them. Apart from giving them to out to kids as part of a “magical” gift bag, these beans were just sort of blah.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: No, not particularly.

Would I Buy Them Again: I have had a enough crunchy nougat and shellac, thank you.

Final Synopsis: Low-quality chocolate around a nougat-esque core does not necessarily equal “magic”.


Trader Joe’s “This Pumpkin Walks Into a Bar…” Cereal Bar

Trader Joe's This Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar Cereal Bar

Why did the pumpkin walk into the bar? For all the selenium, apparently.

Look, I have to hand it to the product naming team at Trader Joe’s. Sure, in the past I’ve excoriated them over inconsistent and even nonsensical naming schemes. I may have lambasted them for giving products unpronoucable French names, but when it comes down to it, they’re basically geniuses and I love them.

Ranking: 3 stars 3 star ranking

What it is: Sweet pumpkin filling in a cereal bar
Price: $1.99 for a box of 6.
Worth it: Yes, if you like a sweet breakfast.

I love Avacado’s Number Guacamole, I love their Carrots of Many Colors, I even like their Popcorn in a Pickle. It’s crazy, but what can I say. I like it when they get a little crazy. However, of all TJ’s product names the one I’ve somehow avoided talking about until now is Trader Joe’s “This Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar…”- one of the proud members of the ridiculous family of “This Fruit Walks Into A Bar…” cereal bars. It takes a bold unwavering vision to end a product name with an ellipses. “Just sort of trailing off without finishing your thought – that’s what customer’s respond to! Release a dozen varieties and keep ’em coming!”

In addition to the Pumpkin version we’re looking at today, Trader Joe’s also offers “This Apple Walks Into A Bar…” “This Strawberry Walks Into a Bar…”, “This Fig Walks Into A Bar…”, the list goes on… You certainly can’t accuse TJ’s of not committing to the gag – even if it makes scanning their breakfast aisle feel like flipping through a joke book.

All of these cereal bars offer basically the same thing, a  strip of fruit puree surrounded by a wheat bran sheath. It’s a familiar set up for anyone who’s ever had a Nutrigrain bar, or one of the other many “cereal bar” versions on the market. The big difference is that Trader Joe’s brand cereal bars proudly boast they that they contain no synthetic colors, perservatives or hydrogenated oils. In addition, Trader Joe’s has blended an elixir of vitamins into the fruit filling which contains 6 different B vitamins and, oddly enough, selenium.

Selenium, which Trader Joe’s highlights on several parts of the box, is an essential trace mineral linked to various vital functions. Just one bar contains 50% of your daily selenium value. Most people get enough of this in the typical balanced diet – but if you’re worried you’re selenium levels might be low, hey, chow down.

As far as the taste goes, these are pretty ordinary fare. The bready casing is dry and crumbly, and the filling is sugary sweet with fruits flavor underneath. To TJ’s credit the first ingredient listed is actually “pumpkin filling”, less impressive is that fact that this pumpkin filling lists rice syrup, cane syrup and apple powder above the actual pumpkin.

It’s definitely the syrup you taste most, with the sugar levels pushing my tolerance for a breakfast food. Think “concentrated poptart filling”, and you’re about in the area. If you’re looking for an intense sugar lift to get you started in the morning these would do the trick (and be sure to please the kids), just watch out for the imminent sugar crash waiting around the corner. There are 15 grams of sugar per 37 gram bar, but it tastes like more.

Eaten straight from the box, I didn’t find these a satisfying breakfast addition – and eating more than one in a sitting left me filling sugared out. They fared much better after a few minutes in the toaster oven – crisping up slightly and filling the house with the warm smell of pumpkin pie. Tastier, but still super sweet and not particularly convenient if you’re using it as an on-the-go meal substitute.

Trader Joe’s cereal bars might fit the bill as a substitute pop tart, but if you’ve outgrown those sort of sweets it’ll leave you flat.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Only to people who like a sugary breakfast.

Would I Buy It Again: Not I.

Final Synopsis: Sugary pumpkin filling in a Nutrigrain-like bar.

Trader Joe's This Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar Cereal Bar - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s This Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar Cereal Bar – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips – Salted

Trader Joe's Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips Salted

The poster child for “Low Fat = Low Taste”

I am a dyed-in-the-wool, straight-up chips and salsa fiend. Give me some chips, give me some salsa, and everything is just fine as far as I’m concerned. I have yet to find a jar of salsa that is big enough that I won’t finish it off in a single sitting.

Ranking: 2 stars 2 star rating

What it is: Bland tasting, baked tortilla chips.
Price: $1.99 for a 7 oz. bag.
Worth it: No, they taste stale.

Unfortunately, I’m getting fat. And while salsa is a good, healthy, vegetable-based, low-cal snack – tortilla chips, with all their carbs and fat, definitely are not. It’s a sad state of affairs, but I now live a chips and salsa free life.

There are many types of delicious (and not so delicious) salsas available at Trader Joe’s, and just as many unusual chip choices – often featuring healthful gimmicks (such as flax seeds). However, even “healthy” tortilla chips usually have more fat and carbs than I’d like to gorge myself on. So I was delighted when I came across Trader Joe’s Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips the other day. Promising only 2 grams of fat per serving, they were the healthiest chips I have ever come across. Taking them home, I gleefully rejoiced in finding the answer to my prayers.

Unfortunately, they taste like crap. Or, more correctly, they taste like bland tortilla chips that have gone stale straight out of the bag. Another review of these chips likens them to “cardboard”, and that’s not far off. The sad fact is that Trader Joe’s Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips are flat and lifeless. Even salted, these chips simply fail to delight the tongue.

Not being fried, these chips lack the crispiness, crunch and snap of a traditional tortilla chip. If, before I ever tried them, you’d asked me if I would trade such seemingly inconsequential concerns of texture for less fat, I would have said yes. And I would have been wrong. It doesn’t seem like something as run-of-the-mill as “crunchiness” should make or break a tortilla chip – but in this case it absolutely does.

If you’ve ever tried a tortilla chip from a bag that’s been left open a few days too long, you know exactly how these taste. There’s simply no saving a stale tortilla chip – no matter how flavorful the salsa or how delicious the nacho cheese. It’s sad, but a stale tortilla chip is little more than garbage.

No matter how I tried to appreciate the healthy elements of these blue corn chips, I simply couldn’t get over the stale taste. Maybe you’ll have better luck at that than I did, but as far as I’m concerned my quest for a healthy – and tasty – tortilla chip continues.

The Breakdown


Would I Recommend Them: Nope – too stale tasting.

Would I Buy Them Again: Not unless I’m reaaaaally desperate for a chip fix.

Final Synopsis: Unless they actually made you thinner, these chips ain’t worth it.

Trader Joe's Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips - Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Shrimp Toast

Trader Joe's Shrimp Toast

Sponge-y, not very shrimp-y

Shrimp toast. Shrimp toast. Shrimp toast. What is a shrimp toast? No, it’s not a meaningless Da-Daist phrase (well, not just that anyway), it’s actually a dim sum phrase! Trader Joe’s  Shrimp Toast is TJ’s new Chinese-inspired appetizer that combines shrimp (natch) with toast (also, natch).

Ranking: 1 star 1 star rating

What it is: Toast with shrimp paste on it.
Size: 10 little slices
Worth it: No, dry and bland.

Shrimp toast is as nearly as simple as it sounds – toast with shrimp on it. More accurately, it’s small triangles of bread, sprinkled with sesame seeds and topped with a thin layer of minced shrimp and tapioca yeast . The result is something that  doesn’t taste all that much like shrimp. Instead, it tastes like toast with a sort of mild, not easily identifiable, slightly moist topping of some sort. All authentic seafood flavor has been left far behind.

It’s not exactly a taste sensation. Shrimp toast, also known as prawn toast, has a tradition in Chinese American cuisine as a classic dim sum selection. Done right, it can be crispy and delicious – a palette cleanser between richer dishes, or eaten with a drizzle of duck sauce.

I’ve had quite good shrimp toast at dim sum – although my favorite versions end to be lightly fried. The Trader Joe’s variety is instead oven baked, and while that helps to keep the fat content down it doesn’t help out the flavor. And about that fat content – even baked, one serving (two of the tiny triangles) has 6 grams of fat (50 calories), and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. Not exactly a health food.

About the best thing I can say about Trader Joe’s Shrimp Toast is that they were easy to make. 8 minutes in the oven and they came out hot and crisp. Even then, however, they felt less like an appetizer in their own right, and more like the base for an appetizer that the top fell off of.

With a little creativity and ingenuity, you could probably whip up a topping that would make up for lackluster shrimp paste – but really I’m not sure it’s worth it. Trader Joe’s carries a lot of delicious bite-sized appetizers – but this Shrimp Toast isn’t one of them.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not even to the most devoted dim sum-er.

Would I Buy It Again: No more shrimp toast for me.

Final Synopsis: Not very good shrimp, not very good toast.


Trader Joe’s Reduced-Guilt Spinach & Kale Greek Yogurt Dip

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip

Tastes better than it sounds.

Few things are more tempting and decadent than a thick and creamy dip – and the king of these is no doubt the Spinach Dip. There is no party or social gathering that can’t be improved by the addition of a good spinach dip. Rich, cool and savory, even a mediocre spinach dip can elevate a humble tortilla chip to heavenly levels.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Low calorie spinach dip
Price: $3.99 for a 16 oz. tub
Worth it: Yes. Healthier, and still tasty.

Of course, as is usual for anything that tastes so good, spinach dip is terrible for you. Loaded with lethal levels of fat, spinach dip is the sort of condiment designed to test your willpower to the utmost. Perhaps just a nibble, you think, maybe just a chip or two… We all know where this leads – into the grasping, inescapable current of a spinach dip whirlpool.

Fortunately, Trader Joe’s has come to the rescue with their new Trader Joe’s Reduced-Guilt Spinach & Kale Greek Yogurt Dip – another entry in their line of “reduced-guilt” dips. We took a look at their reduced guilt chunky guacamole and reduced guilt chicken salad before. Both delivered uneven results. As is so often the case for “diet” foods, it’s easy to make a low-fat, low-cal food product, it’s just hard to make it taste any good. “Reduced-guilt” products walk a dangerous line. You have to sacrifice flavor in order to be healthy, but stray too far to one side or the other and you end up with something pointless and stupid. Healthy, but too bad tasting, and no one will eat it. Good tasting, but not particularly healthy, and you might as well just get the full calorie version.

In this case, Trader Joe’s manages to walk the tight-rope perfectly. This Spinach and Kale dip isn’t quite as delicious as the real thing, but it’s damn well close enough. A rich mixture of kale, spinach, water chestnuts, red peppers, carrots, green onions, garlic and even a little mayo create a colorful flavor pallete that makes a satisfying, full-bodied snack for crackers or chips.

Whenever you sub out sour cream for plain greek yogurt, as TJ’s has done here, you’re going to lose a little zip. That’s still the case here. After a big bite of this dip, you’ll notice it’s missing a little something on the tail end – a touch bland where it should be a touch zingy. That’s just the unavoidable cost of keeping the fat content under control. Fortunately, the blend of other vegetables and seasonings pep the dip up, compensating for this flatness fairly well.

And boy is that little bit of blandness worth it. Trader Joe’s normal spinach dip has 70 calories per serving, 60 of those from fat. This greek yogurt dip has less than half that per serving – 30 calories, 20 of those from fat.

All in all, that’s a pretty good trade off. No every “reduced guilt” product is worth it, but this dip is an exception to the rule.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, healthy and tasty!

Would I Buy It Again: Sure – this is a winner.

Final Synopsis: Low cal spinach dip worth the price.


Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cream Cheese

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Cream Cheese

Oh my god – they did it. The bastards finally did it!

Our week of decadence continues with Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Cream Cheese. On Tuesday we had a look at Trader Joe’s overwhelming burrata and prosciutto flatbread. The excess of rich cheese and meat on that was literally too much of a good thing.  It’s easy to image that a cookie butter infused cream cheese might stumble into the same pitfall. Luckily for us, that’s not the case, as this heavenly cream cheese balances its two decadent elements in harmony.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Cookie butter flavored cream cheese.
Price: $3.29 for an 8 oz. tub
Worth it: Yes. Cookie butter is always worth it.

In hindsight, it’s only natural that Trader Joe’s would introduce a cookie butter flavored cream cheese. After all, they already have a Cookie Butter Cheesecake and Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites. The next natural step is to just release cookie butter cheesecake directly to the populous so we can start mainstreaming it directly into our arteries.

TJ’s takes a straight forward approach to creating this delicious stuff. Realizing there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, Cookie Butter Cream Cheese only has four ingredients: cream cheese, speculoos cookie butter, crushed speculoos cookies, and brown sugar.

The result tastes like a 50/50 (or maybe 60/40) mix of cream cheese and cookie butter. It start out with the mild, cool and creamy flavor of a smooth cream cheese, instilled with the flavor of warm and yummy and ever so delicious speculoos cookie butter. In terms of intensity, the flavor is similar to the gingerbread and pumpkin spice cream cheeses that show up in grocery stores around the holidays.

Essentially, it tastes like a thicker, more mild version of everyone’s favorite cookie-based condiment. That may not make it a household necessity, strictly speaking, but it does give you yet another way to incorporate cookie butter into your diet.  Sure, we already have the cookie butter cheese cakes, cookie butter spreads, cookie butter ice cream and cookie butter filled cookies, but now we have a way to eat it for breakfast too.

The obvious applications are to serve it up on nice slice of toast, or golden-brown bagel, but there’s nothing to stop you from going wild and using it as a fruit dip, as the basis for amazing cream cheese frosting, or even making your own cookie butter cheese cake from scratch.

As for me, I already fall pray to the siren song of cookie butter too often as it is – scooping illicit spoonfuls into my mouth when my willpower breaks down. This cookie butter cream cheese may not be quite as rich and tempting as the original version, but odds are I won’t be able to keep it in my fridge for long.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yeah, you should definitely try this.

Would I Buy It Again: Not if I want to loose any weight.

Final Synopsis: Cream cheese with a mild cookie butter taste.