I did not intend to buy Trader Joe’s Cheddar and Horseradish Chips, not in the least. While it might seem like exactly the sort of misfit I’m drawn to, not unlike this insane chip mash up, this product just failed to grab my gustatory attention. Why, for instance, was this product championed as if it were unspeakable outré, by its own packaging nonetheless (“Cheddar and…horseradish?!”), but poor Beurre Meuniere Popcorn, released at exactly the same time, has been left omitted from the Fearless Flyer and left to languish in obscurity? Conspiracy? Perhaps. But in this case, as with the Elvis’ assassination by teamsters or New Coke, the conspiracy has won. Compelled, as if by forces beyond myself, I bought a bag and crunched in. What I found was much what I feared – a nice chip that is sharply spicy, sort of cheesy, but overall not as interesting as hoped for.
First, before I go all crazy on the mingling of tastes and all, a word on horseradish. I’ve often wondered just where the “horse” in horseradish comes from, a question that was piqued in my mind by the boldly emblazoned horseshoe on the package. It’s a common association, and one that’s all the more interesting given that the horseradish is actually poisonous to horses. Why the conflation? The answer can be traced back, like all else that is good in the world, to the filthy peasants of late 15th century England. Evidently, at some point a peon hefted one of these large roots before his eyes and remarked, “Cor, what a horse radish!” Horse being the word for “large” or “strong” at the time. The peasants, being no slouches, knew a good turn of phrase when they heard one, and the name stuck.
The presence of horseradish in these chips is downright undeniable. I was actually warned multiple times at the register by a cashier who was perhaps overly concerned that these chips were for horseradish lovers ONLY. I certainly fancy myself that, but at the risk of appearing haughty, I’d say a single, mild warning would do. There chips do come in with a sharp horseradish kick, but it flares out in half a second, sliding into a quick cool down and the arrival of some generic cheese flavor. Notably horseradishy definitely, but not quite a strong taste and nowhere near the real thing. While Trader Joe’s Cheddar and Horseradish chips do get hotter on the gongue than your standard, long-burn jalapeno chip, the effect is much shorter and the overall experience a milder one.
While the horseradish definitely delivers, there is less to talk about on the cheddar side of things. After the burn, the cheese taste is an anticlimax, muted and uninteresting by comparison. I’m not necessarily a fan of the super cheesy Cheetos approach to snack foods, but these chips could certainly benefit from a more complex flavor. The chip itself is thick, very crunchy, kettle-cooked and wavy – a strong chip that requires a moment to chew through and ensures you get the full horseradish blast.
Would I Recommend Them: Not particularly. Give’m a shot if you love horseradish, or need a new weird chip flavor.
Would I Buy Them Again: For me, these aren’t quite compelling enough.
Final Synopsis: A sharp, fun bite, followed by a more or less average chip.
Once again, I am shocked that Trader Joe’s Chile Rellano is not on the Trader Jose label. What’s the point of positing the existence of a Hispanic doppelganger if you’re not going to ham-handedly slap him on all your Spanish-inspired cuisine?
For that matter, why have a Trader Jose, a Trader Giotto, a Trader Josef and so on, but not a Korean Trader Jae, an Egyptian Trader Jahi, or a Thai Trader Jayavarman? Why the narrow window of ethno-specificity Trader Joe’s? Edward Said called, he wants to know where you got your Orientalism.
In any case, I better start off this review by disclosing that I’m not really all that into chile rellanos. My list of favorite Mexican food looks like this:
Table 1-1: Mexican Food Preference Chart
- Smothered/”Wet” Burritos
- Fish Tacos (soft)
- Nachos (supreme or ultimate)
- Sweet corn cake mash
As you can see, chile rellanos don’t even crack the top 5, so TJ’s was already embarking on an uphill battle when they created this product then let me go home with it. Strike 1 and 2, Trader Joe’s. Dubious but willing, I tucked in.
The Trader Joe’s Chile Rellano is a roasted poblano pepper, nice and mild, stuffed with monterey jack, slathered in spicy tomato salsa, dusted with bread crumbs and topped with cheddar. When that much melted cheese comes into play, it’s hard to make an unpalatable dish – and as you might imagine these rellanos go down easy.
While most rellanos contain meat of some sort, take note that this one is a vegetarian dish, meaning it is little more than a meat-free, tube of cheese.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re a vegetarian looking for sustenance amid the barrens of the modern grocery store. If you’re looking for that meat free Mexican food fix, here you are. The salsa is admirably spicy, delivering a short sharp burn with each bite, and the roasted pepper is toothsome, if somewhat tough to cut. The vegetarian rellano also boosts a surprisingly high protein profile, 22 grams to the serving, which might give you some sense of how much cheese we’re talking about here.
For my part, I found the meat-less rellano less than filling. As a component to a larger Mexican dish it would certainly be more effective – as plate compatriot to an enchilada, perhaps, or a taco. However, if I’m going to ingest that much straight up cheese I have other ways I’d prefer to go about it. (See table 1-1).
Would I Recommend It: To Mexican craving vegetarians, no one else.
Would I buy it again: I don’t see it happening.
Final Synopsis: This cheesy pepper is alright, but nothing special.