Our Favorite Things from Trader Joe’s (Part 2!)

By Ann Fulton & Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

Whether you’re new to Trader Joe’s or have been a customer for years, there are always new items to discover and innovative ways to prepare them. Here are the products we tested this year (do they live up to the hype?) along with several extra value buys and some longtime family favorites.
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Whether you’re new to Trader Joe’s or have been a customer for years, there are always new items to discover and innovative ways to prepare them. Here are the products we tested this year (do they live up to the hype?) along with several extra value buys and some longtime family favorites.

 

What’s so great about TJ’s?

Most people are aware of their famously low prices (I’m still surprised at checkout sometimes!), but it didn’t grow a cult following just because of that. The company has a unique business model and interesting history, and the vibe inside the store is worth experiencing. For those in central Pennsylvania there’s a new outpost in Camp Hill to check out!

Trader Joe’s regulars swear by certain products and return over and over to keep those items on hand. This is why you may have noticed some drama and excitement when new products hit the shelves or older ones are discontinued.

So, which items should you definitely try, and which ones may not be as exciting as advertised? Following are some standouts that we think are worth considering:

Staple items worth returning for

  • Coconut & Almond Creamer comes in a pint-sized container, which is easier than some to get through before it goes bad. It’s just sweet enough, not too nutty, and a small amount blends well into a good Cold Brewed Coffee.
  • Soft Multigrain Rustico Bread is thin enough for sandwiches but thick enough to make great toast. It’s perfect for simple but comforting Cinnamon Toast.
    Rustico Bread from Trader Joe's
  • The Mini Yogurts are 4 ounces each, and Emily’s daughter enjoys them as a snack or in her lunchbox. A dollop on baked oatmeal, like Peach Swirl Baked Oatmeal, is quite nice too.
  • Multigrain Crackers are a great snack with a schmere of cream cheese, peanut butter, or this Smoky Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. They stay fresh for a while and are quite versatile.
    Here are some Trader Joe's products we have enjoyed with tips on how to incorporate them into your Fountain Avenue Kitchen recipes!
  • Keep two packs of Just a Handful of Pitted Salted Manzanilla Olive packs in the pantry. They don’t come in brine so the packs are easy to add to lunch boxes–or used to top Classic Deviled Eggs.
  • Donovan’s family thinks of Magnifisauce as the new ketchup. It’s similar to a Thousand Island sauce and equally perfect as a dip or condiment for Tender Juicy Turkey Burgers. It’s cousin, the Incredisauce has a honey mustard base, so it’s sweet, smoky, and tangy.
    Here are some Trader Joe's products we have enjoyed with tips on how to incorporate them into your Fountain Avenue Kitchen recipes!
  • If you’re a citrus fan, don’t breeze by the Ricotta & Lemon Zest Ravioli, located in the refrigerated area near the produce. The ravioli delivers a distinct lemon flavor and has been a spring and summer customer favorite. These are great for adults as well as tiny hands starting solids. Top with a Speedy Cherry Tomato Sauce or just olive oil and Parmesan cheese!
    Here are some Trader Joe's products we have enjoyed with tips on how to incorporate them into your Fountain Avenue Kitchen recipes!

Our take on customer favorites – do they live up to the hype?

  • For an interesting spin on a classic snack, the Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn gets a big thumbs up for its firm kernels and intrigue. The five unique flavors (tangy, salty, smoky, spicy, and lightly sweet) are fun to discover and are oddly fun to talk about. Members of Ann’s family were undecided at first…and then kept going back for more! Would be a fun addition–and conversation starter–on a summer Charcuterie Board.
    Here are some Trader Joe's products we have enjoyed with tips on how to incorporate them into your Fountain Avenue Kitchen recipes!
  • The Elote Corn Chip Dippers are a perfect shape for dipping and sturdy enough (as sturdy as Ann’s go to Frito Scoops!) to hold a good amount of yummy Green Goddess, White Bean, & Artichoke Dip or this Easy Baked Refried Bean Dip. They are also tasty on their own with a creamy, spicy, and tangy (aka Elote) flavor profile. Not a lot of chips can make that claim!
  • Hold the Cone mini cones are like smaller versions of ice cream drumsticks – ice cream inside and dipped with chocolate on the outside of the ice cream (some flavors even use chocolate cones!). It’s a perfect summer delight for kids and grown-ups alike
    Here are some Trader Joe's products we have enjoyed with tips on how to incorporate them into your Fountain Avenue Kitchen recipes!
  • The Mac and Cheese Bites get a lot of attention, likely because of the novelty of a fried ball with the mac & cheese inside. Let’s just say they don’t taste nearly as good as the Classic Crispy Top Macaroni and Cheese, but could serve as a fun alternative to try in a pinch.
  • Brownie Truffle Baking Mix bakes up very chocolatey and fudgy and is a good sub for homemade brownies – especially if you don’t have all the ingredients on hand for these Fudgy Yogurt Brownies. In all honestly, store-bought brownie mixes generally taste good, and these stand up to the best of them for a similar price to Ghirardelli, for example.
  • Everyone talks about the frozen vegetable-based Gnocchi in cauliflower, kale, or sweet potato. It combines a comfort food experience with a little added flavor, fiber, and vitamins. If you absolutely love gnocchi, you may like the ease of this, but if you don’t, this product won’t change your mind.
  • Made with red lentils & rice meal, these Sour Cream and Onion Rings look like an updated version of Funyons from vending machines back in the day – but they are baked, not fried, and remain exceptionally crisp and airy. Worth a try for those who enjoy the sour cream & onion flavor profile.

Don’t knock these items until you’ve tried ‘em!

  • Maybe tinned seafood doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s super trendy right now (and certainly a throwback food) because it’s cheaper and can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Think lightly smoked mussels, smoked trout, and sardines to name a few. Try on top of grilled baguette, on cracker with cream cheese and fresh herbs.
  • Cilantro lovers who appreciate some heat will love Yemeni-inspired Zhoug Sauce. It’s somewhere between a medium and hot salsa and herby with undertones of garlic and cumin. Try it on simply prepared white fish, scrambled eggs, or with Garden Skillet with Sausage and Eggs.
    The Mac and Cheese Bites get a lot of attention, likely because of the novelty of a fried ball with the mac & cheese inside. Let’s just say they don’t taste nearly as good as the Classic Crispy Top Macaroni and Cheese, but could serve as a fun alternative to try in a pinch.
  • Fully Cooked Traditional Carnitas (Mexican-style oven roasted pork) are not particularly appetizing on the shelf but cook in minutes and taste delicious. Enhance their appeal by incorporating them into a weeknight Tostada meal or served over Cilantro Lime Rice.
  • Why would you need Umami Seasoning Blend? Need is a strong word, but it’s a great pantry-staple that adds that “fifth taste” (meaty, unctuous, rich) when sprinkled on the likes of Avocado Toast and enhances the natural umami flavor of Wild Mushroom Pizza.

    The Mac and Cheese Bites get a lot of attention, likely because of the novelty of a fried ball with the mac & cheese inside. Let’s just say they don’t taste nearly as good as the Classic Crispy Top Macaroni and Cheese, but could serve as a fun alternative to try in a pinch.

    Trader Joe’s has many unique and delicious seasoning blends to choose from!

  • Emily tried this Hawaiian-inspired Mochi Cake Mix in chocolate cake & peanut butter frosting variety. Her dad and son are both very discerning when it comes to dessert (only the classics, no substitutions please) but they both loved this gluten-free, chewy, sweet rice flour-based cake. The peanut butter frosting was also rich and tasty.
    The Mac and Cheese Bites get a lot of attention, likely because of the novelty of a fried ball with the mac & cheese inside. Let’s just say they don’t taste nearly as good as the Classic Crispy Top Macaroni and Cheese, but could serve as a fun alternative to try in a pinch.

Extra Value Buys
Trader Joe’s is known for value, so most items are extremely well priced. But these take the cake!

  • The Nova Salmon Pieces are about $1/ounce! Use them to ramp up Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese or on avocado toast.
  • Whether you pair it with a frozen Indian meal from TJ’s (a popular category with devoted shoppers) or a hearty soup or salad, the Frozen Garlic Naan for $1.99 is easy to bake and some say it’s the closest to restaurant quality they’ve had. Would also pair well with Shabnam’s Secret Chicken Recipe and Masoori Dal (Nepali Lentils).
  • For a quick and easy appetizer that feels special, try the Bruschetta Sauce. The ingredients are simple: Roma tomatoes, olive oil, basil, and garlic. The cost is just $3.49 for a 14.5-ounce container, and the sauce can be used to top crusty bread or even as a pasta sauce.

Buzz-worthy items that are next on our list

  • Sparkling White Tea with Pomegranate Juice is intriguing because it can be served over ice or also as a cocktail or mocktail mixer. Seems like a refreshing option to offer guests this summer!
  • Gone Bananas are found in the freezer aisle and are simple chocolate covered banana slices that have been top sellers.
  • Trader Joe’s is always experimenting with pumpkin flavors, so it’s not surprising they added pumpkin seeds to salsa. Pepita Salsa is enhanced with finely chopped pumpkin seeds and may be worth a try on top of these Loaded Dinner Nachos.
    The Mac and Cheese Bites get a lot of attention, likely because of the novelty of a fried ball with the mac & cheese inside. Let’s just say they don’t taste nearly as good as the Classic Crispy Top Macaroni and Cheese, but could serve as a fun alternative to try in a pinch.
  • A Trader Joe’s employee said the new Strawberry Lemonade Joe-Joe was the best cookie he ever had. He was shocked by the creamy center and the fresh strawberry taste. If that’s not a glowing recommendation, then what is?
  • Grain Free Cheeseburger Flavor Dog Treats have been given two (four?) paws up by the furry friends of TJ’s customers far and wide. They may even keep pets from feeling left out during all the summer barbecue fun!

For more Trader Joe’s product recommendations and recipe ideas check out the original A Few of My favorite Things – At Trader Joe’s! What are your favorite Trader Joe’s products? Tell us below for a chance to win a Trader Joe’s gift card!

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Comments

  1. Jean Husson

    TJ’s Dark Russet potato chips are the best. They have real flavor instead of just salt and texture of regular chips.

    Reply