Friday, July 31, 2015

Trader Joe's Orange Peach Mango 100% Juice

I kind of knew from the outset that I would be disappointed in this juice, that it wouldn't be the wonderfulness that a blend of orange, peach, and mango juices by rights ought to be. But I bought it anyway. And was duly disappointed.

It's yet another in Trader Joe's infinite lineup of luscious-sounding but nearly interchangeable juice blends, which are primarily grape and apple juice with varying amounts of minor ingredients added to shift the flavor profile a little this way or that way. With all of them, you get a general, gestalt sense of fruitiness rather than distinctly identifiable components.

Trader Joe's, would it really be prohibitively difficult and/or expensive to take some orange juice, some peach juice, some mango juice, and put them in a carton without adulterating the blend with grape juice, apple juice, and pineapple juice? It would be so wonderful to drink that, whereas this is just sad.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Hummus

For plain hummus, this is pretty good. However, I admit that I have become enamored with nontraditional forms--lemon, chipotle, sriracha, black bean, etc. So I would deem this stuff perfectly decent, but boring. If you're looking for traditional hummus for some situation where you don't want something more adventurous, this will work just fine.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not--but that's because my preferences lie elsewhere, not because there's anything wrong with it.


I did buy it again after this, because I really wanted some hummus, was already at TJ's, and didn't want to make another stop. I liked it even better the second time. It is now unquestionably my favorite of all the varieties of TJ's hummus I've had. It's not quite as tangy with lemon as Cedars Zesty Lemon, which Nina and I both think is superb, but it gets close. Will definitely buy again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Smooth And Creamy Cilantro And Jalapeno Hummus

Photo by Nina.

I had passed on buying this myself several times, suspecting that I would not like either the cilantro or the jalapeno. But Nina bought it and served it to me with dinner, so I could try it in a low-risk situation.

My suspicions were correct. The hummus itself was OK, though nothing special. But if I scooped up with it more than a minuscule amount of the central clump of green seasoning, it was too much for me. And it seemed like heat without much added flavor--unlike my favorite hummus, which is a strange but wonderful mango-sriracha combination.

Will I buy it again? 

That's the question I pose every day, but here it is inapposite, since I didn't buy this hummus in the first place, and, in fact, passed it by. But the answer is no.

Nina's view 

This is tangy and a little spicy and pleasantly green-tasting. I think I like it best of all the TJ's hummus I've tried.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Smooth And Creamy Spicy Hummus

I am becoming a fan of hummus. This is a recent phenomenon. Last week, I ate a tub of TJ's red pepper hummus in two sittings.

But that's not happening with this version. Something about it immediately put me off. I have a hunch it's the cilantro, partly because I also suspected the cilantro dressing to be what made me dislike an otherwise enjoyable salad. Maybe cilantro just isn't for me. Or maybe it was the jalapeno pepper. I'm really not sure.

Will I buy it again? 

Not this one, though I like others in TJ's line of flavored hummus.

Nina's View

Would eat again. But Bob seems to like mixing in the flavorings into ALL the hummus from the get go, and I prefer to snag a little bit of it, unblended, along with the plain hummus. It makes for a more interesting flavor experience, in my opinion.

Don't blend the things! They have more of a conversation with one another, flavor-wise, when they sit side by side on the tongue.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trader Joe's grapefruit juices

I was pleased and intrigued by how the grapefruit juice I tried in yesterday's post was so much better than any I had purchased in a grocery store before. I wanted to try it in a direct test against other products. 

I went to the juice aisle of a standard grocery store, and could find only one item--the Ocean Spray "Ruby Red" pictured above. (It is of no small significance that they don't even use the word "grapefruit" in the name of the product.) 

At TJ's, I found three, including the superb "Grapefruit Sunset" reviewed yesterday, which costs $4.99. 

Trader Joe's 100% Pure Florida Grapefruit Juice Ruby Red comes in a carton and is found in the refrigerated section. Its list of ingredients is one long: "Pure Florida ruby red grapefruit juice." Like Grapefruit Sunset, it is pasteurized and not from concentrate. It appears that the only differences between the two products is that this one is not organically sourced, and is derived from ruby red grapefruit, instead of pink grapefruit. It costs $3.69. 

Trader Joe's Rio Red Grapefruit is, like Grapefruit Sunset, in a 64-ounce plastic jug, found in the non-refrigerated juice section. But that is their only similarity. Sadly, it's like so many other TJ's juice blends, with a base of grape and apple juice, and just enough of what should be the main ingredient to allow you to get some vague sense of its presence. Specifically, white grape juice concentrate is the first ingredient (after water for reconstitution), followed by red grapefruit juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, then flavorings and colorings. It costs $3.49. 

The Ocean Spray product does a little better than that, with reconstituted grapefruit juice as its first ingredient, followed by reconstituted grape juice, reconstituted apple juice, grapefruit pulp, and colorings and flavorings. I didn't keep the receipt from that store, so I can't tell you its cost. 

When Nina was here for dinner, I set up a testing procedure that allowed us to taste them with neither of us knowing which juice was which, but the numbers were as shown above. Here are the notes that Nina jotted down, which combine both of our observations: 
1. Insipid, sweet but uninteresting. Concoction doesn't taste very grapefruity.
2. Ruby red grapefruit flavor. Not too acidic. Not fresh squeezed.
3. Barely identifiable, intermittent bitterness.
4. Grapefruit, but sharp and a little bitter. Acid. Tastes pasteurized. Canned? 
There was absolutely no question that we both liked them in this order: #2, #4, #1, #3. Perhaps more importantly, the gap in quality between #4 and #1 was far larger than the gaps between #2 and #4, or between #1 and #3. Put another way, we would both willingly buy #2 and #4, but would not want to bring home #1 or #3. 

#2, the Grapefruit Sunset, was head and shoulders above the others, but #4, the TJ's 100% Pure, was a decent second-best. Given its significantly lower cost, I might choose it more often than Sunset. 

Since the taste test, I've been drinking all of them in kind of random order, a few ounces at a time. Doing so has reinforced the initial impressions from the blind testing. I'm happy with both the Sunset and 100% Pure. I can stand the other two, but they don't make me feel like I'm drinking real juice, and the overall impression is one of true mediocrity. 

Will I buy it again? 

Yes to both of the real juices, no to both of the sad blends. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Grapefruit Sunset

I've been burned time after time after time with Trader Joe's big, 64-ounce, plastic bottles of juice like this. They have generally been quite bad, and the labeling has often been deceptive. In fact, at first glance I thought this might be another in that sad line of disappointments; the name "Grapefruit Sunset" seems like the sort of thing they'd slap on a product when they knew they couldn't get away with calling it the most obvious thing, "grapefruit juice."

(To be fair, we have found a few winners, such as Honey Crisp Apple Cider Unfiltered and Pear Cinnamon Cider. And there have been some good ones in bottles other than TJ's ubiquitous 64-ounce plastic jugs: To The Power Of Seven, 100% Pomegranate Juice, Cold-Pressed Juice--Yellow, Tart Cherry Blend, 100% Cherry Juice, and others.)

But I looked more closely, and found that (1) it's organic, (2) it claims on the front of the label to be "100% organic pink grapefruit juice," (3) amazingly, it is not from concentrate, and (4) in the small print on the back, the list of ingredients is just one item long: "organic pink grapefruit juice." No pumping up the sweetness with apple and grape juices, no "natural" flavorings. This all gave me a glimmer of hope that I might have finally found the juice prince, after kissing way too many juice frogs.

So I bought it, and brought it home, and drank it.

The heavens did open, and choirs of angels did sing. At last, I had found One True Juice among the shelves and shelves of Trader Joe's impostors. This stuff is freakin' delicious. It is exactly what grapefruit juice is supposed to be. If I were having breakfast at a nice restaurant, selected the $5 fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice from the menu, and got served a glass of this, nothing would tip me off that the server had simply poured out some Trader Joe's Grapefruit Sunset instead of running actual grapefruit through a juicer just for me.

At $4.99 for the bottle, it's not as cheap as most of the "blends" that TJ's tries to pass off as juice, but it you measure it in flavor and/or enjoyment per dollar, it trounces the others.

Does this sound like the lead-up to the induction of a new member of the Top Ten list? Yes it does. And it is. It may seem odd to add to that list something so seemingly mundane as grapefruit juice. But this is probably as close to the pure, platonic ideal of grapefruit juice as can be found in any grocery store in America--and it's hiding right there among all the similar bottles of what Nina so aptly refers to as Trader Joe's "melted lollipop" line of juices.

Will I buy it again? 

It's already on my list for a second bottle on my next trip. I also have a half-baked idea to buy some other bottled grapefruit juices at other stores to compare them on cost and quality. I'm curious whether equally good products are readily available elsewhere, and, if so, how they compare in price. No promises, but there might be follow-up here.


Since writing the above, I had a glass of honest-to-goodness fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice in a local restaurant--and it wasn't as good as TJ's Grapefruit Sunset. I have also bought Grapefruit Sunset twice more, and have loved it again and again; the first bottle was no fluke.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.

48 healthy things to buy at Trader Joe's 

My favorite things at Trader Joe's 

Recall of Trader Joe's products because of undeclared nitrites 

New Trader Joe's products for July 

How Aldi stacks up against Trader Joe's 

The 5 best items at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's makes customer service hall of fame for 6th year 

Sweetened cereals at Trader Joe's 

Here's this week's YouTube video from "Trader Joe":

Best tweets of the week:



And finally, here's this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag--plus a bonus cute dog with a Trader Joe's grocery bag.

Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's

Try not to be upset, but we have arrived at the end of CHOCOLATE WEEK. We finish up with one of Trader Joe's perennial best-selling items. 

I approached these cookies on the assumption--a natural one, I think--that they were a copycat of Oreos, and was disappointed to find that they are not. Well, that is perhaps an overstatement. Obviously on one level they are copying Oreos. Both are chocolate wafers sandwiching a white, vanilla cream center. From three feet away, you'd probably have a hard time telling which was which.

But there are pronounced differences. These are not nearly as intensely sweet as Oreos, and the kind of chocolate and vanilla flavors are quite far afield from what Oreos have taught you to expect, though I lack the vocabulary to describe exactly how they differ. What I can tell you is that I had a strong initial dislike: "These aren't Oreos! WTF?"

However, after a while, I got used to the difference. When I stopped expecting Oreos, I found that I could accept these on their own terms, and even enjoy them. I don't think they're nearly as good; given a straight-up choice, I'd go with Nabisco every time. But if Oreos ceased to exist, I would buy a box of these once in a while and like them--though it would still be with a melancholy wish that they'd bring back the original.

Will I buy it again? 

I doubt it, since I see no indication that Nabisco is about to go out of business.

Nina's View

I'm sorry, but these cookies are a travesty. They taste like sugar and not much else. If I'm going to consume unhealthy calories in quantity, I expect some flavor, dagnabbit.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp

Today is Day 6 of CHOCOLATE WEEK on the blog: 

Oh, the agonies of being a pedant! I cannot get past wondering why this package says "Brownie Crisp" instead of "Brownie Crisps." It's not a single item; it's cut into small squares just like the picture indicates. Maybe "Crisp" is being used as an adjective, rather than a noun. But if so, what is the noun? Brownie? If so, then I have the same question--why singular instead of plural? And why that word order? Why not call them "Crisp Brownies"? To be maximally descriptive, I'd call them "Crisp Brownie Cookies."


Anyway, this is a brand-new item at TJ's, released July 22. (See here for TJ's introduction.) It seems to me that Trader Joe's has been on a blitz of new-product releases lately. It's been hard to keep up. Fortunately, this one came out during Chocolate Week, so I just had to bump another review to a later date to slip this one in.

If you were handed a few of these squares and asked to describe them, I guarantee you'd come up with some minor variation on the basic idea of "a cross between a cookie and a brownie." That's what they were explicitly intended to be, and that's the unmistakable impression that they convey. They taste like brownies, but crunch like crisp cookies.

They're OK, but I'm not head over heels for them. I generally prefer soft cookies to crisp ones, so if TJ's had asked my opinion, I would have told them to make what I guess they would call "Brownie Softs." Or, if they were sticking with the puzzling singular, "Brownie Soft." These seem too dry and brittle to really enjoy.

Will I buy it again? 

Nope. I'd rather have either a brownie or a cookie, preferably a soft one. The hybrid doesn't really work for me.

"So then because you are lukewarm, and neither not nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth."  --Revelation 3:16, King James Version. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Sea Salt Brownie Petites

CHOCOLATE WEEK soldiers on with Day 5: 

In my on-and-off monitoring of Twitter for posts with the #TraderJoes hashtag the other day, somebody piped up about these morsels, which I had not heard of or noticed in the store previously. (I usually don't even look at the fresh-baked table.)

Now, some random person saying on Twitter that he or she loves a TJ's item is not enough, by itself, to get said item on my shopping list, because people love all sorts of revolting things. But take that recommendation, combine it with a category of product that I have loved all my life (brownies), and add a pinch of interesting variation to it--see what I did there?--and I'll be on the lookout for it on my next grocery run.

I broke open the tub after a dinner with Nina. We each munched on one. I detected no saltiness whatsoever. Fearing that I had either grabbed an anomalous one or that my taste buds were out of whack, I went for a second. Still nothing. So I spoke up: "I taste no salt." Her reply: "Me either."

Granted, TJ's claims only that these are "sprinkled" with salt, and that the salt is "a subtle twist." But it's so subtle that two first-time tasters independently noticed zero saltiness, despite trying to find it. You could call that "subtle." I call it "absent."

Nevertheless, I liked these brownies just fine. Of course they're institutional, rather than hot out of the oven. But given that inherent limitation, I liked their flavor, their texture, and their moistness. I especially appreciated that they were not ruined by the addition of nuts, as so many commercial brownies are.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. This isn't because they're not good, but because brownies are one of the few items on which I long ago decided that making my own was worth the trouble. Mind you, we're talking from a mix, but a very good mix--specifically, Ghirardelli Double Chocolate. (Ghirardelli rather ridiculously makes eight different brownie mixes. This one is the best of the bunch. Just trust me on that.) Nina is the one who turned me on to the superiority of Ghirardelli over its competitors.The minor work involved in adding oil and eggs pays off royally in how they fill the house with chocolaty aromas for half an hour before you get to eat them all hot and gooey and wonderful. There just isn't much opening for any pre-made brownies to elbow in on that work:reward ratio.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Honey Mints

CHOCOLATE WEEK on the blog continues now with Day 4. 

Everybody likes chocolate. Everybody likes peppermint. Everybody likes honey. But what if you were to put all three of them together?

That question has now been answered: It's wonderful.

For many years, I have been in the habit of eating two of York's miniature peppermint patties after lunch every day. For the last few days, I've been substituting these candies instead. The fact that I have not been able yet to decide which I like better is a ringing endorsement of the TJ's product. I don't know if it will replace my longstanding habit, but it's good enough to pose a serious challenge to my favorite.

It's one of the best chocolate items I've had from Trader Joe's.

Will I buy it again? 

Can you keep a secret? OK, good. This is just between you and me: I've already eaten three bags of them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Caramallows

We are now up to Day 3 of CHOCOLATE WEEK--seven days of reviews of TJ's chocolaty goodness. 

Yes, this is a seasonal Christmas product. Yes, I know it's July. But I bought so many seasonal sweets in their narrow window of availability that it took me a long time to get around to eating the last of them. Not until July, exactly, but until February. At that point, there was no reason to expedite publication, as I usually try to do for seasonal items, so this post went into the nearly five-month queue.

But frankly, if you didn't pick up your own box of Caramallows due to my dawdling, you're not missing much. I found these to be entirely unremarkable and forgettable. Chocolate, marshmallow, and caramel ought to come together to make something special, but no such magic happens here.

Will I buy it again? 

Nope. Come December, I'll move on to some of the other luscious-looking things I passed on last year.

Nina's View

I liked these—they're sort of smore-ish. Bob refrigerates all chocolaty items, which makes things like this become dense and chewy and have much less flavor. At room temperature they are a nice texture and flavor.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Belgian Chocolate Pudding

This is Day 2 of CHOCOLATE WEEK. 

I can't believe this stuff doesn't get more love and attention than it does. It seems like the sort of Trader Joe's product that would have hordes of adoring fans. But I've been following all things Trader Joe's online for about a year now, and I think I've only seen it mentioned once. That was just recently on Twitter, which is what made me seek it out. I actually had to ask for help finding it in the store, because it was nearly hidden away, with just a few tubs in an obscure corner of a refrigerated case--as if TJ's has given up and decided nobody is going to buy it anyway.

Maybe that's because of its relatively steep price: $3.49 for 16 ounces.

Is it worth it?

Well, it's definitely distinct, unlike any other chocolate pudding I've ever had. It's unbelievably rich and choclatey. I can eat less than a quarter of a tub (i.e., less than four ounces) before I feel completely sated and can take no more. The mouthfeel is that of something stoked with fats--an impression confirmed by the cold, hard facts on the nutrition label.

Strangely, this seems not to have been reviewed by any of the usual TJ's blogging suspects. But when I wanted to see what reviewers may have thought of this item, Google pointed me to other sources:

A comparison test by the "Serious Eats" web site rated the TJ's product first out of nine contenders:
Our winner, Trader Joe's, was also ranked the most chocolatey of the bunch; as mentioned above, overall scores tracked "chocolatey" rankings very closely. It's the only one with "chocolate" in the ingredients, rather than cocoa powder; in comments, it was called "the richest," "the most like dark chocolate," "bittersweet in a good way," with "deep" or "actual chocolate flavor"; every single taster noted how pronounced that flavor was. The majority of tasters also liked the thick texture, called "creamy," "rich," "full," and "thick in a good way." 
A vocal minority strongly disliked this pudding for its texture, thinking it grainy, pasty, and too thick—closer to frosting than pudding. However, it had the highest "overall preference" score by nearly two full points, making it the decisive winner.

The Huffington Post did a comparison test of eight puddings. They ranked TJ's in 6th place:
Comments: "Has the texture of buttercream frosting, but it's chalky and the flavor is slightly bitter." "Too thick and bitter." "This is in a league of its own. Rich and complex." "I hate this." "Fudge-like but tastes off."

Finally, the "This Week for Dinner" blog has this to say:
My friend Michelle was telling me how this stuff is amazing. So amazing she bought it and hid it in the fridge so no one else in the family new it existed. Michelle is onto something. This pudding tastes like rich chocolate mousse, with a really great, thick pudding texture. SOOOOOOOOO good. Please note that my crazy sister who doesn’t “really like chocolate that much” {what?!?!} actually didn’t really like this pudding that much either…because it is all chocolate, people. GREAT chocolate.

Will I buy it again? 

I don't think so. It is really good. But it's so rich and fatty I can feel my arteries hardening with each swallow. I'm getting too old to lard up my body this way. Glad I tried it once, though.

Nina's View

I'm one of those supposedly oddball people who is not that crazy about chocolate. I like it once in a while, in moderation.

Shyeah—but if I had this stuff in my refrigerator I would eat it compulsively until it was all gone. Because OMG delicious. Words inadequate.


I liked every little thing about this foodstuff: texture, flavor, mouthfeel, smell. 

I will never, ever buy it, because my thighs are as big as I want them to be, thankyouverymuch.


OK, I'm gonna take the blog owner's prerogative and add this pudding to my Top Ten list. I was hesitant to do so, because it seems strange to say something is that good, while at the same time saying that I'm likely never going to buy it again. But since that appears to be Nina's position, too, I feel that I have some company, which emboldens me in making such an unusual call. My final bit of rationale is this: Every time I see somebody ask for a list of TJ's favorites, on Twitter or in a blog post, I send the link to my Top Ten list. (This happens more than you'd probably guess.) Including the pudding will perhaps get more people to try it, which I think it deserves.

So welcome to the Top Ten list, Belgian Chocolate Pudding!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

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

It's time for another themed week of product reviews. This time we're doing...

wait for it... 

CHOCOLATE WEEK! That's right--seven consecutive days of chocolate-based items. Day 1 starts us off with a brand-new item, first made available about ten days ago. 

See here for Trader Joe's introduction to this product.

I liked these much more than I expected to. The most surprising thing is that it's the touch of salt sprinkled on top that rescues them from being boring. I'm not generally a fan of mixing salt with sweets. I have sometimes actively disliked it, sometimes tolerated it, sometimes not been able to even discern the salt. (An example of that is coming up in Thursday's post: brownies with sea salt.) But this is the first time I have actively enjoyed it, and felt that it meaningfully enhanced the overall flavor profile.

I loved the balance between the dark chocolate, the graham cracker, and the salt. (According to the label, there is some actual honey in there, but I couldn't taste it.) I can eat half a tub of these--way more than I should eat--and still be enjoying them.

I won't go so far as to put them among the top ten Trader Joe's items, but they are among the top ten chocolate-covered Trader Joe's items.

Writers at both of the other most-active TJ's blogs also snapped up early samples. (I know of at least a half-dozen other TJ's product-review blogs beyond the three of us, but those others either publish rarely or appear mostly dormant--or even completely defunct.) And though I avoided reading their opinions until I had tried the goodies for myself, I find now that they both not only agreed that these are good, but that it's the bit of salt that really makes them shine. I can't remember any other product on which the three of us agreed so closely. The review by "What's Good at Trader Joe's" is here. The review by "Eat at Joe's" is here.

Will I buy it again? 


Saturday, July 18, 2015


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.

17 shopping secrets to save time and money at Trader Joe's 

The 25 best and worst snacks at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's best new products for July 

"Let's Talk TJ's" podcast, episode 4 

Review of TJ's watermelon-cucumber cooler (3-minute video)

Favorite paleo products from Trader Joe's 

Best thing I ate last week: Trader Joe's partially popped popcorn 

Nut-free Trader Joe's snacks 

An act of random kindness at Trader Joe's 

I found yet another Trader Joe's blog that appears to publish only rarely: Living Trader Joe's

Best tweets of the week:



3. Guess who likes Trader Joe's? (Yes, that's really her.)



Here's the newest YouTube video from "Trader Joe":

I have been accumulating pictures of cats in Trader Joe's grocery bags faster than I've been using them; until I reduce the backlog, I'll be posting two each Saturday. So here are this week's cute cats in Trader Joe's grocery bags:

And while I'm at it, here's an extra bonus: A cute kid in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Trader Joe's kettle-cooked potato chips

This is becoming an unplanned "new product" week on the blog. Trader Joe's has released a spate of interesting new items recently, and it's hard to keep up.

The first image above is a brand-new Trader Joe's product: Organic Potato Chips Kettle Style. (See here for TJ's own description.) It becomes the third kettle-cooked potato chip in the TJ's lineup. Nina and I have previously reviewed the Kettle Cooked Olive Oil Potato Chips, both of us finding them tasty but needing added salt. Finally, there's the Reduced Guilt Kettle Cooked Potato Chips, which is not a new item, but it's one we have not tried before. I figured that as long as we would be trying the new one, we might as well sample all three side by side and compare them. So we did.

I thought the new one was the standout. Big chips, flavorful, cooked just right, just the right saltiness, crunchy without being brittle. Outstanding in every way. I think they're the best potato chips TJ's sells, and among the very best I've ever had from any manufacturer.

TJ's web site carries this warning:
Organically grown potatoes are only available in limited quantities. Do the math, and you’ll realize the same must hold true for these chips. The bottom line is, there will be times you won’t find Organic Kettle Style Potato Chips on our shelves. 
We don’t want to start an ‘organic chip panic,’ nevertheless, we will advise hoarding while you can—especially for those with high levels of chip compulsion. You know who you are.
I'm well aware that this might be nothing more than marketing hype to sell more product. But I loved them enough that I decided to act as if the warning might be true--and I bought three more bags before I had even finished the first one.

As my final demonstration of endorsement, I'm adding this item to my Top Ten list. It earns this distinction in my book not for being an innovative, unique product, but rather for being a simple, common type of product executed perfectly.

The olive oil chips remain a top contender, though they still need salt added to the bag, as I described in an update to our original review.

As for the reduced-guilt chips, well, that's a whole nuther story, as they say. They are, in fact, quite bad. Flavorless. Overcooked. Dry. Brittle. Just not good. One will allegedly ingest 33% less fat with these. I say pick one of the good ones, and eat 33% fewer of them. You'll be much happier that way.

Will I buy it again? 

I'll buy the new organic ones every chance I get. If they really do go through periods of being unavailable, I'll buy the olive oil ones, add some salt, and be nearly as happy with them. I'll have no more of the reduced-guilt variety.

Nina's View

I concur with Bob about most of this, except: this current sample of Olive Oil chips was salted just right for my taste. I found the Organic ones too salty, and didn't like that they tend to clump together. Therefore I prefer the Olive Oil ones. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Juice--Watermelon

This is a brand-new product, the fourth in Trader Joe's "cold pressed" line. (The others are "red," "yellow," and "green.") Fortunately, it's somewhat cheaper than those exorbitant ones, at "only" $3.69 instead of $4.99. TJ's own introduction to the product is here.

Unlike the previous three varieties, this is not a complex blend of many different juices. In fact, it contains just two: watermelon and lemon.

I couldn't taste the lemon at all. And the watermelon tasted much more like it came from the rind than from the sweet, red flesh of the melon. As Nina pointed out to me, it even veered toward a cucumber taste rather than watermelon. I did not like it.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

My first impression of this juice was negative. There was the weird "cucumber but not" note from the rind, and the lemon—which I could definitely taste—was more like that stale stuff perversely called ReaLemon you used to buy in the grocery store when you were too lazy to actually squeeze a lemon. 

But by the fifth sip or so, I started to not mind it. Eventually I found it refreshing. But what it really made me want to do was bust out my own juicer and make fresh watermelon-cucumber-lemon juice. Perfect for a hot summer's day. Aaaaaah!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Dried Fruit

I noticed these the other day on my local TJ's "new items" display and of course took home a tub.

Here's part of what the Trader Joe's web site says about them:
We’ve sold a very similar item in our stores before, however, the previous version was not a Trader Joe’s private label product. This time around, this Chocolate Covered Dried Fruit is Trader Joe’s, through and through. As it happens in these situations, we asked ourselves, “Why redo something if you’re not going to improve it?” For us—always a rhetorical question. Indeed, we believe we have made some outstanding innovations and this unique candy is now better than ever.  
We upgraded the chocolate, using chocolate liquor and cocoa butter from West Africa, and vanilla from Madagascar. We also revisited the ratio between dried fruit and chocolate so that now, you get the fine taste of real dried cherries, apricots, strawberries, and blueberries (instead of pectin or juice-flavored pieces) perfectly balanced with rich white, dark, and milk chocolate. Finally, we improved the look of these candies, creating vibrant colors using only annatto (achiote seeds), beetroot, and vegetable juice.
By happy coincidence, I had a tub of the previous version of the product--sold by TJ's but not under its own name--sitting at home that I had not get gotten around to trying:

This gives me the unusual opportunity to try them side by side, which others won't be able to do, since the old one was discontinued before the new one appeared. [EDIT: I made that assumption when writing this post yesterday (July 14), but it may have been wrong. I was at the store again today (July 15), and found both products on the shelves, side by side. It's hard to imagine that that will continue for long--because why would it?--but at least for now you can buy both.]

Here's how they look side by side:

As you can easily see, the new TJ's-branded product is more muted in color, more pastel, less vibrant--but also less artificial. That's because in keeping with their longstanding policy, they won't sell anything under the store name that has artificial colors or flavors--which the "Dilettante" product was loaded with.

I wish I could tell you that the difference in taste was as dramatic as the difference in color, because that would be really interesting. But it's not. I go back and forth between the two tubs, trying each of the obvious counterparts back to back, and I just can't tell any consistent difference.

I'm not a big fan of either version, sadly. I should love them. I love dried fruit and I love chocolate. But these just don't highlight the fruit enough. You can mostly tell which fruit you're getting inside in advance by the size of the candy, with blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and apricots being in ascending order, though there's some overlap.

The problem is that if you didn't know ahead of time what kind of fruit is in the middle, you wouldn't be able to tell by eating--which is not just a shame, but an absolute crime. The only exception is the strawberries, which have a sufficiently distinct flavor to stand out. (The exterior seeds help, too.)

The main culprit is that the chocolate layers (yes, plural--more than one on every piece) are so thick that the chocolate completely overwhelms any taste of fruit by sheer volume.

Several times, in order to get around this issue, I would let one of the candies sit in my mouth long enough for the chocolate layers to melt away, then would chew and eat the fruit in the middle. This revealed a secondary culprit: the dried fruit just isn't very flavorful, again with the exception of the strawberries. The dried apricots were the most disappointing. With the chocolate layers stripped away, they look, feel, and taste much more like prunes than dried apricots--so much so that I would have sworn that's what they were, were it not for the list of ingredients on the tub.

These problems afflict both versions equally, as far as I can tell.

Will I buy it again? 

No, dammit. The chocolate:fruit ratio is just skewed way, way too high for me to enjoy them, and the fruit inside is almost devoid of identifiable fruitiness. These are nothing like TJ's superb chocolate-covered raisins, where the fruit and its chocolate coating get equal billing and beautifully complement each other.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Super Spinach Salad

...with quinoa, carrots, cranberries, chickpeas, edamame, pumpkin seeds, and a carrot ginger miso dressing.

I think that all may be part of the name of the product, but it wouldn't have fit in a headline anyway, so I've relegated it to below-the-photo status. By the way, it also has some grape tomatoes that for some reason were omitted from the name.

I picked this from TJ's selection of prepared salads as an accompaniment to the black bean and jack cheese burritos, for a dinner with Nina. I guessed correctly, I think, that they paired well, with complementary, non-overlapping flavor profiles.

I was a little worried about this, to tell the truth. I don't mind spinach in a salad mix, but making it the foundation is kind of iffy in my book. And I had no idea what to expect from the carrot-ginger-miso dressing. But it all worked together surprisingly well. In fact, I think it's the best of the TJ's salad tubs (to be distinguished from the bagged salad mixes) I've tried yet.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I'm not exactly in love with the stuff, but it seems healthy, tasty, filling, and at least mildly interesting.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

On Monday morning, July 13, 2015, I saw in the Twitter feed for the #TraderJoes hashtag a post from an employee of an unknown TJ's store with a photo of this item, and the message, "That just came in." Later in the day, TJ's web site posted this introduction to the product. I already had a trip to the store planned, so of course I added it to my list. It wasn't in the candy aisle, nor in the "new items" section, so I had to ask at the customer service desk. The guy's face brightened, and he said, "Oh yes, those just came in today. I know exactly where I put them." They were in a display by the cashiers.

So this does appear to be a brand-new product, available for just the last 24 hours at the time this review is being posted Tuesday morning, July 14.

I knew I wouldn't be sharing this bar with my vegetarian girlfriend, because unlike the"Baconesque" popcorn, this has real bacon in it. But because this is such an unusual product, I wanted opinions in addition to my own--so I took it to my Monday night poker game, broke it into pieces, and passed it around. Four or five people tried it. They were unanimous: Good chocolate, but barely any bacon flavor. That was my impression, too; I didn't notice any bacon flavor or tidbits (it's minced) until about my fourth small bite.

However, when I got it home and ate the remaining three sections, the bacon flavor was much more pronounced--right up front. I think I know how to explain the difference. It was a hot day today, so I had refrigerated the bar for several hours before I took it across town to the game so that it wouldn't melt in the car, and I put it in the hosts' refrigerator for another couple of hours before passing it around so that player's hands wouldn't be too messy to play cards. I believe that the cold inhibited the flavor of bacon from standing out. I did not put the last few pieces back in the fridge, so they were room temperature when I ate them.

Unchilled, this bar is a big mess to eat. There's an outer layer of dark chocolate, with eight hollow sections. Those sections are filled with the ganache, bacon shreds, and a bit of salt. But try as I might, I could not get it to break cleanly along the section lines. Every single break I made veered off of the fracture lines and went through one or more of the filled sections, leaking their contents around.

I know that other chocolate-bacon combinations have been made and marketed before, but I've never tried any of them. Frankly, it seems like a strange pairing. I like doughnuts and I like ketchup, but I don't want a ketchup-filled doughnut. I feel roughly the same way about bacon and chocolate. That opinion has not been materially altered by sampling this new TJ's bar. I was prepared to be surprised and find that they paired much better than I had anticipated, but I did not find that to be the case. It's just weird. Not awful, not inedible, but peculiar and kind of off-putting.

Will I buy it again?

No. It's messy and kind of strange, not delicious. But if you like both chocolate and bacon, it's probably worth trying it for yourself at least once just for the novelty of the experience. Maybe you'll like it better than I did.

As always, I'm interested in hearing about readers' experiences in the comments. Whether you agree or disagree, let me know what you think of it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Sea Salt & Pepper Crisps Made With Rice

These were surprisingly good. They're light, tasty, and loaded with just the right amount of salt and pepper.

The main problem with them is the size. They're small--kind of dainty. This isn't a problem for eating them straight, but it is for dipping. You can't get enough stuff on them. Trader Joe's needs to produce these in a larger size. They would make a superior vehicle for hummus, especially the plainer varieties.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

I like these, too. I have no objection to their size; in fact, I think it's excellent. One can get a little bit of dip on the chip and then pop the whole thing in one's mouth, if so inclined. They are also very nice just on their own.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Orange Strawberry Banana Juice

Here's a quick quiz to help you figure out whether you're ready to make it as a purveyor of specialty grocery items.

You have decided to introduce a product called "Organic Orange Strawberry Banana Juice." What should its ingredients be? Choose as many as you think appropriate.

A. Orange.

B. Apple.

C. Grape.

D. Pineapple.

E. Strawberry.

F. Banana.

Did you select A, E, and F? Ha! You fool! You'll never make it in the business. At least you won't get a job as a product developer at Trader Joe's.

You see, at Trader Joe's, they understand that orange-strawberry-banana juice should actually contain more apple, grape, and pineapple juice than strawberry or banana. That's why the ingredients are listed, from most to least, in the order shown above. Why? Probably because apple, grape, and pineapple are cheaper than strawberry and banana, and as long as the resulting blend is vaguely fruity, the stupid American consumer will never notice the difference.

Well, this stupid American consumer did. There is no difficulty tasting orange and banana here, but I defy anybody to drink a glass of this--without knowing its name--and identify strawberry as a principal ingredient.

Worse, the ingredients that one does taste are generic, to the point of being uncertain whether they're real. Sure, there's something orangey here, but I was left furrowing my brow and wondering whether I was tasting actual orange juice or some unknown liquid that had been chemically enhanced to resemble orange juice. Same with the banana. They are about as far from tasting like fresh-squeezed fruit as they can get and still be identifiable as orange and banana.

The result is not undrinkably horrid. But stop for a minute, close your eyes, call to mind what a really good orange tastes like to eat.

Now a strawberry.

Now a banana.

Got it?

OK, now imagine those three being released on your taste buds all at once.

Do you have that sensory experience firmly in your imagination?

Great. Now take a swig of this TJ's blend, and see how it compares. I promise you, there is no emotional state possible from this experiment other than grave disappointment.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I would buy in a heartbeat a carton of actual high-quality juices from these three fruits. But that is so not what this stuff is.

Nina's View

Yet another TJ's juice blend FAIL. It certainly seems like a triumph of hope over experience that Bob keeps buying and bringing these concoctions home.

The worst thing about this juice, even worse than the incredible vanishing strawberry, is the nasty, almost chemical taste of the banana contribution.

I took three sips of this juice—each time but one saying to myself "Ick. It can't actually be this bad, can it? Let me try again." I then turned the remainder of my glass over to Bob. I see no reason to ever insult my tastebuds with this stuff again.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


It's the weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.

Guess which grocery chain sells the most-affordable organic food? 

The best of Trader Joe's beauty products--and their snack counterparts 

Five budget Trader Joe's wines to drink with pizza 

Loyalty lessons from brands with superfans 

What's the big deal about Trader Joe's? 

The real reasons Trader Joe's wines are so cheap 

Best tweets of the week:





Here's this week's YouTube video from "Trader Joe":

And finally, here's this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Trader Joe's Aged Mahon Cheese

We have arrived at the end of Dairy Week, Day 7. Hope you have enjoyed it! 

I had never heard of Mahon cheese until the day I browsed Trader Joe's cheese section looking for something interesting to try. Here's what Wikipedia says about it:
Mahón cheese is a soft to hard white cheese made from cow's milk, named after the natural port of Mahón on the island of Minorca off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Minorca is known for its cheese production and is home to one of the most respected dairy plants in Europe.... Mahón has some characteristics specific to it, despite aging. In general the cheese is buttery sharp, slightly salty and lightly aromatic (sweet and nutty aromas) in taste. Mahón's sweet and fruity but at times slightly salty taste is due in part to the sea salt content in the grasses the cows eat. The rind is generally an orange color due to the rind being rubbed with butter, or oil, and paprika. As it reaches maturity (around 10 months) it tends to have small misshapen holes and has some granularity. In general, all aged Mahón has a proliferation of tiny holes.
That seems to be a good description--probably better than I could come up with after eating this. It seemed most like a extra-sharp white cheddar, rich and buttery. I liked it a lot. My only gripe was that it was somewhat dry and crumbly, making it hard to slice cleanly.

Will I buy it again? 

I look forward to it, though there are many, many more that I need to explore before I get back to it.

Nina's View

This is very tasty stuff. If I were still buying solidified cow suffering, I would buy this.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cabot Premium Natural Sweetened Light Whipped Cream

Have you noticed a theme to this week's post? If not, you're not paying attention! It's Day 6 of Dairy Week! 

This is one of those occasional non-TJ's branded products that is nevertheless sold by Trader Joe's.

This is excellent stuff. Put a little squirt in your mouth, and it tastes real; that boast on the can about "real cream, real vanilla and real sugar" comes to life. It's been many years since I had the Reddi-Whip that was always in the refrigerator when I was growing up, but this Cabot product tastes infinitely better than my memory of that stuff.

Will I buy it again? 

It's rare that I'm making or serving something for which this kind of product would be suitable, but when I do, this would absolutely be my first choice.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic American Slices

It's Dairy Week on the ol' blog, and this is Day 5: 

I defy anybody to be able to tell this from something like Kraft's American cheese slices. They'll both serve their intended purpose, which is to slap on a sandwich or burger quickly and convey a vague, generic sense of cheesiness. (For an explanation of what is meant by "American cheese," see here.)

But Kraft's pricier "Deli Deluxe" line of individual slices is so vastly better than its more common corporate shelf-mate--and, hence, similarly superior to this TJ's version--that I see no reason to purchase the lesser offerings. Of course, it's even better to slice your own cheese from some delicious block. But I get lazy like most other people and can be tempted by the convenience of uniform, prepared slices. Given that, why not go for the best ones you can find? For me it's the Deli Deluxe, and has been for many years.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I suppose it's worth knowing that TJ's has here a product that compares favorably with Kraft's market-dominant slices, but neither of them is going to lure me away from Deli Deluxe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Eggs

We're doing a whole week of reviews of Trader Joe's dairy products. Here's Day 4: 

I saved eggs for the last of my three posts on pricing of organic dairy products, because they're trickier than butter and milk. The problem is one of category overlap. You can buy organic eggs. And you can buy eggs that are "cage free" and/or "free range." But you can also buy eggs that fit both categories, as in the Trader Joe's sample pictured above. To make things more complicated, you can get different sizes of eggs, at different prices.

And to make it even more complicated than that, I found that some eggs not labeled as "organic" still carry the claim to have been raised free of antibiotics, which, as I've explained, is my primary motivation for going with organics for meat and dairy products when it's feasible to do so.

So let's start with the ones explicitly labeled as organically sourced. All prices are for one dozen eggs. Where these products are also labeled as "cage free," I'll note that. All are for one dozen, in sizes large, extra large, or jumbo.

Trader Joe's          $4.39 (large eggs, cage free); $4.59 (extra large, cage free)

Ingles                    $4.88 (Eggland's Best)
                              $4.68 (Pete & Gerry's)
                              $4.48 (Harvest Farms)
                              $5.28 (Horizon Organic)

Sav-Mor Foods     not available

Harris Teeter         $4.99 (Eggland's Best)
                              $3.99 (Harris Teeter)
                              $6.49 (Horizon Organic, cage free)

Fresh Market         $4.49 (Fresh Market, cage free)

Whole Foods         $4.99 (Whole Foods, cage free)

Wal-Mart               $4.48 (Wal-Mart Great Value, cage free)
                               $4.68 (Great Day)

Earth Fare              $4.78 (Earth Fare)
                               $5.69 (Organic Valley, cage free)
                               $7.69 (Vital Farms, cage free)

Publix                    $4.19 (Eggland's Best, cage free)
                              $6.49 (Organic Valley, cage free)
                              $4.49 (Publix)

Now I'll list those that are not officially "organic," but which carry labels claiming them to be either "cage free" or "free range" AND claiming to be from hens not treated with antibiotics. 

Trader Joe's          $3.19 (large), $3.49 (extra large)

Ingles                    $3.88 (Nellie's)
                              $4.88 (Happy Egg)

Sav-Mor Foods     $3.38 (Eggland's Best)

Harris Teeter         $2.99 (Natural Nest)
                              $4.19 (Land O Lakes)

Fresh Market         $3.99 (Farside Farms)

Whole Foods         $4.19 (Latta's Egg Ranch)
                               $2.99 (Whole Foods)
                               $4.39 (Nest Fresh)

Wal-Mart               $3.86 (Wandering Hen)

Earth Fare              $3.68 (Earth Fare)

Publix                    $3.65 (4 Grain)

Conclusions: If you want genuinely "organic," Trader Joe's eggs are almost as cheap as you can get, with the exception of the Harris Teeter store brand (though those are not labeled as "cage free," if that matters to you). If you're willing to forego the official "organic" designation, but still want your eggs to come from cage-free and antibiotic-free hens, then again Trader Joe's is one of the best buys, though slightly undercut in price by the Whole Foods store brand and by Natural Nest at Harris Teeter.

Considering all three products together (butter, milk, and eggs), Trader Joe's offerings are highly competitive. In fact, if you wanted to buy one unit of the least expensive brand of each of these three products in one stop, TJ's would be the cheapest place to do so: $13.67, compared to $13.84 for Wal-Mart, $13.97 for Whole Foods, $14.68 for Publix, $14.74 for Earth Fare, and $14.94 for Ingles.

Addendum, January 25, 2016 

Here's an excellent explanation of the various egg labels (cage-free, organic, etc.):

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Lowfat Milk

We're up to Day 3 of Dairy Week: 

This is the second of a three-part series on how Trader Joe's prices for organic dairy products compare to those of other grocery stores in the area.

Pictured here is TJ's 1% milk. Frankly, I don't know why I bought that. I usually buy 2%. Was this a mistake? An experiment? I just don't remember--it was many months ago, and I don't have a jug of 2% on hand for taking a different picture. So just mentally replace the "1" in that photo with a "2," because all of the pricing below is for a half-gallon of 2%. (Though usually when both are offered from a single producer, the cost is the same.)

Trader Joe's          $3.99

Ingles                    $4.68 (Horizon Organic)
                              $3.98 (Harvest Farms)
                              $5.28 (Organic Valley)

Sav-Mor Foods     $5.18 (Horizon Organic)
                              $4.78 (Harvest Farms)
                              $5.28 (Organic Valley)

Harris Teeter         $3.99 (Harris Teeter)
                              $4.49 (Horizon Organic)
                              $4.79 (Organic Valley)

Fresh Market         $4.59 (Horizon Organic)
                              $4.49 (Amish Country Farms)

Whole Foods         $4.99 (Organic Valley)
                               $3.99 (Whole Foods 365)

Wal-Mart               $3.38 (Wal-Mart Great Value)
                               $4.44 (Horizon Organic)
                               $4.24 (Stonyfield)

Just as an aside, consider what it says about the growing demand for organic food products that Wal-Mart, of all places, carries not one, not two, but three different brands of organic milk.

Earth Fare             $6.69 (Organic Valley)
                              $5.98 (Horizon Organic)

Publix                    $5.23 (Organic Valley)
                              $4.15 (Horizon Organic)
                              $4.00 (Publix)

Conclusion: Trader Joe's organic milk is much closer to the bottom of the price range than their butter was (see yesterday's post). Wal-Mart is cheapest, followed by the store brands from Publix, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and TJ's, plus the Harvest Farms brand at Ingles, all being within two cents of each other at $3.98-$4.00.

Tomorrow: Eggs.