Monday, February 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Convivial Cookie Collection

This new product came on board (see what I did there?) in January. See TJ's introduction to it here. You get 24 cookies for $2.99. As you might guess from the cover picture, they're not all the same. You get just a few of each of seven different cookies. Five of them have chocolate.

My reactions to the seven ranged from "pretty good" down to "not so good." None was outstanding. None was even good enough that I'd go out of my way to buy a box full of it if it were packaged separately. I thought the best were the one sprinkled with coconut (the train wheels above), and the one with the knight piece.

For the latter, it's hard not to wonder if its appearance is TJ's thumbing its nose at Pepperidge Farm's "Chessmen" cookies, as a response to Pepperidge Farms's silly trademark-infringement lawsuit. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

Will I buy it again? 


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Semi-Dried Apricots

Yet another brand-new Trader Joe's product. The company's introduction to it is here. $3.99 per bag.

This is unlike any other fruit I've had before. Even the concept is kind of hard to grasp. The apricots are both dried and frozen.

Actually, even though they're dried, they're not at all dry. In fact, they go beyond being moist and can truly be said to be wet. After thawing, the only evidence that they have been dried is that the little wedges of apricot are clearly smaller than any fresh apricot would produce. TJ's claims that it takes about two pounds of apricots to produce each 10-ounce bag, implying that something like 50% of the weight (after you account for the pits and skin, which have been removed) has been dried out of them. That seems about right, given the size of the pieces.

They are tasty--sweet, with a real apricot taste (which I suppose shouldn't be surprising) and a nice texture. The hype is true for once: they really do taste and feel like eating fresh fruit, except for the size thing.

This just leads me to wonder why they need to be partially dried before freezing. Maybe apricots don't freeze well in their native state. That's kind of what is implied by the web site description: "Unlike other frozen fruit that hasn’t been semi-dried, our Apricots don’t exude any excess moisture—it’s been removed in the drying process."

I just thawed the whole bag in the refrigerator, rather than trying to thaw one serving at a time. I then ate them straight out of the bag. I didn't try using them to top cereal, or any of the other ways that they suggest.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, at least once in a while. I still prefer frozen berries over these, but they're definitely good enough to revisit now and then.

Nina's View

No, no, no, no, no, no. A thousand times no. No the no^th power.

Okay, let me count the ways:

1. Slime. Apricots should not be slimy. Juicy=good; slimy=bad.

2. Unsweet. Apricots should have a sunny, piercing sweetness. These had a nasty back-of-the-tongue musty bitterness. They tasted green, but not in a good way. Ugh.

3. Rubbery. The betwixt-and-between of neither fresh nor dried results in a rubbery texture. Rubbery is good for rubber and NOT MUCH ELSE ESPECIALLY FRUIT.

These abominations are consigned straight to Nina's Bottom Ten. Take my advice and AVOID.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


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

Trader Joe's products we always keep on hand

Is Trader Joe's banning guns from all its stores?

Comparison of grocery stores in Manhattan

Trader Joe's shines in customer satisfaction survey

16 healthy and delicious things we always buy from Trader Joe's

15 things you definitely don't know about Trader Joe's (except that I did, stupid headline writer)

"Let's Talk TJ's" podcast #19

5 favorites from Trader Joe's

The kindness of a Trader Joe's cashier (you really should read this)

Best tweets of the week:





And finally, instead of the usual cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, here's a cute cat with his (her?) Trader Joe's tuna:

Trader Joe's Organic Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce And Marinade

This is a brand-new Trader Joe's product. See the company's description of it here. $2.99 per bottle.

This is the first TJ's barbecue sauce I've tried. I realize now that it's a corner of their market I have not adequately explored. I'll try to remedy that in the coming months.

Unfortunately, this is kind of a disappointing point of entry into the field. I like the general flavor, but it's just too sweet. I suppose that when "sugar" is part of the product name, this is to be expected. But with every bite of the fake-beef sandwiches I made with it, I thought, approximately, "This is good, but it would be better with less sugar."

They are not kidding about the "organic" part. I counted, and the word "organic" shows up in the list of ingredients 40 times. FORTY! The last ten are there just in case you weren't convinced by the first 30.

Will I buy it again? 

No, but it was good enough to start me on a long quest to try TJ's other BBQ sauces.

Nina's View

Would you like some sugar with your cane syrup? Would you care for some molasses with your sugar? I feel perhaps you need some ORGANIC BROWN SUGAR with your sugar. Oh hellz no to this diabetes-in-a-bottle.

I blended in a bit of vinegar and that made it taste a whole lot better. But not enough better that I would ever let myself be overcome by this SUGAR TSUNAMI ever again.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Dried Baby Bananas

Yesterday I interrupted our impromptu series of reviews of new products to present the comparison test of Trader Joe's three different kinds of dried bananas. I pushed up the publication of that piece in anticipation of today's review of the fourth TJ's dried-banana product, which has just hit the shelves for a mere $1.99.

Without really giving it much thought, I imagined that what was inside would be tiny, yellow banana slices--pretty much like the freeze-dried ones discussed yesterday, only smaller.

Boy, was I wrong.

When you open the bag, this is what you get:

They look like something I sifted out of my cat's litter box. They're sticky and glommed together as shown. It might be the single most unappealing-looking foodstuff I have ever purchased from Trader Joe's. Nina said they looked like mummified fingers. She is not wrong. For the first time since we've been doing this blog, she refused to even taste them, based solely on the disgusting appearance.

But looks can be deceiving, right? Don't judge a book by its sticky, turd-like cover, right?

So after taking a moment to steel myself for the horror of biting into King Tut's severed digits, I took a bite. More than one, in fact. I actually choked down three of these little monstrosities. Oh, the things I do for you people!

They do taste like bananas, though sweeter than your average one. But the texture is just revolting: Dense, chewy, sticky, oily. I really thought at first that they must be fried, but the list of ingredients shows nothing but dried bananas--no oil--so I guess the oiliness is what the fruit naturally produces when you dehydrate the life out of it.

This is just an unbelievably bad product. I literally cannot imagine what kind of person would choose this over any of the three dried-banana-chip items you could pick up from TJ's instead of this. (Donald Trump voters, maybe?)

I put the rest of them back in the bag, and will be returning them to the store for a refund. I think I should ask for, like, triple my money back as compensation for having to ingest these nuggets of nastiness.

Dried Baby Bananas, I banish you to my Bottom Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

Away with your foolish question.

Nina's View

I did not refuse to taste them because of their appearance, which is indeed horrific. I refused to taste them because of the hideous odor that wafted out of the bag the moment Bob opened it. A pungent, powerful reeking smell, as of banana-scented kerosene.

Je ne regrette rien. My tastebuds remain unbesmirched. 

Sometimes you just have to say no and mean it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trader Joe's dried banana slices

We've been presenting a bunch of brand-new Trader Joe's products in recent days, and there are more to come after this brief pause. But I needed to move this post up in the queue for reasons that will become apparent tomorrow.

Trader Joe's now sells three different varieties of dried bananas. The one pictured at the top I reviewed here. The other two were new to me.

The first two--regular and organic--are very similar. I had to go back and forth between them a few times before I started homing in on the differences.

The regular is a little sweeter and has more banana flavor. However, looking at the ingredients lists, I conclude that that extra banana flavor is added in processing, not intrinsic to the underlying fruit. I sufficiently confirmed this suspicion to myself by discovering that I could basically lick it off. It's a coating which, after being removed, leaves the chips tasting pretty much like the organic ones, which lack that treatment.

So I should prefer the organic, right? The thing is, I don't. I like that little extra flavor and sweetness, even when I know that it's something they've either sprayed on or dipped the chips in. I also found the organic slices to be harder and tougher, more difficult to bite into. If you think you'd like super-crunchy dried banana slices, go for the organic version. But I don't like that quality.

So for both taste and texture, I prefer the non-organic variety. It has the added advantage of being cheaper.

As for the freeze-dried, well, that's a whole different animal. You really have to try them to appreciate how radically different they are from the other two items. There's zero oiliness, zero moisture. (The others have a bit of both.) They are dry like Death Valley. But as soon as you pop one into your mouth, it transforms.

Upon first trying them, Nina exclaimed, "They reconstitute in your mouth!" My experience is not that, exactly. Sometimes they do--but I found that with just a little pressure between the tongue and roof of the mouth, they don't so much reconstitute as disintegrate.

But either way, you definitely get a powerful burst of banana flavor unlocked basically all at once, in a fireworks-like burst. There's no chewing of these; they're fragile and they fall apart.

Do I like them? Yes and no. I find myself going back and forth. As I said, they release a more intense banana flavor than the others, hands down. But it's not quite the banana flavor I expect after a lifetime of eating bananas. This is probably because we're used to what is essentially a monoculture of commercially available bananas, with one varietal having been selected decades ago for American consumption, and all the others neglected. Trader Joe's says on the package that they're using an uncommon variety for the freeze-dried product, selected for its super-sweetness.

I also find the reconstitution/disintegration mouthfeel a little off-putting. It's just odd, and I haven't gotten used to it, even after eating nearly an entire bag of these things--all except for the few that Nina had. It limits how many I want to eat, whereas with the more conventional chips I'll munch happily until I'm full.

The freeze-dried ones are, then, for me both better and worse than the more conventional products. Unless you absolutely hate bananas, you should probably try them once, just for the novelty of the experience. But ultimately I think I would choose the plainest, cheapest of the three for my snacking.

And what I said about that product when I originally reviewed it remains true: None of them are as good as simply eating a banana (which TJ's will sell you, famously, for just 19 cents apiece).

Will I buy it again? 

The original, occasionally. The organic and freeze-dried, probably not.

Nina's View

The freeze-dried bananas are a freakin' revelation. As Bob has so thunder-stealingly revealed, I did describe this as reconstituting themselves in your mouth. It is a very surprising and, to my mind, quite awesome experience.

I will really never bother with the other dried bananas, because they are exceedingly meh—stale, overly sweet, mealy, and not very bananalike, like every other banana chip I've ever had. I like regular bananas. And with the freeze-dried chips you get regular bananas minus the water. All the flavor, none of the spoilage: great for on-the-go portability.

Give them a try.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trader Joe's Thyme Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

New product; see Trader Joe's description of it here. $2.99 for a 250 ml bottle.

Two of Trader Joe's balsamic vinaigrettes--the original and the reduced fat--are among my true staple items; you could launch a surprise inspection of my kitchen anytime, and you'd find not only an open bottle of each in use, but a spare of each ready to go, so that I'm never without either one.

So when I saw this item on the new-products shelf at the Asheville TJ's, I was happy to give it a try. Take something I already like and add honey to it? Yes, please!

Sadly, that's not what this is.

I hate to be quoting the click-baity Popsugar site, but they pretty much nailed it with this two-sentence review:
The new Thyme Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette is a bit disappointing. It's hard to detect any notes of thyme or honey, but that's not to say it tastes bad — it really just tastes like olive oil.
Now, that's not quite true. I think it tastes like sweetened olive oil--but not sweetened by honey, specifically. In fact, I, like the folks at Popsugar, can detect neither thyme nor honey here. The sweetness is also not the nice, gentle, fruity sweetness of other balsamics. It's just generically sweet. 

To make matters worse, it's so olive-oily that it freezes in the refrigerator in the lower half or so of the recommended temperature zone. No other salad dressing I have had in the three years I've been in this apartment has done that. 

Will I buy it again? 

No. In fact, after using five salads' worth, the rest is going back to the store for a refund. I don't want the rest of it.

Nina's View

Honey + oil with a hint of balsamic does not a salad dressing make. Banished be!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Tulip Bulbs

I believe this is a brand-new item from Trader Joe's. At least I don't remember seeing it in the store last year. 

I had no idea that you could grow tulips with no dirt, so I bought this mostly out of amazement and curiosity. 

Sure enough, ten days later I had this: 

Trader Joe's quality is not to blame for the mangled leaf tips. These tulips are suffering from FPS--feline predation syndrome. 

The flowers are relatively expensive, at $8.99, but they're lovely, and you have a nice vase left even when blooming season is done. 

Will I buy it again? 

They're very nice, but I think once was enough. 

Nina's View

The flowers are pretty! The vase is pretty! (Note to self: would make a great housewarming present.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Ultra Moisturizing Hand Cream

This came out in December, in time for holiday gift-giving. I bought a tube right away, and have been using it intermittently since then.

It definitely works to prevent and even reverse the dry, chapped hands that result from a combination of winter air and frequent hand-washing. It's thick enough to stay on for most of the day, without being greasy enough to be problematic. Its extreme density, though, means that it takes longer to rub in well. But I think it's a worthwhile trade-off. You really can't make it completely absorb; I always end up using a tissue to wipe off the excess from my palms before I start doing any work with paper or the computer, so that I don't get the stuff on other things. Again, this is a probably inevitable trade-off with making it thick enough not to evaporate or rub off quickly, so that it need not be reapplied often.

Will I buy it again? 

I'm undecided, even though the tube is nearly used up. I do generally like it, and if another tube of it magically appeared on my desk, I'd certainly use it and be content. But even though its fragrance is mild and reasonably pleasant, I continue to have a preference for unscented products, so I think I'll try to find something comparable without fragrance added.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Trader Joe's Cotton Kitchen Towels

These came out in December. I bought a set right away, as my existing kitchen towels were getting pretty sadly thinned and faded by too many trips through the washer and dryer.

They come in several different colors. As you can see from the second picture, within each set you get two identical, and one contrasting pattern of the same color. They're quite attractive, and add a nice splash of color to my otherwise dull kitchen.

The only thing I use them for is drying my hands after washing them--which I do a lot. At first they were kind of stiff and poorly absorbent. I suspected that after a washing that would change--and it did. They're better now, but still not as efficient as good ol' terrycloth for the only thing I ask them to do.

Will I buy it again? 

No. The few extra seconds it takes to dry my hands with insufficiently absorbent towels well deserves the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag. But it annoys me just a little bit every time, and it's several times a day. Time for a trip to Wal-Mart for some new towels.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


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

Trader Joe's bad radio ad copy writing 

10 of the best snacks at Trader Joe's

5 unquestionable reasons Trader Joe's is the best

Trader Joe's Tuesday: Get dippin'

Kindness of a Trader Joe's employee toward an autistic boy

Best new Trader Joe's products for February

The economics of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods

Grocery store price comparison: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Key

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:

Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese

This is a brand-new product. See Trader Joe's own description of it here.

I was deeply suspicious of this stuff. Tinkering with the most classic of all comfort foods--macaroni and cheese--is dangerous business.

But hot damn, I loved it. Excellent mac & cheese, plus a little kick. In fact, the only fault I find with it is that they didn't put in enough of the chiles. They really do add a lovely, complementary touch, unlike any other mac & cheese I've ever had.

Predictions: (1) This will be a big hit for TJ's, once word gets out. (2) In a year or two, buoyed by its success, they'll bring out a version with even more Hatch chiles, calling it "Fiery Mac & Cheese," or "Triple Hatch Mac & Cheese," or "You Won't Believe the Hatch Chiles Mac & Cheese," or "Batten the Hatches Mac & Cheese," or some such thing.

Hmmm. I said I had only one gripe, and now I realize that's not true. There's a second: They're lying about the serving size being "2." I did split it 50/50 with Nina, but only because I love her beyond all measure. Anybody else, I would have hogged the whole thing, and that's what I intend to do with the next box, which I will be buying on my next TJ's run.

I'm flirting with Top Ten status here, but holding off until I have a second go at it, to be sure it's really worthy. But I think it is.

Will I buy it again? 

Um, were you not reading what I just wrote?

Nina's View

This needs MOAR CHILIS. I liked it, but as Bob said, this is only two servings if you are both European and extremely self-disciplined. I will never be purchasing this because: a) thighs and b) cow suffering. But it is tasty.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger

This is a new item at Trader Joe's; see the company's description of it here.

If veggie patties are divided into two groups--those that try to be a convincing meat substitute and those that do not--the nature of these puts them in the latter category, despite TJ's use of the word "burger" and depiction atop a hamburger bun. Nothing about the taste and texture suggests any attempt to fool the consumer into thinking this is ground beef, or even an imitation thereof. You will be left with no doubt that this is, basically, chunks of vegetables glommed together.

Whether that strikes you as a good thing or a bad thing will, of course, depend on your preferences and expectations. I didn't care much for them, even accepting them on their own terms instead of as a meat substitute. They reminded me of the Vegetable Masala Burgers, to which my reaction was similarly unenthusiastic.

I've had two so far. The first was plain, on a bun, which I tried both with and without pickle slices. It was better with. The next day, I went full-burger on it, and added pickles, cheese, and ketchup. I liked that better. But it seemed quite clear to me that the reason I liked it better was that I like pickles, cheese, and ketchup, rather than because those extra elements somehow enhanced the inherent flavors of the patty.

Will I buy it again? 

No. For a faux hamburger, I'll stick with MorningStar and Boca. For a patty that is proud to be its own thing rather than fake ground beef, I'll stick with TJ's Pizza Veggie Burgers.

Nina's View

I've now eaten a whole package's-worth of these on my own. They should never be put on a bun, as they are quite starchy on their own. Ideal prep involves a quick low-power heating in the microwave, followed by browning in the pan.

I find they make a nice contribution to an unconventional breakfast (instead of hashbrowns). I serve them with an egg over easy on top and a couple of strips of vegan bacon. YUM!

I wish TJ's would stop marketing these things as "burgers" (same with the Indian-style ones) and just call them patties.

PS: Do not follow Bob's example and get the "pizza-flavored" veggie burgers. They are vomitous.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Creamy No Stir Peanut Butter Spread

This is a brand-new item at Trader Joe's. I had not even heard of it until last week, when I spotted it on the new-stuff shelf at my local store. There is a similar chunky-style version, which I won't be reviewing, because they're essentially identical, and I prefer creamy to chunky.

I believe that all of TJ's peanut butters prior to this have required stirring to redistribute the oil before each use. As the name implies, this one does not. You'd think that that means they must be using some sort of emulsifying agent--but you'd be wrong. Nothing in the ingredients list except peanuts, oil, sugar, and salt. How do they accomplish this? Black magic, I reckon.

For as long as I can remember, my preferred peanut butter has been Jif. The classic one, not the reduced-fat crap they try to foist on the public these days. I happened to have an jar at home ("happened" is probably misleading there, since I virtually always have a jar of Jif in the cupboard), so I was able to taste them side by side.

I was amazed: They're very, very similar--much more similar than when in the past I have compared Jif to Skippy or other brands.

Two differences stood out after a bit of back and forth. First, TJ's is a little grainier, a bit less smooth than Jif--but I would never have noticed this if I weren't trying them at the same time. In a sandwich, I would never pick out that difference. It's a non-issue for me.

Second, TJ's tastes saltier. This is the more prominent difference. But, amazingly, when I checked the labels, it turns out that TJ's has less sodium than Jif--125 mg versus 140 mg in a 32-gram serving. This puzzled me. I went back for another taste, and got the same result--TJ's is saltier. How? My best guess is that the salt granules are less thoroughly dissolved. When I pay attention, I can feel little bursts of saltiness dissolve on my tongue. In other words, I think TJ's tastes saltier because the salt granules have a chance to hit the taste buds more separated from the rest of the ingredients than is the case for Jif.

Sugar, fat, and protein content are, for all practical purposes, identical to Jif.

The TJ's is $1.99 for 16 ounces. Jif at my local Wal-Mart is $2.48 for the same amount. Bargain!

If you're wondering why this is "peanut butter spread" and not just "peanut butter," well, so am I. My first guess was that there is some federal labeling standard for "peanut butter" that this doesn't comply with, so they had to call it a "spread." I was only interested enough to invest about 5 minutes of investigation. I found this history of the FDA's standards for peanut butter. It seems that to be "peanut butter," the product must have a minimum peanut content of 90%--i.e., a maximum of 10% other ingredients. The TJ's label claims that it's 90% peanuts. So my guess is that they're right at that minimum, and decided to add the word "spread" to cover themselves legally in the event that some randomly sampled jar is tested and falls a wee bit short. That could trigger recalls, bad publicity, lawsuits, regulatory fines, etc., so TJ's decided to just add a word to the product name and avoid the problem. This is pure speculation on my part. As they say, don't quote me on that.

Will I buy it again? 

Definitely. I like it every bit as much as the one I've been regularly using for several decades. It's not often I can say that about a food product. I don't think I need to replace Jif as my first choice. They're equal for me, so I'll just buy whichever I come across first when I'm in need. Because of the price advantage and because I make many more trips to TJ's than to other stores, it's likely that this will become, by default, my new staple.


Trader Joe's has now posted a description of the product, here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Sriracha Hummus

This is a brand-new item at Trader Joe's; they haven't even put up a product introduction on their web site yet.

My first impression was not good. Though the texture was nice--smooth and creamy--I thought it tasted like plain hummus into which somebody had mixed some generic sriracha sauce, and too much of it.

By coincidence, the day before I saw the first tweets from people discovering this item on the TJ's shelves (which is how I most often learn about new things), I had been in our local Harris-Teeter store and happened upon a brand of hummus I had never noticed before: Tribe. I bought a tub of their "Fiery Sriracha" variety. So of course it was obvious that I had to do a comparison between that and this new TJ's stuff. Despite my mediocre first impression of the TJ's, I liked it a lot more than the Tribe, which I thought tasted way off, and somehow artificial.

I had more of the TJ's on two subsequent occasions, and liked it better each time. By the third tasting, when Nina was here for dinner, I was genuinely enjoying it.

In retrospect, I wonder if it was suffering simply because it wasn't the same as what have become two of my favorite hummus flavors--the hottest versions of Roots brand, which is made here in Asheville. They have a "Hot Chipotle" and a "Mango Sriracha," both of which I love to a wholly unreasonable degree. The latter, I think, may have set in my mind an ideal of what a sriracha hummus should be, and the TJ's wasn't that. Well, of course it wasn't! It lacked the mango component, which nicely balances the sriracha heat with the cool, fruity sweetness of mango.

I think it took me three tries to get that out of my head and evaluate the TJ's on its own merits, at which point I found that I liked it quite a bit. Still not as much as my home-team favorites, but definitely enough to give it at least a second try.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, on my very next TJ's run. The tub was almost empty by the time I was warming up to it, so I need to take another stab at it.

Update, February 29, 2016 

I had another go at it. I did like it, but not enough to buy it again. I think it's a bit too garlicky for my taste. And to have all that heat with nothing to cut it (the way the wonderful mango sriracha that I'm used to does) limits how much I want to keep eating. It's not bad, but it's just short of being good enough to keep in my regular rotation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Strawberry Lemonade

I love lemonade. And I have enjoyed some lemonade that has been blended with other fruit flavors, particularly raspberry. But there's a catch: The second flavor has to be distinctly subordinate to the lemon.

This may sound arbitrarily doctrinaire, but there's a reason for it. One naturally expects lemonade to be highly sweetened. But one does not (or should not) expect, say, raspberry juice to be sweetened, because it's plenty sweet naturally.

Hence the problem with Trader Joe's Strawberry Lemonade: It has too much strawberry to be a flavored lemonade, and it has too much sugar to be a good strawberry juice blend. It ends up tasting like overly sweetened strawberry juice, with some lemon. This is not a good thing.

My first reaction was, well, not quite violent, exactly, but severe disappointment. Instead of refreshing summer lemonade, it was just another of what Nina has come to call TJ's "melted lollipops."

As I slowly finished the jug over the next ten days or so, I warmed up to it somewhat--but only by actively employing a mental trick. If I forced myself to perceive it as lemonade with some strawberry, it was OK. But the strawberry component is so dominant that I could maintain this illusion only with effort. When it failed, the impression with every sip was of badly over-sweetened strawberry juice blend.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I like lemonade too much to put up with this mangled version. If TJ's came out with a new formulation with half as much strawberry, I'd be eager to give it another try.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Low Calorie Pink Lemonade

Did not like. The stevia used to replace some (though not all) of the sugar gives it a strange taste that I found off-putting.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

What a shame that Bob is so entirely mistaken about this. Okay, maybe mistaken is too strong a word. His opinion is—how shall I say?—misguided. This is a lemonade with enough actual sugar in it to have a nice flavor, a little stevia to kick up the sweetness, and a refreshing lemon tang to quench your thirst.

If I bought this sort of thing, I would buy it. I might have it on hand for a party. I recommend giving it a try.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Pink Lemonade

Decent but nothing outstanding. I don't mind drinking it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to have it. I'm much, much happier with reconstituted frozen lemonade--and Trader Joe's own is now the one I usually keep in the freezer.

Will I buy it again? 


Saturday, February 13, 2016


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

Taste test of Trader Joe's tea 

Trader Joe's announces recall of one lot of Uncured Bacon Ganache bars

The best chocolate-covered items from Trader Joe's 

12 items from Trader Joe's that are to die for

Living on a $2/day food budget with Trader Joe's 

"Hello" video parody seeks to get Trader Joe's to go for all cage-free eggs

Similarities between Aldi and Trader Joe's

Gluten-free pastas from Trader Joe's

How signage helps Trader Joe's stand out

"Let's Talk TJ's" podcast #18 

A cry for help at Trader Joe's

What does your supermarket say about you? 

Trader Joe's announces shift to all cage-free eggs

Sadly, there were no tweets worth memorializing this week, and it has been yet another week without a new video from "Trader Joe."

Finally, in lieu of the usual cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, here's a cute dog with several Trader Joe's grocery bags--plus a bonus cute dog with his Trader Joe's dog food can.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Mini Heart Cookies

Here's another Valentine's Day special product.

I had anticipated regular shortbread cookies, with an exterior coating of dark chocolate. I was surprised to find that the cookie itself is chocolate--chocolate shortbread, which I didn't even know was a thing.

After recalibrating my expectations, I liked them. Good flavor, nice little crunchy sprinkles. Their size and richness make it easy to have just a few and feel like you've eaten plenty.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. I did like them, but my life is overflowing with chocolate things already. I don't need to add another.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes With Buttercream Frosting

I assume that these cupcakes are a Valentine's Day special product--at least I can't remember seeing them on display until this week.

The cupcakes themselves are surprisingly good, for being gluten-free. They use rice flour instead of what flour, and the substitution is virtually unnoticeable, as far as I'm concerned. The cakes are moist, rich, and plenty chocolaty.

The frosting, however, is not good. It's heavy and way too thick. I had to scrape off most of it in order to make an acceptable cake:frosting ratio.

Will I buy it again? 

No, once was plenty.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Special report: Is Trader Joe's shells and cheese made by Annie's?

Nina and I thought that Trader Joe's Organic Shells and White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese was the best boxed mac and cheese we had ever tried. In the review, I said that it was, among other things, "Better than Annie's." Some readers piped up in the comments to say that it is, in fact, made by Annie's, and is the same product.

I was skeptical at first, because the closest match in the extensive Annie's mac & cheese lineup that I found in my local supermarket did not look like an especially close match to the TJ's product, judging by the nutritional information. But then I looked at the Annie's web site, and discovered that I was not looking at the closest matching version. I was looking at this one, when I should have been looking at this one. I went to a different store (Earth Fare) and found it.

Thus prepared, Nina and I did a comparison taste test.

The contenders:

First we check the nutritional information:

The numbers are identical. The ingredients lists use slightly different wording, but I think they're describing the same items. Notice the oddity, however, that the two products use different organic-certifying organizations. That's peculiar, because if they're the same thing, made in the same factory and just put in different boxes, why would you use two different certifying agencies? Hmmm.

Cooking directions:

The saucepan directions are essentially the same, though TJ's adds a microwave method, and Annie's adds a suggestion for a variation made with yogurt.

I cooked up both as close to identically as I could (though I messed up a bit; I got in a hurry and didn't drain the TJ's shells quite as thoroughly as I should have, which made that one come out a little more watery). We put half of a serving of each on our plates: they looked identical. We tasted them. I thought they were completely indistinguishable (except for the water factor), even after going back and forth between them ten times or so.

The price comparison? Well, a few months ago when I made these purchases, I saved both receipts just so that I would be able to include that important information. And now I can't find the darn things. I'll try to remember to go back to both stores to look. Just on general principle, I'd wager that TJ's is about a dollar less.


They're the same product.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trader Joe's Seedless Blackberry Preserves Made With Fresh Blackberries

Good, but not as good as the raspberry and cherry versions from the same product line. This is almost surely not because of any intrinsic difference in their quality, but just because of my personal preference for raspberries and cherries over blackberries. Your mileage may vary.

Will I buy it again? 


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Trader Joe's All Butter Shortbread Cookies With Apricot Or Raspberry Filling

My mother used to make cookies that looked just like these, which is why I couldn't resist bringing them home when I spotted them on the shelf at Trader Joe's.

Spoiler alert: Mom's were better.

TJ's is unforgivably stingy with the filling here, and the cookies themselves don't taste buttery-rich, but kind of floury. Rather than being soft and moist, they are dry and crumbly. They're far from being the worst TJ's cookies I've bought, but equally far from being the best.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I refuse to fill my life with meh cookies.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Trader Joe's 100% Whole Grain White Wheat Bread

I frankly don't understand the concept of "white wheat bread." It seems like a contradiction in terms. But that quibble aside, this is the most boring wheat bread on the planet. If you went into Wal-Mart and found the cheapest wheat bread they sell, it would probably be approximately equivalent to this. It's like the Wonder Bread of wheat bread.

Will I buy it again? 


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Nectar

I loved apricot nectar when I was growing up--and I still do. When I noticed a jug labeled "mango nectar" on the Trader Joe's shelves, I hoped that it would be similar, except (obviously) with mango instead of apricot.

And it was! I like it! It is not another in the line of disappointing TJ's big-jug juices that we have reported on endlessly in these pages. Sure, I can taste that there is a large component of grape juice in there, if I stop to think about it. Yes, I know that even that wasn't enough sweetness for the TJ's crew and so they added plain old sugar, too. And it's true that such mucking around with the natural fruity goodness of juices usually calls forth Nina's memorably descriptive phrase of "melted lollipops." But for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, this one I like. To me it tastes lightly and appropriately sweetened, not sickeningly sweetened as several others in this lineup have been.

I suppose it's possible that I'm not evaluating it fairly and objectively, but am simply being fooled by its use of mango puree rather than juice, and its resultant textural similarity to apricot nectar, which calls up fond old memories. So take this review with a grain of salt. But if I'm temporarily abandoning objectivity for nostalgia, so be it. I don't feel like resetting my parameters of what I like right now.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I'm not as gaga over this as I am for some of TJ's wonderful pure juices, like grapefruit and pineapple. But I definitely like it enough to bring it home once in a while.