If life gives you parsnips, you make parsnip chips. This is another Trader Joe’s product that, like Avacado’s Number Guacamole, I can’t help but feel existed as a clever name first, and only a product as an after thought. A rhyming snack food that uses an obscure vegetable? How could anyone at TJ’s say no to that? Certainly it’s what I’m always on the look out for.
|What it is:||“Potato” chips made from a different root vegetable.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 5.2 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes – sweet and crunchy.|
But if a product exists only to serve novelty, can it really be all that good? In this case, the answer is a surprising “Yes!”. Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips are a wonderfully flavorful, surprisingly sweet, crunch alternative to run-of-the-mill potato chips. It’s a classic case of “Try it, you’ll like it.” But what exactly is a parsnip anyway?
In the wild, the parsnip looks, to the untrained eye, exactly like a big, white carrot. In fact, the parsnip is a close relative to the carrot. Originally native to Eurasia, the parsnip was imported to the Americas by early European settlers in the 1600’s. By the 1800’s, the root vegetable – firmly ensconced in three continents and with a long history of use that extends back to the Roman Empire – was basically forgotten, sidelined as modern agricultural and shipping practices replaced it with other vegetables on an industrial scale. Nowadays, the parsnip is really only encountered by most people in certain niche applications or as the basis of regional traditions.
While the parsnip may not be as popular today as it was in ages past, these parsnip chips make a good case for a comeback. You might not expect a colorless root vegetable to be sweet and flavorful, but these chips are exactly that. Inside the bag, the chips themselves are small, thin and brittle with a tendency to bunch up in clusters – definitely unsuited for dips, but good for general snacking. The frying process has made the parsnip slices curl and brown, more like a plantain chip than a potato chip. However, as soon as you take find that they pack an over-sized taste – long sweet and mellow, with a vaguely carrot-y aftertaste.
I’ve written before about the surprising sweetness of carrots – well it turns out that parsnips are naturally sweeter than even its own close cousin. In fact, in ancient times, before sugar canes or sugar beets were grown, it was parsnips that were used to sweeten meals. It’s this sweetness that is the most notable feature of the parsnip chip, but a very mild sort of sweetness that satisfies without overloading you on sugar. That sweetness, combined with the nuanced, earthy, root vegetable taste, is a real delight.
I was expecting something dry and bland from these chips, but instead I found a wonderful substitution for other “naturally sweet” type chips – in fact I liked these parsnip chip so much better than, for instance, the sweet potato chips you find around. However these chips are far from a healthy alternative – due to the fact that these parsnips have been fried up in a serious amount of oil. With a rather surprising 12 grams of fat per 12 chip serving, these are some very oily chips. Expect some greasy fingers after polishing off a bag.
To my taste, I found these parsnip chips more than just a novelty. For a list of ingredients that is nothing more than “parnsips, oil, salt” I was completely surprised by the fullness of flavor – a world away from the one note starchiness of potato chips. If they were healthier I’d be eating them all the time. As it is, I’ll enjoy picking them up a few times a year for an interesting snack that has stands out from a pack of monochrome competitors.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes – these are worth a taste.
Would I Buy Them Again: Not often, but I will.
Final Synopsis: A completely different sort of “potato” chip.
Just a quick post today to talk about Trader Joe’s Sriracha Potato Chips. After really bringing down the hammer about Trader Joe’s underwhelming Ghost Pepper Potato Chips, I was surprised to see that they immediately doubled down and released another spicy potato chip.
|What it is:||Mildly spicy, tangy potato chips.|
|Price:||$2.29 for an 8 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes, these are great to snack on.|
Obviously that raised too many questions to avoid picking it up. Would this chip actually be spicy? Even if it wasn’t, would it still be spicier than the Ghost Pepper chip? Would it capture Trader Joe’s uniquely tangy take on Srircha sauce?
The answer to all these questions is a firm yes. While I can think of a dozen brands off the top of my head that are much spicier than these, they are at least spicy enough to actually make it into the “Spicy” category – even if it’s only under the heading for “Mild”.
These chips actually manage to be a little spicier than their disappointingly mild Ghost Pepper brethren, and they do so delightfully – replicating the full, zippy flavor profile of Trader Joe’s Sriracha Hot Sauce. While that hot sauce is far milder than the more widely known Hoy Fong Rooster Sauce, it makes up for it by actually being flavorful – a tasty, vinegary-blend of all sorts of spices. That same flavor is replicated in miniature on these chips, making them a pleasure to munch on. That’s much better than the dull exercise that eating the Ghost Pepper chips ended up being.
In fact, that vinegary, spicy side of the sriracha sauce makes these chips taste more like a hybrid between Salt & Vinegar chips and Jalapeno chips than a simple spicy chip – something I’ve never had before.
The better flavor of these chips also helped me to appreciate the great waffle-cut texture of these kettle-baked chips. Thick, crispy and big, these chips stay crunchy and hold up in dips remarkably well – certainly far better than your run-of-the-mill Lays would.
That, plus the fact that they aren’t saddled with trying to fill impossibly large shoes (as was the case with the ghost pepper chips) made them pretty damn enjoyable.
Looking at these Sriracha chips alongside the Ghost Pepper chips actually made me wonder if this isn’t all some marketing scheme gone wrong. Is it possible that the “Ghost Pepper” chips were simply supposed to be the “Plain” variety of potato chip – laying the ground work for more interesting flavors, like this Srircha variety. Did the marketers find themselves struggling with a mental block, unable to conjure up a tasty sounding way to pitch bland, barely spicy chips? Did they panic? Was the product rushed out, some executive making the decision to stick “Ghost Pepper” on the label, hoping all would be forgiven when the more flavorful varieties were rolled out?
Extremely likely – in this blogger’s opinion. Watch out, you shadowy figures of the Trader Joe’s Marketing Department…I’m on to you.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, they’re good if you’re looking for something not too spicy.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes – these are some of my favorite chips I’ve had at TJ’s.
Final Synopsis: Crispy potato chips that faithfully capture the tang of Trader Joe’s Sriracha sauce.
Now that the season of pumpkin madness has subsided, and the cooling winds of dark November have arrived, I can finally catch up on a backlog of other, truly out-there Trader Joe’s products that they tried to slip onto the shelves without anyone noticing.
The craziest addition has to be Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips. This new addition to the snack section may well be the biggest let down of any Trader Joe’s product to date.
|What it is:||Not very spicy potato chips.|
|Price:||$2.29 for a 7 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||No, not if you’re looking for spicy chips.|
If Trader Joe’s has a failing, it’s that it sometimes over promsises. That’s unavoidable for a group that dreams as big as they do – bringing us such exotic oddities and far-flung favorites as frozen Kouigns Amann, Tamil Uttapam and, of course, the wonders of Scandanavian Cookie Butter. I’m deeply grateful there’s a mainstream grocery store that regards the average American consumer highly enough to gamble their business on such unusual products. On the other hand, sometimes they come out the gate with what sounds like a great idea but absolutely fail to deliver on it. It’s like the Marketing team gets really excited and doesn’t listen to what the R&D guys are telling them. The result is packaging that signs a check the contents simply cannot cash.
That’s absolutely the case with Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Potato Chips. It’s commonly known that the Ghost Pepper is the absolutely hottest pepper in the world. Not just hot, and not just really hot, but like legendarily, pinnacle of the pepper pyramid hot. It’s weird that most people seem to know this, but they do. Every now and then the populous at large latches onto some bit of esoterica that seems like it should otherwise be languishing in obscurity. Keep your jalapenos and keep your habaneros, the people say, if you’re looking for pure, tongue-blistering, utterly unenjoyable HEAT, you want a ghost pepper.
Just in case you need a refresher on the spiciness of peppers, there is a more-or-less scientific scale that was devised to measure the relative hotness of peppers. Called the Scoville Scale, it measures the spiciness of peppers in so-called Scoville heat units, or SHU’s. A nice sweet bell pepper comes in at 0 SHUs. Banana peppers are about 100 units, a good jalapeno pepper is about 1,000 SHUs. The pepper referred to as the “Ghost Chile”, on the other hand, weighs in at 2 million SHU’s or more. Just by way of comparison, some law-enforcement grade pepper sprays only contain about 500,000 SHU’s. Four times hotter than pepper spray – that’s the ghost chile for you.
So what in heaven and hell could Trader Joe’s have been thinking when they released the absolutely mildest, gentlest “spicy” potato chip I’ve ever tasted?
I’ve spoken at length before about my light weight, or “chili wuss”, status when it comes to spicy foods. Pace brand Mild salsa is sometimes a little too hot for me. As a rule, I avoid the jalapeno potato chip. If I happen to munch down a couple by mistake I usually have to take a long break to fan my mouth. My brothers and cousins can all pile them into their mouths by the truck full, but even the gentler brands often leave me sweating.
I bring this up because even I find these ghost pepper potato chips contemptuously mild. They’re only spicy in so far as they suggest the notion of spiciness. If you smell the bag, you might think “Oh, these smell like they might be slightly spicy”. Savor that feeling, because that illusory impression is as spicy as these chips get. Bite into one of these cross-cut “lattice” style chips and you’ll catch just a hint of peppiness that immediately fades out and leaves you with basic, plain ol’ potato chip taste. I’ve had BBQ flavored potato chips that are spicier.
That’s not to say these potato chips are bad – they’re just bad at being spicy. The potato chips themselves are very satisfying to snack on – the thick, waffle-cut chips are very crispy and crunchy and entirely munchable. I found the mild spiciness to actually be a nice alternative to the spicier mainstream brands, in the same way that Trader Joe’s Sriracha sauce is a nice, less-spicy alternative to Hoy Fong Sriracha sauce. Finally, an only-sorta spicy potato chip I can enjoy! I just never thought I’d find them under the guise of ghost pepper chips.
If TJ’s had billed these chips as “Mild Jalapeno Flavor”, or “Potato chips – With Just A Touch Of Heat”, I would be writing a very different review right now. But by calling them Ghost Pepper Chips, and then doubling down on all their website and product copy about how insanely hot they are, Trader Joe’s is just making a fool of itself. Do not be suckered in by this marketing gimmick – unless you’re looking for a mildly spicy potato chip, these will disappoint you.
Would I Recommend It: Only to people who like not-particularly spicy potato chips.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes. I’m going to ignore that these say “ghost pepper” in the title and just put them out for parties.
Final Synopsis: It would be hard for these potato chips to be much less spicy.
Back when I reviewed Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning I was delighted to discover it was one of Trader Joe’s hidden gems. Easy to overlook on shelves full of peppercorn grinders and rock salt, this South African style seasoning is imbued with a whole different dimension of flavor – the savory, rich taste of smoked meat.
When used on hamburger, steak, chicken, or anything you might like to barbecue, it’s a killer seasoning that brings to the fore the richer, meatier flavors hidden in any meat – a little magic touch of South African umami.
Of course Trader Joe’s would be Trader Joe’s if they could just leave it there. Which has lead, apparenlty, to Trader Joe’s throwing this seasoning designed for meat onto potato chips with the new Trader Joe’s Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning.
It’s an innovation that could go either way. On the one hand, we live in an age of out-of-control potato chip creativity. Bold, daring and, some might say, insane flavors of potato chips are not just possible to find, but aggressively marketed from supermarket shelves. 10 years ago about the most “out there” chip you could find was jalapeno. Nowadays you can dabble in the sorts of epicurean excess that would have made Nero take note. Chicken & waffle flavored potato chips, mac & cheese, wasabi ginger, balsamic vinegar & rosemary, – even cappuccino, by god, cappuccino! It’s an age of snack madness, and one that Trader Joe’s is clearly unafraid to get in on. Already they’ve weighed in on with their non-standarad Beurre Meuniere Popcorn. Throwing a meat seasoning onto potato chips is almost tame by comparison.
So we can’t doubt the boldness of Trader Joe’s resolve or vision – the question is, does this seasoning actually go well on potato chips. The answer, sadly, is no.
The same qualities that make the South African Smoke Seasoning so savory on meat work against it here – it’s simply too salty and strong tasting for the simple potato chips. Divorced of a meat base, the seasoning has nothing to work off of. The result is sort of like throwing a handful of the seasoning directly into your mouth. It’s not that the taste of the seasoning is bad, it’s simply overpowering. When used on a grilled steak or hamburger, the smoke seasoning simply blends in to the complex profile of the flavors at hand. Here, on its own, it has the very strong taste of bratwurst, or as one taste tester put it, “burnt hot dog”.
How much you’re going to like these chips, then, depends on how much you like that heavy, bratwurst taste, without getting the juicy bratwurst bite. This wouldn’t be as much of a dealer breaker if it wasn’t for the strength of the taste. Trader Joe’s isn’t mincing around here – each chip is blasted with a full on shot of seasoning that is close to overwhelming. These chips are best not eaten by the handful, but slowly, one by one, or not at all.
For me the intensity of the flavor simply didn’t work together very well. Between the serious saltiness, and the heavy seasoning these chips tended to overshadow whatever I was eating them with. When your potato chips taste more like hot dogs than the hot dogs themselves, it’s generally not a good thing.
The chips may not work very well as chips because of the seasoning, but what if they were the seasoning. That barely coherent thought is what lead me to cook up the recipe below – country fried steak, with crushed potato chips instead of breading.
Trader Joe’s South African Style Seasoning Potato Chip-Fried Steak
- 2 steaks, about 1/2″ thick
- 1 cup flour (any sort, I don’t care)
- 1 cup pulverized Trader Joe’s African Style Seasoning Potato Chips
- 2 or 3 eggs, beaten
- About a 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Maybe a delicious gravy?
- Pulverize the hell out of your chips. You can do this with a food processor, or by putting them in a baggy and smashing the hell out of them. (This is the most fun part of the recipe.)
- Spread the flour around in one dish, and the potato chip dust in another dish.
- Have the eggs ready in another dish or shallow bowl.
- Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour. (This is the third most fun part of the recipe)
- Dredge the meat in the potato chips dust, followed by the egg, and finally in the potato chips again. (This is the second most fun part of the recipe.)
- Repeat these steps with all the meat.
- Place enough of the vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a skillet and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully add the meat.
- Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.
- Serve the steaks (with some of the delicious gravy?)
Notes: This recipe delivers a crunchier steak than you might otherwise get, and the African Smoke Seasoning lends it’s helping hand, giving it a robust, BBQ sort of taste.
Turning chips into the seasoning instead of just adding the seasoning directly might be considered taking the long way around, and that’s a fair criticism, but dammit we live in the world of the Mini Waffle Stick Maker and Segway. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in an unnecessarily, silly way.
A delicious gravy is bound to help these steaks out, but that’s beyond the purview of this post.
Would I Recommend It: Not unless you usually feel your brautwurts aren’t brautwursty enough.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t think so.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s excellent south african style seasoning should stick with meat instead of potatoes.
After yesterday’s disastrous beet and purple carrot juice, I thought I finally thought I had had enough of seemingly preposterous food pairings. Why not judge a book by its cover? You might be wrong every now and then, but you’ll be right about 95% of the time. Surely I could live with that, right? I was fooling myself, of course, as I said before the unknown allure of seemingly insane couplings holds an irresitable draw for me. Here it is, the very next day and I’m back at it again with a treat that couldn’t sound worse to me on paper.
Chocolate covered potato chips. Honestly, I’m surprised this combination even crossed anyone’s mind to begin with. The name easily evokes the sloppiest, laziest summer days of youth when, with one hand, I might casually shove a handful of chocolate into my mouth then supplement it with a handful of chips from the other, not bother with all the effort of clearing my esophagus in between. Homer Simpsons’ famous Gum & Nuts comes to mind, along with any number of childhood’s boderline creations (popcorn and ketchup, apple butter and ice cream). In other words, I was ready for mediocrity at best.
Consider my gob smacked when I actually tried these things. The sweet taste of milk chocolate melts seamlessly into the salty kiss of the potato chip, all bound up in a pleasurable crunchy bite. All but overwhelmingly delicious, this crazy confection literally sat my ass down. After crunching the initial test chip my tongue quickly cited that well known edict “This Is Effin’ Good!” and summarily took charge of all cognitive and motor functions, pleasuring itself with chip after chip. It was only through a great exercise of self-control later on that I was able to salvage about half the bag. We’re talking dangerously good folks. Salty, crunchy and sweet altogether, without being too much of one or another – this chip had everything that I didn’t even know I was looking for.
No downsides here, but maybe a couple suggestions. These came packaged in the same way as Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter thingies, which is to say with no consideration for the inherent meltiness of chocolate. No problems yet, but it’s just not a good idea to sell chocolate all jumbled together in a bag. Also, the bag is quite small, but I’m inclined to consider this a good thing at the moment since these things are guaranteed diet-killers. Overall though, these chips are a sweet, secret surprise.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes sir, I would.
Would I Buy Them Again: So long as I’m not worried about sticking to a diet.
Final Synopsis: Chocolate and Potato Chips – the definition of synergy.
As I suspected when I bought the bag, these unsalted potato chips taste like unsalted potato chips. The fact they are made from red, gold and “blue” types of potato made me wonder if it wasn’t some sort of quasi-patriotic tie-in to flag season. However, the chips themselves look all but identical, either white or dark blueish-brown wafers of identical taste.
That said, as far as unsalted potato chips go, these are nice. The chips are strong enough to dig into a dip and very broad. The bag copy makes a point of this – pointing out they make their snack from whole potato slices and not potato scrap left overs like other companies. Not just laudable, but a definite revolution on the snack front.
The chips aren’t too greasy – probably aided by the fact that, as the side of the bag touts, they’re vacuumed fried. Vacuum frying is basically just deep frying, except that the deep fryer is inside a vacuum chamber. Without an atmosphere, the oil boils at a lower temperature allow chips to retain more of their natural color and flavor and, allegedly, are less greasy, though only by a few percent.
Now, if I were the kind of man who buys unsalted potato chips, I could probably go on and on about them. I’m not, of course – no one is. In all my years I’ve never met a person who’d choose unsalted over salted potato chips – nor can I imagine any reason anyone ever would, apart from coercion at gun-point. Even people with sodium concerns are more likely to skip chips altogether for a better tasting, low-salt snack then settle for tantalizing themselves with neutered versions of their beloved Lay’s or Pringles.
Would I Recommend Them: Only to people who tackle the stiffest, densest dips.
Would I Buy Them Again: Nope.
Final Synopsis: An excellent snack in a purposeless category.