Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trader Joe's Extra Hot Habanero Ghost Pepper Salsa

(This is as close as I'm getting to a special Halloween post: there's "ghost" in the name of the product.)

If you look closely at the photograph above, you can see the TJ's pepper-shaped hotness scale. You'll notice that it's filled in all the way to the top, save for a tiny smidgen of white. The not-so-subtle message is, "This is about as hot as it gets."

That is no lie. It is by far the hottest salsa I've ever tasted. It is, in fact, way, way too hot. I tried it twice, and each time I could get through only about six dipped chips before I gave up.

So I tried a kinder, gentler approach: I mixed some of it in with my favorite salsa, the Fire-Roasted Tomato, in a ratio of about 1:4. That dramatically upped the heat factor in the good salsa, but did not otherwise alter its overall flavor, as far as I could tell. I deemed this experiment a failure; more heat without more flavor is not an improvement.

The nearly full tub of this new product is going to be returned to TJ's for a refund. I can't handle it. If you love--or are at least more tolerant of--extreme heat in your salsa, maybe you'll be a fan. I am not.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, October 30, 2017

Trader Joe's Lite Popcorn

This is among the most bland, disappointing varieties of bagged popcorn I've ever tried. It probably has a niche for people who really need serious reductions in their sodium and fat intake, but I would rather go without popcorn than have this. It's improved somewhat by adding salt, but that kind of defeats the purpose of picking it over a conventional popcorn to begin with.

Will I buy it again? 


Saturday, October 28, 2017


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

Hidden gems at Trader Joe's you should check out

Store-bought pizza dough--whose is best?

Pumpkin overload at Trader Joe's

15 Trader Joe's items you need to complete your Thanksgiving meal

21 plant-based food options you can find at Trader Joe's

Best tweets of the week:

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

A post shared by Anthony Gould (@gouldielocke) on

Friday, October 27, 2017

Trader Joe's Premium Peanut Butter Roundels

It took me a while of munching on these to figure out what the center filling reminded me of, but when it hit, it seemed perfectly obvious: It's just like unbaked peanut-butter cookie dough, in appearance, taste, and texture.

The outside is a mix of dark and milk chocolate. Half of the "roundels" have a dark chocolate base with milk chocolate drizzled on top; the other half switch that around. The difference in overall taste between the two varieties is just what you'd expect.

I'm not sure whether to classify these as cookies or candy. The center being like cookie dough suggests "cookie," but there's no baking involved, so maybe they're more on the "candy" side. I attached both labels to this blog post to cover my bases.

As with many chocolate products coming out in the last three months of the year at Trader Joe's, I don't know if these are intended to be seasonal or permanent (or at least as "permanent" as anything at TJ's ever is).

Will I buy it again? 

No. I enjoyed them, but not enough for a revisit.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Trader Joe's Sweetened Dried Lemon Slices

Until I saw this on the new-products shelf, I had no idea that dried lemon slices were a thing. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, though; why wouldn't they give basically the same treatment to lemons that they did to Mandarin oranges?

You're supposed to eat them rind and all--so I did. It's an interesting experience, but not especially in a good way. It's startling how sweet they've made them. The "interesting" part of tasting them is the contrast between what your life experience tells you to expect when biting into a lemon, and what you get here.

I thought they were way too sweet to enjoy. Nina, conversely, liked them a lot. (Long-time readers will note that this is a reversal of our traditional positions with respect to sweetness.) But we both agreed that it would be a much better product if TJ's cut back the added sugar by about half.

Will I buy it again? 


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trader Joe's tiger-stripe pumpkin

You can't tell the scale from this picture, but this is a wee little thing, about six inches across. It's incredibly cute and pretty. For $1.29, who could possibly NOT want to have one or a few of these somewhere in the house for fall?

Will I buy it again? 

I would buy another one next year.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Trader Joe's Mini Hold The Cone! Ice Cream Cones--Pumpkin Ginger

This is a new and presumably seasonal item. It's the same form factor as the vanilla ones I tried a few months ago.

These didn't have the physical problem of the cone texture that those did--probably because they weren't subjected to the freezer problems that that box faced.

The pumpkin-ginger ice cream is very nice. I wasn't as pleased with the "confectionery coating," but I suppose it's a necessity to keep a bunch of these things neat and tidy in a box. Uncovered ice cream would get messy.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Nice to try once, but that's enough.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Trader Joe's Spud Crunchies Potato Snacks

The comparison to French fries is so inevitable that it's right there on the front of the package: "A chip crunch in a fun fry shape." Imagine the texture and taste of the crispiest McDonald's fries--the little brown ones in the bottom of the bag--with the shape and color of the standard fries. Now imagine that served at room temperature. That's what you've got here.

I expected that I would not much care for these, because cold French fries are not a thing that brings me pleasure. But they somehow manage to transcend being just cold fries. I think the unexpectedly crunchy texture compensates in some weird way for them not being hot. (I suppose one could add a little microwave heat, but that didn't occur to me until the bag was empty.)

Will I buy it again? 

Yes--in fact, I bought two more bags on my last TJ's run. I liked them a lot more than I thought I would. But they need to come in a much bigger bag. There's just not enough here. Think potato-chip size bag, Trader Joe's.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


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

Trader Joe's stops buying Mexican shrimp

10 best things to buy at Trader Joe's this fall

Trader Joe's slowing its expansion plans

Three ways to use Trader Joe's "Everything But the Bagel" seasoning

Trader Joe's dietary supplements for women

Price comparison: Trader Joe's, King Sooper, Wal-Mart

Trader Joe's announces recall of Kohlrabi Salad Blend

Best tweets of the week:

And finally, in lieu of the usual cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, here's a cute dog with her Trader Joe's pumpkin treats:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Trader Joe's Sparkling Grapefruit Spring Water

Finally I have reached the end of this new line of sparkling waters. This is the last of them.

I poured small glasses of this stuff for Nina and myself at dinner Wednesday night. She asked what the flavor was before trying it. "Pineapple," I said. I wasn't trying to be deceptive. I just had a brain fart, and thought that pineapple was the last one we hadn't yet tried. (But we had.) We both sipped it, and had basically the same reaction: This doesn't taste anything like pineapple. On that basis, we faulted it for being way off.

The next morning, I sat down at my computer to write this review. I pulled the bottle out of the refrigerator to sample a bit more as I wrote. It was only then that I noticed the label: Grapefruit, not pineapple. Which, y'know, more or less explains why it didn't taste like pineapple.

So how is it as grapefruit? Well, it's accurate--it really does taste like grapefruit. And that brings the great advantage of removing the weirdness of the clash between expectations and actual flavor. But it's weak sauce. More like "hint of grapefruit" than "grapefruit," and therefore not very satisfying.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trader Joe's Cocoa Filled Pinwheel Cookies

(Note the accidental placement of three days in a row of chocolate things.)

These are some awfully pretty cookies, I'll grant them that. They really do look like the picture on the box, which isn't always true.

The outside is like a light shortbread cookie, though, as shown, it mixes regular shortbread with chocolate. The filling is a chocolate cream.

It's all very tasty--yet it still didn't move me to ecstasy or anything. Just...nice.

Will I buy it again? 

No, unless maybe I were putting together some fancy-looking things for a party tray.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Sea Salt Chocolate Chunk Cookie Sticks

I dispute the existence of any proper food category that could be called "cookie sticks." I think we're all familiar with the concept of "cookie bars"--cookie dough baked in a cake pan instead of dolloped onto a cookie sheet. What Trader Joe's has done here is just take cookie bars and cut them into thin strips. This is not a new thing, it's just an old thing cut a bit differently.

I've never much liked cookie bars. I think the reason is that they throw off the ratio of surface to interior; you get too much interior texture and not enough surface texture. Obviously that problem is not cured by how you cut them after baking. As a result, I don't much care for these TJ's "sticks," either. There's very little crispness from the outer surface being in contact with the oven's hot air. Imagine taking a bunch of nice cookies, peeling off most of the crispy surface, and smooshing the resulting soft, bare insides together. That's what you've got here.

I have liked the addition of salt to chocolate in some contexts, but it didn't do anything for me here.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I rate this a pretty dismal failure. I ate one of the four "sticks" in the package. Nina ate less than half of one before turning up her nose. The remainder went back to the store for a refund.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Orange Sticks

One of the earliest members of my Top Ten list was TJ's Chocolate Orange Sticks. Like so many great TJ's products, they just vanished one day, never to return. No warning, no explanation. They're ghosted, as the kids like to say these days.

So I was surprised when this new version showed up. They're the same basic idea--an orange jelly coated in dark chocolate--but a different size and shape.

They're not as perfect as my memory has the departed original, but they're still pretty damn good.

Will I buy it again? 

Many, many times, I expect.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Protein Granola

This is one of the many, many items that I have purchased solely because they show up on the new-product shelf at Trader Joe's, and writing this blog means trying virtually anything there (except for things I know I'll hate, which I don't bother with).

It turned out to be one of those occasional pleasant surprises--a thing I like without having expected to. It's a great mix of crunchy and chewy, sweet and salty. I'm not a granola guy, so I haven't tried more than a few varieties in my life, but this is easily the best I've ever had.

My only complaint is that, while the clusters are easy to pick up and pop in your mouth, probably a third of the bag was just crumbs. There's no easy way to eat those.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. On the days that Nina comes over to my place for dinner, I typically don't eat breakfast or lunch, but I need a little sumpin' to tide me over, and this is pretty much an ideal filler. I think it's going to be a snack I'll always keep on hand.

Addendum, October 31, 2017 

I have eaten two more bags of this, and now have three more in my cupboard. It has quickly become one of my all-time favorite snacks. I'm elevating it to Top Ten status.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


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

Cheap wines from Target and Trader Joe's

The great pumpkin spice taste test

A guide to Trader Joe's cheap wine

Best Trader Joe's fall items

Trader Joe's among many commercial buildings destroyed in Santa Rosa fire (but see next item)

Contrary to early reports, Santa Rosa Trader Joe's damaged but not destroyed

Trader Joe's 6 best peanut-butter products

Trader Joe's manager does "ask me anything" on Reddit

Best tweets of the week:

And finally, in lieu of the usual cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, here's a cute kid in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley

This is an unusual mix of brown rice, black barley, and something I had never heard of before: daikon radish seeds.

The non-rice components apparently make it slower to cook than plain rice, as you can infer from the cooking directions seen above. I still wanted to use my rice cooker, so I improvised by using about 50% more water than prescribed for plain rice. That worked well enough.

The result is really nice, with a pleasing mix of colors, flavors, and textures. It feels much fancier than plain brown rice.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. Plain rice is fine (and cheaper) for everyday use, but I think this will be a first choice when I want to make something a little more interesting and elegant for dinner guests.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

We have a split decision on this.

I didn't care for it much. I did like the unusually shaped pasta, but I thought the flavor was too heavily influenced by the squash, which isn't my favorite thing.

Nina, though, loved it. She thought the squash flavor was mild and a nice accent to plain pasta.

The package claims that this serves two. That's a stretch. I think I could have eaten the whole thing by myself.

Will I buy it again? 


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trader Joe's Sparkling Cranberry Clementine Spring Water

I expected this to be a winner, possibly the best of the whole new line. It's not. It's just weird. I'm sipping some even as I write this. I'm trying to find the cranberry and clementine flavors, and failing every time. There's definitely some sort of flavor there, but damned if I can figure out what it is.

Nina tried some last night. After a sip, she screwed up her face and asked, "What is this supposed to be?"



"No, it isn't cranberry-clementine, or no you don't like it?"

"No. It's not successful."

She is, as usual, entirely correct.

Will I buy it again? 

To quote Nina, "No."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trader Joe's Authentic Mexican Style Handmade Vegetarian Tamales With Cheese And Green Salsa

Well. I've put off writing about these for a couple of weeks after finishing them off, because I'm not sure what to say.

I guess the first thing to note is that the cooking directions are confusing. One basic question they don't answer is whether one is supposed to remove the parchment paper that is wrapped around the corn husk. The first time, I didn't. The second time, I did. I couldn't tell much difference, except that more of the innards leaked out the second time.

I tried both the steaming and the microwave alternative directions simultaneously, as a scientific experiment. But then I stupidly got them mixed up on my plate, so I wasn't sure which was which. (Good thing I didn't try to become a scientist, eh?) Nina was with me, and she felt confident about her two, and had a definite preference for the steamed one.

The corn-flour shell comes out very soft and delicate, which I assume is what's intended. But overall they're just incredibly bland. It's been a good long time since I invoked the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee, but I must suspect that they had a hand here. There's cheese? Oh, OK, if you say so. There's green salsa? Well, sure--maybe. But really what I tasted most was corn.

Disappointing. Unsatisfying.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, October 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Daily Bread With Sprouted Wheat Berries, Sesame Seeds & Flax Seeds

I like most things about this bread. It's flavorful, hearty, works well as both toast and in sandwiches. The wheat berries provide a nice bit of crunchiness without being tooth-breakers.

But like several others from Trader Joe's, it has a fatal flaw that will keep me from using it regularly: those damn seeds on top. They fall off and make a mess on the counter and in the toaster. I don't understand why anybody thinks this is a good idea. There's another layer of seeds in the bottom crust, but those are baked in, so they're fine.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


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

Comparison test of 5 brands of shredded vegan Mozzarella 

Comparison test of Target and Trader Joe's cheap wines

Trader Joe's employees reunite lost dog with owners

Why Aldi's is better than Trader Joe's

9 Trader Joe's finds for the pumpkin-spice lover

Trader Joe's pumpkin foods rated best to worst

Trader Joe's seasonal vegan foods

Whole Foods price cuts have hit Trader Joe's hardest

A foodie's first visit to Trader Joe's

Fall favorites from Trader Joe's

Price comparison, Aldi's versus Trader Joe's

Hillary Duff loves Trader Joe's

7 Trader Joe's pumpkin products you might not know about

Top 17 Trader Joe's snacks for under $4

Best tweets of the week:

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Trader Joe's Pumpkin & Roasted Pepitas Cookies

My first impression was that these looked and tasted like molasses cookies--but the label tells me that there's no molasses in them. I guess it was the brown sugar and spice combination that suggested that. Anyway, if you imagine crispy molasses cookies with pumpkin seeds, that's basically what you've got here.

I can't get enthusiastic about them. For one thing, the name is deceptive; there's no pumpkin in addition to the pumpkin seeds (pepitas). I can only assume that they mean "pumpkin spice," meaning that combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice that pops up everywhere this time of year.

For another, they're too brittle. Most of the bag was small broken pieces, with just a handful of intact cookies.

And I guess I'm just not convinced that pumpkin seeds are a worthwhile addition to any cookies.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Trader Joe's Apple Cranberry Tart

This is a new seasonal (I assume) item, and it's well worth a try.

Because they looked fully baked, I just took the first one out of the box and shared it with Nina at room temperature. I liked it a lot--nice mix of flavors, sweet and tart. There's a generous amount of filling, and it's even tucked in under the folded pastry edges. Nina liked the filling, but thought the crust was "gummy." She suggested trying the next one heated.

I did, and in the process discovered what I should have seen from the beginning: directions on the back of the box saying to give the things 15-20 minutes in the oven. That seemed like a lot, but I did it, and the result was a definite improvement. Not only was the hot tart nicer to eat than the cold one, but the baking seems to have finished off the crust, making it firmer and flakier.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I've had a couple of similar products from Trader Joe's before, but this is the best of them.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Trader Joe's Gummy Tummies Penguins

As the front of the package implies, these are gummy candies with a twist: a little squirt of juice in the middle. They're cute. They taste pretty much like every other kind of gummy candy.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Once was enough.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Trader Joe's Raw Milk Emmentaler Switzerland Cheese

This is the best Swiss cheese I've ever had from Trader Joe's. Its flavor is distinctive but mild, with almost none of the harsh edge that often accompanies Swiss cheese. It's also not too full of holes. The holes are cute, but they make it difficult to produce uniform slices, which annoys me.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, October 2, 2017

Trader Joe's Sparkling Pineapple Spring Water

This is the best of the bunch so far. Just enough pineapple flavor to be pleasing, without being overpowering.

Will I buy it again? 

Still no. Fun to try once, but I still prefer plain tap water for most purposes. If I were to pick one, though, this would be first choice.