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Trader Joe’s Dried Baby Bananas

Trader Joe's Dried Baby Bananas

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.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

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.


The Breakdown

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 Dried Baby Bananas - Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices – Unsweetned & Unsulfured

Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices

Even better than the look on the package.

It’s time again to turn our attention to Trader Joe’s freeze dried produce section – with Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apples. We’ve seen considerable range in Trader Joe’s dessicated produce, from freeze dried grapes to dehydrated kimchi to vacuum fried banana chips. It would appear that Trader Joe’s has never met a piece of produce they didn’t want to turn into a dry, crunchy snack.

These apple slices appealed to me immediately because they entomb, for perpituity, my favorite apple, the glorious Fuji. So much better than mundane Red Delicious or unexceptional Gala, the Fuji is invariably dense, sweet and crisp – a thoroughly delicious apple that satisfies to the final bite. I can still remember my first bewitching bite of a Fuji apple to this day, as sweet as an illicit kiss on a rainy summer afternoon.

Fuji apples are, as you might imagine, quintessentially Japanese – originating in the far northern province of Aomori back in the 1960’s and taking the world by storm. The secret the Fuji hides, however, is that it is actually the result of cross-breeding two American apples – the ubiquitous Red Delicious and the lesser known Virginia Ralls Genet. These two strains were first genetically collided at an agricultural research center in the town of Fujisaki in the 1930’s. The apple subsequently took the name of the town as its own and never looked back. Whether out of a sense of national pride or, more probably, simple good taste, the Japanese have embraced the Fuji apple on a massive scale. 900,000 tons of the apples tumble out of northern Japan into grocery stores across the country every year, utterly eclipsing the sales of all other apple cultivars. Here in the states, the Fuji has yet to catch on so dramatically. It ranks fourth in popularity, behind the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and, shockingly, the Gala. Wake up America – there are better apples out there!

The same qualities that the Japanese and myself admire in the Fuji apple – the sweetness and crispness – are the same qualities that make it such a good candidate for freeze drying. Like most fruits, the apple is nearly all water. The act of sucking the water out (or in this case, flash sublimating) is tremendously violent the apple itself, and hard to do without turning your apple slices into something squat and unrecognizable. The firm, crisp quality of the Fuji apple helps retain the shape of the slices, and it’s sweetness means that the apple’s whole, crisp and sweet taste is better preserved than it might be in lesser fruits. This is all the more impressive considering that these apple slices are unsweetened and unsulfured. These steps are usually taken to keep the dehydrated fruit looking and tasting something more or less like they do on the branch. The Fujis are simply so good that neither additive is necessary in the first place.

Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apples are entirely delicious. Each slice is perfectly preserved in miniature, and bursts with sweet apple flavor as soon as you snap into its dry, airy form. While the taste is there, I’m left wondering how exactly one is meant best to enjoy them. They can be casually snacked on, like chips, but the 1.2 ounces of apple in the bag doesn’t last very long, even if the $2.99 price tag does justify the purchase. Trader Joe’s suggests tossing them on a salad or putting them in a trail mix, both of which seem reasonable within limits. The apples very sweet and might easily replace dried cranberries, although at a much higher price per ounce. Trail mix certainly couldn’t be a more natural fit – and I’ll consider including adding it in the next three or four times this decade that I have a reason to make trail mix.

Trader Joe’s final suggestion, to throw them on your cereal or oatmeal seems like the best idea, and probably the easiest way to incorporate these tasty little guys into you life. If for no other reason, pick a bag of these up to experience the Fuji apple in a whole new way.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you can think of a way to eat them.

Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t buy a lot of dried fruit, but I’d probably get these guys again anyway.

Final Synopsis: A fresh new way to eat delicious Fuji apples.

 

Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Fuji Apple Slices – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Chile Spiced Mango

Trader Joe's Chili Spiced Mango

I mean, they look fiery, don’t they?

Did I eat the entire bag of Trader Joe’s Chile Spiced Mango slices in one day? Yes. Did it taste very good? Not really, no.

My ongoing struggle with the world’s most addictive fruit has been well documented. If there is mango in my house, dried or otherwise, there is an increasingly likelihood, day by day, that I will enter a mango frenzy, stuff it all into my mouth and once, then burst into the streets looking for more. Even now I feel the mango-craving beast within stirring in my breast, it’s insatiable hunger for mango only whetted by this offering. I hold it safely in check – for now. If the chile spiced mango had been a tastier treat, it’s unlikely that would be the case.

A brief lapse in my mango defenses resulted in me buying this sachet of dried fruit the other day. The chili spiciness is what got me. Faithful readers might remember this post about chile spiced dehydrated pineapple from early on. The ecstasy of that sweet napalm still tingles on the edge of my tongue, and the thought of that but in mango form was a lure I could not resist. Sadly, the reality was a faint shadow of the dream.

By no means was this my first encounter with chili powder on fruit, let alone mango. As a denizen of that astonishing salmagundi we know as Los Angeles, I’ve purchased my share my share of fresh, sliced fruit from curbside cart pushers. Always it’s handed to you with a healthy dusting of rusty red cayenne pepper. Not necessarily

my favorite way to enjoy fresh fruit, but certainly a tasty option. My hope was that Trader Joe’s, with their network of chefs and deep coffers, would have perfected this local delicacy. What I got was something no self-respecting street vendor would give you.

Trader Joe’s Chile Spiced Mango is bland. With every bite you’re expecting a blast of intense hotness, tempered by the profound amplitude of succulent mango. This is what you never get. This is the worst dehydrated mango I’ve had from TJ’s. The mango taste is subdued and flat, not so much hidden by the chile powder as absent all together. Meanwhile, the chili powder itself is practically impotent. I get that when you’re selling to a national market you need to tone down the heat, but I’ve had mild salsa with more kick than this chili pepper. There’s a brief hint of fire, like a match threatening to light, that immediate vanishes into a dusty, indistinct taste.

It’s two ingredients, Trader Joe’s! If you’re going to spice something with chili powder, actually spice it. If you’re going to use mango, then let us taste the mango. Yes, I’ll eat the entire bag (it is mango after all), but I’m not going to like it.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Not unless you like bland mango.

Would I Buy It Again: Not until it’s the last mango available to me on Earth. Then yes.

Final Synopsis: “A bland, timid entry, suitable for patients recovering from surgery.” -Homer Simpson

Trader Joe's Chili Spiced Mango - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Chili Spiced Mango – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Boysenberry Fruit Bar and Trader Joe’s Apple & Raspberry Fruit Wrap

Trader Joe's Dried Fruit Bars, Boysenberry, Passion Fruit, Raspberry, Apricot

Boysenberry? Who does boysenberry?

Holy of holy’s folks, it’s a two for one review today.

I, like many Trader Joe’s regulars, have passed up the bracketfuls of dried fruit bars at the checkout lines on countless occasions. Finally, not unlike with their chocolate nibs, the persistence of their offering has succeeded in wearing down my defense, leading me to pick up both the Trader Joe’s Boysenberry Fruit Bar and the Trader Joe’s Apple and Raspberry Fruit Wrap.

Trader Joe's Organic Fruit Wraps - Apple-Strawberry, Apple-Blueberry, Apple-Strawberry

Fruit wraps that, enigmatically, are not wrapped around anything at all.

Are these strips of pounded fruit good enough to quality as an impulse purchase? Are they secret delicious treasures, or uninspired after thoughts. More importantly, how do they match up against each other? To answer all these questions and more I unwrapped and bit in.

Mash up some fruit with some pectin, and sugar, leave to dry. That’s about all there is to a fruit bar/ wrap – so why are there two different, competing brands? And why market one a as a bar and one as a wrap? Which is superior? Are we seeing a rehash of the classic Fruit Roll-Up / Fruit Leather rivalry in the TJ microcosm? Is this the manifestation of rival department heads battling it out to lay claim to the under-a-dollar-fruit-based-strip-snack-impulse-buy crown? For the purposes of this post I’m certainly going to assume so.

In charge of the Fruit Bar Division (Boysenberry, Apricot, Raspberry, Strawberry, Passionfruit) we have Jerry O’Conal, 42 trim, and coincidentally homophonic twin of actor Jerry O’Connell.

In charge of the Fruit Wrap Division (Apple-Raspberry, Apple-Banana, Apple-Blueberry, Apple-Strawberry) is Igmar Eisenlumb or “Iron Tusk”, a German immigrant, also 42 and trim.

Jerry’s Irish-Catholic upbringing and growing up in the shadow of his over-achieving older brother, has generated a deep, almost neurological compulsion to succeed in his every endeavor  Conventional wisdom holds that Jerry cannot be stopped. Igmar immigrated to Boston at a young age, where he picked up a Southie accent he has never totally shaken. His unusual past and a tendency to ruthlessly apply logic to every situation has rendered him a perpetual outsider – albeit one with an exceptional track record in the fruit wrap field.

Obviously the scene is set for an incendiary confrontation. Let’s see how Jerry and Igmar’s combatants stack up, shall we?

Table 1-2: Fruit Bar/Fruit Wrap Battle

 
Trader Joe’s Fruit Bars
Trader Joe’s Fruit Wraps
Legible font?
Not really (Bosenberrn?)
Very legible
Handmade?
Yes
No
100% Dried Fruit?
Yes
Yes
Sugar Added?
No
No
Kosher in New Zealand?
Yes
No
Entirely made of fruit from British Columbia?
No
Yes
Certified Organic?
No
Yes
Cost
$0.59
$0.49
Weight
20 grams
14 grams
Calories
50 calories
50 calories
Total Carbs
14 grams
12 grams
Grams from Sugar
13 grams
11 grams
Grams from Fiber
1.5 grams
Less than 1 gram
Breaks the iron law of arithmetic?
Yes
Yes, but not as badly
Is it actually a wrap?
No
No
Apples in it?
Some
Oh yeah
Basically just fruit leather?
Yes
Yes, but stickier

As you can see, the outcome is far from decisive. The fruit bars are slightly more filling, with more fiber packed into the same number of calories, and more exotic varieties to choose from. On the other hand, the fruit wraps are certified organic,  but harder to handle.

The important takeaway from this is that both Jerry and Igmar should take a step back and see that their differences are minuscule and that both products are essentially identical. Are they both good to eat? Absolutely, they both taste like delicious, preservative free, all natural, fruit leather.  If you need a fruit bar from Trader Joe’s either of these will do you just fine. If forced at gun point I’d go with the fruit bar over the fruit wrap because, in the end, I like my fingers to be clean.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I’d recommend either of these to anyone interested in revisiting their childhood lunch bag or fixing their kid’s sweet tooth.

Would I Buy Them Again: I might pickup a few Fruit Bars for a car trip or hike.

Final Synopsis: Fruit leather, by any other name, tastes just the same.


Trader Joe’s Dried California Persimmons

 

Trader Joe's Dried California Persimmons

Sitting there in plane view, like it has nothing to hide. But who are you really, persimmon?

Ah yes, the persimmon. One of those strange liminal fruits of the world that, like the lychee or jack fruit, is known by some, occasionally encountered, but largely a mystery, a stranger lurking on the edges on the far edge of the apples and bananas. Where do you come from, Trader Joe’s Dried Persimmons? What do you want with us?

You are liable to encounter a persimmon anywhere in the world, they are cultivated in narrow geographical regions from Asia, through the Middle East, into south America, and even – oddly enough – in Indiana. The most common type of persimmon, in it’s natural state, looks like a pallet-swapped tomato – orange and brown instead of red and green. They are sweet, with an almost pumpkin like taste an a texture somewhere between an apple and a firm tomato.

All of this matter because Trader Joe’s Dried Persimmons are simply that – dried persimmons, proud members of the one ingredient club (Ingredient: persimmons). On top of this, the persimmons are both unsulfured (adding sulfur dioxide extends the shelf life of dried fruit, but causes allergic reactions in some individuals) and unsweetened. We’ve seen Trader Joe’s love of the unsulfured, dried fruit before , following their urge to provide dried fruit that are as healthy and as close to nature as possible.

All of which means they;re good – chewy, pliable, quarter inch thick slices of a simple tasty fruit. It also means they’re hard to recommend to anyone who hasn’t ever tried persimmon before. If you have in fact bitten into the flesh of the tender persimmon, they you know if you’ll like these or not out the gate. It’s more of the same, the tastes intact, the meats merely drier.

If, on the other hand, you’ve never had a persimmon, my job becomes tougher. I suppose I could just shrug my shoulders and write this off as a boolenean “You either get it or you don’t” situation, but instead I’ll take the hard road and attempt to describe, Mary Super Scientist-style, the nature of a percept of which you have no experience. Now please, allow me to get my poet on:

Autumn. The persimmon, hanging heavy and orange on a lone dark branch, is an autumn fruit. Dense with itself it hangs, plucking free into your hand with a pleasant heft. The skin is firm and taut, tight-packed with the fruit’s juicy flesh, juicy but not overflowing, not sopping, merely permeated with the sweet, wet juices. A sweetness that is all it’s own, a taste which is unlike any other fruit. Not the high, bright, intense sweetness of cherries or apples, but a low, earthy sweetness, a mild, slow sweetness like a toned-down brown sugar, not a clean, clear touch on the tongue, but a lingering, mealy embrace – a pliable laying upon the tongue like the flesh of the banana. Your teeth pierce the skin, and at the first, at the very front of the bite, it is not sweet at all, but rich like a squash, like a ripe, late season pumpkin, and only then, only after you know it as that, comes the the mild slow sweetness and the moist, chewy flesh.

There you are. That’s the best I’ve got. If that sounds like the taste for you, by all means go ahead and pick up some persimmon, either dried or otherwise. If you’ve tired persimmon before and now regard me as an idiot, please post your more accurate description in the comments below.


The Breakdown:

Would I recommend it: Yes, if you like persimmons.

Would I Buy it Again: It’s nice, but my need for persimmons is not that high.

Final Synopsis: If you think regular persimmons are too moist for your purposes, this is the product for you.

Trader Joe's Dried Persimmon - Nutritional Information

Trader Joe’s Dried Persimmon – Nutritional Information


Trader Joe’s Dried Fruit – Just Mango Slices

Trader Joe's Dried Fruit - Just Mango Slices, Unsulfured & Unsweetened

Just mango is good enough for me.

Let’s talk delicious mangoes. My ongoing, free-verse tribute to my intense love of mangoes continues today with this lovely dried, unsweetened and unsulfured variety I picked up.

There is a wide world of difference between the dried green mango I enjoyed the other day and these. Why does sweetened mango abound so? Is not dried mango sweet enough on that it can glide blissfully over our tongues without being pumped full of glucose? Having only rarely seen unsweetened mango, and never tried it, I didn’t know – but eager to find out. The answer is a resounding yes. Not only does the absence of extra sugar make the snack more healthful and diet friendly, but it allows the natural fruity flavors to delicately emerge. Without the disguising taste of a sugar coating, I found I could actually distinguish a different taste in the slices depending on how close to the core they had been cut – sweeter and sunnier from outside, more reserved and green tasting at the core.

The slices themselves are stiff, broad flaps of fruit of drab whitish yellow – very different from the bright candy yellow-orange of sweetened mango. I found the change in color rather appealing, much like with Trader Joe’s Green Protein, if something is going to be healthier for me, I expect it to look more natural to boot. In fact, over all I found these a better buy then your regular, dried sweetened mango. Enough sugar already, I say. Let the mango speak for itself. Plus it’s unsulfured, so that’s a plus, but more on that tomorrow.

Are their any downsides to today’s dried mango? Is it even possible to conceive of a mango-related flaw? Yes, it would appear. Through an astounding exercise of willpower I managed to savor these over two whole days, and had the unhappy surprise of finding the pliable mango slices of the night before become increasingly stiff and leathery the next day. Within 24 hours of being opened, the mango slices had become about as difficult to bite off and chew as an old boot. The taste remained as delectable as ever, but eating them became an increasingly arduous task. If only Joe had packaged these in a resealable bag instead of a disposable one the whole issue could have been avoided. If you buy these, be sure to transfer them to a sealable bag upon opening, that’s my advice.

 

Would I Recommend Them To You: Yes, with the above proviso.

 

Would I Buy Them Again: Over sweetened mango? Every time.

 

Final Synopsis: Sweetened mango’s healthier older brother.

 

Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices - Nutritional Facts