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Trader Joe’s Wild King Salmon Jerky

Trader Joe's Wild King Salmon Jerky

One thing that isn’t improved: the bag design. Where’s the texting cowboy riding the giant fish, guys?

Trader Joe’s can now proudly claim they belong to that class of supermarkets that doesn’t have canned pineapple, or beans, but does carry two different kinds of salmon jerky. Which is to say that Trader Joe’s is in a class all by itself.

Ranking: 2 stars 2 star rating

What it is: Jerky made from salmon
Price: $5.49 for a 3 oz. bag
Worth it: No. Fish jerky tastes weird.

Trader Joe’s Wild King Salmon Jerky is, yes, the second salmon jerky Trader Joe’s has brought to market. The original Wild Salmon Jerky I reviewed way back in 2012 when I first started this blog. Back then I had two big issues with their jerky. ( Or three, if you count the fact that it’s weird to jerk salmon in the first place).

The original salmon jerky was very fishy smelling, almost like the smell you get from a box of fish food, and, worse, very sweet due to the addition of brown sugar, molasses, carmelized sugar, and maple syrup. As a result I gave the original salmon jerky a big thumbs down.

Trader Joe’s acknowledges on their own website that the original salmon jerky had some issues, and so decided to reformulate it – hence our new, slightly different named, wild king salmon jerky. However, is the new version any better?

On both accounts, it actually is. This new salmon jerky has a far milder smell – nowhere near as fishy as the original version. TJ’s attributes this to the use of Alsakan king salmon instead of the previous chum salmon. I’d imagine there was probably a change in processing as well.

I’m also happy to report that even Trader Joe’s is capable of stepping back from the howling abyss of madness, and decided to cut down way down on the amount of sickly sweet sugar going into this fish jerky. Like any good jerky brine, there’s still a dose of brown sugar in there, but it isn’t nearly as much. The result is a much cleaner taste, that lets the dried salmon taste speak for itself.

Which brings up back to that third point from way up above. Yes, it’s a marked improvement on their last salmon jerky – but is it actually something you would want to eat? What does this fishy jerky taste like?

Trader Joe’s indicates that this salmon was smoked as part of the jerking process, and that’s what you’ll taste most of all – the distinctive, musky flavor of smoked salmon. If you’ve ever had that, just imagine drying it out it’s hard, and spicing it with a dash of salt and garlic.

It’s not necessarily the best taste in the world, but it is edible. I never found myself really enjoying it at any point in the way I might happily gnawing on a fine piece of beef jerky. That said, the flavors were more odd, than objectionable. I could imagine slowly becoming acustomed to it over time, but I can’t think of a reason why I would want to when Trader Joe’s offers a selection of other tasty jerkies – like their sriracha bacon jerky, and South African biltong jerky.

While it’s certainly an improvement, there are better ways to eat your salmon, and better ways to eat your jerky. No need to take this detour aside from general human curiosity.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not while there are so many other tasty types of jerky out there.

Would I Buy It Again: No, I would not.

Final Synopsis: An improved fish jerky – but still, it’s fish jerky.

Trader Joe's Wild King Salmon Jerky - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Wild King Salmon Jerky – Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Popcorn in a Pickle

Trader Joe's Popcorn in a Pickle

Question: What’s green and crazy?

Trader Joe’s Popcorn in a Pickle is pickle brine flavored popcorn. Let’s just get that out of the way up top.

Ranking: 3 stars 3 star ranking

What it is: Popcorn that tastes like dill pickles.
Price: $2.99 for a 5 oz. bag
Worth it: Yes – a wildly new taste.

Now, weve seen some pretty outlandish popcorn moves from Trader Joe’s – their unpronoucable Beurre Meuniere Popcorn comes to mind, not to mention their partially popped popcorn kernels, and of course the bacon-esque white cheddar variety.

I thought, perhaps, that Trader Joe’s mad sciene-style popcorn high jinks had run their course. How sorely I was mistaken. Trader Joe’s new Popcorn in a Pickle is their wildest creation yet – a melding of ordinary salted popcorn and dill pickles.

When I was a kid I would sometimes put ketchup and mustard on my popcorn, and that got me branded as something of a local nut job. I daren’t think what would’ve happened if I’d started pouring liberal doses of pickle brine on it too. Instituionalized, probably. Clearly Trader Joe’s doesn’t give a flying hoot what anyone things, because this is a boldly original taste that delivers exactly what they promise – this popcorn really does taste like dill pickles and, what’s more, it’s actually pretty good.

Full disclosure, I’m somewhat fond of pickle brine. I have, on more than one occasion, taken a sip from the pickle jar – just to get a touch of that unique, salt and vinegar flavor blast you don’t experience anywhere else in life.

This popcorn seems to be trading entirely on people who have felt the urge to that illicit thrill – the brine sippers who say, “Bitter? Salty? Herbal? Sour? Just what I’m looking for!” If you’re looking to replicate the the flavor, if not the feel, of a classic kosher dill (and it is, by the way, kosher) this popcorn has it all.

If that’s not you, you can safely give this popcorn a pass. Trader Joe’s is clearly counting on a very narrow slice of the market for this one. Of course, that’s exactly the sort of thing major chip manufacturers, like Lays, Pringles and Doritos, have been doing over the last couple years as they bring out increasingly outlandish flavors. I still see those Lay’s “Wasabi and Ginger” potato chips on store shelves. Sometimes even the most outlandish novelties can make that surprising change into a new classic.

Unlike many of those weird flavors, however, Trader Joe’s really nails the authenticity of what they’re going after. This isn’t a “dill pickle-ish” taste, in the way that, say, sour cream and onion potato chips are “sour cream and onion-ish”. These kernels taste like they were each soaked in a jar of pickle juice and left to dry out again. Like Trader Joe’s Bacon-esque popcorn, this is a popcorn to be savored slowly – not munched down by the idle handful. Each popped piece is saturated with so much pickle flavor that you’ll want to chew on one at a time.

If you love pickles, or live life with a fearless joie de vivre, try picking up a bag of this stuff while it lasts on the shelves. It’s easy to imagine it’ll have a limited run, and you’re not likely to find something like this ever again. On the other hand, if you’ve never felt an urge to sample a drip of brine then feel free to steer clear. This bold taste is for adventurous eaters only.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes to the bold, no to the meek.

Would I Buy It Again: I actually might!

Final Synopsis: The best pickle brine flavored popcorn on the market.


Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisps

At the intersection of “brownie” “cookie” and “not good”

Quick question, what’s the best part about brownies? The warm, chewy, goo-aliciousness, right? The chocolate is good, but if I was just interested in chocolate I’d be eating a chocolate bar or having a piece of fudge.

Ranking: 1 star 1 star rating

What it is: Over-baked brownie-like cookies
Price: $2.99 for a small 5 oz. bag
Worth it: No. Not at all.

No sir, when I go after a brownie, it’s for the distinct, almost startling clear, sensory image of biting into a warm, chewy and, yes, goo-alicious square of melted bliss. And also sometimes to get high – but that’s a different issue entirely and completely legal in many states.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps, then, are not just a disappointment but a failure of brownie-kind. Although brownies are promised what you actually receive are thin, hard, dry, brittle squares of brown cookie. These are like brownies in so far as a pop-tart is like a fresh raspberry torte. All of that ooey-gooey goodness is no where to be found, and in its place is nothing worthwhile or redeeming. Even if taken just as a cookie, these Brownie Crisps notably hard and dry. I’ve had chocolate chip cookies from a vending machine with more life than these.

These brownie “cookies” are, essentially, very badly over baked brownies. If I forgot I had some brownies in the oven and came back to find them absolutely parched and glued to the bottom of the pan, I’d throw them out. I most definitely wouldn’t chisel them out, package them and try and sell them to people.

Frankly, I over-cook brownies enough on my own time. If I wanted that experience, I’m free to pick up some of Trader Joe’s brownie mixes (such as their quick-bake or reduced guilt mixes) and go to town. For a pre-made brownie/cookie product I expect something a little better. They look especially lackluster coming, as they do, right on the heels of the actually delicious tea cookies I reviewed previously.

I’m kind of at a loss for what to do about these. Wasting food is something I almost never do – but I couldn’t interest anyone in taking a second bite, and I certainly am not going to be eating them myself.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Only if I wanted to disappoint someone.

Would I Buy Them Again: Definitely not.

Final Synopsis: Failure as a cookie. Failure as a brownie.

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisps - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisps – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Key Lime Tea Cookies

Trader Joe's Key Lime Tea Cookies

Basically, this is like a dozen key limes.

It’s not often we get an outrageous blast of lime flavor in the pastry aisle, but that’s exactly what Trader Joe’s delivers with their new Trader Joe’s Key Lime Tea Cookies. These tiny, bite-sized cookies pack shockingly big lime taste into each dainty nibble – a delightful way to mix-up your cookie munching schedule, tea or not.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: Small, crunchy cookies with lots of lime.
Price: $3.99 for a 12 oz. tub
Worth it: Yes. Shockingly flavorful!

Take one bite of these and you’ll see what I mean about the lime flavor. It’s rare to have a Key lime pie, let alone a cookie, that contains this much lime flavor, and doubly surprising is that Trader Joe’s isn’t using any artificial flavoring or other tricky additives to achieve the goal. The only flavoring going into these is natural Key lime flavor. Wow.

Seriously, try one. It’s nearly too much lime flavor – like jelly-belly level lime flavor. Limier than a British sailor. That limey.

We haven’t looked at many of Trader Joe’s lime offerings, apart from the keffir lime in their Thai foods. Key lime is more than just an exotic marketing term – Key limes are a distinct sub-speices of everyone’s favorite green citrus fruit. Much smaller, rounder and more delicate than the typical Persian lime, the Key lime is actually native to South East Asia. It earned its modern moniker when it was brought to the Florida Keys by Spanish explorers and naturalized there, before rising to wider prominence in the early 1900’s due to the invention of its most popular form of consumption – the Key lime pie.

Other than the lime, these are pretty standard little butter cookies, thoroughly dusted by powdered sugar. By themselves they would be sweet, crumbly and pleasant little treat, but the extra lime taste really sets them aside from the crowd of cookie offerings at Trader Joe’s.

Good though they are, these tea cookies don’t go particularly well with tea. Their dainty size and powdery complexion makes them look well upon a saucer, but that aren’t particularly practical. The best tea cookies, or tea biscuits as they are also known, are dunkable team players. These tea cookies don’t do either of those things very well. They’re small enough that you can’t dunk more than, maybe, a third of the way down, and thick enough that they don’t really saturate well, and the powder means that your finger end up tacky and dusty if you try it.

For enjoying with a good cup of Ceylon black I personally prefer a milder cookie that quietly sops up the brew – something for a pleasant exploration of texture instead of taste. Nevertheless, these Key lime cookies are palette pleasers, and if sitting down to some tea gave me an excuse to help myself to one or two I’d be pretty likely to do so.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes indeed. Flavorful and and rich.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, these are up there with my favorite Trader Joe’s cookies.

Final Synopsis: Small butter cookies with big lime flavor.

Trader Joe's Key Lime Tea Cookies - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Key Lime Tea Cookies – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites

Trader Joe's Turkish Fig Bites

Trader Joe’s Not Quite Fig Newtons

Broadly speaking, Trader Joe’s products fall into three categories:

Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites fall squarely into that final category. As should be clear from the packaging alone, these are Trader Joe’s own take on that classic, love-’em-or-hate-’em after-school snack, the Nabisco Fig Newton.

Ranking: 3 stars 3 star ranking

What it is: Fig Newtons, by Trader Joe’s
Price: $1.99 for a 10 0z. pack
Worth it: Yes. They’re not perfect, but they’re cheap

Usually, when Trader Joe’s goes through the trouble of re-creating an another brands product in their own image they actually end up improving on it. TJ’s seems to have a genuine devotion to only putting their name on quality products that they stand behind, which is truly laudable in this day and age. For example, when they recently released their take on the Sour Patch Kid candy with sweet-and-sour T’s and J’s gummies, I found myself strongly preferring Trader Joe’s delicious, nuanced flavors and all-natural ingredients to actual Sour Patch Kids.

It’s unusual, then, that Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites fall short of the original Fig Newton. You’d think that improving on these would be a piece of cake (or fruit and cake, as the case may be), but instead TJ’s delivers an inferior version – heavier on the dry cake, with less fruit.

This is a particularly surprising outcome given the super pretty packaging, which manages to bite on the Fig Newton’s signature “yellow” look, while also keeping Trader Joe’s signature quaint whimsy. How could such attention to detail on the packaging be betrayed by underwhelming contents? Well, I guess that’s just life, isn’t it?

Figs are something Trader Joe’s does well, and in fact we’ve looked at them several times before, along with their incredible mythic history. And, in fact, the fig part isn’t all that bad. Trader Joe’s promises Turkish figs, which I’m sure these are, but you’d be hard pressed to tell, given the serious mushing and processing they necessarily undergo to be worked into a sweetened cookie.

No, it’s the “Newton” part that Trader Joe’s has trouble with. Nabisco must have found just the right recipe to deliver their original drupe-based treat to the world, because no one else ever seems to get it quite right. The generic fig roll snack you come across in drug store always tend to be too dry. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have that problem, but instead screw up the fig to cake ratio – giving you way too much thick and bready cake to the relatively meager amount of filling. It’s simply not all that satisfying to bite into, giving you a dry mouth without enough sweet fruit to balance it out.

To compare I bought a box of Nabisco brand Newtons and compared them side by side. As you can see the Nabisco Netwons are much more refined looking – an elegant balance of just enough dough to the filling. As a result the Nabisco Newtons are much more snackable, while the Trader Joe’s “Newtons” tire you out after two or three.

Trader Joe's Fig Newton Comparison

Trader Joe’s Fig Bites on top, Nabisco Fig Newton on bottom

Of course, if it’s the price you’re considering Trader Joe’s more than compensates for its short comings. Each package of Trader Joe’s Fig Bites is a mere $1.99, in comparison to the $5 and up you’ll be asked to pay for Fig Newtons. I may not like TJ’s version quite as much as Nabisco’s, but that price point make a compelling argument for choosing them anyway.

By the way, before I get out of here – just what is a “Newton”?

It turns out that Fig Newtons don’t owe their name to the revered Grandfather of Gravity (a connection that I always presumed and found troubling, given the absence of apple), but to the humble town of Newton, Mass. where they were first made by the Kennedy Steam Bakery all the way back in 1891. And now you know!


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Not really, the original Fig Newton is better.

Would I Buy Them Again: The price is low enough, and I’m enough of a cheapskate, that I probably would.

Final Synopsis: Fig Newton knockoffs for a reasonable price.

Trader Joe's Turkish Fig Bites - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Turkish Fig Bites – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt

Does a chocolate-covered cracker become a cookie, or is it still just a cracker? 

Trader Joe’s never seems to run out of things to cover with dark chocolate, for good or ill. That said, chocolate of any stripe is pretty dang good, so I was intrigued by Trader Joe’s new Dark Chocolate Covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt – little squares of graham cracker coated in a thick, dark chocolate shell and dusted with a trace of sea salt.

Ranking: 3 stars 3 star ranking

What it is: Chocolate covered graham crackers with a sprinkling of salt.
Price: $3.99 for 8 ounces.
Worth it: Yes. Dark chocolate and sea salt go well together.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that you need to be careful using dark chocolate. It’s really nice when used in the right context, but you can’t simply go around replacing it for milk chocolate in any confection that crosses your mine. Milk chocolate is a sweet, pleasurable treat. Dark chocolate on the other hand, especially when you get to 70% pure and above, is a refined nibble with a bitter edge. You can’t just mix it with peanut butter, for instance, and expect everything to turn out alright.

Fortunately, these dark chocolate covered graham crackers fall squarely in the “tasty” column. All the parts here play really well together. The dark chocolate is doing the usual dark chocolate thing – semi-sweet as it melts on the tongue, with a long bitter back. Being clever sorts, Trader Joe’s doesn’t use a very high concentration of dark chocolate. Although they don’t tell us exactly how much on the label, it tastes like maybe 60% dark chocolate or so.

Underneath this is the bit of graham cracker. Trader Joe’s alleges that there is some honey on the cracker, but it really doesn’t make much of an appearance. In fact, almost none of the graham cracker taste really shows up – unless you’re the sort that likes to hold it in your mouth until allllll the dark chocolate melts off before swallowing. Really, the crunchy cracker is just there for the body and texture, giving the little chocolate-covered cookie something for us to snap into.

However, the real hero here isn’t the dark chocolate or the graham cracker, but the judicious use of sea salt. Although you’ll only find a few big grains of salt on each cookie, that’s all you really need. The semi-sweetness of the chocolate mingles delightfully with the high, salty notes and transforms the dark chocolate’s bitterness into complex, tongue-teasing treat.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt 2

More than anything, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt reminded me of Trader Joe’s previously released Milk Chocolate Jumbles. These were a very similar snack using toasted quinoa for the body and milk chocolate for the thick shell, but made the same use of a light dusting of sea salt. The Jumbles were quite a bit sweeter, but otherwise a very similar chocolate-and-salt taste.

The take away? Putting a little sea salt on your chocolate is a downright delicious idea. Whatever else you do with it, a little fancy chocolate and salt marry very well together. In fact, as long as we’re mixing chocolate and salt, why not take this all the way to the top? It sort of makes me want to pick up another of Trader Joe’s great Fireworks Chocolate Bar and some of their Cypriot pyramid-shaped flake salt and just go nuts.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure – if you like chocolate-heavy snacks that are more than just chocolate.

Would I Buy It Again: Maybe. I liked the toned down sweetness compared to the richer Jumbles.

Final Synopsis: Another great pairing of chocolate and sea salt.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate covered Honey Grahams with Sea Salt – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds

Trader Joe's Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds

I…I don’t know where to begin on this one. It’s like someone just started free associating nouns and they decided to make it a product.

Holy cow – what? Trader Joe’s Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds? Wait, Seriously?

Every time – every time – I see something like this from Trader Joe’s I think to myself, “We’ll this is it – Trader Joe’s has gone as crazy as they possibly can.” Surely we won’t be seeing anything as crazy as partially popped popcorn kernels again. Or fried broccoli. Or a BBQ rub made from coffee grounds. And yet here we are – holding a bag of sunflower seeds in our hands, sunflower seeds that have been seasoned with rosemary, thyme and maple syrup. That’s really what these are – no tricks. Here’s the product copy, straight from the website:

“We took great care with our supplier to balance the natural herb flavors of rosemary and thyme with salt. Next, the seasoned seeds are coated in a mixture of maple syrup and salted butter, just before they are fire-roasted in small batches.”

Look at that, just look at that – you can practically hear the desperation of the copy writer as he strains himself to sound casually breezy. The struggle as he tries to convey that this is just some toffee and rosemary and whatever, no big deal – while he knows perfectly well that he’s never once in his life even heard of anyone doing this to any food product, let alone sunflower seeds.

I don’t know – maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the one who’s gone crazy because I’ll tell you this much right now – these rosemary, thyme and toffee seeds are actually pretty good. Could a sane man dare utter that sentence? That very excellent question is beyond the scope of this blog post…all I can say right now is that Trader Joe’s is as skillful as they are brazenly daring. How else could you explain the delicately balanced mixture of spices, sugar and seeds that makes these snacks compulsively snackable?

I don’t know about you, but when I think rosemary I’m thinking, like, Rosemary Chicken levels of rosemary. BAM!-in-your-face, yup-that’s-rosemary, levels of rosemary. Trader Joe’s has been very careful not to give us that sort of rosemary here. There’s a bit more rosemary than salt on these seeds, but not by much. It’s just a hint of rosemary, along with an even more subdued touch of thyme, that you’ll taste behind the sweet and warm taste of crispy toffee.

If you think about these sunflower seeds as toffee-coated candied sunflower seeds, you’re on the right track. A handful of crunchy, sugary, maple toffee is what you’re going to mainly taste when you pop these in your mouth, followed by the familiar mildness of sunflower seeds, and only then will you notice the subtle but persistent touch of these two herbs, rosemary and thyme, which lingers long after the sweetness has faded. The seeds benefits from the light touch, and they’re easy to munch down, but in the end it’s still a strange taste that takes some getting used to.

Why Trader Joe’s even bothered to put rosemary and thyme in this mix at all, I don’t know. It seems like the logical move would’ve been to do something like cinnamon and nutmeg, or just to keep the herbs out of it all together. As it stands, this makes for a weird snack. Sweet and savory tastes rarely mesh well – and while these sunflower seeds are pretty good, the tastes ultimately clash more than harmonize.

Trader Joe’s has presented us with an intriguing new combination of flavors with these sunflower seeds, but it fails to make a persuasive case for its own existence.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I wouldn’t – while they’re not bad, they’re probably too idiosyncratic to really catch on.

Would I Buy It Again: I really doubt it. They get points for daring though.

Final Synopsis: Candied sunflower seeds with just enough rosemary and thyme to make them weird.

Trader Joe's Rosemary & Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds – Nutrition Facts