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.
|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.
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 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.
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.
One thing that Trader Joe’s cannot be accused of lacking are options is the dried fruit department. I’m endlessly charmed by the lengths and methods TJ’s will go to in order to bring us a fourth type of dehydrated apricot, or a new way to make banana chips.
However, even I was surprised by Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Jackfruit Chips. For one, it’s weird to see such a massive fruit in such a tiny bag. The first time I encountered jackfruit in real life, I was shocked and a little taken aback, that fruit could get so big. How big is it? Big enough that I was momentarily afraid I had been shrunk to the size of bug. A fully mature jackfruit can be up to 3 feet long, weigh up to 80 pounds, and grow in bunches on trees – meaning they straddle the line between fruit, and natural hazard.
Your average jackfruit could kill a horse if it happened to drop at the right moment, helped along by the fact that they are covered in spiked, armored plates – as if Nature decided to stop screwing around after this pineapple thing. It’s rare to find a fruit where two, stacked on top of each other, could beat me in a fight.
Despite its relative obscurity here in the West, jackfruit has been a staple in India and South East Asia for thousands of years thanks to its size, resiliance and versatility as an ingredient. Like papayas, jackfruit are used for much more than simply a sweet snack. It is roasted, added to soups, fried into cutlets, mashed into kati and otherwise eaten all over the placed. In fact, jackfruit is so adored that it’s the National Fruit of Bangledesh. It’s not surprising, then, that Trader Joe’s got the idea to dehydrate them into chip. After all, that’s been a popular snack throughout South East Asia for many years.
In their natural, raw state the jackfruit tastes something like a banana crossed with a very mellow mango. By drying jack fruit out, Trader Joe’s reduces this flavor profile greatly. Regardless of the exotic origin and taste of jackfruit, what we’re encounter here is basically a nice-sized banana chip. It may be a hint sweeter, and there are subtle tones of mango and pineapple hiding in the background, but these more exotic flavor are not nearly pronounced enough to over power the starchiness of the chip. It’s the size and softness of the jackfruit chips that makes them most different from banana chips – each piece is a mouthful, and they yield rather more pleasantly to the tongue than the brittle banana chip.
One other thing the jackfruit is famous for is its trade mark odor. Fortunately lost during the dehydrating process, the fruit is generally described as having an unpleasantly overripe musk often compared to smelly feet.
Overall, it’s only subtle touches that set these jackfruit chips apart. If you’re a banan chip fan, these will be interestig to pick up by comparison. If you’re looking for a fresh new taste, however, something exotic to tingle the tastebuds, Trader Joe’s Cripsy Crunch Jack Fruit chips aren’t going to blow you away.
That left me a little disappointed, but not defeated, so I went looking for a recipe that could give second life to this otherwise limited snack chip. I may or may not have found it. The recipe below is for traditional jackfruit bonda – a type of small, South Indian snack dumpling. Ideally you make these by grinding fresh jackfruit into a paste but, dammit, we just don’t live in an ideal world. Until TJ’s starts stocking their shelves with smelly, 80 pound monster fruits, I guess I’ll just have to make do with their jackfruit chips instead.
The concept behind re-purposing this recipe is to somehow reconstitute the dehydrated jackfuit chips with a bit of water (or juice) in order to create a paste. This paste is then, conceivably, used to cook with. Unfortunately, my food processor couldn’t manage the task and I was left with an unusable slurry. Next time I’ll try taking a mortar and pestle approach, and pulverize the jackfruit chips before trying to reconstitute them – so stay tuned for that!
In the meanwhile, if anyone has more luck with this recipe, please share with us in the comments!
Impossible(?) Jackfruit Bondas (using dehydrated Jackfruit chips)
- 1 cup of dehydrated jackfruit chips
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup farina or semolina (cream of wheat will do)
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 tsp of fun exotic spices (Recommended options: a mix of dried ginger and cardamom, with a pinch of salt and black pepper, but really you can get crazy with this part)
- oil to fry with
- Somehow grind jackfruit chips into a fine paste (maybe with a mortar and pestle?)
- Combine jackfruit paste, sugar, farina, coconut and spices.
- Let sit for 15 minutes
- Roll into small balls (about 1/2 the size of an egg, or so)
- Heat up a frying pan, fill with oil, and start frying the suckers.
- Eat them bonda up!
Notes: Real bondas should be made with jaggery and rava – two Indian ingredients that I barely understand and can’t get into here. Instead, I substituted brown sugar (for the jaggery) and cream of wheat (for the rava). Both of these substitutions will probably piss off anybody who makes real bondas, so be careful.
Would I Recommend Them: Not really, these weren’t much better than banana chips.
Would I Buy Them Again: I have to! I’m not resting until I figure out this bonda recipe
Final Synopsis: Like banana chips, but a little softer and a subtly more exotic tasting.
It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed any dehydrated fruit. On the one hand, this is surprising because Trader Joe’s has more dried fruit than a mountain man’s cabin. Seriously, whenever I walk into the fruit and nut section of my local TJ’s I feel like I could be standing in a rustic general store in some picturesque moutain town that probably only exists in the movies. On the other hand, this is not surprising, because all dehydrated fruit more or less tastes the same. Trader Joe’s apricots taste basically just like the dried apricots you’re going to get anywhere else. Thus I tend to limit my dried fruit selections to truly unusual offerings – like vacuum fried banana chips – or precious, precious mango. For that very reason, I’ve long avoided the winking gaze of Trader Joe’s Soft and Juicy Manadrin Slices. Pretty much I felt I was capable of guessing what these were going to taste like, and if that’s the case, why the hell would I need to bother with reviewing it. Finally, after about of year of seeing these sitting lamely in the “New!” section, I bit.
Boy howdy, I’m glad I did.
If you’ve had dehydrated oranges before, they probably rank among your least favorite dehydrated fruits. Usually a slice of dehydrated orange becomes something like a desicate flap of leathery skin, and tends to adhere itself to your teeth the moment you take a bite. Not so here.
These slice are every bit as soft and juicy as they are set up to be. Not only are they piable, chewy and soft, but they’re amazing flavor and sweet to boot. Now make no mistake, there is added sugar here, but it’s the natural brilliant orange flavor of these mandarin slices that really shines through. I know that doesn’t sound like anything too special, but believe me when I say the first one of these you try is going to make you sit up in your chair. It’s hard to believe that they did it, but Trader Joe’s has really managed to capture that juicy, citric zing and sweet, warm flavor of perfectly ripe oranges.
The thing that really impresses me about these sugared, sulfured orange slice though, is just how damn healthy they are. The serving size is a generous 14 slices, for a total of 140 calories. That’s right – only 10 calories per plump slice of sweet, natural orange flavor. I’m well aware that the most cliched thing I could say right now is these orange slices are nature’s candy, but dammit these orange slices are nature’s candy. In fact, they’re better than candy. If you sat a bag of these delicious little orange slice in front of me, and a bag of stupid Skittles or something, I’d go for the dehydrated orange slices every time – they’re really that good.
Just how does Trader Joe’s manage to deliver such plump and juicy dehydrated fruit slices? Isn’t dehydration supposed to result in the exact opposite of that? Ggodo question – the answer is sulfur dioxide, that handy preservative that locks in the flavor and color of dried fruit. This is the very same sulfur that is being referenced when a dried fruit product boasts of being “unsulfured” – generally also identifiably by the dead brown color that tends to be the result of the sulfuring process. Without a doubt, if these mandarin slices were unsulfured they wouldn’t taste half so tangy and sweet. If sulfur dioxide is so helpful, why don’t we just sulfur all our fruit, you may well be asking. The answer, of course, is that people have a tendency to dislike preservatives in their food, especially in something so primal as dried fruit – hence the variety.
Generally, I go for unsulfured fruit myself, but when the results are as delicous as these mandarins, I have no qualms about sulfuring the hell out of them. I recommend you give them a taste and see if you agree with me.
Would I Recommend Them: I already have.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, I’ll go for these next time my sweet tooth demands a sacrifice.
Final Synopsis: Dehydrated mandarin slices are nature’s candy.