I’ve seen some pretty shocking things appear on the Trader JOe’s shelves over the years – chocolate/wine drinks, pumpkin greek yogurt, chocolate bars made with bacon – but I’m usually able to take it all in stride. When you shop at Trader Joe’s you have to expect the unexpected. However, Trader Joe’s Srirach Ranch Dressing I was totally unprepared for. Ranch dressing? Available at Trader Joe’s? Holy crap!
Unfortunately, however, this new salad dressing offering is a mixed blessing.
|What it is:||Very spicy ranch dressing.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 16 oz. bottle|
|Worth it:||Good for wings, but too spicy for salad.|
As you might have gleaned from the frequency I write about them, I’m a fan of salads. I’m a fan of salads in the same way that rats are a fan of untended grain silos – which is to say I eat salads with a ravenous, unstoppable intensity. With their plethora of fresh produce, Trader Joe’s is a real boon for salad lovers like me – except that they seemed to miss the memo on two important points.
One, for some reason Trader Joe’s refuses to sell reasonable quantities of croutons at reasonable prices. You can buy a small sachet of artisinal cheese bagel rounds for $4.99, and that’s it. How can you carry two types of salmon jerky, but no croutons, Trader Joe? Madness.
Two, Trader Joe’s refuses to expand their salad dressing line. The salad dressings they offer are good, sure. I love a little bit of Asian Sesame Seed Dressing or Balsamic Vinaigrette on my freshly washed greens, but the quantities are laughable. Only available in small, solid glass, 8 oz bottles, picking up salad dressing at Trade Joe’s feels more like picking through potions at a medieval apothecary than shopping for condiments.
So as exciting as a new flavor of Trader Joe’s dressing is – and being able to buy ranch dressing at Trader Joe’s is *very* exciting – what I was most shocked by was the new, full-sized, 16 oz. salad dressing bottle. The bulbous plastic bottle with screw on cap might seem weirdly plebeian by Trader Joe’s standards, but it’s nice to see Trader Joe’s do something like a normal person every once in a while as well.
So at $2.99 per bottle the price is right, the size is right, and since this is just spicy ranch dressing we’re talking about, surely the flavor is just fine as well. Right? Right? Well, no – not really.
Look, I’ve had spicy ranch dressing before. I know what to expect from spicy ranch dressing – that familiar buttermilk creaminess spiced up with some piquant red pepper. Trader Joe’s Sriracha Ranch Dressing may look like it’s taking this route, but they actually deliver something far more intense.
Taking the “Sriracha” part of the name seriously, they’ve loaded up this simple dressing with a mouth blistering blast of pure chili paste. I’m not kidding – this “ranch dressing” might even be spicier than Trader Joe’s own Sriracha knock-off. How does that even work?
Overall, the whole ranch dressing part takes a serious back seat to the sriracha. That means if you want to use this dressing to kick up your burger and fries, add flare to your tacos, or serve as a dipping sauce for chicken wings you’re in good shape. However, if you want to slather it on a bed of lettuce and carrots, you had better be ready for your lips to blaze with the fire of a thousand raging suns. It’s far more a hot sauce than a salad dressing.
As far as I’m concerned, I could maybe see incorporating this into an Asian noodle salad or similar, but this was way to spicy for my daily salad needs.
Would I Recommend It: Only if you like your salads hot.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope, too spicy for me.
Final Synopsis: A good hot sauce substitute, but not great on salads.
It’s been a while since we looked at Trader Joe’s tea selection. And honestly, that’s because Trader Joe’s teas run a little hot and cold. On the one hand I’m a huge fan of Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai Tea and their Autumn Harvest blend. On the other hand you have more, shall we say, lackluster offerings like their wretched Tropical Sweetened Matcha. When I saw the new gorgeous box of Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Rooibos and Honeybush Tea, I was immediately on board. Surely with box art this bold, this dynamic, surely it must be one of the good teas. Right?
Look, let’s start out with the positive stuff.
Fair trade products are worth supporting. As it turns out, corporations are incredibly good at exploiting the unrepresented and voiceless – particularly if the people being exploited are a continent or two away from the eventual consumer. In the same way that fair trade chocolate is important to developing sustainable economies (and environments) in Africa, fair trade tea is worth supporting. Also it’s organic, so that’s good too. Organic and Fairtrade – two strong, good adjectives leading us off right out the gate.The problem is that the product title doesn’t’ stop there, because then we get to the “rooibos” part.
I don’t do this often on this blog, but I’m going to make some strident, potentially divisive claims based more on personal opinion then objective polls of larger social trends. Rooibos tea is terrible. In the same way that people have risen to the defense of Trader Joe’s heavily sweetened corn-only salsa, I’m sure there are die-hard rooibos tea lovers who are going to take umbrage with this statement. To me however, rooibos tea taste like wet carboard. That was the first thought I had the first time I tried it, and it is the same thought I have had every time since. Rooibos tea tastes exactly like sucking on the paper stick of a Tootsie Roll Pop until it turns to mush.
Rooibos is an herbal tea, which means it isn’t a real tea made from the leaves of tea plants, but instead from the clippings of a broom-like scrub plant that grows in South Africa. It has been steadily growing in popularity the last few years because of…. something. I don’t know.
I honestly do not understand why people drink this tea, and I have regretted the purchase every time I picked it up. I had hopes that the promise of “Honeybush” being present in this Rooibos and Honeybush tea might make for a different experience. It does not. Honeybush is another South African bush commonly said to taste just like the rooibos bush only “a little sweeter”. “Little” being the important adjective in this phrase, meaning “not actually noticeably sweet at all”.
Here’s the other thing I think is weird. It takes an incredible amount of rooibos to brew even a single cup of rooibos tea. The given brewing instructions are to let one tea bag steep in your cup for 6 full minutes before you try sipping it. For a pot of tea they recommend adding one tea bag per person, and letting the pot steep for 8 minutes. That’s an extremely long soak. I dare you to try that with a bag of Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast Tea, let alone several bags. After 6 minutes, the tea would be strong enough to overpower you in fight.
Again, yes the box is beautiful, the bags are beautiful, and even the box itself is well designed – incorporating a natural hinge and an exceptionally clever self-locking flap. The only problem is that I feel I would be just as well off gumming the edge of the box until it turns to pulp as I would be actually brewing the contents.
I may be well off the mark on this one – I’m willing to believe that someone loves this tea – it’s just that it it has any positive qualities I’m completely blind to them.
Would I Recommend It: This is very unlikely.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so. If I get the hankering for rooibos again I reckon I can always just chew on an index card.
Final Synopsis: Rooibos tea always tastes like wet cardboard to me.
After reviewing Trader Joe’s fantastic new Sweet Sriracha Bacon Jerky the other day, I was more than eager to give Trader Joe’s Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ sauce a shot. Trader Joe’s obviously has it in their mind to revolutionize the sriracha game. Not content deal with the Hoy Fong foods status quo, TJ’s started off by shaking things up with their own brand of tangier sriracha. The sweet sriracha bacon jerky escalated things to a whole different level entirely – setting the stage perfectly for an organic, sriracha based BBQ sauce. However, while this BBQ sauce is good, it’s not going to knock your socks off or anything.
The first thing I should point out is, despite getting top billing in the name, this sauce doesn’t taste like sriracha at all. Oh, sure, it’s spicy – very pleasantly spicy without being too hot in fact. However, that spiciness simply doesn’t have any of the signature fire or tang of sriracha. In this case, it really feels like Trader Joe’s simply decided to replace the generic word “spicy” with a more buzz worthy keyword.
The second thing I should point out is that it isn’t really all that garlicky. There is definitley garlic in it, but the garlic is hidden beneath the much stronger flavors of the BBQ sauce, mostly noticeable just as it touches the tongue, then just peaking up around the edges after that. Much stronger than the garlic taste is the sugary sweetness of the sauce. In fact, the sauce is about a third molasses and sugar, so when it comes to the aftertaste there’s not really any zing, just the cloying, lingering aftertaste of syrup.
So I praise this BBQ sauce with a caveat. For a BBQ sauce, it really is pretty good – spicy, sweet and bold, with just a subtle hint of garlic to mix things up. For a “sriracha and garlic” BBQ sauce, however, it doesn’t really deliver on the billing. If you’re looking for a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce, you’re not going to regret picking his one up. If you’re looking for something with a garlic kick, however, or something that pays homage to the South East Asian fire of real sriracha, you’re probably better off just picking up a bottle of the rooster sauce by itself and whipping up a glaze on your own.
Would I Recommend It: I might – it’s a good sweet and spicy sauce, if that’s what you like.
Would I Buy It Again: Too sweet for me – I prefer something more like Trader Joes’s Carolina Gold.
Final Synopsis: Not much sriracha or garlic, but still a good BBQ sauce.
I don’t usually go trawling the Trader Joe’s produce aisle for products to review, unless I see something particularly eye catching – like a cruciferous crunch or some kale sprouts – and to be honest I wasn’t planning on reviewing Trader Joe’s Organic Carrots of Many Colors when I bought them.
Two things changed, however. One, I noticed that Trader Joe went ahead and inserted the classic conjunction-article pair “and the” into the product name, which by itself is crazy enough to write about, but more importantly, two, I really liked them.
I know – I’m as surprised as you are! After all, aren’t we just talking about carrots here? Regardless of the fact that there are some with different colors, aren’t they all just basically carrots? Isn’t this just another, somewhat feeble, marketing gimmick to try and move root vegetables? Well yes and no. Yes, because yes – despite some very subtle taste differences, these carrots are all functionally the same. But also no because, as I discovered, a plate of colorful carrots is actually more enjoyable to eat.
First of all, yes this bag really does contain carrots of many colors – from pale yellow through a range of oranges, to red and purple. If this spectrum of carrot colors comes as a surprise to you, then you may be even more surprised to know that for the vast majority of the existence of the carrot, orange was in the minority. It’s only in the modern age that orange overtook every other color for carrot supremacy, a change that is directly linked to the reign of William of Orange in 16th century Europe. You can educate yourself more at the online World Carrot Museum (and I certainly urge you to), or read my summary way back on the Trader Joe’s Beet and Purple Carrot Juice post. TL;DR version: his name was “Orange” so let’s make orange carrots.
These various colors of carrots don’t actually correlate to any difference in taste, and only very subtle variations in nutritional content. What they do provide, however, is a really stunning medley of colors.
The external colors of these carrots is striking enough – but once you’ve skinned them each carrot becomes even more startlingly vivid. The pale yellow carrots become brilliant yellow, the red carrots are as bright as strawberries, and the purple carrots reveal not just a deep regal purple, but also a core of pale yellow that runs the length. Sliced and diced on my chopping board, ready to be added to a hearty soup, the carrots really did look better. Even if the taste was indistinguishable they livened up the dish, and made the prep process more fun – qualities of presentation that were just as enjoyable as the taste of the food.
Will these carrots change the way you think about carrots in general? No. But it will change the way you look at them.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes – why limit yourself to boring carrots?
Would I Buy Them Again: I would. I really liked the flair they lent to the presentation.
Final Synopsis: Taste like regular carrots, but look like a million bucks.
Sure, I’m a city boy. Aside from a week spent working on a cattle ranch, most of my encounters with cows have been at the end of a fork. Even the cows on that ranch we’re destined for the killing floor (a misnomer actually – it’s more of a steel grating that lets loose material sluice through). Come to think about it, milk is the closest I ever get to a living cow.
And really, I thought I understood milk – it’s food number one after all. There’s literally no food product I’ve drinking for longer . You’ve got your skim milk, your whole milk, and that’s about it. So it was with considerable surprise that I encountered Trader Joe’s quart of Organic Cream Top Milk. What is this stuff? It’s neither of those types – how could there be a milk that I’d never heard of before?
Determined to find out, I cracked open the bottle, and was shocked at what I saw. I was prepared for cream top milk to taste creamy, or to have cream floating on top of it. What I wasn’t ready for was a physically solid plug of butter-like cream to be between me and the rest of the milk. Just beneath the milk cap is a stopper, and that stopper is a thick, smooth lump of pure milk fat. It doesn’t so much float on top of the milk as it is firmly crammed into the spout. Can milk be like this? Is this even normal?
Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. In fact, for much of the history of milk drinking, this is how everyone’s milk looked. The half inch thick of plug of butter fat is simply the result of skipping one eminently modern step in the milk process – homogenization.
Milk is a naturally complex liquid, with a great number of balanced interactions that occur between the various proteins, enzymes and fats that constitute it. About half a day after being gathered, the creamy fat in milk organically rises to the top and melds together.
Homogenization is the act of breaking these fats back down, pulverizing them on a molecular level, essentially, until they are so diffuse and scattered that they can no longer naturally join up. This microscopic demolition is done by rapidly shooting milk through tubes thinner than the width of a human hair until the fat can no longer reform. It’s a process first perfected by enterprising Frenchman Auguste Gaulin in 1899. The primary reason was one of longevity – with the fat dispersed throughout milk it becomes rancid less quickly, in addition to which it has a somewhat creamier taste, due to the diffusion of the fat.
So why is Trader Joe’s so determined to undo the hard work of monsieur Gaulin? The reason is similar to the drive for organic food – a return to nature. The question being asked is, is it not better to simply let milk be? Is it not, perhaps, in someway harmful to meddle so much with something fundamentally natural. There are proponents who come down on both sides of this issue, but science has not yet struck a conclusive blow for either side. In the absence of overwhelming evidence, the question is mainly a matter of personal taste. Just how natural do you like your milk?
It should also be noted that Trader Joe’s Cream Top Milk has several other features beyond the thick pat of cream. Most notably, it has a subtly richer flavor and more organic scent than your typical homogenized whole milk. There is a sort of ineffable wholeness to the smell that homogenized milk seems to lack.
Does this make it a worthwhile purchase? If you value being that much closer to the source – a touch closer to nature – then this is the milk for you. If you want milk that will last longer and taste a little blander, than you can stick to whole milk. Of course, if you usually shop skim like myself it’s all moot point. With 150 calories per cup, and more than half that from fat, it’s more of a calories expenditure than I’m willing to accept in a glass of milk.
This was an interesting purchase because it was a visceral reminder of the truly organic nature of milk, and I rather like the thought of having a little pat of semi-butter to harvest every morning for my toast or whatever. That said, it’s increasingly a fat-free world we live in. I might pick some more of this up around Christmas to see how it handles in egg nog, but until then I’ll be satisfied just knowing there’s something so primal on the dairy shelf.
Would I Recommend It: Yes to people who like their orange juice with pulp and their beef grass fed.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope – too much fat for my figure.
Final Synopsis: Whole milk with the fat floating on top instead of mixed in.
Do you sometimes crave a whole green fig, but all the ones you find are either not organic, or not frozen rock solid? Well I have good news! Trader Joe’s is solving both of your problems at once with their frozen Organic Whole Green Figs!
The last time we looked at any of Trader Joe’s figs it was their Black Mission Figs, which I found pleasantly sweet and tasty, if you can get over the somewhat unnerving fleshiness of them. Well fleshiness isn’t a problem this time around, because they’re coming to you in the form of rock hard iceballs!
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick these figs up is that Trader Joe’s didn’t go looking for the small ones. Each fig in the bag is a hefty little monster, considerably larger than the fresh Black Mission Figs you might be able to find in the produce aisle. Apart from the size, these green figs (also called kadota figs) are somewhat less sweet than the black figs from before. That said, they’re still figs – which means they’re still quite sweet indeed, and have the same mushy-soft / crispy-seedy center that gives them such a unique bite.
We spent plenty of time reviewing the history of these meaty drupes last time, so I won’t bore you all again with a lecture on prehistoric agriculture. This time let’s take a look at the religious perspective.
As you might expect from a fruit man has had such a long history with (11,000 years+), religion has a good deal to say about figs – in particular considering that they’ve been cultivated widely through the that fertile belt of religion that begins around the Mediterranean and stretches all the way to South East Asia. As such, all the big time religions feature figs in their holy books to a considerable degree.
Adam and Eve, for instance, sought to cover up their shame from God with the trusty old fig leaf – maybe not the best choice considering that figs are a notable skin allergens, and that the natural latex that the fig tree produces is a serious eye irritant. Nevertheless, thanks to A&E, fig leaves entered the art world for a pretty good stretch of centuries as the de facto tasteful genital cover in paintings and sculptures.
Meanwhile, in the religion of Islam, the fig is considered one of the two sacred trees, along with that other old favorite the olive. Going further we find that the historical Buddha went out and achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree – otherwise known as the sacred fig tree – and that the fig is even considered to be the “world tree” from which all springs in Hinduism. Even Jesus got in on the fig tree, when he chose to kill one in Mark 11:12 by cursing it to death for not bearing fruit. Harsh Jesus!
That’s a pretty good pedigree, the fig! But all that said, what reason do I really have to buy these things frozen?
Obviously, getting them fresh is always going to be your best option, but due to their high sugar content, figs ripen and spoil very quickly. A ripe fig will even split under the strain of it’s own sweet innards if left too long, so transporting the fresh produce is a considerably trickier prospect than, say, an apple.
If you’re feeling a hankering for figs, know that the frozen solution is not a perfect one. For starters, the figs seem to freeze inconsistently. In my bag, I found that three or four were somewhat mushy, even when the others were frozen solid – and that’s after a few days in the back of my freezer! These mushier figs didn’t seem to be bad necessarily, just soft. That said, you might want to feel around for a couple different bags to find one that’s perfectly hard and frozen.
If you want to enjoy your green figs right away, you can throw them in a blender and try out this tasty and quick smoothie recipe.
If you’d rather enjoy your figs thawed, you’ll need to slowly defrost them in your fridge for a few hours. However, at this point be prepared for a shock. These defrosted figs are incredibly slimy and incredibly mushy. That’s simply an unavoidable aspect of the freezing process – and the price you’ll pay if you want figs you can defrost any time.
It’s somewhat off putting, and nowhere near as nice as handling actual fresh figs, but while the texture is somewhat compromised the taste is still the same.
If you can stand the wait to thaw these, and the softness, there are lots of great recipes that call for the refined sweetness of green figs.
Here’s one that I like, a rather laid back recipe for laid back times.
Fig, Arugula and Goat Cheese Flat Bread
- 1 flat bread
- 1 or 2 tsp olive oil
- Some arugula
- Some awesome goat cheese
- Trader Joe’s Organic Green Figs (quartered)
- Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Paint the flat bread with olive oil, until it has a nice sheen.
- Lay down a bed of arugula. On top of this add your (thawed) quartered, green figs and as much goat cheese as you feel comfortable with.
- Pop you prepared flat bread in the oven and heat until toasty. About 5-10 minutes
- Enjoy the hell out of it with a few friends while discussing philosophy, the sunset, or Game of Thrones.
Note to you, the reader If you like this recipe, or want to see more, let me know! And feel free to share your notes on it in the comments.
Would I Recommend Them: I’d look for fresh figs first – but these are a good stand in.
Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, I really like that flat bread!
Final Synopsis: Not as good as getting your figs fresh, but more convenient.
The cavalcade of gluten free, vegan food continues! My stars, but aren’t we having fun? Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt is yet another entry in their huge wall of yogurt variations. This one leaped out at me in particular for it’s soy nature. After having such a good time with the non-ice cream, Soy Creamy, it seemed like a natural follow up. The results were similar – tasty, if you’re willing to accept a certain level of soy bean aftertaste.
You may have noticed that I review a fair number of yogurts. The rather mundane reason is that I habitually have one for breakfast, Monday through Friday, and have done since before I can remember.
In fact, my yogurt habit is rather more than habitual. A not insignificant part of my life is run off of what I like to call the “yogurt clock”. As the most modular food in my diet, I use the yogurt clock as a fail safe to remind my stupid bachelor self that I have to go buy more food on a regular basis. Every time I go to Trader Joe’s, I buy six yogurts. I eat one yogurt a day, Mon – Fri, and when I run out I go shopping again. The extra, sixth yogurt is my emergency back up yogurt so if a friend asks if they can have a yogurt, I don’t have to say, “No, those yogurts are a precision instrument, and only I can eat them.” This situation has never actually occurred, but I’m ready for it.
Planning out a good shopping trip, given the crazy state of life that is modern city living, is more than a trivial consideration, requiring numerous harrowing encounters with all sorts of biological and mechanical foes. As such, the steady, daily ticking of my yogurt clock is probably the third or fourth most important consideration in my daily life – below the internet and my girlfriend, but above the car.
That brings me back, more or less, to Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt. A yogurt that, like so much vegan food, is not legally a yogurt. Trader Joe’s is forced to concede this point several times on the packaging with the subtitle, “a yougurt-style non-dairy food”.
The last yogurt I reviewed from TJ’s, the European-style chocolate-infused yogurts, we’re strikingly off-putting in their zesty taste. There’s no such non-American trickery at play here. Despite the fact that no milk has ever gone into this soy yogurt, it tastes very very similar to your ordinary Dannon or Yoplait.
The yogurt is smooth and thick, with a heavy “whipped” style texture and nice bits of chopped up fruit in it. It’s a remarkably close approximation to ordinary, dairy based yogurt, and at first bite you’d never suspect it’s vegan. Both types of the yogurt are also very sweet – too sweet for me in fact. The peach yogurt has 18 grams of sugar per serving, while the strawberry version has a considerable 21 grams of sugar in it – the equivalent of 6-7 packets of sugar in each yogurt. Considering that you can polish off a yogurt in about 6-7 spoonfuls, that’s a serious sugar load for first thing in the morning. While this amount of sugar is certainly not unusual in the super sweet world of grocery store yogurt, it’s more than I like to eat over breakfast.
The other consideration, as I hinted at above, is the soy bean-y aftertaste you can expect. Trader Joe’s does their best to keep this under control, but once you’ve finished one of one of these pots you won’t have any doubts that you’ve just had some soy beans. The soy aftertaste is still mild, a gentle graininess of beans on the tongue, but slightly stronger than the Soy Creamy aftertaste. It certainly wasn’t enough to ruin the overall tastiness of the yogurt, but as a guy used to dairy it did give me pause from time to time.
Even if I was dedicated to the vegan lifestyle, I probably wouldn’t replace my yogurt clock with Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt. Though tasty, there’s just too much sugar in guys to eat on a daily basis. I’d much rather swap in fruit or something else a little better for me. The yogurt is a fine and tasty treat, just not a particularly healthy one.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes to vegans, but not in general.
Would I Buy Them Again: No, they’re too sweet for me.
Final Synopsis: A good yogurt, and a great vegan option, as long as you don’t mind a lot of sugar.