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Taste Test: Trader Joe’s Lemongrass Chicken Stix

Taste Test: Trader Joe’s Lemongrass Chicken Stix


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The lemongrass overpowers in this frozen snack

Dan Myers

Trader Joe’s Lemongrass Chicken Stix

Trader Joe’s (or more accurately, Thai Joe’s) Lemongrass Chicken Stix take a crunchy outer layer and fill it with a combination of ground chicken, cabbage, ginger, and lemongrass.

Our intrepid taste-testers heated up a package of 10, which comes frozen, and dug in. The results? Not as tasty as we were hoping for. While the wrapper is perfectly crunchy after some time in a 450-degree oven, and the texture of the filling is pleasing if a little mushy, the lemongrass simply overtakes everything else.

"The lemongrass is so powerful it’s overwhelming," said one taster, who added that "in Thai food it’s supposed to be a lot more subtle." Others thought that it had what tasted like "artificial lemon flavor," and that it "needs a sweet chile dipping sauce, or maybe a sweet-and-sour sauce to balance out the lemon."

Once you get past the overpowering lemongrass, though, it’s a solid party appetizer. There’s a bowl of dipping sauce in the photo on the packaging, so we’d recommend you take their advice and find something sweet and sour to dip them into.

Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.


15 Beloved Trader Joe's Foods Fans Want Back

Trader Joe's is known for many things: its affordable prices, its friendly crew members (and their Hawaiian shirts), its lines just to get in the door. But the biggest thing TJ's is known for is its food! Sure, the grocery store is known for having great price points on staples like vegetables and meat. But it's also known for its private-label snacks, frozen foods, drinks, and baked goods. And if you shop at TJ's regularly, you probably have a few favorites, too.

Unfortunately, Trader Joe's stores aren't huge, and shelf space is limited. So to make room for all of the fun new products you see in the store's fliers, some products have to make their exit. Here are some of the beloved foods Trader Joe's no longer carries.


For Trader Joe's, a New York Taste Test

Monrovia, Calif. - IN an industrial park somewhere in Los Angeles, the pieces of the puzzle come together.

One crew, using rakes, turns 525 pounds of newly roasted peanuts trucked in from Texas. Another adds a heavy shower of dried whole chilies, lemon grass fibers, curry leaves and cane sugar imported from a producer in Thailand whose identity is a closely kept secret.

"No one except us knows all the parts of the operation," said Matt Sloan, vice president for merchandising for the Trader Joe's food stores, whose popularity took off in California in the 1970's and whose first store in New York City is opening on March 17. "In that way it's like a conspiracy." Long before Trader Joe's went national, its inexpensive but unusual products -- things like wild blueberry juice, Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil and frozen chicken-lemon grass spring rolls -- inspired an intense following among American food lovers, rarely seen in the aisles of a supermarket.

The stores are small, the selection is uneven and the corporate culture can be described as dorky. But because its products are often not available anywhere else because they mysteriously appear, disappear, then reappear on the shelves or perhaps simply because they often taste very, very good, Trader Joe's has become tremendously popular among Americans who like to be entertained and educated by what they eat, as well as nourished by it.

To protect its house-brand products, the company is notoriously secretive. But it opened slightly to this reporter recently, for the first time allowing an outsider into the daily critique conducted by the company's best-trained palates, a group known as "the tasting panel."

"The tasting panel is what takes us from having good products to having addictive products," said Doug Rauch, the president.

Like Trader Joe's Thai Lime & Chili Peanuts, for example: rich, spicy, fragrant, sweet and not quite like anything else on the mass market. They represent the end of a long process of travel, research, argument and experimentation. "You can drive yourself crazy in this job, like a cat chasing its tail, and sometimes you never get there," said Lori Latta, who buys dried fruit and nuts for the company and has been on the tasting panel for 20 years.

More than a buyer, Ms. Latta adds in the skills of chef, advocate, food scientist and nutritionist. Her job, and those of the 14 other "category leaders," is to perpetually travel the world visiting all kinds of food businesses -- restaurants, farmers' markets, artisanal pasta makers, street stalls and supermarkets -- and then translate their finds to the stores. When a category leader was served an ideal tiramisù at a small restaurant on the Amalfi coast of Italy, he spent months working with the chef on a version that could be mass-produced, frozen, exported to the United States and sold for $6.99 in freezer cases from San Diego to Boston. But first it had to pass the tasting panel.

In the case of the peanuts, "I tasted that snack in a Thai airport, but it was stale and too salty and full of MSG," Ms. Latta said. With a California manufacturer, she recreated it, omitting artificial additives and using American peanuts (to avoid high import tariffs) and Thai seasonings (for authentic flavor). She then repeatedly presented it to the tasting panel, adjusting flavors until the whole group agreed that the proper balance of salt, spice, citrus and heat had been achieved.

The panel is sufficiently focused to spend long minutes discussing, for example, the different effects of fine sea salt, coarse sea salt, coarse kosher salt and medium kosher salt on roasted walnuts. Getting the panel's approval can take months, even years.

Once approved, new products line up next to the popular peanut-butter-stuffed pretzels, chocolate-covered espresso beans and green chili tamales, all of them additive-free, all-natural and capable of driving grown men to unnatural acts.

"Before we got our Trader Joe's I used to drive up to Chicago every couple of months to stock up on those pretzels," said Kevin Messina, a lawyer in Creve Coeur, Mo., near St. Louis. "It's about five hours each way, but hey, it's a straight shot."

The products that make it through but do not find a loyal customer base meet an implacable fate. "It's like at General Electric under Jack Welch," said Mr. Sloan, the vice president for merchandising. "The bottom 10 percent is always being rotated out. It's painful but necessary, because it ensures that we always have new products for our customers to get interested in."

There is nothing quite like the chain anywhere else on the American food landscape. "Trader Joe's is radically different in many ways from other food retailers," said Stephen Dowdell, editor in chief of Progressive Grocer magazine. "The stores are small, they don't rely on national brands, you can't do price comparisons and they definitely don't offer one-stop shopping. But every product has a story."

The Polynesian-themed chain was established by Joe Coulombe in Pasadena, Calif., in the 1960's, in an attempt to rescue his convenience stores after 7-Eleven came to town. "We decided to go in the other direction -- to appeal to people who are well-educated, well-traveled and underpaid," Mr. Coulombe said. (He sold his final interest in the company in 1989, but many of his innovations are still in place.)

In the 1970's, he said, after the stores stopped selling things like Twinkies, magazines and batteries and focused on food and wine, the business took off. "For years, we were the country's largest importer of Dijon mustard. Of capers. Of arborio rice. Of everything like that you can think of."

The chain's expansion is of recent vintage: the first store outside California opened in 1993. Today, each of the 250 stores still carries only about 3,000 items (a large supermarket will stock 55,000 or more), in proportions that invert the industry norm: a tiny selection of canned soup, for example, but case after case of French ice cream confections and frozen Indian entrees. About 80 percent of the items carry the Trader Joe's label, many imported from small producers in Europe and Asia, and all free of artificial colors, preservatives, flavors and MSG.

"With those parameters, some things -- ramen noodles come to mind -- are almost impossible for us to make," Mr. Sloan said. "So generally we just don't have them."

What to Cook This Week

Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the coming days. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

    • One of the best things about Melissa Clark’s chile-roasted chicken with honey, lemon and feta is the sweet-and-sour drippings in the pan.
    • Yewande Komolafe’s glazed tofu with chile and star anise is a take on the technique behind Sichuan hui guo rou, or twice-cooked pork.
    • Mark Bittman’s shrimp burgers are perfect with mayonnaise, mixed with Texas Pete hot sauce and plenty of lime juice.
    • This spring-vegetable japchae from Kay Chun is made with the Korean sweet-potato noodles known as glass noodles.
    • Millie Peartree’s brown stew chicken is built on a base of store-bought browning sauce, a caramel-hued burnt sugar concoction.

    Fans of the chain find such quirks endearing. All employees wear Hawaiian shirts at work, whether they are shelvers or the chief executive. "It helps us keep a sense of humor about what we do," said Mr. Sloan, who, like many senior staff members, began working for the company as a college student -- that was in 1993 -- and never left.

    All this has helped build the Trader Joe's mystique into a full-scale food cult. It will soon be clear whether the cult will take hold in New York City, where scores of local retailers specialize in top-quality imported house-brand products (among them Zabar's, Sahadi's and Agata & Valentina).

    The chain has a strong health food streak, making the new Manhattan store competitive with the much larger Whole Foods just down the block. A stunning amount of shelf space is devoted to trail mixes (dark antioxidant-rich berries are hot, as are raw nuts rich in omega-3's) and energy bars like LäraBar and Clif, which the chain discounts deeply. "You should have seen it a few years ago," Ms. Latta said. "The bars almost took over the store."

    TraderJoe's has also guided its customers into the world of prepared food and precut vegetables -- what Mr. Rauch, the president, calls "speed scratch" cooking. "Trader Joe's customers are people who really care about cooking," he said, "but like everyone else in America, they don't feel like they have time to chop all the vegetables, cook the chicken and make the dessert -- but they want to be in the kitchen." The stores stock lots of things like precut butternut squash and beets, "simmer sauces" that make quick stews, and marinated salmon fillets packaged with fresh herbs in oven-ready cooking bags. "We are very careful about marinades," Mr. Sloan said solemnly. "Dill can be very polarizing."

    About 40 percent of salad greens in American supermarkets are sold already separated, washed and bagged. At Trader Joe's, the proportion is close to 100 percent.

    "Who buys head lettuce anymore?" Ms. Latta said, surveying a produce case stuffed with bags of organic baby arugula, herb salad and sugar snap peas at the original Trader Joe's, on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. There was not a vegetable in sight that was not packed in plastic. "The whole food business is now trying to figure out how to keep people cooking," Mr. Rauch said. "We pull in things from all over the world that work for our customers."

    One February afternoon at the headquarters in Monrovia, near Pasadena (yes, even the receptionists wear Hawaiian shirts), the tasting panel members, most well into their 40's or older, crowded cheerfully into the test kitchen. (This reporter was allowed in on condition that individual members -- many of whom negotiate with vendors for changes in products -- not be quoted by name on the opinions they expressed.) The pasta buyer had boiled up six different Italian brands of whole-grain pasta and tossed them in plain olive oil.

    The group fell silent and began chewing intently. Immediately, comments flew. "Interesting nutty flavors on No. 1." "This one has a cardboardy texture at the end." "What about the omega-3's on this one?" Eventually, a favorite was determined by a show of hands and a plan sketched for the step ahead: persuading the supplier to make refinements and solve problems.

    Next, aged goat cheeses. Then truffled cheeses. ("Like dirty socks." "I think people want to see those black flecks." "I worry that we're just too far ahead of the curve with these.") Toasted walnuts, then granola clusters. ("How are these not cookies?" the house nutritionist asked.) And finally a new category: trail-mix-based cereals. The group poured milk and chewed. "I am not happy to get a whole almond in my bowl of cereal," one said forcefully.

    That kind of passionate, focused attention to food is clearly sensed by Trader Joe's customers. "This sounds crazy, but you feel like the company likes food even more than they like money," said Marcy Benfiglio, who lives near the branch in Larchmont, N.Y. "You don't feel that at the supermarket."

    The Last Flight of the Tortilla Chip

    JOAN RAPPOPORT, a Wall Street events planner, used to hold a case of blue corn tortilla chips on her lap every time she flew back from Los Angeles.

    A New York University graduate student, Katie Geller, long expatriated from Santa Monica, Calif., rediscovered the tamales of her youth in Merrick, N.Y.

    Determined parents in Chelsea rented a car for the drive to Scarsdale to procure boxes of the miniature apple pies that had become their food-averse twins' only dessert.

    "These things just don't exist anywhere else, and you will go to any lengths to get them," said Anya Malenina, the twins' mother, who herself confesses to an addiction to Trader Joe's frozen pot stickers.

    Now that Manhattan is getting its first Trader Joe's -- opening March 17 at 142 East 14th Street on Union Square -- some New Yorkers will have to do less roadwork to sate their passions for its products.

    When food-loving New Yorkers first heard of Trader Joe's it sounded like a kind of glorified convenience store, good for party snacks and cheap wine (like "Two-Buck Chuck," its exclusive line of Charles Shaw varietals, which sell for $1.99 in the California stores and will be $2.99 in the wine shop next to the New York store). Then the chain expanded its house-brand food lines and its reach into the nation's suburbs. Web sites and singles events dedicated to Trader Joe's fans in New York appeared, and locals grew curious.

    "I have a friend who moved from Brooklyn to Portland, Ore., a few years ago," said Nathalie Chase, who works as a photographer's assistant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, "and she started calling me every day to tell me about the new hummus or potato chip flavor or whatever. Every single day."

    "When I went to visit we went to Trader Joe's on the way from the airport," Ms. Chase added. "I got hooked on the uncured bacon and the salmon roulades."

    On Sunday cold New York noses were pressed against the glass of the 14th Street store, watching little more than empty shelves and light fixtures. (Once the doors swing open, they will stay open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.) But some experienced locals professed themselves impervious to the store's charms, saying that the quality was uneven and that the store used too much packaging and provided too little service. (Trader Joe's stores do not have deli counters or butchers.)

    "I can't shop at a place if I don't know whether they'll have lamb chops that day," said Mark Allio, a Web designer. "Who in New York has that kind of time?"

    But most passers-by were welcoming. "There is no food store anywhere that doesn't interest me," said Esther Kronenberg, who lives on the Upper East Side. "And when you tell me I can't get something in New York, I want to know exactly what it is."

    THESE are the 10 most popular products (by items sold) at Trader Joe's stores nationally, carrying the store's name or other labels:

    Charles Shaw Wines ("Two-Buck Chuck")

    Mandarin Orange Chicken (frozen)

    Nuts About Antioxidants Trek Mix

    Lite Shredded 3 Cheese Blend

    Trader Darwin's High Potency Chewable Multiple Vitamin & Mineral Formula Dietary Supplements


    10 Trader Joe’s Foods That Are Perfect for Your Air Fryer

    Below are 10 Trader Joe’s foods that are perfect for your air fryer! Now, of course you could cook these items in your oven or the microwave, but then they wouldn’t be crispy AF and incredibly impressive.

    I’ve tested all of these foods in the air fryer personally, and included my preferences on time and temperature!

    All instructions are assuming the air fryer is preheated for about 2 minutes, and none of the frozen foods were thawed. My air fryer is analog, and the temperatures noted are approximate.

    You’ll see ‘spray oil’ referenced a lot – I like to use Chosen Foods Avocado Spray Oil (affiliate link!), but any spray oil will work. Avocado oil has a high smoke point which is good for frying (especially air frying!).

    1. Hash Brown Patties

    LOVE these from the air fryer more than McDonald’s, which is totally why I put them at #1. Most of this list is in no particular order, but these hash brown patties are here for a reason. They’re crispy, golden brown, and NOT dripping oil all over your fingers. An added bonus, they’re quicker to cook in the air fryer than the oven. SOLD.

    Temp: 390F
    Time: 9-10 minutes
    Amount: 2 or 3 at a time max fit into my air fryer in one layer.
    Note: Spray one side lightly with spray avocado oil. No need to flip.

    2. Chicken Spring Rolls

    Chicken spring rolls are a deep fried favorite of mine. I refuse to cook these in the microwave because it ruins the texture. Oven takes a while, and in that case I would rather just make my own. Making my own requires deep frying… so I usually just avoid. But air fryer spring rolls are somehow (magic, I think) just as crispy from the air fryer, if not, crispier. Just try it. You’ll love it.

    Temp: 330F
    Time: 12-14 minutes
    Amount: The whole package of 5 would fit, but do as many as you want to eat.
    Note: Sprayed with a tiny spritz of avocado oil. I jostled the basket once while cooking to turn the spring rolls a bit.

    3. Turkey Meatballs

    A slightly odd thing to air fry, but still delicious and easy. If you’re over soggy meatballs with zero texture, try air frying them. They get a crispy, crunchy outside while maintaining that delicious tender and juicy center we like. If only the air fryer could boil us some noodles at the same time.

    Temp: 330F
    Time: 15-16 minutes
    Amount: Max one layer in the basket.
    Note: No oil spray or flipping.

    4. Bambino Mini Pizza Formaggio

    Did I know what would happen when I put a pizza into my air fryer? Not in the slightest. But it worked, and I was very impressed. Crispy, crunch outside with soft crust on the inside. I mean, it’s pizza, so it’s going to be amazing. Air fryer pizza is quicker than the oven and much less soggy than the microwave. I recommend!

    Temp: 360F
    Time: 8-10 minutes
    Amount: 1 mini pizza at a time
    Note: No oil spray or flipping.

    5. Breaded Chicken Nuggets

    This is one of those foods than comes out of the air fryer in nearly the same condition as from the oven, but just a few minutes quicker! Plus, if you only want one serving, you don’t need to heat up the whole oven! Did I mention – super crispy?! But still juicy and tender on the inside. Yeah, I may have mentioned that.

    Temp: 330F
    Time: 14-16 minutes
    Amount: Half bag, max one layer in the basket.
    Note: No spray oil, but do shake the basket once in the middle of cooking.

    6. Garlic Fries

    Fries haven’t been near my oven in a while now. From the store or homemade, I use my air fryer for all fries, sweet potato or regular. They’re crispier and I love not heating up the entire house just for a few fries. And just LOOK at that golden brown!!

    Update 11/23/19: My understanding is that Trader Joe’s no longer sells these Garlic Fries, but the instructions would work just as well for their frozen “Handsome Cut Fries”.

    Temp: 390F
    Time: 18 minutes
    Amount: Half bag, max 1-2 layers in the basket.
    Note: No oil spray, but shake the basket every 3 minutes or so for even cooking.

    7. Mandarin Orange Chicken

    The Mandarin Orange Chicken from Trader Joe’s is life-changing and an emergency dinner we always keep on hand. After all, it’s better than ordering take out, and sometimes life happens. But what I’m loving recently is making the chicken extra crunchy in the air fryer. It’s quicker than the oven, and the same or possibly even more delicious on the deliciousness scale. Smother that mandarin orange sauce over the crunch goodness and OMG.

    Temp: 330F
    Time: 10-11 minutes
    Amount: Half bag, one layer in the basket. [UPDATE 6/12/19: A whole bag of TJ’s Orange Chicken will work in this size of air fryer – add 3-4 minutes and shake 2-3 times while cooking.]
    Note: No oil spray, but do shake the basket once in the middle of cooking.

    8. Butternut Squash Fries

    Yay, a healthy option! Yes, you can also air fry vegetables. In this case, I’ve chosen the butternut squash zig zags, because A) they’re so cute and B) they fit perfectly into your air fryer. I’m liberal with the oil spray, but it’s still SO much less oil than if you actually deep fried these things. Season to your tastes for a quick and easy dinner side dish!

    Temp: 390F
    Time: 13-15 minutes
    Amount: 1/2 container, one layer max in the basket.
    Note: Toss the zig zags in a bowl with spray oil and seasonings – I like salt and cinnamon, but you can also go with savory – garlic and onion powder work too. Shake the basket every 3 minutes or so while cooking.

    9. Mozzarella Sticks

    A classic fried food that I bet you never even thought about air frying. If this is a treat you like to buy on occasion, consider air frying them for maximum crunch! I’m pretty sure the picture of cheese spilling out of the mozzarella sticks after being air fried speaks for itself, so you should definitely keep scrolling and check that out.

    Temp: 390F
    Time: 8 minutes
    Amount: Max one layer in the basket.
    Note: No oil spray, but do shake the basket once to rotate the mozzarella sticks.

    10. Blueberry Waffles

    Another item you never would have thought to throw into your air fryer! If you don’t have a toaster, but you somehow have an air fryer, this one’s for you. These waffles come out of the air fryer super crispy and ready for syrup. No more soggy waffles for you!

    Temp: 270F
    Time: 4 minutes
    Amount: 1 or 2 waffles at a time
    Note: No oil spray and no need to shake, but check often until they’re crisp to your liking.

    Reader recommendations for Trader Joe’s Foods to put into your air fryer:

    Cilantro chicken mini wontons are also excellent in the air fryer! – Susan

    Vegetable Birds Nests are awesome. 400’ for about 8 mins. Crunchy and delicious! – Deb

    The fried cod fish filets are also perfect for the AF. – Brian

    If you’re looking for air fryer recipes, here are some of my favorites!

    Share your Trader Joe’s air fryer meals with me!! I’m always down to put foods from my favorite store into one of my favorite appliances. I’d love to see what you come up with! Hope you enjoyed 10 Trader Joe’s Foods That are Perfect for Your Air Fryer!


    Trader Joe's Tempura Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce

    The Pros: Trader Joe's Tempura Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce has crispy fried chicken ready in about 15 minutes.

    The Cons: The sauce of Trader Joe's Tempura Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce. A good sweet and sour makes or breaks this dish. This was way under flavored. It needed something, but it was lacking in flavor.

    The Verdict: For $5.99 stick with a pint of Sweet & Sour chicken from your local Asian establishment. Sweet and sour chicken should always be better with the sauce. Sadly, this wasn't. I won't be repurchasing this one.

    You have a lot of really great options in the freezer aisle of Trader Joe's. Among the standouts are the Beef and Broccoli and if you want that sorta sweet and sour taste then reach for the Orange Chicken which is a consumer favorite year after year.

    Here is the visual rundown before I give my final assessment of this product (which continues below the pictures):

    The bag of Trader Joe's Tempura Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce:

    The nutritional information:

    What comes out of the bag? Enough chicken to fill a toaster oven tray and a packet of frozen sauce:

    When it was done, mixed and ready to serve:

    After trying it, it was tolerable, not gross, and the garbage can didn't get any of it. This doesn't compete just because of the sauce. It just not flavorful enough. It's not really sweet or sour. It's just there. If you want a better Asian entrée, pick up Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken or the vegan equivalent Trader Joe’s Vegan Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels. They are full of flavor in ways this is not. I'll pass on this one.

    Want to see more items I’ve reviewed from Trader Joe’s? Click on Thoughts & Reviews of Trader Joe’s for a searchable list.


    Peanut Butter, Creamy | Taste Test

    Peanut butter was an obvious tasting to do next. We hadn't attempted this since 2007, and back then, we were just amateurs trying eight brands. This time we doubled it: 16 brands. Ever had 16 spoonfuls of peanut butter in one sitting? Ever wanted an excuse to?

    We sure did! And we'll have another one soon: the Crunchy edition. But first, we figured we'd tackle Creamy. (When we polled your preference over on Facebook, Creamy won, but not by a huge margin.)

    Let's be honest, unless you have a peanut allergy, you are in the pro-PB camp. You find yourself twisting off the cap, whipping out a spoon, and going to town. Sometimes you can't stop. Sometimes it's scary. Sometimes you wake up on the couch with a peanut butter mustache, parched for milk. (Wait, just us? Right.)

    One perk of conducting a peanut butter tasting is you end up with 16 half-full jars after. Each of the editors has a jar sitting at their desk with a spoon hanging out. Another perk was the convenient timing of the baguette tasting—the leftovers made for great sandwichification.

    The Contenders

    365 Whole Foods Creamnut Jif Jif Natural Justin (Organic) Marantaha (Organic) Peanut Butter & Co. Peter Pan Reese's Santa Cruz (Organic) Skippy Skippy Natural Smuckers Natural Trader Joe's (Organic) Trader Joe's Salted Woodstock Farms (Organic)

    Criteria

    Creamy peanut butter should be smooth and spreadable, just a tad sweet but kicked up with enough salt, rounded out with a roasted peanut depth. We asked That's Nuts columnist Lee Zalben, who founded Peanut Butter & Co. to join our tasting. "How many peanut butter tastings have I done? Oh, hundreds." How's that for a pro? The Peanut Butter & Co. brand was included in the mix, but this was of course a blind tasting, so his role as a SE columnist didn't influence the results.

    The Results

    We tried both the no-stir and stir varieties with oil separation. There was no question that we all preferred the no-stir commercial brands over the old-fashioned kind you have to mix by hand. Maybe it's nostalgia or maybe the stir kind just tasted too hippie-dippie healthy. Regardless, we've also included a few recommendations if you're going that route.

    Note: there were ties for second, seventh, and ninth places.

    #1. Skippy (7.62/10)

    You were probably raised in a Skippy or Jif household (and a Colgate or Crest one, but thankfully this is not a toothpaste tasting). Either the majority of us at SEHQ were raised in a Skippy one, or we just played at other kids' houses that were. Really smooth and creamy, sightly saltier than sweet, and rounded out with a savory roasted-ness, this had everything we were looking for. It's the peanut butter we'd eat by the spoonful, and the one we want to smear on a sandwich or Ants on a Log.

    #2. Peanut Butter & Co. (6.69/10)

    Though comparable to Jif and Skippy in terms of that commercial creaminess texture, Peanut Butter & Co. is more natural-tasting. Many tasters really loved this one. Smooth and buttery on the tongue. It's not too sweet, so it'd also be good coupled with jam.

    #2. Reese's (6.69/10)

    We were all a little surprised by this one. Sure, we're all guilty of snacking on Reese's Pieces and Cups, but we've never really bothered with their peanut butter. Smooth, sweet, salty, peanutty—this one's just really, really can't-stop-spooning addictive. It was one of the first jars we finished off after the tasting. There's a little of that bad-for-you-peanut-butter thing happening you can tell it didn't come from a health food store, but we didn't seem to mind.

    #4. Jif (6.5/10)

    Like Skippy, this immediately brought us back to the playground and, OK fine, probably the cupboard last week. Smooth and creamy, it has a hit of saltiness that lingers after the sweetness. "I want to spread this on white bread," said one taster. The difference between Jif and Skippy? Jif had a slightly more robust flavor: both sweeter and saltier, which some tasters didn't appreciate.

    #5. Skippy Natural (5.85/10)

    Another good showing from Skippy. But we were curious: is Skippy Regular all that different from Skippy Natural? According to the label, the Regular contains hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean) while the Natural contains palm oil. Palm oils are naturally high in saturated fats, which is what makes them solid and creamy at room temperature. Rapeseed and soybean, on the other hand, are naturally very low in saturated fat but the process of hydrogenation converts some of these unsaturated fats into saturated ones. It's essentially vegetable shortening that they're using.

    Some hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats can contain higher levels of trans-fatty acids, which are more harmful to your health than naturally occurring cis-fatty acids. However, according to a study by the USDA, no peanut butter, whether made with palm oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil contains any significant amount of trans-fats (from 0 to 0.0032 grams per 32-gram serving), so don't worry!

    In the end, they don't taste all that different either. Both are smooth and salty (the salty sticks until the very end) with a nice toasty-ness.

    #6. Jif Natural (5.75/10)

    Very smooth and spreadable with a few little peanut specks throughout. A deep roasted flavor with the right balance of sweet and salty. Same deal as the Skippy Regular vs. Natural (see above). Overall, the flavors of the two aren't significantly different.

    #7. 365 (5.46/10)

    Creamy, but with an identity crisis—this one clearly wants to be Crunchy. Lots of nut bits swirled throughout and a deep roasted flavor. 365 tastes very natural, which is what we'd expect from the Whole Foods brand. If you're going the natural peanut butter route, this is a fine choice. Salty and not too sweet, it could use a jam buddy, but is also satisfying on its own. Also recommended for baking cookies.

    #7. Peter Pan (5.46/10)

    Since the notorious Peter Pan recall of 2007 (oh, and there was that other one in 2009), Peter Pan has updated its logo slightly, but some shoppers will forever be turned off by the brand. Since this was a blind tasting, we didn't let any of that get in the way. Overall though, Peter Pan was a little too artificial-tasting, like candy bar levels of sweet. "I feel like I'm crunching sugar granules." There's a honey-ish aftertaste. We'd be fine with it in more of a dessert capacity, like on ice cream.

    #9. Creamnut (4.25/10)

    Like 365, this was another case of Crunchy posing as Creamy. Creamnut also sells a Crunchy variety, but this was the "Natural" option (AKA the not as crunchy, but still pretty crunchy). It's gritty and sticky. Resident peanut expert Lee Zalben later explained that Creamnut uses Virginia peanuts, which creates this texture. "I think my mouth is heating up from the friction this peanut butter is causing," said one taster. Could use a little more salt.

    #9. Organic Trader Joe's (4.25/10)

    This was another one that sorta surprised us. Many of us buy our PB at TJ's, but when it comes down to it, crave the more "bad for you" varieties (cough, Skippy). The peanut flavor is definitely there, but the texture is sticky and pasty. You kind of feel like a dog with peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth. It really comes down to whether you want a natural option or not—if yes, this is another decent option.


    We Tried And Ranked Every Single Trader Joe's Frozen Meal

    Trader Joe's frozen food aisle is reason enough to shop exclusively at the low-budget grocery store: Almost all of the meals cost less than $5, and you could eat lunch and dinner there for weeks without repeating a meal&mdasha fact I learned during my lengthy quest to rank every single frozen meal available. Since TJ's frozen food section is aggressively large, there had to be some parameters: I limited the frozen foods to what could be considered a full meal on its own, meaning none of the chicken patties, veggie burgers, appetizers, or desserts were included. Also excluded: cauliflower gnocchi, which might just be one of the best items Trader Joe's has ever created.

    With the help of some very kind taste-testing friends, I tried everything in Trader Joe's frozen food aisle. Here's how the meals stack up, from the few you should skip to the ones you'll want to buy in bulk.

    This was rough. I LOVE brie, but the big frozen chunk that came in this was not appealing, and it tasted gummy once it was mixed in.

    This was a unanimous no among the taste testers. The chicken had a weird, chewy texture, and while the sauce was decent, it still didn't make up for the meat.

    One tester said these tasted like "warm mush." Overall, too much tortilla, not enough cheese or filling. You're better off making one fresh.

    The meat is decent here, but the burritos were mushy. These were tested in the microwave, so baking them might have better results, but if you're going for speed/convenience, Chipotle might win out.

    These taste delicious, but I cannot in good faith recommend anything that has 800 calories inside one tiny pie. That said, they're so freaking good, so you do you.

    The range in TJ's pizzas is nuts. This one tasted artificial and came out runny, with a cardboard-ish crust. Fear not: Some of the other pizzas are in the top 10.

    This one also had a cardboard-like crust, but the cheese tasted less artificial, so it ranked a tad higher.

    This frozen pasta is fine, but it doesn't have much flavor to it. You'd definitely want to add a sauce or at least a drizzle of olive oil over a bowl.

    Again, this one's not bad, but it's about what you'd expect from frozen gnocchi. The tomato sauce and mozzarella help, but the taste is still pretty bland.

    The smell is a little funky here, and several testers weren't a fan of the sauce. It does have a solid amount of veggies though &mdash edamame, green beans, and shiitake mushrooms, obvs.

    Like the previous pasta, this one is fine, but you can definitely make noodles that are just as good without much more effort. It took a while to heat up (five minutes, which is simply too long in my microwave-lunch book, though feel free to disagree). In a pinch (and with a little chicken), it'll do.


    The Best Beef Broth: Brodo

    Like any good stock, Brodo is gelatinous when chilled. And all that gelatin is what gives this bone broth its exemplary body. When heated, it has a rich, velvety texture and deep, beefy flavor with dynamic undertones, including a hint of tomato and warm black-peppery spice.

    One thing that makes Brodo really stand out is a prominent note of ginger, and while that is not a traditional ingredient in classic French broths and stocks, it's a frequent player in many other broths like those you might want to use for Japanese ramen or Vietnamese pho. But you don't need to feel limited: when senior editor Maggie Hoffman recently made French onion soup using a package of Brodo, she said it was "the most amazing, full-flavored French onion soup" sheɽ ever simmered. You'll either like the hint of ginger or you won't we are into it, especially as part of such a rich, intensely flavored broth.

    This is also our pick for the most ready-to-go, heat-and-drink option on the roster, in case you're into drinking bone broth straight because you're on a keto or paleo diet or you just really like broth. One of our staffers even left the tasting room, only to come back with a coffee mug and pour herself a cup before heading back to her desk. We've been seeing Brodo at more and more grocery stores you can also get it cheaper online if you subscribe to a recurring mailing.

    The beefiest stock makes a Sunday Stash so much more flavorful.


    The Most Coconutty Coconut Milk: Trader Joe’s Organic Coconut Milk

    While many of the coconut milks we tried were either thin and watery or thick and gluey, Trader Joe’s hit a nice balance in between. It had an even, smooth consistency—and it was rich, but not too rich. Our tasters loved it most of all for its vibrant, coconutty flavor. When sampled plain, this coconut milk tasted bright and fresh in a way that other brands just didn’t. It offered a balanced coconut flavor when sampled straight, and that bold-but-not-overpowering coconut character still impressed our tasters even when the milk was cooked with Thai green curry paste. As one tester wrote, this coconut milk offers “a deep coconut flavor, but still allows the spices to shine through.” Consider this your best bet for an all-purpose canned coconut milk.

    The creamiest stew of your life is just one can away.


    Trader Joe's Scented Candles

    It's not just the food at Trader Joe's that customers love. The company also makes some of its own home and beauty products, and those seem to fly off the shelves as fast as their freezer-aisle favorites. In particular, people seem to love Trader Joe's growing line of candles, with scents ranging from Vanilla Pumpkin, Lemon Cookie, and Mango Tangerine to Cranberry Pine, Peony Blossom, and so many more. The company says its candles are "considered collectable, cult classics." And in 2019, customers named the candles their favorite non-food and beverage product at Trader Joe's.

    Trader Joe's rotates its candle selection seasonally, only offering certain scents for a limited time each year, meaning shoppers are clamoring to get their hands on them. If your favorite candle sells out, you can try and find it being resold online. But high demand leads to steep markup. The candles, which are about $3.99 at Trader Joe's, can run as high as $23 on Amazon.


    Watch the video: Asian People Taste Test Trader Joes Asian Food (December 2022).