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Trader Joe’s Morroccan Style Mint Tea – Kettle Brewed

Trader Joe's Morroccan Style Mint Tea.png

Every summer Trader Joe’s parades out a new selection of beverages with the goal of quenching your thirst. Sometimes these are legitimately quenching, like Trader Joe’s Coconut Water, and sometimes they’re just picking your pocket book, like Trader Joe’s Maple Water.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Green tea with a touch of mint.
Price: $2.99 for a 64 oz. jug
Worth it: Yes. Great tea at a good price.

What makes something truly refreshing? I couldn’t tell you – but I can say that Trader Joe’s Moroccan Mint Tea definitely has *it*. A cool, quenching not-too-minty, subtly sweet green tea that is here just in time to beat back the summer heat. It might just be tea, but it’s tea done right.

What’s so good about it? This green tea is infused with both spearmint and peppermint, then sweetened with a touch of cane sugar. Unlike most mint teas, which tend to be overpoweringly minty, or cloyingly sweet, TJ’s Moroccan Mint Tea gets it just right. Take a big swig of this, and the first thing you’ll taste is… tea. The actual kettle-brewed flavor of a cool green tea. Notice the deep mellowness of it – not too astringent, certainly not sweet – just right. Only as you begin to take a gulp does the minty back show itself, enhancing the flavor of the tea and cooling the palette without overwhelming the natural flavor of the brew.

It’s a similar play with the cane sugar – just a hint has been added. Just enough to balance out the naturally bitter edge of tea, but not enough to make it a traditionally sweet drink.

Trader Joe’s attributes this tea to Moroccan, but this sort of sweetened mint tea is common throughout the Mediterranean regions – or anywhere that the sun gets too damn hot. If that sounds like where you live, you’ll definitely want to consider picking up at bottle.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – extremely refreshing!

Would I Buy It Again: Most certainly.

Final Synopsis: Perfectly balanced, wonderfully quenching tea.

Trader Joe's Morroccan Style Mint Tea - Nutrition Facts

 

 

 

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Trader Joe’s Dried Baby Bananas

Trader Joe's Dried Baby Bananas

Before I get into talking about Trader Joe’s Dried Baby Bananas, I should probably acknowledge by absence lo, these last 4 months. After posting twice a week, every week for the last 4 years, I just got tired. That, combined with a new ad revenue sharing model implemented by WordPress (“Thanks for the increased traffic – we’d like to start paying you half as much.”) meant that a short Christmas hiatus turned into a long-term indefinite hiatus.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Super tasty, tiny, dried bananas.
Price: $1.99 for a 6 oz. bag
Worth it: More than worth it.

And honestly, that indefinite hiatus would probably still be going on if it wasn’t for two factors – first, Trader Joe’s started all but taunting me with some of the stuff they’ve been stocking, but more importantly, I received some very touching, very concerned e-mails from fans of the blog. I certainly wasn’t expecting that – and it simply melted my heart. Sure, I could get by without the blog, but how could I deny you, the reader, of my rambling, unprofessional, knee-jerk screeds? That’s what really kept me up at night.

So anyway, I’m back. I’ll be making a couple tweaks in the weeks to come – in particular I’ll be posting only once a week going forward, and maybe making some changes to the format, but really when Trader Joe’s comes out with whole baby bananas, dried into tiny, chewy brown fingers, the time has come again to weigh in.

These whole, dried bananas showed up a couple months ago, but I simply can’t get them off my mind. When it comes to dried fruit, I tend to think that there aren’t any real advances to be made in the field since, say, the Babylonians. It’s dried fruit – once they figured out you could dry fruit for storage it probably took them all of an afternoon to explore every available option. You wanna put apple slices in there? Sure, why not. Apricots? Orange slices?  Mango? Pretty straight forward stuff. Maybe someone remembered to try persimmons a day or two later. This is low tech, elemental stuff.

So why have I never before in my life seen whole dehydrated bananas? It’s certainly not because they’re not delicious, because these dehydrated baby bananas are the very definition of nature’s candy. Starting with whole baby bananas out of Thailand, Trader Joe’s simply dries them until they wrinkle up into desiccated, little brown fingerlings – a few inches long, and about half an inch wide. The sugar in the banana concentrates down as the bananas shrink, resulting in that mild, mellow banana sweetness and taste, only sweeter and stronger. Think jelly belly compared to jelly bean – more flavor in a smaller package.

The resulting texture is still soft, but also vaguely leathery and chewy – making them extremely enjoyable to snack on. This, combined with the wrinkled, flaccid, tanned appearance is perhaps a bit off putting. I’ll admit that the notion that this must be a little bit what munching on a mummy’s fingers would be like did flash through my brain on more than one occasion while eating these – however they’re so tasty and snackable that they easily overcome any reservations about texture or appearance.

Trader Joe’s suggests that these make an excellent snack for “little hands and large hands alike”, which only reinforces the whole “I’m eating fingers” thing, but still makes a good point. You may only get about 20 of these baby dried bananas per 6 oz. bag, but they satisfy so well, and are so cheap, that they should last a a whole carful of munchkins, or an office of inquisitive co-workers.


The Breakdown

Final Synopsis: Delicious, tiny, dried bananas – nature’s answer to the fun-sized candy bar.

Would I Recommend Them: Absolutley.

Would I Buy Them Again: I already have.

Trader Joe's Dried Baby Bananas - Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls

Trader Joe's Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls 1

Simple and yet complicated – a classic TJ’s confection

Fresh madness, straight from the howling bowels of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Innovation Labs (TJPIL), but oh, what sweet madness this is.

Take a quick poll of your friends and co-workers and ask them to name a spice they naturally associate with pumpkin. Ginger? Did they say ginger? Probably not – not unless they’re in the habit of whipping up their own pumpkin pie spice from scratch. Despite the seeming disconnect between pumpkin and ginger, it does make a subtle appearance as a traditional pumpkin pie spice, along side cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Small, pumpkin-ginger ice cream sandwiches.
Price: $3.99 for a 12 tiny sandwiches
Worth it: Yes. Pumpkin and ginger works, baby!

For some reason, the TJPIL decided to pass right by those more likely ice cream companions and go straight for the ginger. And you know what – I’m delighted that they did. Trader Joe’s Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls are exactly right – a perfect balance of sweet pumpkin ice cream with a dash of tingling ginger, sandwiched between two soft, ginger cookies.

I think we can all agree that it’s hard to screw up an ice cream sandwich as it is. Cookies are great, ice cream is great – putting the two together is pretty much going to be a grand slam. And yet, TJ’s mini ice cream mouthfuls go above and beyond. This seasonal ginger pumpkin variety is a fall addition to their mini ice cream sandwich line, which already includes a mint ice cream version for the summer. All of the varieties show the same attention to creamy delicious detail.

Miniaturizing ice cream sandwiches down to finger food form is actually a bit of a brilliant idea. Often times the “worst” part of an ice cream sandwich (“worst” here, in the sense of the “worst” part of winning the lottery, or the “worst” part of all your wildest dreams coming true) are the bits where they cookie is too thick and dry, the ice cream to far away. With these mini ice cream mouthfuls, you never find yourself in such a predicament. Like the inverse of Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies, or Chicken Pot Pie Bites, you actually get less crust and more filling.

Speaking of that filling – Trader Joe’s uses they’re usual, delicious pumpkin ice cream. If you haven’t had it, rest assured that it tastes far more like sweet and creamy than pumpkiny. On the other hand, there’s plenty of ginger in these frosty bites. If pumpkin puts you off, you might well still enjoy these. If ginger puts you off, however, you’ll probably want to give the a pass.

As for me, I couldn’t get enough of these. Each box holds a dozen of the little bites, but I could have eaten twice as many and not been satisfied. Ginger and pumpkin ice cream – who knew they’d work so well together?


The Breakdown

Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, if I could trust myself around them.

Would I Recommend Them: Absolutely, very tasty.

Final Synopsis: Tiny ginger and pumpkin ice cream sandwiches that taste even better than they sound.

Trader Joe's Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls

Trader Joe’s Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls – Nutrition Facts


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 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 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.