Fresh madness, straight from the howling bowels of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Innovation Labs (TJPIL), but oh, what sweet madness this is.
Take a quick poll of your friends and co-workers and ask them to name a spice they naturally associate with pumpkin. Ginger? Did they say ginger? Probably not – not unless they’re in the habit of whipping up their own pumpkin pie spice from scratch. Despite the seeming disconnect between pumpkin and ginger, it does make a subtle appearance as a traditional pumpkin pie spice, along side cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar.
|What it is:||Small, pumpkin-ginger ice cream sandwiches.|
|Price:||$3.99 for a 12 tiny sandwiches|
|Worth it:||Yes. Pumpkin and ginger works, baby!|
For some reason, the TJPIL decided to pass right by those more likely ice cream companions and go straight for the ginger. And you know what – I’m delighted that they did. Trader Joe’s Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls are exactly right – a perfect balance of sweet pumpkin ice cream with a dash of tingling ginger, sandwiched between two soft, ginger cookies.
I think we can all agree that it’s hard to screw up an ice cream sandwich as it is. Cookies are great, ice cream is great – putting the two together is pretty much going to be a grand slam. And yet, TJ’s mini ice cream mouthfuls go above and beyond. This seasonal ginger pumpkin variety is a fall addition to their mini ice cream sandwich line, which already includes a mint ice cream version for the summer. All of the varieties show the same attention to creamy delicious detail.
Miniaturizing ice cream sandwiches down to finger food form is actually a bit of a brilliant idea. Often times the “worst” part of an ice cream sandwich (“worst” here, in the sense of the “worst” part of winning the lottery, or the “worst” part of all your wildest dreams coming true) are the bits where they cookie is too thick and dry, the ice cream to far away. With these mini ice cream mouthfuls, you never find yourself in such a predicament. Like the inverse of Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies, or Chicken Pot Pie Bites, you actually get less crust and more filling.
Speaking of that filling – Trader Joe’s uses they’re usual, delicious pumpkin ice cream. If you haven’t had it, rest assured that it tastes far more like sweet and creamy than pumpkiny. On the other hand, there’s plenty of ginger in these frosty bites. If pumpkin puts you off, you might well still enjoy these. If ginger puts you off, however, you’ll probably want to give the a pass.
As for me, I couldn’t get enough of these. Each box holds a dozen of the little bites, but I could have eaten twice as many and not been satisfied. Ginger and pumpkin ice cream – who knew they’d work so well together?
Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, if I could trust myself around them.
Would I Recommend Them: Absolutely, very tasty.
Final Synopsis: Tiny ginger and pumpkin ice cream sandwiches that taste even better than they sound.
Occasionally I’m compelled to review something not of the Trader Joe’s brand. Why? Am I crazy? Am I trying to sabotage the accuracy of my own blog’s name. Far from it! Every now and then, Trader Joe’s simply finds a product that, for one byzantine, boring reason or another, they choose to bring in under its original brand name instead of using the TJ label.
|What it is:||Very sweet, alcoholic ginger ale.|
|Costs:||$4.99 a bottle.|
|Worth it:||Nope, too expensive.|
To that we can add Hollows and Fentimans Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Yes, you all know that I’m a sucker for those potent ginger brews – case in point, Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer, Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew, etc. What makes Hollows and Fentimans’ Ginger Beer any different from the others crowding the shelves? 4% alcohol by volume, as fact would have it.
Yup, this is the first actually alcoholic ginger beer available from Trader Joe’s. And as exciting as that prospect is, it’s actually kind of a let down.
After so many delicious ginger drinks – in particular the recently released, cloudy and complex Brewed Ginger Beer – Trader Joe’s has set the bar quite high when it comes to spicy root-based beverages. Given that Hollow and Fentimans’ offering is billed as “all natural”, and comes from a British company with a 110 year history of brewing the stuff, I was expecting something equally flavorful, nuanced, and ginger-tastic. And while it certainly isn’t swill, this ginger beer is more like a syrupy ginger ale than a spicy taste bud tingler.
The contents of the bottle are golden-yellow, non-carbonated, and very sweet – sweeter than any can of regular ginger ale you can find on the shelf. This is actually a mark of its pedigree. The very first ginger ale ever sold, dating back to one Dr. Thomas Cantrell in Belfast in 1851, was also golden-yellow in color and sweet as the dickens. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that Canadian John McLaughlin developed “Canadian Dry” ginger ale – the more common, paler variety found in North America under big names like Schweppes, Seagrams and, yes, Canada Dry.
While that shows excellent adherence to tradition, it doesn’t really make Hollow and Fentimans Ginger Beer all that pleasant to drink. At the quite low 4% alcohol by volume, you don’ taste the beer in this ginger beer, just the sugar. The ginger part isn’t all that impressive either. After getting zazzed up by Trader Joe’s more sophisticated and intense ginger offerings, this ginger beer tastes positively juvenile – flat and one-note, with an unremarkable ginger taste dominated by cloying sweetness.
So if neither the “Ginger” part, or the “Beer” part are particularly appealing, what is there to draw you to this ginger beer? Certainly not the price, which comes at an outright expensive $5.99 per 12 oz bottle.
If you could get a six-pack for six bucks, this ginger beer might be worth it. As it stands, it would be easier, cheaper and tastier to mix a boozed up ginger drink yourself with Trader Joe’s own excellent offerings and a little bit of imagination.
Would I Recommend It: No, too expensive for such an average a drink.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope – see above.
Final Synopsis: A very sweet ginger ale, with little alcohol and not much kick.
There’re ginger ales, then there’re ginger beers, and then there’s this. Trader Joe’s Ginger Brew is an intense, carbonated ginger drink unlike anything else I’ve ever had – and I’ve drunk a liter of Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew.
There are a lot of types of ginger drinks in the world – ginger ale, ginger beer, this stuff, each one offering its own take on the complex, nuanced spice of ginger. Growing up on the ubiquitous Royal Canadian brand of ginger ale, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked the first time I tried a bottle of Reed’s Jamaican Style Ginger Beer. Never had I suspected that ginger soda could be so intense – never had I dreamed that someone would dare!
Since then I’ve warmed up to the idea of extremely gingery soda. Not a beverage you enjoy so much as explore – a sippin’ drink. The whiskey of the soda world. But even I was taken aback by Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer – a real ass kicker of a ginger soda that doesn’t let you off the hook just because you wanted to drink something sweet.
TJ’s Brewed Ginger Beer has the same intense ginger flavor of the seasonal Triple Ginger Brew, but adds in a mixture of lemon and lime, as well as a proprietary mix of natural flavorings and extracts – additions that are quite visible in the sediment that settles onto the bottom of the bottle. Not that you’ll be able to pick these flavors out from behind the fierce wall of extra ginger gingeriness that blasts you in the mouth.
However, it’s not just the ginger that makes this drink so unique, it’s the bitterness. Lurking behind the first blush of sweetness and the sharp slap of ginger there is a hard, bitter burn – like a hint of tonic water. That shocker is what sets this brewed ginger beer apart from other’s of it’s ilk. Of course bitterness isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, in this case I actually think it’s a nice touch, adding an extra dimension to the already complex play of flavors without being unpleasant to drink..
Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer certainly feels like a manly ginger ale, earning the bold nautical imagery TJ’s throws on the label. It’s so manly, in fact, that I can’t help but think about using it as a mixer in alcoholic drinks. Any ginger soda will work for your Dark and Stormy (dark rum and ginger ale), Moscow Mule (vodka and ginger ale) Horsefeather (whiskey and ginger ale) or Ginger Shandy (beer and ginger ale), however Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer’s complexity and not-too-sweet delivery is a natural choice for adding extra depth to your drink.
This may not be the most quaffable ginger soda in the world, but if you’re looking for a good ginger beer to savor, or an high-class mixer for your cocktails, it’s tailor made for you.
Would I Recommend It: To certain refined palettes, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Would I Buy It Again: Yeah, along with some more dark rum.
Final Synopsis: A strong, slightly bitter ginger beer with a lot of complexity.
I picked up Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger because, well, it sounds kind of terrible. Why would I do that to myself? Perhaps I’m insane. Perhaps. At any rate, I like both dark chocolate and ginger, but taken together they sound a little bit off putting. Both alkaloid rich dark chocolate and intensely strident ginger are strong, acquired tastes that are best used sparingly. So what was TJ thinking when they decided to give us huge globs of dark chocolate, stuffed full of spicy, candied ginger? I can’t begin to imagine, because really, these globs aren’t particularly good.
This is a classic case of what you see is what you get. If you look at these big chunks of dark chocolate and imagine that beneath a thick semi-sweet coating rests a big nugget of ginger you have the right idea. The only real surprise is that the ginger isn’t a solid single chunk, nut a tight wad of small ginger chunks. This is actually a pleasant reveal as I was preparing myself for the teeth gluing, tongue-burning action that a really good sized hunk of crystallized ginger is uniquely capable of delivering
While that isn’t the case here, there is still plenty of ginger in these hefty morsels, and that strong ginger taste simply does not mesh very well with the strident bitterness and subtle sweetness of the dark chocolate. There is a way to enjoy these, but it isn’t by snacking on them. Instead, these fall squarely into he camp of sophisticated thinking-man’s sweets. To enjoy the experience of eating one of these you really need to be thinking about it – thinking about the clash of spicy, sharp ginger with its own crystallized ginger exterior, while simultaneously appreciating that whole clash as it clashes with the bittersweet dark chocolate its enrobed in.
That’s a whole lot of clashing and honestly, in my opinion, it’s not worth it. Yes it’s a novel taste – but not so novel as to make up for all the sugar and fat you’re eating. There are plenty more sophisticated chocolate tastes in the world, such as Trader Joe’s Stone Ground Salt and Pepper Chocolate, and if you’ve got a candied ginger hankering crystallized ginger is pretty good on its own. Combining these two does neither any favors and should probably be relegated tot he dust bin of novel failures, along with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Nibs.
Would I Recommend It: I’d recommend either of these things separately, but not like this.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope. Done with these.
Final Synopsis: Two great tastes that taste confusing and strange together.
Hmmm. Well, this is probably proof that the top brass at Trader Joe’s are devoted followers of this blog. No sooner do I suggest that TJ come up with a few more variations on their new Toasted Coconut Pancale Mix then does this appear on the shelf – Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Pancake Mix. It’s arrived just in time for the holiday festivities, so let’s dive in!
In my Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix review, I pointed out that while the coconut bits are pretty good, the real winner was the incredibly easy to make pancake mix itself. Trader Joe’s has brought to market a totally self-contained pancake kit that incorporates powdered eggs and powdered milk into the mix itself. All you need to supply is the water – either a little to end up with big puffy flapjacks, or a lot to end up with thin, dense crepes. This time around TJ’s ditched the coconut, and whipped up something much more in tune with the time of year – a gingerbread infused mix with crystallized ginger bits tossed right in.
While this sounds like it should be a grand slam, the pancake mix suffers from the unique problem of not being gingery enough, and being too gingery at the same time.
There are really two types of ginger in this pancake mix. The first is the ginger present in the gingerbread-like pancake batter itself. This is ginger doing the classic gingerbread thing, providing a pleasant aromatic lift to the rest of the dough and contributing just a hint of ginger taste. I was actually a little disappointed by how mild the ginger taste was in the pancake batter. Given the premise of “gingerbread pancakes”, I had assumed we’d be getting something akin to gingerbread cookies, just in a fluffier form. That’s not actually the case – this pancake mix is more gingerbread-inspired then gingerbread-infused. It tastes somewhat of gingerbread, but not so much that you would mistake it for a cookie in a blind taste test. While that’s a little disappointing to me personally, it’s by no means a deal breaker. The molasses, brown sugar and powdered ginger that do go in give it at least a hint of that warm and lovely taste of gingerbread, while retaining the supple mildness of the good ol’ fashioned pancake.
However, there is another issue. Possibly in order to compensate for the only mildly gingery batter, Trader Joe’s mixes in a heaping scoop of crystallized ginger bits. Not unlike it’s cousin Trader Joe’s Crispy Coconut Pancakes, the ginger bits are numerous, and wind up in each bite. The problem is that bits of crystallized ginger just don’t taste that great in pancakes. There are a couple issues with it – the abrupt combination of textures, the fact that the heavy bits are prone to burn on the griddle – but the biggest issue is that ginger isn’t really an easy spice to use.
Although it’s commonly found in sweets in the form of gingerbread cookies, ginger is
actually better suited for savory dishes, as in Indian and Thai cuisine – not sweet ones. Gingerbread only really works because the ginger is spread out through a good deal of sugar and thick batter. The crystallized ginger lumps in this pancake mix don’t taste like gingerbread at all – they just take like intense bits of ginger. These little gingery bursts don’t go particularly well with maple syrup and butter – instead they sort of throw the flavor off by hitting you with an abrupt, strong, clashing taste. And I say this as a crystallized ginger fan! For years I kept a little box of crystalized ginger in my desk drawer to snack on for a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up. I only stopped when it became clear that fusing my molars together with sugar-caked, sweet glue was not beneficial to healthy tooth enamel.
In the end, what you’re left with is a pretty tasty gingerbread(ish) pancake mix, with a bunch of intense ginger mixed in. The result is something that tastes less like a holiday treat and more like something from an Asian Fusion brunch special. It’s not terrible – but it is very striking. While it’s certainly interesting to try, if you’re looking for something to delight the kids with on Xmas morning this may not be the way to go.
Trader Joe, if you are taking suggestions from me now, keep the pancake mix but don’t stop trying out new flavors.
Would I Recommend It: Not really. Ginger pancakes are interesting, but not incredible.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll probably go back to the toasted coconut pancakes.
Final Synopsis: Nice gingerbready pancakes loaded up with too much ginger.