Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler is one of those surprising products that doesn’t quite seem to fit at Trader Joe’s. Do-it-yourself fusion sushi? Sure. Popcorn seasoned with brown butter and french herbs? Why not. But a watermelon cooler? A summery, watermelon drink called a “cooler”. That seems oddly plebeian on the shelves next to Trader Joe’s French Market Sparkling French Berry Lemonade, and Trader Joe’s Italian Blood Orange Soda.
As much as I like Trader Joe’s, my blue collar roots sometimes rebel at the rather fancy image Joe likes to cultivate for himself. It’s a bit of a relief to see them throw the word “cooler” around on a relaxed summer drink – much in the tradition of Cactus Cooler and HI-C’s long mourned Ecto-Cooler. That may sound like I’m trying to damning this product with faint praise, but I mean it genuinely. Whether it’s pink lemonade or cherry coke, summer is the time for unnatural sugary drinks to bring out the kid in us. It’s the time for pretensions to fall to the way side and kick back with a nickle glass of Kool-aid and a slice of watermelon.
It’s in that very spirit that Trader Joe’s has given us this Watermelon Cucumber Cooler – a jug of refreshing, sweet and tasty juice flavored beverage. There’s not much to dislike with this beverage. What you see is what you get. Pour yourself a cool cup and you’ll taste exactly what it promises on the side, a sugar-sweetened, watermelon-flavored drink with the cool aftertaste of cucumbers.
I’m actually a fan of cucumbers in water. There’s something about the long, mellow aftertaste of a chilled cucumber that seems to slake the thirst as much as the water itself. The unsweetened cucucumber presence in this drink makes for an elegant grace note to what could have easily been one more too-sugary fruit drink. The Watermelon Cucumber Cooler strikes a balance closer to the unsweetened end of the drink spectrum than the overly sweet end. That makes it a rare participant in the summer drink wars – a beverage that satisfies the sweet tooth, quenches the thirst, refreshes with cucumber, and goes easy on the sugar.
Pairing watermelon off with cucumber in the first place might seem like a random choice – but not so random as it sounds. Both watermelon and cucumber are close cousins in the plant kindgom, siblings of the Family Cucurbitaceae, known generically, along with gourds and such, as curbits. This familial association makes for a fine flavor pairing, with the strong watermelon flavor blending seamlessly into the more understated cucumber, leaving you uncertain as to where the one taste ends and the other begins. Shine on you crazy curbits!
Sure, there’s still 23 grams of sugar per glass, but at least it’s from organic sugar and watermelon juice and not high fructose corn syrup. It’s not a health drink by any stretch of the imagination, just a fresh and refreshing take on the summer drink scene. If you’re not on the bad wagon with cucumber water to begin with, there may not be much here for you. If, on the other hand, you like cucumber water or have simply never tried it, I’d recommend this drink to quench your summer thirst.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – as long as you’re okay with the flavor of cucumbers.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll pick one up the next time I head down to the beach.
Final Synopsis: A refreshing, sweet-but-not-too-sweet summertime libation.
Carrots have always been something of a mixed bag for me. Raw, a find them delicious – be they shredded, sliced, julienned, or dropped on the table as an unvarnished, knobbly stick still covered in garden dirt. I also love them boiled, roasted, toasted or fried -just don’t steam them. If you steam them I’ll punch you in the face. Don’t steam them anywhere near me, the odor alone is uniquely repulsive. Steamed carrots are bastards and we can all hate them together.
I’ve written on unusual forms of carrots (and their unusual history) before, but as I stood in my local TJ’s, staring a stately array of gleaming orange bottles in the face, I realized I’d never had carrot juice before. Not straight carrot juice, at any rate. Of course, I’ve had it in my fruit juices, yogurts, salad dressings and, of course, smoothies before. People have been squeezing the fluid from these oddly colored roots as a natural food dye for decades. The stuff’s all but ubiquitous in adulterated forms, but as straight-from-a-bottle, only-ingredient-listed-on-the-bottle, honest-to-god, organic carrot juice? That’s something you don’t usually see. I had to imagine there were two possible reasons for that fact, either it tastes dreadful, or it tastes fine but $3.50 for 100 ml is an unseemly price for the privilege of drinking a handful of carrots. Reckless as always, I took this one home.
The taste of organic carrot juice is shockingly complex. Shockingly because, again, we’re talking about a single, pure ingredient. The juice advances through your mouth in three distinct phases, each dominated by an almost alarming sweetness. Pure organic carrot juice is like drinking a box of strawberry milk, if some joker swapped out the artificial strawberry flavoring for artificial carrot flavoring. Shocking, guys, like I said.
Let’s break this down to the blow by blow, shall we.
At the setup, you are ready for anything but sweetness. The nose detects nothing but the odor of the unleashed carrot. As you tip the drink into your mouth, a wave of intense carrot sensation runs before it. This is an amazingly brief sensation, existing in the few milliseconds before the juice itself hits the tongue, but distinctly notable nonetheless. It’s as if the liquid is so supercharged with pure carrot-ness that the air itself becomes infused with these uncontainable motes of carrot essence. Like a reverse aftertaste, in effect. At this moment you are absolutely convinced that this is going to be a healthful, if untasty, experience. However, in the very next moment the juice pulls a trick so unforeseen as to make you fear, momentarily, for your sanity. As the opaque milky juice bathes your tongue you are rooted to the spot by unrelenting sweetness. Yes, you know it’s just carrots, and yes, somewhere deep within the juice the flavor of carrot lingers, but any such vegetative taste is overwhelmed totally by the unyielding, delicious sweetness.
Once you gulp, the sweetness vanishes like a dream and leaves in it’s place a taste exactly as if you’d just gnawed upon three inches of solid carrot root. Only the absence of lingering, carroty fragments in your teeth marks any real difference.
In my experience it’s really totally unprecedented. After every sip I couldn’t help but think “Really? This is pure carrot?”
Would I Recommend It: Oh yeah, so long as you don’t mind the aftertaste of raw carrots.
Would I Buy It Again: Only if the price comes down by about 30%.
Final Synopsis: You will never look the same way at a carrot again.
Goddamn beets got me again. After enjoying my marinated beet salad so much I thought I’d pull a Jesus and turn the other cheek, try and welcome all beets back into my life. Unfortunately, Jesus has once again out done me, for I simply cannot forgive what these beets have done to me.
I might be being a little unfair toward beets – the purple carrots can’t be totally blameless here. Purple carrots are just carrots that happen to be purple – nothing more exotic than that. In fact, before the reign of William of Orange in the 16th century it was more outlandish to see an orange carrot than a purple, red, yellow or white carrot. Allegedly, as part of a great ploy, the farmers of the Netherlands teamed up to produce nothing but orange carrots as to pay tribute to their king, thereby establishing orange as the standard color for the last 500 plus years. Pretty good tribute guys!
To return to the subject at hand, this ungodly combination was the worst thing I have drank in recent memory. I hope this blog goes somewhat toward testifying my openness to even the strangest foods and my willingness to consume anything food like, because I assure you this is the case. This beet juice simply affirmed all my worst fears and suspicions about Satan’s vegetable – all the horrible taste of drinking the liquid canned beets come in, combined with a cloying, lingering flavor that simply will not leave your tongue alone. I’m afraid I found this one simply undrinkable, and I don’t say that as a knee-jerk reaction. I am proud to say that I managed to give it my level best and fight my way through an entire glass, though it was consumed in small sips with generous periods of walk-it-off time in between. I could do no better, and was relieved when I was finished with it. Wasting food was deeply ingrained in me as a sin, but I will dump this muck into a gutter and laugh at it’s demise.
That said, the juice is good for you. It’s phenomenal for you in fact – so chock full of Vitamin A, C, Iron and Calcium that if you drank it daily you would all but explode in a thunderous shock wave of healthy energy. I’m sure there are beet fans and health fanatics alike who embrace this product as an exciting new way to drink their favorite vegetable. I don’t care, and will do my best to avoid having my eye line accidentally cross sight of another bottle ever again.
Beets – you got me again! Damn you beeeeeeets!
Would I Recommend It: Uh, like no.
Would I Buy It Again: It’s hard to imagine a situation so dire that I would be compelled to.
Final Synopsis: Beets are monsters and they should all be destroyed.
Pleasantly surprising. Looking at the murky green glop in this bottle, you have to wonder why they didn’t opt for an opaque container instead. Just look at it: too drab to be fecund, to green to pass itself off as good tasting. It has the exact same look as pond scum, and the cut rate labeling on the bottle only enhances the feeling that this product comes from far back corner of the Trader Joes factory, where light bulbs flicker and the machines are slowly breaking down.
What’s the surprise? It’s sweet. Really sweet – like thick apple juice cut with banana and mango, which is, basically, what it is. Underneath, the bitter tones of the wheatgrass juice and other healthy stuff occasionally poked through, but never becoming unpleasant.
This overall sweetness is what turned me off. I live in America, man, finding sweetened fluids is no chore. I basically spend all day sipping on, purchasing, or watching advertisements for a broad spectrum of sweetened fluids. When I pick up a cheap looking bottle of wet green stuff, it’s because I’m ready to teach my tongue a lesson for leading me down those candied alleys. When I pick up something healthy, I mentally prepare myself for a certain degree of nasty taste. If it didn’t taste at least a little bad, how would I know it was good for me?
I feel like this is a product that doesn’t know what it wants. The look of it makes me imagine it lining the microfridges of hard-core vegans, but the taste is hamburger-joe friendly. It advertises itself as protein, but only delivers 10g of the stuff while its flashier competitors, sitting right next to it, offer 16g and 20g of protein. It feels like a product that was focused grouped into no-man’s land, or a hold out from a more primitive age.
Would I recommend it? No.
Would I buy it again? No.
Final Synopsis: A protein-ish drink that tastes good, to its own detriment.