Ever since they introduced their own brand of (rather delicious) sriracha sauce last year, Trader Joe’s has been actively working it into as many different products as possible. We’ve seen spicy sriracha ranch, sriracha BBQ sauce and, not to be overlooked, sweet sriracha glazed bacon jerky. These have been heady months.
What better time, then, to introduce a brand new form of hot sauce to the shelves – Trader Joe’s Green Dragon Hot Sauce – a bolder, hotter variation of their tasty sriracha.
|What it is:||A spicy, jalapeno-based hot sauce|
|Price:||$2.99 for an 18 oz. bottle|
|Worth it:||Yes, spicy and bold!|
I should note, just in passing, that this is a pattern that exactly follows what Trader Joe did with their amazing cookie butter. First, filling the shelves with as many cookie butter infused products as they could spin out (seriously, there’s a ton), then introducing a brand new member of the cookie butter family with their “Oreo” based cookie butter.
Although packaged in nearly identical bottles, and emblazoned with a similar dragon logo, there isn’t a lot of family resemblance between these two hot sauces. What’s different? For one, the green dragon looks a lot wussier than the rad red dragon – but more importantly the Green Dragon Hot Sauce dispenses with the flavorful, sweet tang of the red sriracha sauce in favor of a bolder, more herbaceous, and overall spicier taste.
The green color in the Green Dragon comes from replacing the ground chili peppers in the original sriracha sauce with a jalapeno and tomatillo pepper puree. You’ll find the same vinegar and garlic base in both, giving them that slightly acidic zing – however the new Green Dragon sauce also adds a strong dose of cilantro to the mix. This results in a very strong, earthy flavor that lingers long on the tongue.
The difference between these two sauces is almost like the difference between those famous, commonly related seasonings salt and pepper. The red sriracha sauce is more like salt – zippy, very flavorful and, for all intents and purposes, the more popular choice for putting on everything. On the other hand, the green pepper sauce is better for adding a more complex, heavier and spicier dimension to your food – and because there’s so much cilantro on board, a few dashes is probably all you need of it.
In fact, cilantro has such a strong presence in this hot sauce, that I’ve found that it makes it particularly suitable for spicing up Mexican dishes – tasty with eggs (ranchero-style or otherwise), tacos, burritos… the whole enchilada. Combined with the distinctive taste of jalapeno and tomatillo peppers, this sauce feels as Mexican as it does Thai.
Trying them both back to back, I can’t help but prefer the red sriracha sauce. It’s still my go to hot sauce from Trader Joe’s – improving on Hoy Fong Foods famous rooster sauce by sticking closer to the authentic Thai recipe. However, while it may not get as much use as the red sauce, the green dragon sauce is still a welcome tool to have on the spice rack.
Would I Recommend It: I would – there aren’t a lot of sauces out there like this right now.
Would I Buy It Again: This bottle should last me a while, but I might pick up another one in a year next year.
Final Synopsis: A bold, spicy hot sauce with plenty of jalapeno and cilantro.
Every now and then, after Trader Joe’s comes out with a particularly weird or goofy food product, I get to feeling a little bit superior to Trader Joe’s – sort of like they’re my wacky next-door neighbor.
|What it is:||A hummus like spread made from|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 8 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes. A delicious hummus substitute.|
“Pickle-flavored popcorn, TJ?” I’ll think to myself, shaking my head, “You’re just lucky I love you so much, you big goof!”
And without exception, every time I start to feel this way, Trader Joe’s turns around and absolutely embarrases me with a product that is elegant, nuanced, and grounded in a rich culinary tradition that I’ve never even heard of.
“What d’ya got this week, TJ?” I ask, sauntering into the store, “Another wacky popcorn flavor?”
“Actually,” Trader Joe’s casually informs me, “This is muhammara – a middle eastern condiment similar to hummus but made from walnuts and pomegranate juice. A product of ancient Syria, of course. Ahahaha – no, don’t try and pronounce it, you’ll just make yourself look silly.”
Yes, today we’re reviewing Trader Joe’s Muhammara – a delicious, hummus-like spread with a cool, dark red color and a smooth, gently earthy, mildly piquant taste.
Unlike hummus, that can taste a bit grainy or mealy due to the garbanzo beans it’s made from, muhammara is a blend of walnuts, roast red peppers, pomegranate juice, olive oil and bread crumbs. While that sounds like it would result in a weirdly lumpy or heterogenous texture, it couldn’t be more smooth and velvety – perfect for veggie dip, cracker spread, or pita filling.
The taste itself has quite a bit of the mildness of a red pepper roasted to softness, and only a subtle touch of the nuttiness of walnuts, and even less of the tart pomegranate flavor you might expect. In fact, muhammara is generally made with pomegranate molasses, much more similar to the pomegranate syrup we made up than mouth puckering pomegranate juice. As such, the muhammara also has an understated touch of sweetness to it that makes go down particularly smoothly.
Despite never hearing of it before, I enjoyed the hell out of my muhammara. It was good with pretty much whatever I tried it with, and made an excellent “before dinner” snack with just a handful of Triscuits I had at hand. I’ve always been a little bit ambivalent on hummus – which generally ears out it’s welcome with me after a few bites. Muhammara has all the qualities I like about hummus, the soft spreadable texture and cooling, snackable taste, with an added edibility and improved texture.
As you may have guessed from the walnuts and olive oil, muhammara shares hummus’ high fat content – but thta’s simply the nature of the beast. Buy a tub, enjoying it moderation, and you won’t regret it.
Would I Recommend It: If you like hummus, give this a try.
Would I Buy It Again: I do think so.
Final Synopsis: Just like hummus, but a little tastier.
Some days I wander the aisles of Trader Joe’s, vainly seeking for something that piques my interest, and sometimes Trader Joe’s makes it easy. There was certainly no way in hell, for example, that I wasn’t picking up Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar. If there’s such a thing as baiting the trap too richly, this is it – metaphorically and literally. We’re talking about a bar of bold, 70% dark chocolate, injected full of chocolate cream sauce and infused with crispy bacon bits. The resulting trip is as delicious and intense as that description makes it sound.
|What it is:||Dark chocolate bar, with ganache and bacon filling.|
|Price:||$1.99 for a 3 0z. bar|
|Worth it:||Yes! An intensely delicious ride for cheap.|
Not since Trader Joe’s Sweet Srircha Bacon Jerky have I encountered a product name with such scene-stealing panache. Or ganache, as the case may be. Clearly Trader Joe’s has seen what Chuao has been doing with their amazing candy and spice infused Firework bars, and decided they can one-up them at their own game.
The Uncured Bacon Ganache bar is, shockingly, exactly what it says it is. Starting with a rich, semi-sweet (read, “bitter”) 70% dark chocolate, Trader Joe’s has then piped each individual square full of syrupy caramel-and-chocolate-ganache mixture. This makes the candy bar decadent, but what really sets it apart are two things – the heavy touch of smoked salt, and the crunchy bits of bacon peppered throughout. The result is a tongue-top riot of deep bitter chocolate, super sweet caramel, and savory, tasty saltiness. In short, it’s beautiful.
The success of the whole bar depends heavily on the intense ganache filling. I have to admit that despite hearing the word almost constantly nowadays, I didn’t exactly know what a “ganache” was. In it’s basic form, it’s just dark chocolate mixed with cream to create a velvety chocolate sauce. Again, that’s in its basic form. Trader Joe’s modifies their ganache so dramatically that it probably doesn’t deserve the name any more. In addition to the melted chocolate and cream, TJ’s adds a healthy dose of pure, and unheralded, caramel that really ups the sweetness factor.
The real star, however, is the alder smoked salt. Rather than dusting the bar with salt, like they’ve done with their recent dark chocolate and sea salt offerings, the salt seems to be mixed into the ganache itself. The result is a salty-caramel-chocolate syrup filling. Like we saw with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt grahams, and their Milk Chocolate Jumbles, a little sea salt and chocolate is a winning combination.
That equation adds up here too, where the salt content has be ramped way up and melted into the candy itself. In fact, there’s so much salt in the filling that it tastes more salty than sweet, at least at first blush. I actually liked this, because it balances out the darker, heavier tones of the dark chocolate, and also helps bring a little life to the bacon crumbles.
The bacon, by the way, needs all the help it can get. Despite top billing, the bacon doesn’t make much of an impression in this bar. Its presence is limited to a sprinkling of small crumbles which are baked into the chocolate itself, rather than incorporated into the filling. Whatever savory or salty taste the bacon still has is overpowered by the intense dark chocolate and the saltier ganache. You’ll mainly only notice these nubs as bits of texture, tough flecks of a vaguely meaty substance that show up from bite to bite. While they do lend a very subtle bacon flavor to the candy bar, there’s not really enough to make much of an impact, and the bar would be just as good without it.
Underwhelming bacon performance aside, this is a fine fine chocolate bar. Taken alongside the new Firework Bar, it signals a delicious future for Trader Joe’s chocolate aisle.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, to lovers of intense chocolate everywhere.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, once I’ve recuperated sufficiently from this one.
Final Synopsis: A tasty bar without much bacon, but more than enough caramel, salt and dark chocolate.
I’ve reviewed a good number of teas for this blog. Flavorful teas, and bland teas. Interesting teas and slightly unnerving teas. All of them, however, gentle teas. Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea is not a gentle tea. It’s a hardcore ass-kicker tea, capable of turning a cup of hot water blackish-red in seconds and almost frightening in its intensity.
Clearly this tea is brewed by and for people who live in miserable northern latitudes, who have to drag themselves out of their drafty stone cottages to go cut peat in a bog all day. It’s a straight and strong black tea – grown in the Himalayan Assam Valley and delivered straight to you in a box of 80 tea bags for a mere $2.99. That’s a good deal for any tea – let alone one that is both a) very drinkable and b) strong enough to brew a couple of cups off of.
|What it is:||Strong black tea.|
|Price:||$2.99 for 80 tea bags.|
|Worth it:||Yes. This is good, bold tea.|
Unlike Trader Joe’s much milder, if still strong, English Breakfast Tea, their Irish Breakfast Tea is so bold and robust that all you need to do is steep it for a few seconds. Let it soak for a minute or more and the tea becomes so strong it’s practically belligerent. Full-bodied and earthy, are the adjectives that Trader Joe’s elects to use. Sure, full-bodied in the way you might call Andre the Giant full-bodied. Earthy like you might call the Earth earthy. And that’s good, because it makes it my go to tea when I need to get my butt engaged in the morning.
Is it pleasant to drink? Not exactly. It’s not necessarily a harsh tea, but like any black tea it’s going to turn astringent and bitter after an over-long soak. It’s just that in this case, an over-long soak means ” almost immediately”. Luckily there’s a natural palative to an overly strong Irish tea – a dash of milk or cream. That’s how the Irish themselves take it, mellowed out to a relaxing brownish-tan with a good dash of dairy. Unless you enjoy rocking your tongue with a little extreme tea drinking, it’s how I’d recommend it to you as well. Of course, it’s just as good with any of Trader Joe’s milk substitutes, such as their coconut milk, or soy milk creamers.
For me, this tea was the equivalent of a tattooed biker with a heart of gold. It was a bit of a rough customer at first, and I wasn’t sure I was going to warm up to it’s brash ways, but then I noticed that all the tattoos were hearts that said “MOM” inside. It might take some getting used to, but once you start enjoying Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea, you’ll come to love it’s uniquely strong take on an otherwise mild beverage.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, but be ready with the milk.
Would I Buy It Again: I just finished my first box, and I miss it already.
Final Synopsis: Like three bags of regular black tea at once.
Reviewing TJ’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral the other day got me in the mood for other cheese and dough related, disc-shaped appetizers of Mediterranean origin that are suitable for a variety of toppings. By which I mean pizza! Luckily, Trader Joe’s was able to deliver with their Bambino Pizzas Formaggio – a box of 4, tiny little 5″ cheese pizzas that come frozen and ready to get cooked up in your oven.
|What it is:||Mini cheese pizzas|
|Size:||Four 4oz. pizzas.|
|Worth it:||Yes. This is acceptably tasty pizza.|
Trader Joe’s has had a variety of these pint-sized pizzas for years – however, they’ve recently debuted an eye-catching new box design that ditches the “boring Italian-food look” for an aqua blue that really pops out at you. Hey, it worked on me – good job box designers, you’ve tricked my ape brain again!
Aside from the box, there’s nothing really all that innovative about little cheese pizzas you cook at home. These are basically what you’d expect – medium crust, cheese and marinara sauce pizzas about the size of CD’s. What really suckered me in (as it so often does) was the cool name Trader Joe’s stuck on these. Or should I say “Trader Giotto”.
As I’ve talked about time, and time again, the little noms de cuisine Trader Joe’s utilizes both delights and frustrates me. On the one hand, as a borderline insufferable psuedo-intellectual, I treasure these slyly literate winks. “Ho ho”, I think, not unlike Dr. Hibbert, “I wonder if anyone else caught that”. On the other hand, their consistent lack of consistency drives me right up the wall. Case-in-point, Trader Joe’s Guacamole vs Trader Jose’s Spicy Edamame and Guacamole dip.
Apart from the exotic name, these are actually pretty basic fare – your standard no-fuss, frozen cheese pizzas. However, the execution is pretty much beyond reproach. You’re always going to loose a bit of quality when you scale down a pizza to personal size – you end up with more crust for a lesser amount of sauce and topping (not unlike the miniaturized Trader Joe’s Pot Pies) – however TJ’s does a good job making sure there’s still plenty of rich and tangy marinara sauce, and melty mozzarella cheese to satisfy.
Unlike, say, french fries, pizza is one food that manages to hold up well when frozen. Just pop these in your oven for 11 minutes and they come out bubbling and crispy. It may not be the most exotic thing Trader Joe’s has ever brought to market, but they’re easy to cook and perfectly tasty. And just like our aforementioned 5 Cheese Greek Spiral, they’re easy to dress up with a spring of basil, a few slices of pepperoni, some olives, or you know, whatever. Nothing wrong with that!
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, everyone can agree on mini-pizzas.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t see why not.
Final Synopsis: Yum yum, tasty tiny pizzas.
Trader Joe’s candy selection is just as interesting and varied as any of their other product selections. In the past we’ve looked at some of their intriguing chocolate offerings (some more successful than others), their honey mint patties, and even their mango gummies. However, out of all of the candies I’ve tried so far, Trader Joe’s new Ts & Js Sour Gummies have got to be my favorite.
|What it is:||Sweet and sour gummy candy.|
|Price:||$1.99 / 7 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes. They’re like better Sour Patch Kids|
Sometimes you want something salty, sometimes you want something sweet, and sometimes you just want to pucker and grimace on something that will scour your taste buds with a coarse blast of citric acid. Trader Joe’s Sour Gummies is their answer to that masochistic desire for sour candy, and a marked upgrade on the only other contender for that slice of market space, the classic Sour Patch Kid.
What you get with these sour gummies is a 7 oz. bag of little letters “T” and “J” in four citrus flavors, dusted by rough grains of cane sugar. Sweet at first, for just a moment, the sugar quickly gives way to a single so-tart-you-love-it punch to the kisser. Trader Joe’s isn’t pulling the punches either – these little candies are every bit as sour as Sour Patch Kids, and then some. After a handful you’ll be ready to put them aside and give your mouth a break for a minute.
With four great flavors, you’ll actually enjoy the punishment. Unlike the vaguely differentiated “flavors” of Sour Patch Kids, Trader Joe’s actually delivers four distinct and interesting flavors – tangerine, Meyer lemon, key lime and grapefruit. Made with real fruit juice, you will be able to distinctly tell each little bite-sized letter apart by taste, if not by color. Best of the lot, in my opinion is grapefruit, which hits you with a kick of that unmistakably bitter grapefruit zest before giving way to the sweet gummy core.
Even better, these candies are vegan, kosher and all natural – right down to being colored by natural vegetable extracts. At only a $1.99 for a bag, what are you waiting for. Drop those Sour Patch Kids off at the orphanage and pick up some of these instead.
Would I Recommend It: Definitely, a great sweet and sour combo.
Would I Buy It Again: Yup.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s Sour Patch Kids.