Trader Joe’s Greek Whole Milk Yogurt – Maple Brown Sugar & Trader Joe’s Greek Whole Milk Yogurt – Chocolate MoussePosted: December 16, 2015
Trader Joe’s has never been afraid to “go there” – in terms of yogurt development and placement. Like most grocery stores they offer a virtual cornucopia of yogurt flavors, types, and fat content. Unlike most grocery stores, they’ve been known to put out holiday versions of their classic greek yogurt.
|What it is:||Greek yogurt in two new flavors.|
|Price:||$1.29 for an 8 oz. cup|
|Worth it:||Not really. Both new flavors are only mildly interesting.|
Last year we saw the debut of their Pumpkin Greek Yogurt over the October Pumpkin Madness. It must have worked well, because this year Trader Joe’s has debuted two new flavors for the winter holidays – Maple Brown Sugar, and Chocolate Mousse. Those might not be the flavors that come to mind when you first think “Christmas”, but that’s why we love Trader Joe’s isn’t it? They zig when everyone else is zagging.
Unlike the pumpkin Greek yogurt last of last fall, these two new flavors are whole milk, full fat yogurts. 320 calories wait for you in each 8 oz tub, 12 grams of fat (7 grams of that saturated fat) and 37 grams of carbs.
3 gallons of milk go into 1 gallon of Greek yogurt, so this is the nutritional density you’re paying for – not to mention the whopping 16 grams of protein. If you eat both of these, you’ve basically had a pretty heft meal. So, are these novel yogurt flavors worth it?
What you certainly can expect is what you always get from a whole milk Greek yogurt – thick, smooth, velvety and thick again. A greek yogurt needs to be eaten slowly, regardless whether you enjoy the flavor or not.
The flavors, in this case, are intriguing, but not incredible. The Maple Brown Sugar Greek Yogurt has a wonderfully evocative name, but doesn’t taste particularly special. It’s a combination of real brown sugar and real maple syrup (naturally, this being Trader Joe’s). Sugar and syrup, however, even brown sugar and maple syrup, are just your basic sweeteners. Basic sweetness is about what you get out of them here. The more nuanced notes of the sugar and syrup are lost in the generally yogurtiness of the yogurt. However, the sweetness is a nice counterpoint to the considerable tang of the yogurt cultures. Overall, a nice, fatty yogurt.
The Chocolate Mousse Greek Yogurt is a more complex matter. Some time ago, I reviewed Trader Joe’s European-style chocolate yogurts, and found them intriguing and sophisticated, but ultimately a bit off-putting. This chocolate greek yogurt is a lot thicker than those little yogurt pots, but hte flavor is the same – tangy chocolate. If you can hold those two words together in your head at the same time and not shudder a little, then you will probably enjoy this yogurt. The chocolate flavor comes courtesy of cocoa powder touched up with some sugar and vanilla extract, and it’s done well. The chocolate is strong tasting, bold and verging on the bitterness of dark chocolate, but it comes paired with the strong, undeniable tang of active yogurt cultures. Tangy chocolate folks – it’s here again.
I love novelty, and for some reason I really love novel yogurt flavors, but these two yogurts left me underwhelmed. The Maple Brown Sugar was too generically sweet for me to buy again, and if I wanted to try chocolate yogurt again I’d go with the European versions that are still on the shelves.
I’m tempted to recommend these as a desert surrogate, but honestly if you have room in your dietary budget for 300 calories of sugar and fat, just eat a real chocolate mousse. Aside from that, I think only Greek yogurt fans in desperate need of a little variety can really justify making this purchase.
Would I Recommend Them: Only in the faintest of terms.
Would I Buy Them Again: Me? No.
Final Synopsis: Fatty yogurt available in a couple mildly interesting flavors.
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.
|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.
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.
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 is no stranger to whimsy, and what could be more whimsical then bringing a bag of magic beans to market? That’s precisely what Trader Joe’s has done with their mysterious new offering, Trader Joe’s Magic Beans! An extremely enigmatic offering that combines vagueness with and strange product impulses into a bewildering product.
|What it is:||Milk chocolate over crunchy nougat.|
|Price:||$3.99 for a 7.7 oz bag.|
|Worth it:||No, not very good quality sweets.|
Trader Joe’s Magic Beans are certainly magical. Not necessarily in the way that wizards and dragons are magical, and not in the way that rainbows and a child’s smile are magical, but in that way a that mild concussion is magical – by turning ordinary things into an set of surreal and perplexing stimuli that don’t really make sense.
Upon seeing a bag of Trader Joe’s Magic Beans for the first time, many questions immediately spring to mind. Magic beans, really? What makes them so magical? What are they exactly? Where do they come from? None of these questions are answered in the slightest anywhere on the bag. You are presented with a strange, plastic sack of oblong candy, a product name, and no more.
One of Trader Joe’s more infuriating traits is a tendency to leave off the product copy. When they do include copy, it’s uniformly delightful and well considered – equal parts gently amusing and gently educational. However when they elect not to include copy, it’s almost always in instances like this – on their most unusual and unique items.
TJ’s is giving us nothing to go on here. “Mystery Beans” might be a better name. All we’re told is that they’re chocolate covered nougat beans. The surprise is that not only is the chocolate shell hard and crunchy, but so is the nougat in side.
Yes, crunchy nougat – not the typical soft and pliable stuff so pleasantly yielding to the tooth. This nougat has been hardened to a brittle condition. Biting into one of these over-sized beans is an act of crunch, crunch, crunching – like biting into some chocolate covered brittle or toffee.
That’s the other unusual thing. The nougat is crispy hard and almost buttery sweet – not at all like ordinary nougat, much more like toffee or crunchy caramel.
I’d never had crunchy nougat before. It’s certainly not something I ever though to ask for. Are there people out there who appreciate crunchy nougat? Is this a thing? I have to say it wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but going in expecting nougat made it a little off putting.
The chocolate part can pass largely without remark. It’s your basic, low quality Halloween candy-style milk chocolate making up a quarter inch thick cocoon. Not the best Trader Joe’s has to offer by any means.
Interestingly, these beans have also been shellaced – literally. Shellac is listed as the eighth or ninth ingredient. As you probably know, shellac is a resin generally encountered as a wood or nail polish varnish. Typically, that’s not something I’m looking for in my food – even though it is technically edible and a somewhat common food glaze.
In the end, there’s nothing really for me to recommend these on. Unless you’re intrigued by the concept of crunchy nougat, it’s hard to imagine anyone picking up these mysterious shellaced beans, even if I highly recommended them. Apart from giving them to out to kids as part of a “magical” gift bag, these beans were just sort of blah.
Would I Recommend Them: No, not particularly.
Would I Buy Them Again: I have had a enough crunchy nougat and shellac, thank you.
Final Synopsis: Low-quality chocolate around a nougat-esque core does not necessarily equal “magic”.
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.
Trader Joe’s never seems to run out of things to cover with dark chocolate, for good or ill. That said, chocolate of any stripe is pretty dang good, so I was intrigued by Trader Joe’s new Dark Chocolate Covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt – little squares of graham cracker coated in a thick, dark chocolate shell and dusted with a trace of sea salt.
|What it is:||Chocolate covered graham crackers with a sprinkling of salt.|
|Price:||$3.99 for 8 ounces.|
|Worth it:||Yes. Dark chocolate and sea salt go well together.|
Personally, I’m of the opinion that you need to be careful using dark chocolate. It’s really nice when used in the right context, but you can’t simply go around replacing it for milk chocolate in any confection that crosses your mine. Milk chocolate is a sweet, pleasurable treat. Dark chocolate on the other hand, especially when you get to 70% pure and above, is a refined nibble with a bitter edge. You can’t just mix it with peanut butter, for instance, and expect everything to turn out alright.
Fortunately, these dark chocolate covered graham crackers fall squarely in the “tasty” column. All the parts here play really well together. The dark chocolate is doing the usual dark chocolate thing – semi-sweet as it melts on the tongue, with a long bitter back. Being clever sorts, Trader Joe’s doesn’t use a very high concentration of dark chocolate. Although they don’t tell us exactly how much on the label, it tastes like maybe 60% dark chocolate or so.
Underneath this is the bit of graham cracker. Trader Joe’s alleges that there is some honey on the cracker, but it really doesn’t make much of an appearance. In fact, almost none of the graham cracker taste really shows up – unless you’re the sort that likes to hold it in your mouth until allllll the dark chocolate melts off before swallowing. Really, the crunchy cracker is just there for the body and texture, giving the little chocolate-covered cookie something for us to snap into.
However, the real hero here isn’t the dark chocolate or the graham cracker, but the judicious use of sea salt. Although you’ll only find a few big grains of salt on each cookie, that’s all you really need. The semi-sweetness of the chocolate mingles delightfully with the high, salty notes and transforms the dark chocolate’s bitterness into complex, tongue-teasing treat.
More than anything, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt reminded me of Trader Joe’s previously released Milk Chocolate Jumbles. These were a very similar snack using toasted quinoa for the body and milk chocolate for the thick shell, but made the same use of a light dusting of sea salt. The Jumbles were quite a bit sweeter, but otherwise a very similar chocolate-and-salt taste.
The take away? Putting a little sea salt on your chocolate is a downright delicious idea. Whatever else you do with it, a little fancy chocolate and salt marry very well together. In fact, as long as we’re mixing chocolate and salt, why not take this all the way to the top? It sort of makes me want to pick up another of Trader Joe’s great Fireworks Chocolate Bar and some of their Cypriot pyramid-shaped flake salt and just go nuts.
Would I Recommend It: Sure – if you like chocolate-heavy snacks that are more than just chocolate.
Would I Buy It Again: Maybe. I liked the toned down sweetness compared to the richer Jumbles.
Final Synopsis: Another great pairing of chocolate and sea salt.
If you’ve never had a chocolate lava cake, then you should remedy that situation as quickly as possible. The chocolate lava cake is one of those death-by-chocolate confections that are actually as good as they are billed to be. A three or four inch chocolate cake is served piping hot, concealing within its unassuming body thick, molten chocolate fudge that flows forth with each forkful you eat – a heart-stopping flood of decadence. It’s the sort of desert that Nero would have approved of. Given its popularity, it’s not a surprise that Trader Joe’s would bring their own version to their shelves with Trader Joe’s Chocolate Lava Cakes.
However, when it comes to grocery store versions of restaurant food, there’s always that question hanging in the air. Will the contents of this frozen box be anywhere near as good as what I order off the menu? It’s common for grocery stores, even Trader Joe’s, to over reach on this issue. We previously explored the problem with grocery store French fries in Trader Joe’s Poutine. Can they pull off chocolate lava cakes any better, or are these just a disappointing waste of money?
Answer: These are really good. In fact, not only do they rival the chocolate lava cakes you might get at a restaurant, they open the door on a whole stunning array of possible customization.
A Trader Joe’s Chocolate Lava Cake has 360 calories, and 23 grams of fat, but they make the most of it. Each and every bite of these cakes is luxuriously chocolaty – almost overwhelmingly so. The outer cake, deep rich brown, is sweet and moist straight out of the oven, with a delicate crisp to the outer edge. Plunge a spoon through this and you’ll find the chocolate fudge deluge – an almost frighteningly rich ooze of nearly black dark chocolate, so rich and intense that I highly recommend small bites only.
This is basically what you’d hope to get at a restaurant, and so easily passes that test. The greater appeal is that these unadorned cakes are easy to accessorize with whip cream, butter scotch syrup, fresh fruit, mint leaves, vanilla ice cream, or whatever else might tickle your fancy. Given the staggering level of chocolate intensity, I’d suggest playing the cakes off of a different flavor palette – such as some tart raspberries – but if you want to load it up with Cookies and Crème Cookie Butter and have it fed to you on a divan as you chortle with unseemly glee, I won’t stop you.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, but any ensuing diabetes is your problem.
Would I Buy It Again: As soon as I think my waistline can bear it.
Final Synopsis: Restaurant-worthy fudge-filled, chocolate fudge, fudge cakes.
Ah yes, the jumble. One of the lazier forms of organization on the books. It’s right up there with the heap and the mess in terms of ways people don’t like their things to be. There’s just not much cachet to a jumble. So what lead Trader Joe’s to just sort of jumble some chocolate and stuff together instead of delivering it to the customer in a precisely thought through execution – like they did with their strictly ordered triple tiered chocolates? I must admit, I don’t actually know – but I will tell you that Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Jumbles are downright delicious.
Aside from the intriguing name, what attracted me to these candy jumbles was the ingredient list. Listed right up in there, right next to milk chocolate and caramel is quinoa. Toasted quinoa. Also Himalayan salt. Okay, TJ, now you’ve got my attention. You may have dozens of chocolate-covered after-dinner treats available to me – but only one has quinoa in it. Depending on your viewpoint, that’s either a stroke of desperation or brilliance.
Why in the world, after all, would you try to shoehorn quinoa into a chocolate confection filled with gooey caramel? Quinoa and chocolate occupy opposite ends of the nutrition spectrum. I would think that they would have annihilated each other when they came into contact. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the first time anyone has ever tried mixing caramel and quinoa together.
Well, I’ll tell you this much – all the hypothetical people who decided not to do this before – it’s your loss. The toasted quinoa is a delightful part of this little snack food. Before I get into the why’s and wherefores of that, though, we’d better take a look at our jumble as a whole.
You might not be sure what you’re getting into at first glace. Any manner of strange and surprising items could be lurking beneath that rich, milk chocolate coating. It could easily be chewy, hard, salty, filled with hidden nuts, baked like a brittle or as hard and unyielding as an over-cooked cookie. You just can’t tell that much from such an ambiguous lump.
The fact of the matter is, on your first bite your teeth will sink right into a sweet, dense core of caramel. There’s no hidden, solid substrate to this little trifle – it’s pure, pliable, yielding caramel all the way through. Or almost pure, I should say. This is where the toasted quinoa comes in. Little did I know that toasted quinoa tastes and acts pretty much just like toasted rice. Nothing of the distinctive taste and texture of quinoa remains – instead it has become a light, crispy, crunchy bit of pleasing texture teasing the tooth here and there and lending the jumble a bit of much needed body. Unlike toasted rice, the toasted quinoa is much smaller, and as a result it works much better in this small treat – never interrupting your bite, but just kind of sitting there, in your mouth, crunching up pleasantly between your teeth.
While the quinoa is fine and completely inoffensive, the real star of the show is the sprinkling of Himalayan salt. Why it needs to be Himalayan salt, I don’t know – but I can tell you that it takes the jumble to a whole new level. If you’ve never tried salted caramel before, or salted chocolate, you’re missing out on one of life’s great flavor sensations. Nothing accentuates and compliments the rich sweetness of cream and sugar like a few well placed grains of salt, and here it adds an entire new level of richness to what would otherwise be a simple little treat.
The only real problem, as far as I’m concerned is that the salt distribution on the jumbles is very erratic – some jumbles have no salt, while others have plenty. The jumbles without salt on them are fine and good – it’s just that the salted ones are what really make this worth picking up.
Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Jumbles are aimed at the buyer who is looking for a decadent chocolate treat without any of the pretension (and inflated price tag) that so often goes along with that. They’re certainly not going to make you any thinner, but if you’re looking for a novel new way to intake caramel and chocolate, these aren’t a bad choice.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, if you like really sweet sweets.
Would I Buy Them Again: I would if my willpower was stronger.
Final Synopsis: Don’t let the quinoa worry you – these are all about the salted caramel and chocolate.