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.
Know who loves a good strawberry? Everybody. Sweet, red, plump, fragrant and delicious – this time of year strawberries are overflowing the shelves of our local supermarkets and piling up at quaint roadside stands.
Know what sucks though? Have you ever brought home a batch of big honkin’ strawberries, only to bite into one and be completely let down. Plump, red and fragrant sure – but just not all that sweet. Certainly not sweet enough to scratch that summertime strawberry itch. You might luck out with a perfectly batch from your local farmer’s market, but supermarkets are notoriously bad about selling you huge strawberries that taste more tart and watery than sweet and delectable.
Enter Trader Joe’s Premium Extra Sweet Strawberries – a direct answer to the millions left wanting by subpar strawberries. These ruby red fruits promise you succulent, sweet supping with their deep red coloration and wonderful fragrance – and it’s a promise they deliver on.
This is not the sort of strawberry that you’re used to seeing in the supermarket, even at a Trader Joe’s. You’ll find them (while they last) in the produce section next to Trader Joe’s two other varieties of strawberry – regular and organic. Both the regular and organic strawberries have the usual bright red color you expect, which makes the deep red of the Premium Extra Sweet Strawberries much more striking. You won’t notice any white patches on these burgundy beauties – they’re dark red from stem to tip.
In fact, they’re a little too dark red. While every batch of strawberries has a few soft spots in it, you’ll notice that most of the strawberries in this “premium” batch are a bit on the soft side. While that may not sound ideal, it’s an unavoidable quality of these sweeter strawberries – the higher sugar content means they have a shorter shelf life and are more prone to going squishy than their firmer, lower-sugar counterparts.
If you don’t mind your strawberries a little on the soft side, they’re well worth the extra thirty cents per pint – these strawberries are notable sweeter and more flavorful. Even the duds in the bunch are a bit sweeter than your ordinary strawberry, while the softer, darker red ones are positively bursting with strawberry sweetness – not a hint of tartness to be found.
While the softer texture may make them a little hard for some people to enjoy straight from the box, they’re certainly ideal for cooking with. Slices of these very sweet strawberries will elevate your shortcake, spongecake or ice cream to premium levels.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, so long as you don’t mind soft strawberries.
Would I Buy Them Again: In a heartbeat. Thirty cents extra is a steal for actually flavorful strawberries.
Final Synopsis: Much sweeter, and squishier, strawberries.
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.
Trader Joe’s has renewed it’s fruit bar producing efforts of late. We just took a look at their new line of thick and hearty two ingredient only fruit bars. Not content to rest with a mere 14 varieties of fruit bars across three separate labels, TJ’s has released yet another one – this one simply called “Fruit Bar with Flax and Chia Seeds.” The hardest part about covering these bars are their homogeneous names, a trend that TJ’s has decided to double down on by not even telling you what kind of fruit this bar has in it. Fruit, it suggests to you coyly, with seeds! Okay TJ, that weird enough to get my attention.
The reason, it turns out, that Trader Joe’s leaves the fruit name off this one is that, for once, it’s a blend of the whole orchard. Apple puree is the primarily ingredient, followed by a mixture of pear, elderberry and strawberry touched with lemon juice.
I went in to the bar with low expectations – after reviewing every fruit bar TJ has to offer, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have any more surprises for me. I was wrong. This bar easily bests all of the Apple & Whatever bars I reviewed last month. That maybe shouldn’t be such a surprise really – when you limit yourself to just 2 ingredients, you’re also limiting our flavor palette. Trader Joe’s Fruit Bar with Flax and Chia seeds has a much deeper, more nuanced taste, injecting each chewy, tacky bite with a density of flavor, one fruit mingling harmoniously with the next in a way that teases the tongue to probe each bite. The lemon juice, in particular, has an appreciated presence, giving the bar a zesty bite that sets it aside from its starchier, blander siblings.
In and of itself, Joe has a winner here. However, they don’t stop there, mixing in a pinch of flax and chia seeds to boost the nutritional profile. Both flax and chia seeds have been very much in the public eye of late for their “super nutrient” qualities. While their purported qualities owe as much to marketers as they do to science, these seeds are undeniable potent sources of nutrients and fats. Each bar brings a full 1000 milligrams of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, advertised right there on the front of the wrapper. That’s a fun perk if you’re trying to get more into your diet, and an interesting concession to texture for the rest of us.
As already mentioned, the bars is gooey and tacky in that “stick to the wrapper” kind of way. The added seeds give the bar a touch of crunch to each chewy bite that lends them a touch of welcome body.
The result is a surprisingly tasty, fruity, and munchable fruit bar. If you’re looking for single ingredient fruit bars (or fruit leather), you’ve got plenty of choices out there. However, if you’re just looking for a good fruit bar to snack on, this is the best TJ currently has to offer.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you like fruit bars, or need natural alternatives Fruit Roll Ups.
Would I Buy It Again: I’m not a big fruit bar guy, but if I was this is the one I’d go for.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s tastiest fruit bar.
Trader Joe’s Prune Walnut Log
Prune and walnut log – wow! I dropped the half-hearted purchase I was going ti make myself write about this week and snatched these up as soon as I saw them, standing boldly forth as they were, like a proud, squat dwarf, on the lower-middle rack of the fruit & nut aisle.
These just appeal to me on so many levels. It’s like Trader Joe’s designed them specifically for this blog. I mean, where to begin?
Well, to start, they’re in log form. Nothing comes in log form! Not since the 50’s ended and consumers across America suddenly realized they were decorating cottage cheese with rings of pineapple that had been dyed green by quasi-lethal food additives. There’s really not much lower than the lowly log when it comes to food formats – even loaf has at least a few positive denotations (i.e. “meat-” and “- of bread”). But no, no one as ever said “Mmm, that log is delicious! Hew me off another slab, will ya?”
Take the name itself. It falls squarely into that three letter, central vowel set of monosyllabic utterance that just don’t sound appetizing, words like “gut” and “gob” and “wad”. Etymology aside, there’s just nothing appetizing about extruded food cylinders.
“Ready for some homemade turkey dinner?” hard working Mom asks.
“Go put your head in a vise, you slag,” chirp the youngsters, “We’re playing Gameboy!”
“But boys,” Mom teases, a twinkle in her eye, “it’s been extruded into cylinder form.”
“Log? For dinner? Yipee!”
In a flash the family has gathered around the table, digging with gusto into the uncannily smooth tubular masses that lay heavily upon their plates.
No, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t happen that way. Logs are unnerving and strange, and very few foods are acceptable in log format. Festive holiday cheeses and jellied cranberry sauce and, as far as I’m aware, that’s it.
Now then, what kind of log are we talking about? Why, it’s prunes. I mean, prunes, seriously? Amazing! Is there any food product that can conjure up images of loosened bowels more efficiently than prunes? I submit to you that there is not. And finally, on top of all of this, we have walnut, to which I am fairly indifferent.
So things are looking pretty dire for the ol’ prune and walnut log right from the word go. The packaging, light and cast of translucent, Lunchable-esque plastic, announces that it is “An Ideal Cheese Companion” right smack in the center, in a font larger than the title of the food itself. Serving suggestions are occasionally brazen in their placement, but I’ve never seen one that actually supersedes the contents of the package itself. I pick up a pack of Trader Joe’s Spanish Cheese Tapas Sampler to pair with the log. I may be bringing a roiling cloud of prejudices to the table, but I’m fair dammit. If the log demands a cheese coupling, than cheese it shall have.
Upon peeling back the cling film of the prune and walnut logs I am startled and thrilled. The log has been subdivided among the four quadrants of it’s container, this I knew from before. What I didn’t know was that each section was also pre-sliced into three round discs. I pulled back the cling film on the cheese sampler. To my mounting delight I find that each of its three wedges have been pre-sliced into four triangular planes. All the sudden the game has turned upside down on me, as if a secret geometry of the universe had sudden revealed itself. 4 x 3, 3 x 4. I’m staring at 12 slices of each, perfect pairings for each other, as if preordained by the invisible hand of Providence.
Is this log tasting going to be perfect? I wonder giddily.
To cut to the chase, three quarters of a page in, yes – the prune walnut log is delicious. I have to hand it to the clever boys over there at Trader Joe’s for the slicing gimmick. In one deft swoop they turned the most unappealing aspect of the log into a boon – simple access for easy pairing without having to bother with a knife or the generally gross look of a nut-studded fruit log.
The prune-walnut slices go very nicely with their cheese counterparts – the starchy sweetness of the prune paste benefiting from the clean, nutty crunch of the walnuts, both of which go very nicely with cheese. To my own astonishment I have to recommend this as a ready-to-go party tray or sophisticated snack plate for the sort of get togethers where people look at their food before stuffing it in their gobs (book circles, say, instead of NFL games) . Not too shabby, logs. You’ve turned me around.
Would I Recommend It: To anyone who enjoys fruit and nuts with their cheese, which should be everyone.
Would I Buy It Again: I would gladly trot this out for book club, were I ever to attend one.
Final Synopsis: If you like complex tastes that you can layer on a cracker, this log is right up your alley.
This one’s is easy to explain. Imagine you are eating a piece of dehydrated mango. Now imagine it’s a little more tart than usual. That’s about all there is to say for this simple snack. Green mangoes are, as they sounds like, mangoes which are harvested before maturity. In the wild these would be unedibly tart, but after the miracle of dehydration and with the liberal addition of sugar they hit the spot.
I loved these and ate them up at a pace so dangerously quick that I’m putting a prohibition on myself from buying them again too soon. If I didn’t, there’s more than a small chance that my diet would quickly slide into a sort of all-dehydrated-green-mango binge, and that my friends would soon find me, naked, fat and dead, in a room littered with empty mango pouches, a fistful of dehydrated mango wedged half-way in my mouth. The fact that, if at all possible, I would marry a mango and engage in passionate love making with my mango bride probably makes me more susceptible to the sweet and tangy wiles of this fruity snack than others, but I don’t hesitate to recommend it all the same.
The tangier green mango provides a nice change of pace from the super sweetness of normal dehydrated mango, and does so without losing any of that potent mango flavor. The only small issue I had was that I was hoping for a tarter zing than the green mango delivered. The pack-promised tartness manifests as a subtle undertone rather than a pyrotechnic blast, but it’s hard to get too bent out of shape over a product that tastes as good as this.
Would I recommend it: Yes.
Would I buy it again: Yes, but only while carefully self-monitoring.
Final Synopsis: Like regular dehydrated mango – but better!