Hollows and Fentimans Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Hollow and Fentimans Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Alcoholic, but is that really enough?

Occasionally I’m compelled to review something not of the Trader Joe’s brand. Why? Am I crazy? Am I trying to sabotage the accuracy of my own blog’s name. Far from it! Every now and then, Trader Joe’s simply finds a product that, for one byzantine, boring reason or another, they choose to bring in under its original brand name instead of using the TJ label.

Ranking: 2 stars 

2 stars

What it is: Very sweet, alcoholic ginger ale.
Costs: $4.99 a bottle.
Worth it: Nope, too expensive.

This seems to happen most frequently with their particularly weird alcoholic drinks – as we’ve seen previously with ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider and Europa Chocovine.

To that we can add Hollows and Fentimans Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Yes, you all know that I’m a sucker for those potent ginger brews – case in point, Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer, Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew, etc. What makes Hollows and Fentimans’ Ginger Beer any different from the others crowding the shelves? 4% alcohol by volume, as fact would have it.

Yup, this is the first actually alcoholic ginger beer available from Trader Joe’s. And as exciting as that prospect is, it’s actually kind of a let down.

After so many delicious ginger drinks – in particular the recently released, cloudy and complex Brewed Ginger Beer – Trader Joe’s has set the bar quite high when it comes to spicy root-based beverages. Given that Hollow and Fentimans’ offering is billed as “all natural”, and comes from a British company with a 110 year history of brewing the stuff, I was expecting something equally flavorful, nuanced, and ginger-tastic. And while it certainly isn’t swill, this ginger beer is more like a syrupy ginger ale than a spicy taste bud tingler.

The contents of the bottle are golden-yellow, non-carbonated, and very sweet – sweeter than any can of regular ginger ale you can find on the shelf. This is actually a mark of its pedigree. The very first ginger ale ever sold, dating back to one Dr. Thomas Cantrell in Belfast in 1851, was also golden-yellow in color and sweet as the dickens. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that Canadian John McLaughlin developed “Canadian Dry” ginger ale – the more common, paler variety found in North America under big names like Schweppes, Seagrams and, yes, Canada Dry.

While that shows excellent adherence to tradition, it doesn’t really make Hollow and Fentimans Ginger Beer all that pleasant to drink. At the quite low 4% alcohol by volume, you don’ taste the beer in this ginger beer, just the sugar. The ginger part isn’t all that impressive either. After getting zazzed up by Trader Joe’s more sophisticated and intense ginger offerings, this ginger beer tastes positively juvenile – flat and one-note, with an unremarkable ginger taste dominated by cloying sweetness.

So if neither the “Ginger” part, or the “Beer” part are particularly appealing, what is there to draw you to this ginger beer? Certainly not the price, which comes at an outright expensive $5.99 per 12 oz bottle.

If you could get a six-pack for six bucks, this ginger beer might be worth it. As it stands, it would be easier, cheaper and tastier to mix a boozed up ginger drink yourself with Trader Joe’s own excellent offerings and a little bit of imagination.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, too expensive for such an average a drink.

Would I Buy It Again: Nope – see above.

Final Synopsis: A very sweet ginger ale, with little alcohol and not much kick.


Trader Ming’s (Trader Joe’s) Shiitake Mushroom Chicken

Trader Joe's Shitake Mushroom Chicken

Lots of beans and five mushrooms. Yes this is the contents of one whole bag.

I’m already on the record as being a huge fan of Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken frozen dinner – it’s the sort of cheap, yet easy to make, yet healthy, yet delicious meal that has you wondering why every frozen dinner can’t be this good.

Ranking: 3 stars 

3 star ranking

 

What it is: A bean, mushroom and chicken stir fry (frozen) – 22 oz.
Costs: $4.99
Worth it: It’s tasty, if you don’t mind all the beans.

So when I spied Trader Joe’s (or should I say Trader Ming’s) new Shiitake Mushroom Chicken I was over the moon – surely TJ’s would be able to deliver the same top-shelf cooking with this chicken and mushroom stir fry, right? Well… maybe not. While I found the Chinese chicken dish edible, it’s not nearly as satisfying as its illustrious forebearer.

The chicken and mushroom part is good enough (although we’ll get to them in a minute), it’s the unlabeled third ingredient that throws things off for me. For some reason TJ’s leaves “beans” off the label, even though soybeans (and green beans) make up the bulk of the dish. Of course, it’s understandable that you might not expect “Trader Joe’s Loads of Soybeans with Mushroom and Chicken” to sell quite as well – nevertheless that’s what you’re getting. Big and bright green, beans, beans, beans.

I’ve got nothing against soybeans, or edamame as we usually call them in Asian cooking. I think a dish of salted edamame makes a nice little appetizer, and I even enjoyed Trader Joe’s Edamame Hummus. However, I find edamame to be much more of a support vegetable. Harder, more mealy and less savory than more common western beans like black or pinto, I don’t ask soy beans to carry a dish, and I don’t expect them to. Yet that’s what you get here, with each forkful of chicken laden down with a handful of whole soy beans.

That’s a shame, because outside of the bean bonanza, the rest of the dish is basically on point. The soy-sauce marinated dark meat chicken is plentiful – and delicious – with the thick ginger soy sauce dressing included in the bag. Even better are the whole shiitake mushroom caps, which are as good as they are unorthodox.

Trader Joe's Shiitake Mushroom Chicken

Trader Joe’s Shiitake Mushroom Chicken

Generally the mushrooms you get in Chinese food (or most prepared meals) tend to be chopped up or button-sized. Not so here – each big honking shiitake mushroom cap is larger than a pre-war silver dollar, and served whole. As cool as that is, it’s tempered by the fact that you also only get about five or six of them in the whole bag. This combined, with the bounty of soy beans, makes for a weirdly unbalanced meal – spoonfuls of edamame and chicken, punctuated by the occasional whole mouthful of mushroom. It’s a good thing, then, that the mushrooms taste so damn great. These shiitake mushrooms are absolutely bursting with an intensely earthy mushroom flavor, saturating each meaty bite with savory good times.

Overall, the feeling of the whole dish is sort of “Close, but try again.” All of the elements are just slightly out-of-whack with each other. If they took it back to the testing lab, cut down on the beans and added some more mushrooms, maybe halving or quartering them this time so you don’t have to, then they’d really have something. As it stands, there’s not just reason to get this dish instead of one of Trader Joe’s other, much better balanced, Chinese food offerings.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, with reservations. Jut make sure you’re okay with beans going in.

Would I Get It Again: I wouldn’t – I think I’ll go back to the Kungpao Chicken Instead

Final Synopsis: A bean-heavy take on a shiitake-chicken stirfry.


Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Gelato

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Gelato

Man, doesn’t that look delicious? How could that not be delicious?

Oh, what a disappointment you are Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Gelato. Trader Joe’s has brought so many wonderful things into my life, I try and not get too let down when something falls flat. They dream big, and for that, at the very least, they deserves our every consideration of leniency. And yet I am simply crushed by overwhelmingly lackluster execution of what could have been a mouth-melting delight.

Deserts, like everything else in life, can be broken down into closely detailed hierarchy of what-beats-what (this is the sort of thing usually done by bored nerds. For instance, me, right now). The way I see it, frozen deserts generally beat baked deserts (ice cream beats cake). Within the domain of frozen treats, we have ice cream at the bottom, then sherbet, then sorbet, and finally, at the very top, theoretically you have your gelato.

Unfortunately, what we have here is a failure of gelato. What I look for in a good gelato is something creamy, dense and bursting with rich, overwhelming flavor. For something like salted caramel it seems like this should be a grand slam. Salted caramel, so simple but under-appreciated for so long, is one of the most satisfying flavors on the market. When it comes to intense, tongue pleasing tastes, there are ways to get fancier with it (and ice cream makers certainly twist themselves in knots coming out with convoluted, over-the-top flavors), but you just can’t beat the simple blast of savory and sweet you get from a well executed salted caramel. My tongue tingles just thinking about that rich buttery sugar melting into flashes of brilliant salty bursts.

This is the first gelato Trader Joe’s has ever brought to market, and it makes sense to choose such a decadent flavor – so why does Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Gelato fail so badly?

Mainly, there really isn’t anything interesting going on here. The gelato is creamy, but lightweight – more like a scoop of Rite Aid Thrifty brand vanilla than a premium ice cream experience. This wouldn’t be such a failure if the gelato itself was as rich, sweet or salty as you might expect it to be. Instead of being blasted by a tongue-grabbing saltiness or charmed by impossibly sweet and creamy custard, you’re presented with a blandly “meh” sort of middle of the road flavor. Less creamy than their vanilla, less sweet and savory than their cookie butter ice cream, there’s no reason to come back to this mediocre confection.

In fact, Trader Joe’s has a plethora of delectable ice cream treats to choose from. Despite the name on this bucket, don’t expect it to beat out any of the other ones. I’d buy much more likely to buy another half gallon of Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy Frozen Desert before I bought more of this – not just because it’d be healthier, but because the vegan soy milk is at least doing something interesting with flavor.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No way – go for the Cookie Butter ice cream first.
Would I Buy It Again: Not so long as I have any other choice.
Final Synopsis: “Salted” “Caramel” “Gelato” that fails to live up to any part of the name.

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Gelato - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Gelato – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Maple Water

Trader Joe's Maple Water

Tree sap – your new hydration solution!

“Would you like some tree sap?” “How about a nice cup of tree sap?” “Why not quench your thirst with this big glass of tree sap?”

No matter how you phrase it, drinking tree sap just doesn’t sound all that appealing. And so it was with literal jaw-dropping surprise that I picked up Trader Joe’s Maple Water from the store shelves this week. “What is this, like, water with maple syrup in it?” I thought to myself. That would sure be weird.

Weird indeed, but not as weird as the truth. Maple water is so called because it is the literal water that trickles out of maple trees when you try and make syrup from them. It’s literally tree sap. Check out the ingredient list if you don’t believe me – “ingredients: maple water (sap)”. Trader Joe’s Maple Water is pure maple sap that comes directly from trees – for real.

So the obvious question is, what does maple tree sap taste like?

Well, not like much actually. Twist off the cap of the cardboard tetra-pack carton and take a swing, and you’ll end up with a big mouthful of water with a faint sweetness and a very faint maple syrup taste. It you want to try and replicate this at home, pour a big, eight ounce glass of water then add about half a teaspoon of maple syrup to it. We’re talking that level of almost low key sweetness and subtle maple flavor.

Goddamn shocking folks. I had assumed this was going to be some kind of sugary summertime drink – a substitute for  lemonade or watermelon cooler. Instead, this maple syrup product is being marketed as a complete source of re-hydration. Yes, maple water is being positioned as the new coconut water.

Okay, Let’s break this down.

The first thing to understand is that maple tree sap is completely unlike sticky, viscous pine sap. In its natural state, as it rises up the tree trunk in early spring, it runs free and clear at 98% water by volume. It’s this very same sap that is literally tapped into in order to make maple syrup. The only difference is that maple syrup is crated by boiling off the excess water until only the sugars remain. If you had the will, and enough cartons of maple water, you could boil up your own maple syrup on the stove at home.

While drinking unrefined maple sap has a history stretching back to the pre-colonial Indian tribes of the north east, the recent resurgence can be tied to the tireless merchandising machine looking to fill the newly lucrative health drink market. With the success of coconut water, it’s no wonder that maple sap is being introduced into the marketplace with trendy boxes and high price points.

So is it actually any good for you? Well, that remains hard to prove. The copywriters are certainly straining themselves to prove it so, bringing up such facts as a cup of maple sap contains more manganese than a cup of kale. Manganese, guys, manganese – someone hold me back!

Maple water does have a couple nice features – half the sugar and calories as coconut water, 25 calories per serving as opposed to 100, as well as being an allegedly rich source of anti-oxidants, although it lacks the potassium and electrolyte content of coconut water. But the real benefit, it seems to me, is in cultural cache.

If you’ve ever felt pangs of envy as the box of organic coconut water you brought to your barre cardio class was made to look downright boorish by someone else’s box of organic single-sourced coconut water, this may be the product for you. Just envision the looks on everyone’s faces when you pull out a box of honest to god tree sap. People are going to lose their goddamn minds.

Just make sure you’re cool enough to actually pull it off. Maple water is close enough to the ever racing edge of absurdity that you’re going to have to handle it with absolute self-confidence to avoid looking ridiculous. Maybe practice in the mirror at home a couple time first.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: To social status seekers and the genuinely curious, yes – to everyone else, no.

Would I Buy It Again: I see no need.

Final Synopsis: This pricey carton of drinkable tree sap is probably just a fad.

Trader Joe's Maple Water - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Maple Water – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Grecian Style Eggplant with Tomatoes and Onions

eggplant-tomatoes-onions

All the tinned eggplant a man could want!

I’ll admit it, I find something strangely alluring about tins of food. I can’t really enunciate exactly what it is that draws me to large, sealed metal tins, but whatever it is Trader Joe’s Grecian style Eggplant with Tomatoes and Onions has got it. There’s just something of a mystique to them something, that aura of the unknown that surrounds the Mystery Box, and would lead me to trade it all for what lies behind Door Number Two.

Surely that’s an impulse that we all share – even if it might be a touch harder to understand how that translates over to tins of food in my mind. After all, tin are clearly labeled aren’t they and – what’s more – generally cheap, low-quality, packed with preservatives and otherwise the last resort of cut-rate food producers everywhere. Isn’t the tin, after all, the receptacle of choice for the $0.49 can of tuna fish, the repugnant anchovy, and Armour Brand Potted Meat Food Product?

Yes, indeed – but whether its a sensory addiction to the feeling of gripping the ring tab and slowly prying back the lid or something even stupider, I can’t resist the siren song of a mysterious tin of food.

The last time I was lured down this path was for Trade Joe’s Dolmas, which I found off-puttingly oily but which many readers rose to the defense of as laudably authentic.

Trader Joe’s has here returned again to the Grecian well with this stewed eggplant product, even going so far as to use the exact same type of tin – namely the upside down one with the tab on the bottom. This still twirks my mind unpleasantly. Wouldn’t it be just as easy, maybe even easier, to put the label on in such a way that you could read it and open the canister at the same time?

Well,whatever the reason for it, once you’ve pried open the top/bottom of the tin you’ll find a densely packed stew of the eponymous eggplant, tomatoes and onion – more of a gloop actually. All the constituent parts seem as though they were cooked gently enough to preserve much of their shape and texture, but then crammed into the tin under sufficient force to blur the boundaries between one vegetable and another.

Disappointingly, to me anyways, what you get is exactly what is advertised – a mixture of the three vegetables (plus parsley, garlic and red pepper) that tastes like… well, those three vegetables. There’s no ineffable alchemy that takes place here, no whole greater than the sum of its parts – the three veggies mingle but don’t enhance each other in any remarkable way. The overall result is exactly what you’d get if you decided to stew up the same three ingredients in a pot yourself. Sure, Trader Joe’s is conveniently saving you the trouble with this tin, but the question is why? Who feels particularly compelled to get these particular ingredients in this form? That seems like a rare enough demand to me that I don’t necessarily need it on my shelf, ready to go at any moment.

If I did feel the urge to have some stewed eggplant, I’d probably just cook some up myself instead of going for an oil-packed can like we have here. For a dish that’s all veggies, you wouldn’t think it would be able to pack in 250 calories of fat (70% of all the calories in the dish!).

Trader Joe’s boasts that you’ll be “enchanted by the soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture and the smooth, almost squash-like, eggplant flavor.” If oily, stewed mush is something you have to have from a can, then this tin will suit you just fine. For me, I’ll be heading on to the next mystery tin without a backward glance.


The Breakdown

Would I recommend It: Not in very strong terms, no.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t see any reason to.

Final Synopsis: Stewed eggplant packed in oil. About as good as it sounds.


Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Rooibos and Honeybush Tea

Trader Joes Rooibos and Honeybush Tea

Fair trade…organic…kosher… Surely all these organization wouldn’t put their seal of approval on an underwhelming tea, right?

It’s been a while since we looked at Trader Joe’s tea selection. And honestly, that’s because Trader Joe’s teas run a little hot and cold. On the one hand I’m a huge fan of Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai Tea and their Autumn Harvest blend. On the other hand you have more, shall we say, lackluster offerings like their wretched Tropical Sweetened Matcha. When I saw the new gorgeous box of Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Rooibos and Honeybush Tea, I was immediately on board. Surely with box art this bold, this dynamic, surely it must be one of the good teas. Right?

Look, let’s start out with the positive stuff.

Fair trade products are worth supporting. As it turns out, corporations are incredibly good at exploiting the unrepresented and voiceless – particularly if the people being exploited are a continent or two away from the eventual consumer. In the same way that fair trade chocolate is important to developing sustainable economies (and environments) in Africa, fair trade tea is worth supporting. Also it’s organic, so that’s good too. Organic and Fairtrade – two strong, good adjectives leading us off right out the gate.The problem is that the product title doesn’t’ stop there, because then we get to the “rooibos” part.

I don’t do this often on this blog, but I’m going to make some strident, potentially divisive claims based more on personal opinion then objective polls of larger social trends. Rooibos tea is terrible. In the same way that people have risen to the defense of Trader Joe’s heavily sweetened corn-only salsa, I’m sure there are die-hard rooibos tea lovers who are going to take umbrage with this statement. To me however, rooibos tea taste like wet carboard. That was the first thought I had the first time I tried it, and it is the same thought I have had every time since. Rooibos tea tastes exactly like sucking on the paper stick of a Tootsie Roll Pop until it turns to mush.

Rooibos is an herbal tea, which means it isn’t a real tea made from the leaves of tea plants, but instead from the clippings of a broom-like scrub plant that grows in South Africa. It has been steadily growing in popularity the last few years because of…. something. I don’t know.

I honestly do not understand why people drink this tea, and I have regretted the purchase every time I picked it up. I had hopes that the promise of “Honeybush” being present in this Rooibos and Honeybush tea might make for a different experience. It does not. Honeybush is another South African bush commonly said to taste just like the rooibos bush only “a little sweeter”. “Little” being the important adjective in this phrase, meaning “not actually noticeably sweet at all”.

Here’s the other thing I think is weird. It takes an incredible amount of rooibos to brew even a single cup of rooibos tea. The given brewing instructions are to let one tea bag steep in your cup for 6 full minutes before you try sipping it. For a pot of tea they recommend adding one tea bag per person, and letting the pot steep for 8 minutes. That’s an extremely long soak. I dare you to try that with a bag of Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast Tea, let alone several bags. After 6 minutes, the tea would be strong enough to overpower you in fight.

Again, yes the box is beautiful, the bags are beautiful, and even the box itself is well designed – incorporating a natural hinge and an exceptionally clever self-locking flap. The only problem is that I feel I would be just as well off gumming the edge of the box until it turns to pulp as I would be actually brewing the contents.

I may be well off the mark on this one – I’m willing to believe that someone loves this tea – it’s just that it it has any positive qualities I’m completely blind to them.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: This is very unlikely.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so. If I get the hankering for rooibos again I reckon I can always just chew on an index card.

Final Synopsis: Rooibos tea always tastes like wet cardboard to me.


Trader Joe’s Sweet & Salty Kettle Popped Popcorn Chips with Whole Grain, Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Whole Quinoa and Sunflower Seeds

Trader Joe's Sweet and Salty Kettle Popped Popcorn Chips

Yeah go ahead, might as well throw some flax seeds in there too.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t care if everyone else is giving their food products catchy, memorable or even easily paresable names. No, what they’re going for is completionism, and they aren’t going to stop adding words to their product name until it contains as many ingredients as they can get away with. Thus is the case with TJ’s Kettle Popped Popcorn chips – a sweet and salty hybrid snack that dares ask the question, “What would happen if you tried making tortilla chips out of kettle corn?”

I may slight Trader Joe’s for their gaffs, but I love them for just these feats of daring audacity. Obviously no sane person would try to take fully popped sweet and salt kettle corn, then try and compress them down into flat discs. Leave the popcorn to the popcorn and the chips to the chips, the average consumer might say – their sense of normalcy firmly ingrained by the stream of mundane products churned out by mainstream grocers. Not only has TJ’s just made chips out of popcorn, but they went ahead and started throwing in whole fistfuls of quinoa, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds in as well. I’m going to give them full points for thinking outside the box on this one.

That said, are they any good. Well, as you might imagine from such a hybrid snack, it does many things serviceably, but nothing amazingly. While shaped like chips, they certainly don’t behave like chips. That is to say, these popcorn chips can’t be dipped or dunked. Their popcorn nature makes them much to fragile for that. The only thing that the chip nature is good for is to give a home for all the seeds.

The scattering of quinoa, sunflower, and flax seeds give the otherwise ordinary kettle corn a nuttier taste and a sort of extra intriguing crunch. However, because the chips are so fragile they tend to break up immediately in the mouth, so there isn’t really much time to appreciate it. I like the idea of mixing in those seeds, but unlike, say, Trader Joe’s Super Seeded Tortilla Chips, these just don’t hang around long enough to have much of an impact. It almost seems like a waste of the seeds, and an unnecessary source of additional fat.

The kettle corn itself is quite tasty – just the right amount of salty and sweet that makes it such a treat. However, it begs the question, why wouldn’t I just buy a regular bag of kettle corn if that’s what I was after? The only real advantage, as far as I see, is that it’s easier to be aware of how many “chips” you eat. Regular popcorn is such an amorphous collection of tiny things that I tend to eat more than I realize- munching down kernel after kernel. In chip form it’s easier to realize “Whoops – that was a dozen chips, better lay off.”

Ultimately, Trader Joe’s Kettle Popped Sweet and Salty Popcorn Chips are an interesting new snack, but fail to make a strong case for buying a second bag.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: No, just go pick up some regular kettle corn.

Would I Buy It Again: I’d give it a pass.

Final Synopsis: Tasty kettle corn, compressed into an unnecessary disc shape.

Trader Joe's Sweet and Salty Kettle Popped Popcorn Chips - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Sweet and Salty Kettle Popped Popcorn Chips – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Beet Hummus

Trader Joe's Beet Hummus 2

Yes, that is edamame hummus you see in the background. No, there is no stopping Trader Joe’s hummus rampage.

Well well, beet hummus – that’s apparently a thing we have now. Beets. Hummus. Beet hummus. Not hummus and beets or but hummus with beets, but hummus made from beets. It’s a real thing and we’re all just going to have to deal with it.

Long time readers of the blog know that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with beets, or maybe more accurately, I have a self-destructive fascination with beets. Despite referring to them on more than one occasion as tasting like gelatin made with dirt, I nevertheless feel compelled to purchase each new and successively weirder beet product that Trader Joe’s puts out. They’re sort of like my anti-mango.

At any rate, for the above reasons, I picked up this unsettlingly purple tub of ground beet mush to see if it tasted as good as it sounds. The first thing I should clarify is, despite all my ranting and wailing, beets only make up a portion of this hummus. The first ingredient in this hummus, as in all true hummuses, is ground garbanzo beans, aka the chickpea. This has been blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and a few Mediterranean spices – aka the hummus you all know and love. It’s just that on top of this really solid base Trader Joe’s has decided to mix in beets. Tons of beets. And also beet juice.

Trader Joe's Beet Hummus

So… purple.

Can you taste the beets in this hummus, you might be asking? Yes – yes you can absolutely can taste the beets. That potent yet somehow drab beet flavor grabs you by the tongue from the first bite and doesn’t let you forget it. “Beets”, as listed on the label, is the second ingredient – and you will notice it. This is augmented by the addition of beet juice and, in case you didn’t think that was quite enough beet, a hearty handful of extra beet chunks scattered liberally on top. Trader Joe’s apparently went into this one with the goal of ensuring that no one in the world could accuse their beet hummus of not being absolutely chockablock with non-stop beet action.

That said really, there’s nothing wrong with this hummus. It’s a regualar, run of the mill hummus across the board – it just has a bunch of beets in it. That’s really all there is too it, which drives me slightly crazy. It tastes just like ordinary hummus, except that you’ll taste beets when you first put it in your mouth and experience that long, distinctive beet aftertaste. I’m sure that there are some people in the world to whom this is somehow a selling point. If you’ve become bored by Trader Joe’s numerous other hummus offerings, if mere edamame hummus strikes you as humdrum, then this novel, beet-centric take on hummus may be just what you’re looking for.

To me, however, this beet hummus is like getting my car back from the mechanic and being told – “Good news. We’ve fixed everything and it’s running fine – and also we filled up the back seat with spiders.” It’s fine, I just really wish you had avoided taking that extra step.

As I say, I’m sure there are people out there who are excited by the prospect of integrating a root vegetable into their hummus routine. To those people I say go for it, this is the best beet hummus on the shelves. For me, however, I’ll be giving it a wide berth.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Hypothetically I could recommend this to beet lovers, if ever I meet one.

Would I Buy It Again: Nope.

Final Synopsis: Hummus, but it tastes like beets.

Trader Joe's Beet Hummus - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Beet Hummus – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger

Lot’s of crystallized ginger, lots of dark chocolate. Less exciting that it sounds

I picked up Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger because, well, it sounds kind of terrible. Why would I do that to myself? Perhaps I’m insane. Perhaps. At any rate, I like both dark chocolate and ginger, but taken together they sound a little bit off putting. Both alkaloid rich dark chocolate and intensely strident ginger are strong, acquired tastes that are best used sparingly. So what was TJ thinking when they decided to give us huge globs of dark chocolate, stuffed full of spicy, candied ginger? I can’t begin to imagine, because really, these globs aren’t particularly good.

This is a classic case of what you see is what you get. If you look at these big chunks of dark chocolate and imagine that beneath a thick semi-sweet coating rests a big nugget of ginger you have the right idea. The only real surprise is that the ginger isn’t a solid single chunk, nut a tight wad of small ginger chunks. This is actually a pleasant reveal as I was preparing myself for the teeth gluing, tongue-burning action that a really good sized hunk of crystallized ginger is uniquely capable of delivering

While that isn’t the case here, there is still plenty of ginger in these hefty morsels, and that strong ginger taste simply does not mesh very well with the strident bitterness and subtle sweetness of the dark chocolate. There is a way to enjoy these, but it isn’t by snacking on them. Instead, these fall squarely into he camp of sophisticated thinking-man’s sweets. To enjoy the experience of eating one of these you really need to be thinking about it – thinking about the clash of spicy, sharp ginger with its own crystallized ginger exterior, while simultaneously appreciating that whole clash as it clashes with the bittersweet dark chocolate its enrobed in.

That’s a whole lot of clashing and honestly, in my opinion, it’s not worth it. Yes it’s a novel taste – but not so novel as to make up for all the sugar and fat you’re eating. There are plenty more sophisticated chocolate tastes in the world, such as Trader Joe’s Stone Ground Salt and Pepper Chocolate, and if you’ve got a candied ginger hankering crystallized ginger  is pretty good on its own. Combining these two does neither any favors and should probably be relegated tot he dust bin of novel failures, along with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Nibs.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I’d recommend either of these things separately, but not like this.

Would I Buy It Again: Nope. Done with these.

Final Synopsis: Two great tastes that taste confusing and strange together.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets

Fried broccoli. Strangely, not an oxymoron.

I’ll admit I was very excited when I first saw Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets. Sure, there’s the obvious reason why – they’re insane. I can see someone going out and frying up a bunch of broccoli in palm oil – maybe an unhinged zealot misinterpreting a Biblical passage or a space alien taking its best guess at replicating human behavior – but to then go out and try and sell those fried florets? That’s downright brazen.

As I say though, that’s not the main reason I got excited when I saw these. The main reason is that I had high hopes they might be a healthy, maybe even tasty, alternative to my potato chip cravings. Alas, this isn’t the case. While the broccoli florets are tasty, in their own fashion, they are by no means healthy.

Let’s examine both of these surprising facts.

Tasty? Yes, definitely tasty – for a given value of tasty at least. The first thing to keep in mind is that these fried broccoli florets have exactly three ingredients – broccoli, palm oil and salt. If you buy these, you should expect them to taste like broccoli, and I certainly was. If you enjoy the taste of broccoli, you’ll find it we’ll preserved here – not at all depleted or ruined by the frying process. As for salt, there’s only a dash, to the tune of only 55mg of sodium (2% your daily value) for the entire bag. Trader Joe’s is content to let the hale, hearty taste of the broccoli speak for itself, and it does.

Taken alone this basic taste wouldn’t be very interesting, but the eponymous “crispy crunch” greatly helps it along. Each floret is dry, crunchy and enjoyable in it’s own right as an interesting texture experience – with a light taste and a mellow, green aftertaste. It’s not the taste sensation of the year, but if these florets were anywhere near as healthy as broccoli, they would be plenty tasty enough to justify a regular purchase as a healthful snack food replacement. That brings us to our second fact.

Healthy? Not at all. Our little 1.4 ounce (40 gram) bag of broccoli may only have 220 calories, but 130 of those calories, more than half, are from fat. That’s 15 grams of fat total, for 23% of your daily value. Of that 6 grams are saturated fat – 30% of your daily total! Shocking for broccoli, I’d say.

Let’s compare that to an equal serving of Trader Joe’s Kettle Cooked Olive Oil Potato Chips. 40 grams of that has only 200 calories and 10 grams of fat. Leaps and bounds healthier! The only real advantage they have over potoato chips is that the broccoli retains its nutrients, packing in a pretty decent amount of vitamin C, along with some vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

Without the health factor, there’s no reason to pick up these fried broccoli florets. They taste good enough – but not good enough to warrant that level of fat, when simple raw broccoli florets dipped in a little ranch dressing is not only healthier but far tastier to boot.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: No real reason to.

Would I Buy Them Again: I can’t imagine I will.

Final Synopsis: Fried broccoli that is less healthy and less good tasting than the raw stuff by a wide margin.

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets – Nutrition Facts