Every now and then, after Trader Joe’s comes out with a particularly weird or goofy food product, I get to feeling a little bit superior to Trader Joe’s – sort of like they’re my wacky next-door neighbor.
|What it is:||A hummus like spread made from|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 8 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes. A delicious hummus substitute.|
“Pickle-flavored popcorn, TJ?” I’ll think to myself, shaking my head, “You’re just lucky I love you so much, you big goof!”
And without exception, every time I start to feel this way, Trader Joe’s turns around and absolutely embarrases me with a product that is elegant, nuanced, and grounded in a rich culinary tradition that I’ve never even heard of.
“What d’ya got this week, TJ?” I ask, sauntering into the store, “Another wacky popcorn flavor?”
“Actually,” Trader Joe’s casually informs me, “This is muhammara – a middle eastern condiment similar to hummus but made from walnuts and pomegranate juice. A product of ancient Syria, of course. Ahahaha – no, don’t try and pronounce it, you’ll just make yourself look silly.”
Yes, today we’re reviewing Trader Joe’s Muhammara – a delicious, hummus-like spread with a cool, dark red color and a smooth, gently earthy, mildly piquant taste.
Unlike hummus, that can taste a bit grainy or mealy due to the garbanzo beans it’s made from, muhammara is a blend of walnuts, roast red peppers, pomegranate juice, olive oil and bread crumbs. While that sounds like it would result in a weirdly lumpy or heterogenous texture, it couldn’t be more smooth and velvety – perfect for veggie dip, cracker spread, or pita filling.
The taste itself has quite a bit of the mildness of a red pepper roasted to softness, and only a subtle touch of the nuttiness of walnuts, and even less of the tart pomegranate flavor you might expect. In fact, muhammara is generally made with pomegranate molasses, much more similar to the pomegranate syrup we made up than mouth puckering pomegranate juice. As such, the muhammara also has an understated touch of sweetness to it that makes go down particularly smoothly.
Despite never hearing of it before, I enjoyed the hell out of my muhammara. It was good with pretty much whatever I tried it with, and made an excellent “before dinner” snack with just a handful of Triscuits I had at hand. I’ve always been a little bit ambivalent on hummus – which generally ears out it’s welcome with me after a few bites. Muhammara has all the qualities I like about hummus, the soft spreadable texture and cooling, snackable taste, with an added edibility and improved texture.
As you may have guessed from the walnuts and olive oil, muhammara shares hummus’ high fat content – but thta’s simply the nature of the beast. Buy a tub, enjoying it moderation, and you won’t regret it.
Would I Recommend It: If you like hummus, give this a try.
Would I Buy It Again: I do think so.
Final Synopsis: Just like hummus, but a little tastier.
Well well, beet hummus – that’s apparently a thing we have now. Beets. Hummus. Beet hummus. Not hummus and beets or but hummus with beets, but hummus made from beets. It’s a real thing and we’re all just going to have to deal with it.
Long time readers of the blog know that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with beets, or maybe more accurately, I have a self-destructive fascination with beets. Despite referring to them on more than one occasion as tasting like gelatin made with dirt, I nevertheless feel compelled to purchase each new and successively weirder beet product that Trader Joe’s puts out. They’re sort of like my anti-mango.
At any rate, for the above reasons, I picked up this unsettlingly purple tub of ground beet mush to see if it tasted as good as it sounds. The first thing I should clarify is, despite all my ranting and wailing, beets only make up a portion of this hummus. The first ingredient in this hummus, as in all true hummuses, is ground garbanzo beans, aka the chickpea. This has been blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and a few Mediterranean spices – aka the hummus you all know and love. It’s just that on top of this really solid base Trader Joe’s has decided to mix in beets. Tons of beets. And also beet juice.
Can you taste the beets in this hummus, you might be asking? Yes – yes you can absolutely can taste the beets. That potent yet somehow drab beet flavor grabs you by the tongue from the first bite and doesn’t let you forget it. “Beets”, as listed on the label, is the second ingredient – and you will notice it. This is augmented by the addition of beet juice and, in case you didn’t think that was quite enough beet, a hearty handful of extra beet chunks scattered liberally on top. Trader Joe’s apparently went into this one with the goal of ensuring that no one in the world could accuse their beet hummus of not being absolutely chockablock with non-stop beet action.
That said really, there’s nothing wrong with this hummus. It’s a regualar, run of the mill hummus across the board – it just has a bunch of beets in it. That’s really all there is too it, which drives me slightly crazy. It tastes just like ordinary hummus, except that you’ll taste beets when you first put it in your mouth and experience that long, distinctive beet aftertaste. I’m sure that there are some people in the world to whom this is somehow a selling point. If you’ve become bored by Trader Joe’s numerous other hummus offerings, if mere edamame hummus strikes you as humdrum, then this novel, beet-centric take on hummus may be just what you’re looking for.
To me, however, this beet hummus is like getting my car back from the mechanic and being told – “Good news. We’ve fixed everything and it’s running fine – and also we filled up the back seat with spiders.” It’s fine, I just really wish you had avoided taking that extra step.
As I say, I’m sure there are people out there who are excited by the prospect of integrating a root vegetable into their hummus routine. To those people I say go for it, this is the best beet hummus on the shelves. For me, however, I’ll be giving it a wide berth.
Would I Recommend It: Hypothetically I could recommend this to beet lovers, if ever I meet one.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope.
Final Synopsis: Hummus, but it tastes like beets.
Trader Joe’s Balela is a mildly spiced, tangy chickpea bean dip with it’s origins in the Middle East and it’s absolutely killer. I know what you’re all thinking – “A middle eastern chickpea bean dip? He means hummus right? Why doesn’t he just say hummus? Is he stupid?”
Please, reserve your harsh judgement, hasty internet commentator, for unlike hummus the chickpeas in balela are whole, not ground. That little fact, of course, makes a world of difference.
Balela is in fact a loose mixture of garbanzo and black beans tossed with tomatoes, lemon juice, onion, garlic, parsley and a hint of mint, all served in a tiny, hummus size tub. This makes it a dip, bean salad or side dish, depending on your need.
I set into my little dish of balela with a collection of tortilla and pita chips, and simply could not stop eating it. It has that same tongue pleasing tingle and pleasant mealiness of hummus, while avoiding the overwhelming richness that hummus brings. While the tastes aren’t exactly analogous, they’re close enough that you can think of balela as “hummus light” – a much less dense take on the classic dish. The absence of tahini and presence of mint and parsley very much help further this difference between the two.
The only real mark against this dish is the small size. Little eight ounce tubs are plenty for hummus, but only holds a handful of whole beans. I ate this thing up in about six bites which, though good, was a bit fast for $3.00. It’s not terrible for an individual, but you’d have to buy about 10 of these tubs to cater to even a small get together.
Normally at this point I like to launch into the history and cultural relevance of the food I’m reviewing, but there is a shocking dearth of information about balela online. Numerous blogs all mention the dish, but only in reference to having seen it at Trader Joe’s, and the lone wikipedia article on balela is for 1950’s Portuguese soccer coach Manuel Balela. This suggests that TJ’s is delving further and deeper into esoteric foreign cuisines than I had previously dreamed, or that they’re just making up their own dishes now. I’m not sure which of these options impresses more.
Nevertheless my curiosity has been piqued. I’ve sent several communiques out to Trader Joe’s seeking answers and will update this post with the answers I uncover. In the meanwhile, if any loyal readers have any insight into the history or origin of balela, please post in the comments.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, to anyone who enjoys hummus, chickpeas or dip in general.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, even if I wish there was packed in per package.
Final Synopsis: A deliciously tangy and savory bean dip/salad/side dish.
I’m a cool enough dude to know what edamame is – it’s Japanese for “delicious & healthy soybean snack” I’m also cool enough to know how to eat them – you squeeze the bean pod between thumb and forefinger and the slippery little bean pops into your mouth in the most satisfactory way possible. What I guess I wasn’t cool enough to know was that you can make hummus out of things other than garbanzo beans. In all seriousness, the second I saw this thing my brain did a little freak out flip in my skull. Who knew these two foods, Japanese Soybeans and Middle Eastern Hummus, intersected? I, for one, did not see this ven diagram coming.
Hummus, it turns out, can be made from basically any legume – it’s just that the chickpea is has just been the solid go to bean for the last 7,000 years or so. In the mad world of the go-go 21st century, however, hummus has caught on in some non-traditional cultures (ex: America) and they’ve decided to make some non-traditional hummus. The range of hummus is actually startling, and includes such variations as black bean hummus and pumpkin hummus. Swear to god. Check ‘em out.
While I can’t speak for it’s bros above, edamame hummus is a delicious treat. What makes it so good? The fact that it tastes exactly like any other hummus. To my ordinary palate at least. Try as I might to savor the flavor across numerous mediums, I could not detect any difference in taste between the edamame and the garbanzo other than it’s cool greenish hue. I’d imagine that there are hummus aficionados out there who are doing a comical spit take at such a bourgeoisie sentiment, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to buy this hummus over your existing preferred brand unless, that is, you really get a kick out of stylish, art noveau-esque packaging which, in this case, is really top notch.
Would I Recommend It: Only if you love hummus but hate chickpeas.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll stick with my Sabra, thanks.
Final Synopsis: Cool to say, ordinary to eat.