Ah yes, the jumble. One of the lazier forms of organization on the books. It’s right up there with the heap and the mess in terms of ways people don’t like their things to be. There’s just not much cachet to a jumble. So what lead Trader Joe’s to just sort of jumble some chocolate and stuff together instead of delivering it to the customer in a precisely thought through execution – like they did with their strictly ordered triple tiered chocolates? I must admit, I don’t actually know – but I will tell you that Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Jumbles are downright delicious.
Aside from the intriguing name, what attracted me to these candy jumbles was the ingredient list. Listed right up in there, right next to milk chocolate and caramel is quinoa. Toasted quinoa. Also Himalayan salt. Okay, TJ, now you’ve got my attention. You may have dozens of chocolate-covered after-dinner treats available to me – but only one has quinoa in it. Depending on your viewpoint, that’s either a stroke of desperation or brilliance.
Why in the world, after all, would you try to shoehorn quinoa into a chocolate confection filled with gooey caramel? Quinoa and chocolate occupy opposite ends of the nutrition spectrum. I would think that they would have annihilated each other when they came into contact. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the first time anyone has ever tried mixing caramel and quinoa together.
Well, I’ll tell you this much – all the hypothetical people who decided not to do this before – it’s your loss. The toasted quinoa is a delightful part of this little snack food. Before I get into the why’s and wherefores of that, though, we’d better take a look at our jumble as a whole.
You might not be sure what you’re getting into at first glace. Any manner of strange and surprising items could be lurking beneath that rich, milk chocolate coating. It could easily be chewy, hard, salty, filled with hidden nuts, baked like a brittle or as hard and unyielding as an over-cooked cookie. You just can’t tell that much from such an ambiguous lump.
The fact of the matter is, on your first bite your teeth will sink right into a sweet, dense core of caramel. There’s no hidden, solid substrate to this little trifle – it’s pure, pliable, yielding caramel all the way through. Or almost pure, I should say. This is where the toasted quinoa comes in. Little did I know that toasted quinoa tastes and acts pretty much just like toasted rice. Nothing of the distinctive taste and texture of quinoa remains – instead it has become a light, crispy, crunchy bit of pleasing texture teasing the tooth here and there and lending the jumble a bit of much needed body. Unlike toasted rice, the toasted quinoa is much smaller, and as a result it works much better in this small treat – never interrupting your bite, but just kind of sitting there, in your mouth, crunching up pleasantly between your teeth.
While the quinoa is fine and completely inoffensive, the real star of the show is the sprinkling of Himalayan salt. Why it needs to be Himalayan salt, I don’t know – but I can tell you that it takes the jumble to a whole new level. If you’ve never tried salted caramel before, or salted chocolate, you’re missing out on one of life’s great flavor sensations. Nothing accentuates and compliments the rich sweetness of cream and sugar like a few well placed grains of salt, and here it adds an entire new level of richness to what would otherwise be a simple little treat.
The only real problem, as far as I’m concerned is that the salt distribution on the jumbles is very erratic – some jumbles have no salt, while others have plenty. The jumbles without salt on them are fine and good – it’s just that the salted ones are what really make this worth picking up.
Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Jumbles are aimed at the buyer who is looking for a decadent chocolate treat without any of the pretension (and inflated price tag) that so often goes along with that. They’re certainly not going to make you any thinner, but if you’re looking for a novel new way to intake caramel and chocolate, these aren’t a bad choice.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, if you like really sweet sweets.
Would I Buy Them Again: I would if my willpower was stronger.
Final Synopsis: Don’t let the quinoa worry you – these are all about the salted caramel and chocolate.
Trader Joe’s Prune Walnut Log
Prune and walnut log – wow! I dropped the half-hearted purchase I was going ti make myself write about this week and snatched these up as soon as I saw them, standing boldly forth as they were, like a proud, squat dwarf, on the lower-middle rack of the fruit & nut aisle.
These just appeal to me on so many levels. It’s like Trader Joe’s designed them specifically for this blog. I mean, where to begin?
Well, to start, they’re in log form. Nothing comes in log form! Not since the 50’s ended and consumers across America suddenly realized they were decorating cottage cheese with rings of pineapple that had been dyed green by quasi-lethal food additives. There’s really not much lower than the lowly log when it comes to food formats – even loaf has at least a few positive denotations (i.e. “meat-” and “- of bread”). But no, no one as ever said “Mmm, that log is delicious! Hew me off another slab, will ya?”
Take the name itself. It falls squarely into that three letter, central vowel set of monosyllabic utterance that just don’t sound appetizing, words like “gut” and “gob” and “wad”. Etymology aside, there’s just nothing appetizing about extruded food cylinders.
“Ready for some homemade turkey dinner?” hard working Mom asks.
“Go put your head in a vise, you slag,” chirp the youngsters, “We’re playing Gameboy!”
“But boys,” Mom teases, a twinkle in her eye, “it’s been extruded into cylinder form.”
“Log? For dinner? Yipee!”
In a flash the family has gathered around the table, digging with gusto into the uncannily smooth tubular masses that lay heavily upon their plates.
No, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t happen that way. Logs are unnerving and strange, and very few foods are acceptable in log format. Festive holiday cheeses and jellied cranberry sauce and, as far as I’m aware, that’s it.
Now then, what kind of log are we talking about? Why, it’s prunes. I mean, prunes, seriously? Amazing! Is there any food product that can conjure up images of loosened bowels more efficiently than prunes? I submit to you that there is not. And finally, on top of all of this, we have walnut, to which I am fairly indifferent.
So things are looking pretty dire for the ol’ prune and walnut log right from the word go. The packaging, light and cast of translucent, Lunchable-esque plastic, announces that it is “An Ideal Cheese Companion” right smack in the center, in a font larger than the title of the food itself. Serving suggestions are occasionally brazen in their placement, but I’ve never seen one that actually supersedes the contents of the package itself. I pick up a pack of Trader Joe’s Spanish Cheese Tapas Sampler to pair with the log. I may be bringing a roiling cloud of prejudices to the table, but I’m fair dammit. If the log demands a cheese coupling, than cheese it shall have.
Upon peeling back the cling film of the prune and walnut logs I am startled and thrilled. The log has been subdivided among the four quadrants of it’s container, this I knew from before. What I didn’t know was that each section was also pre-sliced into three round discs. I pulled back the cling film on the cheese sampler. To my mounting delight I find that each of its three wedges have been pre-sliced into four triangular planes. All the sudden the game has turned upside down on me, as if a secret geometry of the universe had sudden revealed itself. 4 x 3, 3 x 4. I’m staring at 12 slices of each, perfect pairings for each other, as if preordained by the invisible hand of Providence.
Is this log tasting going to be perfect? I wonder giddily.
To cut to the chase, three quarters of a page in, yes – the prune walnut log is delicious. I have to hand it to the clever boys over there at Trader Joe’s for the slicing gimmick. In one deft swoop they turned the most unappealing aspect of the log into a boon – simple access for easy pairing without having to bother with a knife or the generally gross look of a nut-studded fruit log.
The prune-walnut slices go very nicely with their cheese counterparts – the starchy sweetness of the prune paste benefiting from the clean, nutty crunch of the walnuts, both of which go very nicely with cheese. To my own astonishment I have to recommend this as a ready-to-go party tray or sophisticated snack plate for the sort of get togethers where people look at their food before stuffing it in their gobs (book circles, say, instead of NFL games) . Not too shabby, logs. You’ve turned me around.
Would I Recommend It: To anyone who enjoys fruit and nuts with their cheese, which should be everyone.
Would I Buy It Again: I would gladly trot this out for book club, were I ever to attend one.
Final Synopsis: If you like complex tastes that you can layer on a cracker, this log is right up your alley.
What’s behind the intriguing and slightly extreme name? (“Get yourself a CRUSHER!”, Gen-x advertising copy might read, or perhaps “CRUSH it!”). The answer is, basically just applesauce.
Trader Joe looks like he’s trying to straddle the line between kid’s snack and adult snack with this product. As such, I’ll give my review for each demographic.
For kids: A good applesauce source. The pouches are engagingly colorful, the carrots in the apple sauce are all but undetectable, and the bags are fun to squish and play with (both in the titular crushing activity and in the fun of having a built in straw to blow and suck on). Also cool, the sleek, over-sized caps are very satisfying to twist off. The self-contained packaging also means not having to worry about where a spoon will come from, or where it will go afterwards. One small downside, the bag design is abstract in the ugly way, not the interesting way. Overall, an easy add to the sack lunch bag.
For adults: Not really happening. The pouch is just small enough that it doesn’t quite qualify as an adult-sized snack – you can basically just slurp the whole thing and not even notice it. The box of four lasted me two days and even then failed to make a lasting impression. The feeding tube combined with the bag’s soft sides means that you’ll suck the thing dry in about two seconds. With a cup of applesauce there’s the possibility of dawdling over dawdling over it during break time; with the fruit crusher there’s not much else to do but slam it and go. Unless you’ve really got your heart set on carroty applesauce, there are better choices for your snacking dollar.
Would I recommend it: If you had a small child.
Would I buy it again: If I had a small child.
Final Synopsis: Fun to play with, but leaves you hungry.