I was truly surprised when I saw Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise. I suppose it’s quite provincial of me to be surprised by flavor tweaks to traditionally mundane condiments, it is, after all,the year two thousand and fourteen, miracles abound. I have, for instance, in my cupboard this very minute a bottle of balsamic vinegar infused ketchup from Heinz, of all people, and a plastic canister of PB2. In the face of that mixing a bit of powdered horseradish in with a ubiquitous and world famous emollient in desperate need of reinventing itself is practically child’s play.
Nevertheless, I was surprised. Wasabi mayonnaise is a very clever update on everyone’s favorite egg-based salad dressing and sandwich spread. I’ll cut right to the chase here, because we have plenty to get to today. Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise is an excellent tool to have in your condiment tool box. It does everything that regular mayonnaise does just as well, plus it adds an extra dimension of bold spice to the mix. The mayo is thick, smooth and creamy – perfect for adding a savory skim of fat to food that are otherwise too healthy for their own good. Only a single quibble, and that’s that it’s a rather oily mayonnaise. That’s certainly not a deal breaker, just be prepared for it.
That leads us to the wasabi side of the mayo. The spiciness here is well balanced, it provides a mild kick in small amounts and a bigger one if you really lay it on, but make no mistake, this is a mayonnaise not a horseradish spread. You’re never in danger of burning your sinuses out of your head, though they might get a little wake up call.
Of course, there’s the small problem that our wasabi mayonnaise doesn’t actually have any wasabi in it. Or, more accurately, it has very very little wasabi in it, way down at the very end of the ingredient list below the spinach powder food coloring. When you have less wasabi in your wasabi mayo then you have artificial coloring, you might want to consider a different name, TJ.
Actually, as much as I’d like to condemn Trader Joe’s for barely putting any wasabi in their wasabi mayo, that’s simply the way it goes. Choose any wasabi product from your supermarket shelf and check out the ingredient list. 99 times out of 100, you won’t find any actual wasabi in the product. Real wasabi is difficult to grow – it can take up to two years to grow a mature wasabi root, and once mature it can only be harvested once. As a result, real wasabi is quite expensive – much more expensive than the simple combination of common horseradish, mustard and food coloring that almost everyone, Trader Joe’s included, uses in it’s place. It’s actually to TJ’s credit that they throw a token amount of real wasabi in here. Many less scrupulous wasabi providers (including, in all likelihood, your favorite sushi restaurant) settle for the cheap, horseradish-based variety that lacks any real Japanese wasabi what’s so ever.
Outraged? Maybe you should be – although you better check to see if you can afford real wasabi prices, currently about $20 for 2 oz. A better question might be, what’s the difference between real wasabi and this substitute? The answer seems to be not a lot. Those who know report that real wasabi is hotter with a sweeter finish. The sort of thing a real gormund might insist on, but which is probably wasted if it’s just being mixed in with a bunch of mayo anyways.
If you an get over the subterfuge and misdirection, Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise is still a quality mayo with a lot of flavor, and one that you won’t regret buying at the much more reasonable price of $6.99 for a 12 oz. a jar.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a tasty twist on mayo.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t use a lot of mayo, but if I was going to buy some I’d probably buy this.
Final Synopsis: A flavorful mayo balanced perfectly between spiciness and creaminess.
I did not intend to buy Trader Joe’s Cheddar and Horseradish Chips, not in the least. While it might seem like exactly the sort of misfit I’m drawn to, not unlike this insane chip mash up, this product just failed to grab my gustatory attention. Why, for instance, was this product championed as if it were unspeakable outré, by its own packaging nonetheless (“Cheddar and…horseradish?!”), but poor Beurre Meuniere Popcorn, released at exactly the same time, has been left omitted from the Fearless Flyer and left to languish in obscurity? Conspiracy? Perhaps. But in this case, as with the Elvis’ assassination by teamsters or New Coke, the conspiracy has won. Compelled, as if by forces beyond myself, I bought a bag and crunched in. What I found was much what I feared – a nice chip that is sharply spicy, sort of cheesy, but overall not as interesting as hoped for.
First, before I go all crazy on the mingling of tastes and all, a word on horseradish. I’ve often wondered just where the “horse” in horseradish comes from, a question that was piqued in my mind by the boldly emblazoned horseshoe on the package. It’s a common association, and one that’s all the more interesting given that the horseradish is actually poisonous to horses. Why the conflation? The answer can be traced back, like all else that is good in the world, to the filthy peasants of late 15th century England. Evidently, at some point a peon hefted one of these large roots before his eyes and remarked, “Cor, what a horse radish!” Horse being the word for “large” or “strong” at the time. The peasants, being no slouches, knew a good turn of phrase when they heard one, and the name stuck.
The presence of horseradish in these chips is downright undeniable. I was actually warned multiple times at the register by a cashier who was perhaps overly concerned that these chips were for horseradish lovers ONLY. I certainly fancy myself that, but at the risk of appearing haughty, I’d say a single, mild warning would do. There chips do come in with a sharp horseradish kick, but it flares out in half a second, sliding into a quick cool down and the arrival of some generic cheese flavor. Notably horseradishy definitely, but not quite a strong taste and nowhere near the real thing. While Trader Joe’s Cheddar and Horseradish chips do get hotter on the gongue than your standard, long-burn jalapeno chip, the effect is much shorter and the overall experience a milder one.
While the horseradish definitely delivers, there is less to talk about on the cheddar side of things. After the burn, the cheese taste is an anticlimax, muted and uninteresting by comparison. I’m not necessarily a fan of the super cheesy Cheetos approach to snack foods, but these chips could certainly benefit from a more complex flavor. The chip itself is thick, very crunchy, kettle-cooked and wavy – a strong chip that requires a moment to chew through and ensures you get the full horseradish blast.
Would I Recommend Them: Not particularly. Give’m a shot if you love horseradish, or need a new weird chip flavor.
Would I Buy Them Again: For me, these aren’t quite compelling enough.
Final Synopsis: A sharp, fun bite, followed by a more or less average chip.