Trader Joe’s candy selection is just as interesting and varied as any of their other product selections. In the past we’ve looked at some of their intriguing chocolate offerings (some more successful than others), their honey mint patties, and even their mango gummies. However, out of all of the candies I’ve tried so far, Trader Joe’s new Ts & Js Sour Gummies have got to be my favorite.
|What it is:||Sweet and sour gummy candy.|
|Price:||$1.99 / 7 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||Yes. They’re like better Sour Patch Kids|
Sometimes you want something salty, sometimes you want something sweet, and sometimes you just want to pucker and grimace on something that will scour your taste buds with a coarse blast of citric acid. Trader Joe’s Sour Gummies is their answer to that masochistic desire for sour candy, and a marked upgrade on the only other contender for that slice of market space, the classic Sour Patch Kid.
What you get with these sour gummies is a 7 oz. bag of little letters “T” and “J” in four citrus flavors, dusted by rough grains of cane sugar. Sweet at first, for just a moment, the sugar quickly gives way to a single so-tart-you-love-it punch to the kisser. Trader Joe’s isn’t pulling the punches either – these little candies are every bit as sour as Sour Patch Kids, and then some. After a handful you’ll be ready to put them aside and give your mouth a break for a minute.
With four great flavors, you’ll actually enjoy the punishment. Unlike the vaguely differentiated “flavors” of Sour Patch Kids, Trader Joe’s actually delivers four distinct and interesting flavors – tangerine, Meyer lemon, key lime and grapefruit. Made with real fruit juice, you will be able to distinctly tell each little bite-sized letter apart by taste, if not by color. Best of the lot, in my opinion is grapefruit, which hits you with a kick of that unmistakably bitter grapefruit zest before giving way to the sweet gummy core.
Even better, these candies are vegan, kosher and all natural – right down to being colored by natural vegetable extracts. At only a $1.99 for a bag, what are you waiting for. Drop those Sour Patch Kids off at the orphanage and pick up some of these instead.
Would I Recommend It: Definitely, a great sweet and sour combo.
Would I Buy It Again: Yup.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s Sour Patch Kids.
I’ve been holding off on these because, to be honest, an all vegetable gyoza just didn’t sound very appealing. I love vegetables, and there are salads I would kill for, but a bunch of mushed up steamed veggies just didn’t sound like something that was going to satisfy. At most, I was expecting something that might make a satisfactory hors d’oeuvre, to be absentmindedly pushed down the gullet while waiting for the real fare to come out. It was to my surprise that I found these Thai Vegetable Gyozas hold their own with any of Trader Joe’s other excellent gyoza.
I’m routinely shocked when I find a vegan food that isn’t merely palatable, but makes me want to go back for seconds. I suppose that speaks to my ignorance, because we’re lucky enough to live in a world where tasty vegan food is on the rise – particularly, as we’ve seen before, on the shelves of Trader Joe’s. It’s even more surprising considering that it’s a fast food that cooks from frozen in about 5 minutes. That’s a pretty good trick – of course, on the other hand, Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza aren’t really vegan at all.
Scour the bag all you might, you won’t find the telltale “V” TJ’s uses to demarcate their vegan offerings. That’s not because of the ingredients, which are all plants and plant-derived, but because of the processing facility. While laudable that these gyoza, like the Thai shrimp gyoza, are handmade in Thailand, their manufactured on the same machines that handle fish and shellfish – meaning they can’t give the bag that little happy “V”. I dare say that depending on which way your morals fall, that might still be vegan enough for some vegans out there.
Piscine allegations notwithstanding, there’s no reason these gyoza should be limited to only the Vegan. Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza aren’t merely the “meat-free” version of a tastier gyoza, like some vegetarian fare tends to be, but are actually tasty pot stickers in their own right.
Each plump dumpling is stuffed with a filling of white cabbage, carrot, chive, radish, green onion and white onion – plus a dash of ginger, garlic and soy sauce. As you might guess from all the members of the Allium family in there, these are pungent little suckers – packing enough onion and garlic to imbue the minced cabbage with flavorful (if kiss-averting) taste. The touch of ginger and soy sauce lighten things up, giving the dumpling a zippy, slightly exotic taste. The body of the gyoza, which I was worried about being too meager, actually makes for a nice chewy mouthful thanks to the cabbage and carrot filling. Of course, the gyoza also benefits from the same excellent skin of Trader Joe’s other gyoza – thin, chewy, and pleasant to the bite.
What I really liked about these is that they have a very different flavor and mouth feel from the pork or chicken potstickers, which tend to be rather samey. By taking away the meat, it really gives the gyoza a chance to showcase a different, but still satisfying taste. While I might not be switching over to these gyoza exclusively, I could definitely see buying a bag of these for every bag of pork gyoza I get. Served alongside each other, they would add a level of depth that a simple plate of one or the other wouldn’t have by itself.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – but with a caveat to vegans.
Would I Buy It Again: Yup, they fill in
Final Synopsis: Nice gyoza that satisfy even without the meat.
I certainly do love Thai food – or, more accurately, I love pad thai, and the rest of Thai cuisine is pretty good as well. Odds are that you love pad thai as well – this is double true if you happen to be a Thai national, as pad thai is the national dish in your country. However, even for the 99.98% of my audience that isn’t Thai, it’s still pretty likely that you love pad thai. In fact, pad thai is so highly regarded world wide that it was voted 5th most delicious food in the world by CNN in 2011. And while that may just the result of a fluff-piece poll in a desperate bid to get clicks, it also seems like it’s about right.
It is intriguing, then to come across Trader Joe’s vegetable “true Thai” pad thai in the frozen food aisle. With a promise of being 100% vegan, and a five minute microwaveable meal, Trader Joe’s was setting itself some pretty considerable hurdles TJ’s already proved that they could deliver on Thai street food with their green curry and GABA rice, but could they pull it off again? Fortunately, the answer is a firm yes.
If you enjoy this pad thai, don’t forget to give a quick thanks to Mr. Plaek Phibunsongkhram, one of the most important figures in Thai history, owner of an amazing name, and the person solely responsible for the modern day popularity of the dish. Prime minister of Thailand and de factor dictator during the the WWII years, Phibunsongkhram is a complex character, but the most important thing he did (within the context of this post) is give pad thai the name “pad thai”. Why focus his rather weighty attention on this one dish? The answer, of course, is geo-politics! With World War II raging around them, Phibun wanted to promote Thai nationalism and centralization while reducing domestic demand for rice. He managed to do all this by raising pad thai, and it’s noodles, to a prominent place in Thai culture. The result was an explosion in popularity across Thailand, and from there across the rest of the world.
Trader Joe’s Vegetable Pad Thai delivers not just as a delicious vegan meal, and as a delicious microwaveable meal, but as a delicious meal period. There’s a lot going on in a pad thai – from the bean sprouts, to the rice noodles, to the tofu and veggies, to the sauces. On each front TJ keeps things simple and natural. There isn’t an artificial ingredient to be found in the whole pot – just a vareity of vegetables mixed with water.
That natural simplicity plays out in the dish as a refreshing, wholesome taste – even when its just been been defrosted frosted from frozen. The bean sprouts, which make up the bulk of the dish, still retain some of their juicy crispness, even after being steamed in the microwave, and the rice noodles are suitably chewy and rich with the flavor of the creamy, mildly piquant pad thai sauce (a mix of chili sauce, tamarind sauce, and tomato paste).
The sauce isn’t quite as strong here as it is on other pad thai that you’ve probably had. Part of the reason for that is the absence of fish sauce in the dish. Although not a mandatory ingredient for authentic pad thai, the pungent, musky body of fish sauce gives pad thai a savory second kick underneath the noodles and chili paste. Although it’s missing here in order to keep the dish vegan, it doesn’t degrade the quality of the dish below satisfaction. There’s still enough harmony between the spicy, sweet and salty elements that it carries the rest of the dish along. This is particularly important when it comes to the tofu, which usually needs as much help as it can get. The tofu does manage to make it through alright, again thanks to the sauce, but it isn’t the best processed soybean mash you’ve ever had. The cubes are small, which is to its advantage, because they freezing process was not kind to them – rendering each tofu cube into a tough, chewy customers. While not exactly toothsome, without any meat or fish in the dish, they firmness of the tofu does lend the dish some much needed body.
Over all it works. It’s not going to be the most delicious pad thai you’ve ever had in your life, but for frozen, all-vegan pad thai it’s suitably impressive. The only strange touch is the crushed cashew nuts used in place of crushed peanuts. Whatever the rationale was behind that decision is hidden from my faculties, but it’s a moot point anyway since the nuts are undetectable except as points of crunchy texture,
This dish can be enjoyed as a tasty, vegan option, or just in its own right as a quick and easy dinner. Once caveat, however – bring your own limes. Evidently not even Trader Joe’s could figure out a good way to fit freeze-dried lime juice into the dish, and its the one flavor that the dish is noticeably missing. Get yourself a wedge to squeeze over the dish, and you won’t have any complaints.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – the vegans and non-vegans alike.
Would I Buy It Again: I would, this is perfect for filling in last minute dinner ideas.
Final Synopsis: Delicious, microwaveable pad thai – as long as you have a lime wedge on hand.
We return again to the strange shores of vegan cuisine to take a look at Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs. We’ve looked at a good number of vegetarian and vegan alternatives to this meaty world we live in – from soy “ice cream” to chicken-free chicken nuggets.
In general, I find that vegetarian food really shines when it’s not getting hung up on trying to be the doppleganger of meat products, as with Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burgers, and just does it’s own thing. The worst sins of vegan cuisine seem to occur when somebody decides that, goddammit, yes, I need to make a turkey out of tofu. Vegetable dishes are good as vegetables, and meat dishes are good as meat – there’s no need for vegetables to be all things to all people. Nevertheless, I’m always excited to be proved wrong in novel ways, hence the acquisition of these “meat”balls.
TJ’s comes straight out and calls their meatless meatballs, “a delicious meat-free substitute for any meal” right there on the package, without even a hint of modesty. I wouldn’t go that far, but the meatballs do delivery a surprisingly rich and full, if not exactly meaty, flavor. The meatlessballs, for lack of a better word, replicate the texture and mouthfeel of a standard party meatball pretty closely. The bite of the ball is moist and a little chewy – holding together well, and breaking up much as a bit of ground beef would. Coated with a heavy sauce, or mixed into a plate of pasta you wouldn’t notice much of a difference. Taken by itself, however, the meatlessball tastes, and more importantly, smells very dissimilar.
A good job was done to season the meatlessballs in such a way that they are roughly approximate to a normal meatball, but there’s no hiding the sort of soybean-y aftertaste when eaten straight off the plate. There’s nothing here of the fatty, visceral taste of the meatball – instead there’s a thinner, somewhat vegetable blandness. This difference in taste is rather mild, however, which means it can be hidden very effectively under a good marinera or similar sauce. More problematic, for those seeking a true meat substitute, is the smell wich has nothing of the savory, fatty scent of a simmering meatball. Instead, it smells like what it is – a bunch of hot soy. It’s a strong enough scent that it might make you think twice about digging in.
When you pop this bag open, the first thing you should realize is that you
are getting a ton of these guys. These are cocktail meatballs, not the big honking ones you get in Trader Joe’s regular bag of frozen meatballs. The move feels like it may be a practical one, as even at their smaller size the meatless meatballs have a certain tendency to break up if played around with too much. On the plus side, they’re down right healthy compared to Trader Joe’s ordinary beef variety meatballs. Each six meatball serving has only 140 calories, 45 from fat, and 13 whopping grams of protein.
How do such meatless balls manage such a feat? Through the magic of textured soy protein, of course.
To level with you, I generally react to this sort of psuedo-meat like a horse being lead up to Frakenstein’s castle. There’s something strange and unnatural about it that makes me balk. Meat I get. It’s easy to get answers out of meat. “Hey, what’s this meatball made out of?” “A bunch of dead cow.” That’s a straight forward answer. The answers are harder with meatless meat products, because all of a sudden I’m being tricked, right from the start. Nothing is what it appears, but instead a complex masquerade of strange technical processes meant to fool me into thinking I’m eating meat. That’s vaguely sinister – and such weird yet innocuous phrases as “textured soy protein” only make me nervous.
Textured soy protein or “TSP” is, in fact, kind of weird and sinister stuff. It’s basically the styrofoam of the food world, used since the 1960’s by the Archer Dale Midland company to pad out meat with filler material. It’s what happens when you heat soy bean flour to high temperatures that it melts, then is extruded from a nozzle as “a fibrous, insoluble, porous network that can soak up as much as three times its weight in liquids” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textured_vegetable_protein). Does that sound amazing? Not really, but they tell you not to ask about how sausage is made either.
That may sound like I’m being harsh, but I’m just trying to be accurate. In terms of texture and even, to a fair degree, taste these “meat”balls really are good substitutes for real meatballs. But to say, as Trader Joe’s does, that they’re a substitute for “any recipe” isn’t one I’d stand behind. Taken as a small asset in a larger dish, in a sloppy meatball sandwich say, they work beautifully, as they would for any vegetarian just looking to get a little variety in their diet. However, in a dish where the meatballs are showcased instead of hidden behind other, stronger flavors they’re unlikely to please the table.
Would I Recommend It: Not to meat eaters, possibly to vegetarians.
Would I Buy It Again: Not I, I’ll stick to TJ’s lean turkey variety.
Final Synopsis: Fake meatballs suitable for pasta but not soup.
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.
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free, Raw, Vegan Fruit Bars – (Apple & Strawberry, Apple & Mango, Apple & Banana, and Apple & Coconut)Posted: June 3, 2014
With the addition of Trader Joe’s Apple and [blank] Fruit Bars, they have added another participant to the already crowded Trader Joe’s fruit bar arena. How, I wondered as I picked these up, could Joe possible justify the existence of a third, no nonsense, “healthy” fruit bar?
There are, in fact, many similarities between these fruit bars and Trader Joe’s other fruit bars. Like its competitors, these bars are 100% fruit, with no additives of any sort. Does that mean we’re just talking about more fruit leather? No indeed sir, it does not! While Trader Joe’s other fruit bars all hopped on the fruit leather boat, these Gluten Free Raw Vegan Fruit Bars are another thing entirely.
Open up a pack and take a look. For starters, you’ll notice that they’re not all that flat. Each bar is a good half inch or more thick, with the heft and body of a candy bar. As you pick it up, you’ll notice that they’re not all that sticky either – you can wrap your fingers around any of the varieties without fear of peeling them away to the dreaded sensation of “sticky raisin fingers”.
You’ll notice another big difference as well – unlike TJ’s other fruit bars, these guys look minimally processed. Instead of a uniform fruit paste, each of these bars is visibly full of shredded fruit – be it bits of strawberry, chunks of banana, lumps of mango, or slivers of coconut. That same quality means that each type of bar actually feels very different in the hand. The Apple & Banana is probably most dense and firm, while the Apple & Coconut has a tendency to crumble as you handle it.
Which brings us to the taste. Apple goes into basically every fruit bar ever made because its pulp is simply excellent and binding things together. What that means is that you can expect all of these bars to taste at least a little bit like apple. The question is, how much does it taste like anything else?
Actually, before we even get into that, I’d better mention that these bars are surprisingly unsweet. To be sure, they are definitely sweet as compared to – for instance, dirt. But compared to any of the other TJ fruit bars I’ve reviewed these bars are much more muted. There is none of the light-up-your-tongue zazz you normally expect from these sorts of snacks. In fact, these fruit bars are less sweet even than the fruits they’re made from.
The reason for this, in part, is because of the unsulfured nature of the raw fruit that has gone into the bars. We’ve talked about the sulfuring process
before – and how it preserves the color and taste of fruit once it’s been dried. Without preservatives, and without the chemical changes that occur with exposure to high heat, these bars are essentially just shredded, dried fruit – and as such lose a good deal of their fruit’s original intensity.
Why aren’t the bars exposed to high heat? Because they’re “raw”, of course. The notion of raw food, and the ethos of rawism, is simply too big a topic to tackle in this post. One of the more interesting puzzles of only consuming raw food, however, is deciding at what temperature a raw food should no longer be considered raw. It’s generally agreed that the cut off for vegetables and fruits is between 104 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit (40-49 degrees Celsius). Presumably, these bars abide by that guideline, although there is no official “seal of rawness” yet, so really it’s anyone’s guess.
Which brings us back to the taste – just how good are these raw fruit bars? I’m happy to say that even though they are somewhat unsweet, they’re still quite flavorful. The guest fruit in each bar (banana, coconut, mango or strawberry) really come to the fore in each bite. The sugariness may be gone, but the appealing underlying taste of the fruit is still there, mingling pleasantly with the subtle, mellow apple taste. Essentially, you are getting the taste of the fruit without the sweetness. The Apple and Banana Bar, for example, tastes like a cooked plantain more than a ripened banana. The same applies to the coconut, strawberry and even the mango. You can recognize and appreciate the flavors with the candied sugariness common to many dried fruits.
Are these bars worth your money then? There’s certainly a lot to like about them. They give you a convenient way to keep your blood sugar up, a way to stay committed to your raw food diet, and can act as a substitute candy bar for dieters in need of a cheat. Then again, a regular piece of fruit does all of that just as well – and the fruit tastes better.
Really, it comes down to if you like everything about fruit except the sweetness, or if you’ve been questing for a fruit bar that won’t make your fingers sticky. If either of those qualities defines you, then you’ll want to pick up these bars. For everyone else, I’d suggest giving one a try, if for no other reason than the novel experience.
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, if you need a healthier alternative to a Snickers.
Would I Buy Them Again: I’d buy these before any of the other Trader Joe’s Fruit bars, just because they’re less sticky.
Final Synopsis: A hefty fruit bar that isn’t all that sweet.