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Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips

Trader Joe's Parnsip Chips

If life gives you parsnips, you make parsnip chips. This is another Trader Joe’s product that, like Avacado’s Number Guacamole, I can’t help but feel existed as a clever name first, and only a product as an after thought. A rhyming snack food that uses an obscure vegetable? How could anyone at TJ’s say no to that? Certainly it’s what I’m always on the look out for.

Ranking: 3 stars 3 star ranking

What it is: “Potato” chips made from a different root vegetable.
Price: $2.99 for a 5.2 oz. bag
Worth it: Yes – sweet and crunchy.

But if a product exists only to serve novelty, can it really be all that good? In this case, the answer is a surprising “Yes!”. Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips are a wonderfully flavorful, surprisingly sweet, crunch alternative to run-of-the-mill potato chips. It’s a classic case of “Try it, you’ll like it.” But what exactly is a parsnip anyway?

In the wild, the parsnip looks, to the untrained eye, exactly like a big, white carrot. In fact, the parsnip is a close relative to the carrot. Originally native to Eurasia, the parsnip was imported to the Americas by early European settlers in the 1600’s. By the 1800’s, the root vegetable – firmly ensconced in three continents and with a long history of use that extends back to the Roman Empire – was basically forgotten, sidelined as modern agricultural and shipping practices replaced it with other vegetables on an industrial scale. Nowadays, the parsnip is really only encountered by most people in certain niche applications or as the basis of regional traditions.

While the parsnip may not be as popular today as it was in ages past, these parsnip chips make a good case for a comeback. You might not expect a colorless root vegetable to be sweet and flavorful, but these chips are exactly that. Inside the bag, the chips themselves are small, thin and brittle with a tendency to bunch up in clusters – definitely unsuited for dips, but good for general snacking. The frying process has made the parsnip slices curl and brown, more like a plantain chip than a potato chip. However, as soon as you take find that they pack an over-sized taste – long sweet and mellow, with a vaguely carrot-y aftertaste.

I’ve written before about the surprising sweetness of carrots – well it turns out that parsnips are naturally sweeter than even its own close cousin. In fact, in ancient times, before sugar canes or sugar beets were grown, it was parsnips that were used to sweeten meals. It’s this sweetness that is the most notable feature of the parsnip chip, but a very mild sort of sweetness that satisfies without overloading you on sugar. That sweetness, combined with the nuanced, earthy, root vegetable taste, is a real delight.

I was expecting something dry and bland from these chips, but instead I found a wonderful substitution for other “naturally sweet” type chips – in fact I liked these parsnip chip so much better than, for instance, the sweet potato chips you find around. However these chips are far from a healthy alternative – due to the fact that these parsnips have been fried up in a serious amount of oil. With a rather surprising 12 grams of fat per 12 chip  serving, these are some very oily chips.  Expect some greasy fingers after polishing off a bag.

To my taste, I found these parsnip chips more than just a novelty. For a list of ingredients that is nothing more than “parnsips, oil, salt” I was completely surprised by the fullness of flavor – a world away from the one note starchiness of potato chips. If they were healthier I’d be eating them all the time. As it is, I’ll enjoy picking them up a few times a year for an interesting snack that has stands out from a pack of monochrome competitors.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes – these are worth a taste.

Would I Buy Them Again: Not often, but I will.

Final Synopsis: A completely different sort of “potato” chip.

Trader Joe's Parsnip Chip - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips – Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips

Trader Joe's Ghost Pepper Potato Chips

The bag looks like they’re being serious – but these chips are a joke.

Now that the season of pumpkin madness has subsided, and the cooling winds of dark November have arrived, I can finally catch up on a backlog of other, truly out-there Trader Joe’s products that they tried to slip onto the shelves without anyone noticing.

The craziest addition has to be Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips. This new addition to the snack section may well be the biggest let down of any Trader Joe’s product to date.

Ranking: 2 stars 

2 star rating

What it is: Not very spicy potato chips.
Price: $2.29 for a 7 oz. bag
Worth it: No, not if you’re looking for spicy chips.

If Trader Joe’s has a failing, it’s that it sometimes over promsises. That’s unavoidable for a group that dreams as big as they do – bringing us such exotic oddities and far-flung favorites as frozen Kouigns Amann, Tamil Uttapam and, of course, the wonders of Scandanavian Cookie Butter. I’m deeply grateful there’s a mainstream grocery store that regards the average American consumer highly enough to gamble their business on such unusual products. On the other hand, sometimes they come out the gate with what sounds like a great idea but absolutely fail to deliver on it. It’s like the Marketing team gets really excited and doesn’t listen to what the R&D guys are telling them. The result is packaging that signs a check the contents simply cannot cash.

That’s absolutely the case with Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips. It’s commonly known that the Ghost Pepper is the absolutely hottest pepper in the world. Not just hot, and not just really hot, but like legendarily, pinnacle of the pepper pyramid hot. It’s weird that most people seem to know this, but they do. Every now and then the populous at large latches onto some bit of esoterica that seems like it should otherwise be languishing in obscurity. Keep your jalapenos and keep your habaneros, the people say, if you’re looking for pure, tongue-blistering, utterly unenjoyable HEAT, you want a ghost pepper.

Just in case you need a refresher on the spiciness of peppers, there is a more-or-less scientific scale that was devised to measure the relative hotness of peppers. Called the Scoville Scale, it measures the spiciness of peppers in so-called Scoville heat units, or SHU’s. A nice sweet bell pepper comes in at 0 SHUs. Banana peppers are about 100 units, a good jalapeno pepper is about 1,000 SHUs. The pepper referred to as the “Ghost Chile”, on the other hand, weighs in at 2 million SHU’s or more. Just by way of comparison, some law-enforcement grade pepper sprays only contain about 500,000 SHU’s. Four times hotter than pepper spray – that’s the ghost chile for you.

So what in heaven and hell could Trader Joe’s have been thinking when they released the absolutely mildest, gentlest “spicy” potato chip I’ve ever tasted?

I’ve spoken at length before about my light weight, or “chili wuss”, status when it comes to spicy foods. Pace brand Mild salsa is sometimes a little too hot for me. As a rule, I avoid the jalapeno potato chip. If I happen to munch down a couple by mistake I usually have to take a long break to fan my mouth. My brothers and cousins can all pile them into their mouths by the truck full, but even the gentler brands often leave me sweating.

I bring this up because even I find these ghost pepper potato chips contemptuously mild. They’re only spicy in so far as they suggest the notion of spiciness. If you smell the bag, you might think “Oh, these smell like they might be slightly spicy”. Savor that feeling, because that illusory impression is as spicy as these chips get. Bite into one of these cross-cut “lattice” style chips and you’ll catch just a hint of peppiness that immediately fades out and leaves you with basic, plain ol’ potato chip taste. I’ve had BBQ flavored potato chips that are spicier.

That’s not to say these potato chips are bad – they’re just bad at being spicy. The potato chips themselves are very satisfying to snack on – the thick, waffle-cut chips are very crispy and crunchy and entirely munchable. I found the mild spiciness to actually be a nice alternative to the spicier mainstream brands, in the same way that Trader Joe’s Sriracha sauce is a nice, less-spicy alternative to Hoy Fong Sriracha sauce. Finally, an only-sorta spicy potato chip I can enjoy! I just never thought I’d find them under the guise of ghost pepper chips.

If TJ’s had billed these chips as “Mild Jalapeno Flavor”, or “Potato chips – With Just A Touch Of Heat”, I would be writing a very different review right now. But by calling them Ghost Pepper Chips, and then doubling down on all their website and product copy about how insanely hot they are, Trader Joe’s is just making a fool of itself. Do not be suckered in by this marketing gimmick – unless you’re looking for a mildly spicy potato chip,  these will disappoint you.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Only to people who like not-particularly spicy potato chips.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes. I’m going to ignore that these say “ghost pepper” in the title and just put them out for parties.

Final Synopsis: It would be hard for these potato chips to be much less spicy.

Trader Joe's Ghost Pepper Potato Chips - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Tortilla Chips

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Tortilla Chips

The pumpkin? Sure. The cinnamon and nutmeg? Problematic.

Every year I tell myself, “Trader Joe’s couldn’t possibly have more unusual pumpkin products than they had last year”, and every year I’m proven wrong.

This October, it’s Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Tortilla Chips that literally stopped me in my tracks. Yes, corn tortilla chips made with pumpkin. Like pumpkin panettone and pumpkin yogurt before them, no one was asking for this – but Trader Joe’s was going to damn well make it.

Ranking: 2 stars 2 star rating

What it is: Cinnamon-spiced, pumpkin & corn tortilla chips.
Price: $3.99 for a 12 oz. bag.
Worth it: No – the flavors don’t really work out.

Pumpkin tortilla chips are, basically, just your ordinary, run-of the-mill yellow corn tortilla chips – only with pumpkin puree and pumpkin seeds mixed in. Not content to stop there, Trader Joe’s then dusted each chip with a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. Although no added-sugar goes into them, the tortilla chips are kind of vaguely sweet, tasting almost slightly of churros, but with a vague pumpkin aftertaste.

The pumpkin I can understand – as a mild member of the squash family it can work pretty well along side corn. Cinnamon and nutmeg, on the other hand, are very noticeable flavors. They don’t always play well with others. In particular, I’m thinking of chips and salsa, and nachos, the most common applications of the tortilla chip. Would you be likely to add cinnamon and nutmeg to your melted cheese or salsa dip? Probably not.

In fact, I decided to give these chips the benefit of the doubt and try them with Trader Joe’s pumpkin-based Harvest Salsa. Even in this case, even with a harmonious pumpkin taste in the salsa, the cinnamon and nutmeg threw off the whole flavor balance. The sweetness and spices clash with everything else. This not-quite-right combination of spices reminds me a lot of what Trader Joe’s just tried with their Pumpkin-Spiced Salted Caramels. In that case, the strange combination of flavors was intriguing enough to push me into “like” territory. I can’t say the same thing for these pumpkin tortilla chips, which are a their heart still just ordinary chips. Nothing special about these, just something “off”.

If you wanted to use them with anything, you would need to brainstorm some pretty out-of-the-box ideas. For example, they might go well at a party with a sweet caramel or frosting dip – maybe kind of cinnamon dessert dip? The chips may even work well with highly seasoned Middle Eastern or Greek dips, such as Trader Joe’s Muhammara or cool Tzatziki.

All that aside, I feel I should note that the weirdest part of these chips is the product copy on the back. “We’re out of our gourds with excitement,” Trader Joe’s writes. “We’re ready to squash any sentiment to the contrary. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Tortilla Chips stand alone as the preeminent permutations of that perennially preferred plant, pumpkin.”

That is some amazing, over-heated copy – combining multiple puns with a lengthy bit of alliteration. The TJ’s copy writer was definitely firing on all cylinders that day. My question is, why would you want to waste such effusive praise on such a merely average product? This is a classic, one-season-and-done novelty if I ever saw one. That product description could work on literally any pumpkin product – why not save some of the puns for the big ones – like Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter, for instance. I don’t know, it just strikes me as a waste of a well-turned phrase here.

Really, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Tortilla Chips are a great example of “Yes, we can do it, but should we?” Yes, you can sell everything, quit your job, and become a tugboat captain, or gain hundreds of pounds in a bid to be the World’s Fattest Man, but should you? In this case, Trader Joe’s clearly has the power to put pumpkin into any product they wish, but there are some products that don’t really benefit from it.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No – unless you had the perfect dip in mind.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t see a need for that.

Final Synopsis: Cinnamon and nutmeg corn tortilla chips are novel, but not novel enough.


Trader Joe’s Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips – Salted

Trader Joe's Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips Salted

The poster child for “Low Fat = Low Taste”

I am a dyed-in-the-wool, straight-up chips and salsa fiend. Give me some chips, give me some salsa, and everything is just fine as far as I’m concerned. I have yet to find a jar of salsa that is big enough that I won’t finish it off in a single sitting.

Ranking: 2 stars 2 star rating

What it is: Bland tasting, baked tortilla chips.
Price: $1.99 for a 7 oz. bag.
Worth it: No, they taste stale.

Unfortunately, I’m getting fat. And while salsa is a good, healthy, vegetable-based, low-cal snack – tortilla chips, with all their carbs and fat, definitely are not. It’s a sad state of affairs, but I now live a chips and salsa free life.

There are many types of delicious (and not so delicious) salsas available at Trader Joe’s, and just as many unusual chip choices – often featuring healthful gimmicks (such as flax seeds). However, even “healthy” tortilla chips usually have more fat and carbs than I’d like to gorge myself on. So I was delighted when I came across Trader Joe’s Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips the other day. Promising only 2 grams of fat per serving, they were the healthiest chips I have ever come across. Taking them home, I gleefully rejoiced in finding the answer to my prayers.

Unfortunately, they taste like crap. Or, more correctly, they taste like bland tortilla chips that have gone stale straight out of the bag. Another review of these chips likens them to “cardboard”, and that’s not far off. The sad fact is that Trader Joe’s Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips are flat and lifeless. Even salted, these chips simply fail to delight the tongue.

Not being fried, these chips lack the crispiness, crunch and snap of a traditional tortilla chip. If, before I ever tried them, you’d asked me if I would trade such seemingly inconsequential concerns of texture for less fat, I would have said yes. And I would have been wrong. It doesn’t seem like something as run-of-the-mill as “crunchiness” should make or break a tortilla chip – but in this case it absolutely does.

If you’ve ever tried a tortilla chip from a bag that’s been left open a few days too long, you know exactly how these taste. There’s simply no saving a stale tortilla chip – no matter how flavorful the salsa or how delicious the nacho cheese. It’s sad, but a stale tortilla chip is little more than garbage.

No matter how I tried to appreciate the healthy elements of these blue corn chips, I simply couldn’t get over the stale taste. Maybe you’ll have better luck at that than I did, but as far as I’m concerned my quest for a healthy – and tasty – tortilla chip continues.

The Breakdown


Would I Recommend Them: Nope – too stale tasting.

Would I Buy Them Again: Not unless I’m reaaaaally desperate for a chip fix.

Final Synopsis: Unless they actually made you thinner, these chips ain’t worth it.

Trader Joe's Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips - Nutrition Facts


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 Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips

Trader-Joes-Crispy-Crunchy-Mango-Chips

No, mango probably wasn’t meant to look like that, but my is it tasty!

Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are the answer to the unasked question of “What would happen if you just kept on  dehydrating mango?” The result? These dehydrated, crispy (and, yes, crunchy) mango chips bring you all of that sweet mango flavor, without getting your fingers sticky.

Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are just the latest addition to Trader Joe’s “Crispy Crunchy” fruit snack line. Previously we looked at TJ’s Crispy Crunch Jackfruit Chips and ruminated in an abstract way if it was possible to cook jackfruit bonda with them. While the jackfruit chips didn’t blow me away, the second I saw this new mango variety I knew I had to pick them up. Long time readers of this blog know that I have a certain, pathological addiction to that sweet, heavenly expression of nature’s golden teet also known as MANGO. I will lie for mango. I will steal for mango. If you get in between me and that luscious fruit, I’ll even kill for mango. These may be simple tenets to live by but they’ve served me well or, at least, ended up getting me a ton of mango.

I’ve held off on reviewing any mango based products for a while now (more than a year?!) because once those floodgates open, they’re hard to close again. In this case I relented, simply because dehydrated mango chips weren’t something I’ve ever seen before.

Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips take whole slices of thick, succulent, juicy mango and dehydrates them down into little, withered, french fry-sized sticks. Surprisingly, this is actually much better than it sounds. The resulting chips end up being light and very crispy, with plenty of satisfying snap and crunch. These wouldn’t be great qualities in and of themselves, if it wasn’t for the intense mango flavor that is packed in each chip. Through the dehydrating process, TJ’s managed to retain and concentrate much of that sweet mango flavor. Snap into one and you’ll be shocked at how flavorful each bite is. They’re not as sweet as the actual mango itself, but they bear far more resemblance to it than you would expect – certainly much more than your average apple chip or banana chip bears to their progenitor fruits.

The fact that there is some slight reduction is sweetness is actually a good thing. A ripe mango can be so sweet that eating even one is overpowering. By moderating the sweetness, these chips become much more snackable. In fact, they approach the perfect index of snackability – packed full of flavor, sweet, crunchy, easy to eat, and portable. It’s easy to munch on just one of these chips at a time, nibbling one down and enjoying the experiencing before going back to the back for the next one – a much more enjoyable experience than jamming handful after handful of Lays potato chips into your mouth.

I’ve never regarded dehydrated fruit chips as a particularly high-level snack . I’ve always felt they’re only really sold to people seeking a moderately healthier form of junk food. Since that defeats the purpose of junk food, and dehydrated fruit is often expensive, I’ve never really sought them out. These mango chips have turned me all around on the issue. These aren’t just another half-hearted substitute for genuinely tasty chips, they’re a superior snack food in their own right – more savory, more healthy, and more enjoyable than any bag of lays you’ll ever find.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, these are a superior snacking experience.

Would I Buy Them Again: I’d pick these up over a can of Pringles any day.

Final Synopsis: Tasty, simple, dehydrated snack food with loads of mango flavor.

 


Trader Joe’s Super Seeded Tortilla Chips

 

Trader Joe's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips

Doesn't the name suggest that this chip has already been outdone?

 

Okay, let’s get real here again – real about really delicious tortilla chips. Today’s delicious offering are the nuttiest chips you’re likely to find – nutty because they are chock full of organic seeds that make your chip’s crunch crunch. As the bag boldly proclaims – these chips are made with organic flax, hemp, poppy, caraway and chia seeds. That’s right, chia seeds aren’t just for growing afros on novelty porcelain busts anymore – they’re in your chips! Forming the substrate for the seeds you’ll find a mix of organic white corn flour and “expeller pressed” safflower / sunflower oil. Expeller pressing is simply a method of extracting oil from seeds and such by crushing the hell out of it in a big press, as opposed to the more efficient method of dousing it with poisonous chemicals (generally some sort derivative of crude oil derivitve). Healtheir? Arguably, but it definitely sounds better.

So this product gets full brownie points for being hippie-friendly as all get out, but are they good? In this case, the hippies win. The extra crunchy, nutty flavor the chips suits the tongue just right – a welcome change up to the entirely mundane plain tortilla chip. That said, these chips are as all-purpose and utilitarian as your ordinary sack of chips. The caraway seeds, organic or not, still pack that overpowering caraway flavor. Since you don’t taste one until you happen to crunch down right on it, it’s not a taste you can expect in every bite. Eat your salsa with these chips and every few bites it’ll taste like you’re eating salsa on rye bread. Limit these chips to heavier, savory tastes – hummus and guacamole.

 

Would I Recommend Them: Absolutely, but plan for the caraway seeds or you’ll be sorry.

 

Would I Buy Them Again: If I needed to casually impress a vegan.

 

Final Synopsis: Combine a good new taste with a clever pun and I’m sold every time.

Trader Joe's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips - Nutritional Facts