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Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Latte

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Latte Mix

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.

Ranking: 1 stars 

1 star rating

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.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Hmmmm, no.

Would I Buy It Again: *Shakes head, slowly and sadly*

Final Synopsis: Really gross instant coffee.

 

 

 

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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 Brownie Crisps

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisps

At the intersection of “brownie” “cookie” and “not good”

Quick question, what’s the best part about brownies? The warm, chewy, goo-aliciousness, right? The chocolate is good, but if I was just interested in chocolate I’d be eating a chocolate bar or having a piece of fudge.

Ranking: 1 star 1 star rating

What it is: Over-baked brownie-like cookies
Price: $2.99 for a small 5 oz. bag
Worth it: No. Not at all.

No sir, when I go after a brownie, it’s for the distinct, almost startling clear, sensory image of biting into a warm, chewy and, yes, goo-alicious square of melted bliss. And also sometimes to get high – but that’s a different issue entirely and completely legal in many states.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps, then, are not just a disappointment but a failure of brownie-kind. Although brownies are promised what you actually receive are thin, hard, dry, brittle squares of brown cookie. These are like brownies in so far as a pop-tart is like a fresh raspberry torte. All of that ooey-gooey goodness is no where to be found, and in its place is nothing worthwhile or redeeming. Even if taken just as a cookie, these Brownie Crisps notably hard and dry. I’ve had chocolate chip cookies from a vending machine with more life than these.

These brownie “cookies” are, essentially, very badly over baked brownies. If I forgot I had some brownies in the oven and came back to find them absolutely parched and glued to the bottom of the pan, I’d throw them out. I most definitely wouldn’t chisel them out, package them and try and sell them to people.

Frankly, I over-cook brownies enough on my own time. If I wanted that experience, I’m free to pick up some of Trader Joe’s brownie mixes (such as their quick-bake or reduced guilt mixes) and go to town. For a pre-made brownie/cookie product I expect something a little better. They look especially lackluster coming, as they do, right on the heels of the actually delicious tea cookies I reviewed previously.

I’m kind of at a loss for what to do about these. Wasting food is something I almost never do – but I couldn’t interest anyone in taking a second bite, and I certainly am not going to be eating them myself.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Only if I wanted to disappoint someone.

Would I Buy Them Again: Definitely not.

Final Synopsis: Failure as a cookie. Failure as a brownie.

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisps - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s 10 Instant Coffee Packets

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets

In this case, your coffee cup is Troy.

What flattering box design. Trader Joe’s 10 Instant Coffee Packets couldn’t look more charmingly mid-century if it was in the center of a Wes Anderson set piece. If only that charm and level of care had extended to the actual coffee packaged inside. What we have here is a classic Trojan Horse situation – only the box is filled with sub-par coffee instead of vengeful Athenians.

Ranking: 1 star 1 star rating

Recommended? Nope.
Buy It Again? Nope.
Final Synopsis Finally, you can have bad coffee anywhere!

In theory, this is a pretty good idea. Trader Joe’s cutely states that their packets of instant coffee are “all dressed up with creamer and sugar”- perfect for when you’re on the go, getting on a plane, etc. Why not mix the sugar and creamer into the instant coffee right off the bat to let you get on with your hectic schedule? Unfortunately, their execution leaves much to be desired. The problem, it turns out, is two prong.

One – this isn’t actual cream we’re talking about, but “creamer” – that ubiquitous white powder passed off in break rooms around the country as a suitable replacement for real cream. It isn’t, of course, isn’t anywhere close. Instead of a dairy product, it’s a combination of corn syrup, oil, whey powder, potassium phosphate and sodium caseinate. You know, all your favorites! And while powdered creamer can get you by in a pinch, it can also comes with a particular aftertaste of something slightly chalky and unsatisfying.

Two, and much more problematic, is the powedered coffee itself. Though Trader Joe’s boasts of the “100% Brazillian Arabica coffee beans” that go into the mix, this is not good coffee. A cup of this stuff comes out not bitter, but sour. While acidity is sought out by many coffee connoisseurs in their good java, it’s usually sought after for lending a “brightness” or “snappiness” to the cup. This is not that. The sour, cheap, aftertaste of the coffee, combined with the already less than great aftertaste of the creamer, makes for a truly unsatisfying cup of coffee.

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets 2

“Now wait a minute,” you might be saying, “This is a packet of instant coffee we’re talking about, not the damn Mona Lisa, aren’t you being a little hard on it?”

The thing is, sitting right next to me right now I have a little pouch from Starbucks that contains 3 single-serving packets of instant coffee that are not just drinkable, but actually enjoyable. It’s not necessarily coffee to write poetry about, but it is good. Good enough, certainly, to kick Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Pakcets from here to Timbuktu and back.

I could be more forgiving if I thought Trader Joe’s didn’t know what good coffee was – but Trader Joe’s does some great coffee. They did their own cold-brew coffee concentrate, for crying out loud, and that was so good it actually made me go back and redact my original snarky post.

The only thing Trader Joe’s can be proud about here is the original notion of combining creamer and sugar with their instant coffee, and that doesn’t strike me as quite the life-saver they make it out to be. If you really don’t have the time to find the cream for your coffee, then just take it black – know what I mean? I can’t imagine leaving the artificial creamer out of this instant coffee would make it any worse than including it actually does.

Long story short – there are way better on-the-go coffee solutions out there. Don’t settle for something gross just because the packaging is cute. A lesson we may apply to our love life as well as our coffee.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, I would not. Pick up one of the Starbucks versions instead.

Would I Buy It Again: I’m actually going to throw this box out.

Final Synopsis: Finally, a way to experience really bad coffee anywhere!

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Packets – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter & Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

A good idea in theory…?

Your first impression, when you hear about Trader Joe’s new Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt, might be “That sounds gross.”

I’m proud to say that I’ve based this blog on the idea that sometimes even the most bizarre or outlandish sounding food products – even partially popped popcorn kernels or a red wine and milk chocolate drink, can astound and delight an eater who approaches the world with an open mind. Not this time though. Trader Joe’s new Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt looks and smells and tastes terrible. Just really awful.

Yeah, I know that probably doesn’t strike you as an astounding verdict or anything, so before I start systematically eviscerating this poor, hapless product I thought I’d take a moment to find some praise for it – faint though it may be.

Kudos – kudos I say! – to Trader Joe’s for not giving a good goddamn what anybody else in the world thinks. There was zero demand for a no fat, peanut butter and strawberry jelly flavored greek yogurt. Exactly zero people were standing around demanding this mash up of a soggy sandwich and a tasteless  dairy culture, but someone at Trader Joe’s was sure as hell going to give it to us any way.

“Who the hell cares!” someone at TJ’s is probably bellowing even now, chomping on a cigar butt and gesticulating forcefully, “I said make some goddamn peanut butter and jelly flavored greek yogurt, and stock it on every store shelf nationwide!”

“Sir, the PB&J greek yogurt is a complete flop! No one is buying it!”, no doubt come the cries.

“So what!” our fellow at Trader Joe’s shouts. “Now fill this sushi with quinoa and start baconizing all this popcorn, and why isn’t there any rosemary on these toffee sunflower seeds?!”

Anyone can play it safe. It’s the bold innovators who deserve the acclaim. Long may you thrive, Trader Joe’s!

That said, this yogurt is really dreadful. I really wanted to like it, even in the face of the atrocious sounding name, if for no other reason than the packaging is kind of cute. Sadly, the contents don’t live up to even this promise. Peanut butter and greek yogurt have similar textures, I had reasoned, maybe it’ll be rich and creamy and sweet and – nope. Nope, none of that. It’s not even peanut butter colored – just sort of a dismal gray.

Well, I thought, maybe the strawberry jelly is sort of included as a fruit-on-the-bottom type sweet surprise that – nope. Nope, no jelly on the bottom. Instead, the peanut butter and jelly flavors have blended into each other, along with the tart, plain greek yogurt. Shockingly, the ingredient label shows that real strawberries have actually gone into this. Shocking, I say, because they are impossible to discern in this undifferentiated gray mass – neither in texture nor taste.

The PB&J sandwich is an American classic. This yogurt tastes nothing like it – only the vaguest elements of peanut butter are detectable, and only the faintest taste of strawberries shows up. If you have ever soaked a PB&J sandwich in skim milk until it started to fall apart, then tried to eat it, that is pretty much exactly like what you are getting here. All you really end up tasting is a blur of tartness, muddled with hard to place indistinct flavors. It may only be $0.99, but even that is asking too much when Trader Joe’s offers such a wide range of far tastier nonfat greek yogurts.

I remember figuring out that mushing together everything in my lunch bag was a bad idea back in Elementary school. Trader Joe’s has done an excellent job of reminding me why.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Nope.

Would I Buy It Again: Not unless I feel like wasting food.

Final Synopsis: Theoretically, a peanut butter and jelly infused greek yogurt. Practically, a gross, gray glob.

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter & Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter & Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Beef Pho Soup with Rice Noodles and Vegetables

Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup 1

That doesn’t look too bad… right?

You usually can’t go wrong with food at Trader Joe’s. When they recently missed the mark with their Low-Fat Chicken Chow Mein I didn’t expect to run into trouble again, so soon, with another Asian, noodle-based dish. However, here we are. Trader Joe’s Beef Pho Soup is a total let down across the board and should be studiously avoided.

The flip side of delivering such high-quality results, time and time again, is that you set the bar high. Even in Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle, I expect anything I pick up to be better than average. That’s something to be proud of, but it makes your failures absolutely shocking by comparison. This beef pho soup is one such failure.

Before I go any further, it’s probably necessary to clarify that “pho” is pronounced “f’uh” not “fo”. It’s simple fact, but one that some pho shops – such as the Beverly Hills based “9021-Pho” – get wrong, while other shops – such as “Pho King” – get so, so right.

Pho, for those of you who have yet to enjoy it, is a hearty Vietnamese noodle soup – generally served in the largest soup bowls that you’re ever likely to see. In fact,  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone drain an entire bowl of pho in one sitting. There are many, many variations on the soup, but all of them feature the same basic template – a clear broth (usually chicken or beef) heavily spiced with clove, star anise, coriander seed, fennel, cinnamon, black cardamom, ginger and onion, a hearty portion of rice noodles and some sort of meat (again, usually beef or chicken – though any meat can be used). Pho is then served piping hot with a heaping plate of traditional garnishes, such as chili peppers, cilantro, lime, bean sprouts, and Thai basil.

Grappling with the mountain of sprigs and garnishes, is part of the fun of eating a pho. It’s an Asian dish that retains something of it’s cultural uniqueness, despite it’s adoption on American shores. It’s a simple dish with complex underpinnings, yet the many restaurants I’ve enjoyed it at have all, without exception, delivered a hearty, spicy, and most of all delicious dining experience.

Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup 2

Surely that will be edible… won’t it?

So it’s really, really shocking that Trader Joe’s fails to achieve what the dingiest, strip mall pho house can nail. The problems with Trader Joe’s take on pho are numerous, but it boils down to the fact that their pho is bland. So bland. Bland and limp. Bland, limp and lifeless. Conceptually, it’s like eating a gruel made out of C- report cards. I don’t know how you could decide to make a pho but forget to put any of the spices in, but Trader Joe’s has done it.

The first mistake I made was heating the dish up. In its frozen form, Trader Joe’s Beef Pho looks clever and smells appetizing. The marbled beef cubes look intriguing, the frozen noodles look elegant, and the scent of spices, while not strong, still suggests the fragrant, green richness of a true pho.

It’s really a huge a surprising let down, then, when you heat it up and everything goes limp and flavorless. From the bland broth to the thin, flavorless noodles, to the limp, mushy vegetables, there is literally nothing to recommend this soup. Trader Joe’s tries to cover up for it’s deficiencies by urging you to “add a squeeze of lime” on the box, but it would take far more than that to turn this pho around.

If you enjoy pho, you’ll want to avoid this soup and try any of Trader Joe’s other wonderful, delicious Asian cuisine options. If you’ve never had pho before, you’ll also want to avoid it. Instead, look for literally any pho restaurant in your town and eat there instead. Unless a gas main ruptures explosively while you’re in the building, it’s guaranteed to be a better experience.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Only to jailers looking for ways to further erode the human spirit.

Would I Buy It Again: I’ll by the dehydrated kimchi before I buy this.

Final Synopsis: The only truly bad pho I’ve ever had.

Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Beef Pho Soup – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad

 

I don’t have anything to say about Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad that isn’t short and nasty, so I suppose I’d better just get to it. Trader Joe’s should have called this Trader Joe’s Crappy Peanut Bean Thing. Instead they try and tell me it’s a salad and put it next to the good stuff.

Saying that this salad tastes as bad as it looks is not entirely accurate. Obviously, it looks terrible. I’m not sure I’ve seen a mass of soy beans, peanuts, pistachios chunked carrots, and cooked spelt that looks worse than this – and I’m including vomit in that. At least vomit has the effluvium of stomach bile to cloak it’s terrible, true nature. This stuff just sits there in the open, daring you to stare directly its clusters and lumps. Go ahead and try it – see if you can last longer than five seconds, I can’t.

So to say it’s as bad as it looks is implying that it tastes atrocious, which it doesn’t. It tastes worse than that – it tastes bland. There are foods out there that I think look and taste awful which whole cultures have passionate loves for. You’re not really a country, I reckon, unless you have at least one national dish that no one else in the world can stomach. The English have Vegemite, the Scotts have hummus, the Japanese have natto, the Americans have Kraft Singles, etc. What I’m trying to say is, taste is relative, and really intense flavors may alternately repulse and delight, depending on the eater.

Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad, on the other hand, is simply bland and uninteresting. The packaging claims that it is dressed with a soy ginger sauce. This is technically true, but the dressing is present in such cowardly quantities that it contributes almost nothing to the taste, beside rendering the whole mess somewhat squishy. The primary flavor you’ll experience is “soggy nuts”. There’s some nutty tasting quinoa, some peanuts and pistachios. Next to that, the edamame, spelt and carrots don’t really show up much, and when they do it’s only to add an additional dimension of blandness to the whole affair.

I could go on and on about how upset I am at this tiny little tub, but the bulk of my ire is actually reserved for the nutrition labels. Go ahead and flip this tub over, but first set your faces to “stunned”.

Serving size, 1 package. Sure, that seems reasonable. What else. Calories: 590, Calories from fat: 290.

Trader Joe’s, ARE YOU TRIPPIN’, BRO?!?! These numbers are absurd – and the madness goes on. 45% of your daily fat value, 350mg of sodium, 68 grams of carbs.

So essentially, what we have is a tiny little tub of stuff that looks gross, tastes like a more mild version of unsalted peanuts, and contains as much fat as a Big Mac only with more calories. It’s like Trader Joe’s figured out how to remove all the fun and enjoyment from eating fast food. There are entire galaxies of more delicious, healthful and fun meal options out there – many of them right there in the Trader Joe’s salad aisle. Unless you are in desperate need of compact, high calorie food sources (sumo wrestlers, long distance bomber pilots, roving apocalypse survivors) why you would want to go for this instead of literally anything else is beyond me.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, not unless you needed the final component for a robot powered by hate.

Would I Buy It Again: Only as a tip off to my loved ones that I’m secretly being coerced by kidnappers.

Final Synopsis: A bland, gross looking pseudo-salad that is bad for you.

Trader Joe's Nutty Grain Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad – Nutrition Facts