I’d long suspected that Trader Joe’s had lost their marbles, but I didn’t realize they’d actually gone insane. How can I tell? Because Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds is the sort of mad creation that only the incomprehensible visions of true insanity can show.
We know that TJ’s is willing to put pumpkin in every last thing they can get their hands on, but putting extra pumpkin in pumpkin itself? That’s as far down the rabbit hole as you can go. There’s so much pumpkin here that it’s liable to collapse into some sort of pumpkin-induced singularity – sucking the entire world into one infinitely dense, rapidly rotating pumpkin. Adding pumpkin spices to pumpkin seeds is the food equivalent of clutching your head while rocking back and forth and whispering “pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin” to yourself ceaselessly in the corner of a dark room.
That said, these things are actually pretty good.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are, like peanut brittle, one of those snacks that are only ever trotted out because they’re in season. I’m sure there are people out there who might eat more than a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds out of curiosity/politeness, but I’ve never met them. Generally, roasted pumpkin seeds are served up with some sort of savory spice on them – paprika, cumin, oregano, etc. Less often you’ll find them mixed with cinnamon and sugar, or some other sweet version. Trader Joe’s one ups all these recipes with their excellent preparation.
For starters, they skip the whole pumpkin seed and go right for the meat of the thing – in this case the pepita, or hulled pumpkin seed. This means you aren’t dealing with any of the semi-edible, obstinate pumpkin seed shells, just the crunchy, nutty seed itself.
The second brilliant step, is that TJ’s treats the pepitas like you would a honey-roasted peanut. They aren’t screwing around here with the seasoning – each little seedling is blasted front-to-back and top-to-bottom with an even dusting of sugar and spice. This gives them a sweet, satisfying, roughness that balances fully against mealier, dry nuttiness of the pumpkin seed itself. Of course, it’s not just any spices we’re talking about here – Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds are coated with a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and, of course, plenty of sugar. While the sugar content will make you think of honey roasted peanuts, the other spices do a good job of approximating the flavorful complexity of a traditional pumpkin pie.
The result is something you won’t find anywhere else on the market. There’s been a huge uptick in exotically spiced nuts in recent years – from chili-spiced peanuts to honey-mustard almonds – but pumpkin pie spiced nuts haven’t been done yet. The result is an addicting and enjoyable snack – albeit one that might perform better on a different nut. The pumpkin seeds, although well prepared, are still waffer-y and dry, with a tendency to “pulp up” in your mouth in a way that real nuts don’t.
While I’d certainly be happy if someone wanted to come out with a pumpkin pie spiced peanut, I won’t turn up my nose at these pumpkin seeds. ‘Tis the harvest season, after all – if there’s ever a time for pumpkin seed it’s now. Setting out a bowl of these at your next autumnal gathering will fit the bill just right.
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, they’re tasty and snackable.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yeah, I’d substitute these for honey-roasted peanuts.
Final Synopsis: Sweet, roasted pumpkin seeds done right.
Pumpkin seed brittle – well, why not Trader Joe’s? Are they crazy? Well, yes, it certainly might be well warranted to accuse a man of madness on any old ordinary day if he shows up with the idea of making peanut brittle, but replacing the peanuts with pumpkin seeds. That might well warrant alarm. But these aren’t ordinary days. The twisted, orange doors of the Pumpkin Gate have been thrown open and from now until November we are at the mercy of the pumpkin-drunk gourd lords of Trader Joe’s. If that is the way the wind is blowing let it not be said that I don’t also blow that way.
It’s hard to know which way to turn when you goal is to document the unrestrained pumpkin revelry at Trader Joe’s, but Pumpkin Seed Brittle strikes me as particularly bold/insane. Brittle is, by itself, one of those divisive, old-timey candies, like black licorice or Peeps, that you have either eaten with fondness from your childhood, or detest the very thought of. It is, generously, a seasonal treat – not dissimilar to nog, or fruit cake – created, offered and eaten more out of thought to tradition than any real physical desire. Brittles, in particular, tend to last – the snack that is left over from after the party ends.
That’s not entirely the brittle’s fault. It is, by its nature, not a very social snack. A veggie or ranch dip, for example, is designed to be grazed upon easily by any number of party-goers Brittle, on the other hand, doesn’t break easily, makes your fingers tacky, and cements your molars together in a way that that is more scary than fun.
While peanut brittle does have a history of being made with different tupes of nuts/seeds (such as pistachos, or sesame seeds) pumpkin seeds in a recent innovation and, understandably, one that Trader Joe’s was eager to jump in on.
The first thing you’ll notice is the very nice box the pumpkin brittle comes in – pleasant colors and big, warm art make it perfectly suited to gifting.Inside the box, things are just as you’d expect them to be. The pumpkin seed brittle looks the same as peanut brittle – same dark brown color, same jagged panes of shattered brittle stacked up in uneven piles. The only real difference is that instead of standing out, like peanuts, the pumpkin seeds blend into the same mellow brown color of the brittle.
When it comes to flavor, the difference is similarly subtle. The pumpkin brittle is made from the same key ingredients that all brittles are made from – sugar, water, and butter. Be it peanut or pumpkin, the candy tastes the same – like sweet, carmalized sugar. The actual pumpkin seeds, when you come to them, are mild and crunchy, but don’t make much of an impact on the dish. In fact, while peanuts are a fairly notable part of peanut brittle – large, smooth and bland counterparts to the sticky, sweet brittle. The smaller, flatter pumpkin seeds don’t contribute nearly as much. You’ll notice a pumpkin seed when you bite into one, but don’t expect that strong taste of roast pumpkin seeds. The reason for this is that the recipe uses pumpkin seeds that have already been shelled. This makes for crispier, tastier eating – but remove much of what is uniqe about the pumpkin seed taste. These small seeds (and seed fragments) don’t provide much taste, even a bland one – they’re just a bit of crunch, and then gone.
To counter this, TJ’s dusts their brittle with “traditional pupkin pie spices”. In this case, that means cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and some others. This is by far the strongest part of the brittle, giving each piece a very nice, sweetly spicy flavor. Pumpkin it may not taste like, but pumpkin pie it certainly does.
If you’re jonesing for that autumn brittle, you might consider picking this up for the novelty of it. More generally, however, we can consider this as something like Trader Joe’s Truffle Salt, a food better suited to holiday gift giving than actually imbibing.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, especially if you’re looking for a new kind of brittle to give people.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, but not until next year.
Final Synopsis: Like peanut brittle, but with some pumpkin pie spices on it.
I picked up Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds Salad the other day after a moment’s hesitation. Greens and seeds? Seeds are not normally my go to salad toppings. I was even more surprised by the ingredients: butternut squash, feta cheese, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. First off, I’m not sure butternut squash counts as anyone’s idea of “greens”, but more than that, who’s ever heard of mixing pumpkin and pomegranate seeds together. Nevertheless, remembering the rather delicious lessons Trader Joe’s couscous and cabbage and quinoa and wheat berry salads taught me, I decided that I’d better just suck it up and give it a try.
Folks, I’m glad I did. The salad mix might be unconventional, but the taste is right on. This is exactly the kind of salad I go for – a hearty, robust mouthful that hits every taste bud on the way down. Where salads like Trader Joe’s Walnut & Gorgonzola focus on a narrow, rather bland taste profile, the greens and seeds in this mix cover the whole pallet. The butternut squash is savory with mellow, earthy tones, the feta is as intensely flavorful as a nice fragrant fetid should be, the pomegranate packs that astringent, high-toned zing, and the pepitas are salty and nutty. It could, and maybe should, be the taste equivalent of dressing in a tux, sandals, and a clown wig, but somehow it manages to all hang together. The eclectic assortment of tastes are helped in no small part by the excellent salad dressing pairing – a zingy and creamy honey dijon balsamic. The dressing is strong, quite mustardy and vinegary, so you might only want to put about a third of it on at first, but it’s this strength that unites and accentuate the tastes of the other ingredients.
Two potential marks against the salad. First, it’s meat free. I’m perfectly happy to make a meal of salad alone, which generally means I’m looking for something with at least a little meat in it. That said, all the cheese and seeds in this salad means that you’re getting 11 grams of protein per serving. That’s not bad. The other caveat is that the squash is, as you might expect, a bit squishy. That doesn’t bother me, but if you get hung up on texture this may not be the salad for you.
Trader Joe’s rolls out new salads all the time, but this rather wild salad combination has come out this fall for more reason than mere happenstance. Spring mix and summer salads abound, but this is one of the few truly autumnal salads I’ve ever had – a pointed and purposeful concoction made with only those ingredients that are in season during the harvest – or so they say on the company website, at least. I’m a food fan, sure, but I’m an even bigger fan of food born out of high concept musings. Kudos on this happening salad, TJ!
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you don’t mind squishy squash in your salad, you’ll love this one.
Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely, I’m adding it to the shopping list now.
Final Synopsis: A hearty salad with a tasty autumnal bent.
An interesting salad, this Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad, an intriguing salad, but not necessarily a very good salad.
Spinach is an incredible base for any salad – tender, and flavorful, and supple, and yielding to the ardent bite, and nutritious, and, and, and – well, I could go on. I have a deep and abiding love for leafy, raw spinach that manifests itself in a refrigerator stuffed full of salad greens and dirty looks I throw at petulant children. My adoration of spinach, I’ll admit, is partially irrational. You see, I lost my salad virginity to spinach.
I was a young man, a college freshman. I hadn’t been looking for love, I didn’t even think I was interested in salads. I had grown up around plates of iceberg lettuce and, apart from the occasional juicy crouton or Baco Bit, they did nothing for me. But then I saw it, there in the dorm cafeteria’s buffet , demure but intriguing. I remember stuffing my mouth full of the delicious young sprigs, the juicy blast of nutritious flavor. I can taste it still. That day changed my life, leading me into the wonderful world of salads, and though I’ve often played around with exotic radicchios and roquettes I’ve always returned home to those tender, loving fronds.
So you’d think a TJ’s spinach salad would be an almost perversely easy slam dunk, right? Not so. Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad offers up the sort of charmingly eclectic list of ingredients see in some of their other excellent salads, quinoa, carrots, cranberries, chickpeas, edamame, tiny little tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds, but they simply do not work as well as a unit. It’s hard to say where the salad goes wrong. The main problem seems to be the carrot ginger miso dressing, which is, one, a strange combination of ingredients that don’t work very well with the salad mix, and two, unusually thick, almost like a very gritty mayonnaise that resists spreading evenly across the salad. Worse, the dressing leaves a strong aftertaste of onion in your mouth that lingers on long after the salad is finished.
The veggies do make for a crunchy, crispy unit that’s not bad for munching on, and I would suspect that if you ditched the dressing and substituted it for a personal favorite the salad would benefit greatly by it.
Even worse than being unpalatable, the dressing commits the all-too-common sin of wrecking the otherwise very healthy nutritional profile of the salad. Check out these post dressing stats: 19g of fat (a third of your daily intake), and a whopping 53g of carbs which, even controlling for the 10g that come from fiber, is more than a Big Mac packs.
I’ve got nothing against the occasional decadent salad (perhaps choked with gorgonzola and candied pecans), but it has to be pretty fantastic tasting to make the calories worth it. This salad fails to deliver anything like the level of enjoyment I’d demand for blowing my diet for the day.
Would I Recommend It: With a caution – lose the salad dressing and substitute a healthy alternative.
Would I Buy It Again: Not I, there are far more interesting salads to explore.
Final Synopsis: A very promising salad ruined by a very poor salad dressing.