The inside of a Trader Joe's can be just as overwhelming as its discombobulated (and frankly dangerous) parking lot -- both of which seem to be a trend at almost every TJ's we've visited. It's a store that preys on unsuspecting shoppers with novelty items just as much as it offers genuinely good, cheap alternatives to brand-name products. The secret to being a great shopper at Trader Joe's is to do your research to find the items that will save you money and take your tastebuds to Hawaiian-shirt-clothed heaven.
But with the sheer number of products available on Trader Joe's shelves and the brand's attractive marketing gimmicks, how do you decide which products are worth your while and the ones that are better off left on the shelves? We've done some of the heavy lifting and compiled a list of some of the best and worst products at the popular grocer, based on our personal shopping habits and research. Prices may vary based on location.
Best: Unexpected Cheddar Cheese
All Trader Joe's enthusiasts know how great the cheese sections are at its stores. And nestled within its impressive selection is the unique Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar cheese. The cheese has the balance of salty, delicious cheddar cheese with some underlying notes of Parmesan cheese. It also has a crumbliness between Parmesan and cheddar, which means it melts deliciously well on a ham sandwich or can be used as a snacking cheese on your charcuterie board.
Overall, this cheese is one of our favorites because it lives up to the "unexpected" name and its price. Each 7-ounce block of cheese is a mere $3.99, which means you'll still have some change left to pick up a good bottle of wine and snack crackers to go with it.
Worst: Everything But The Bagel Seasoned Chips
The Everything But the Bagel Seasoning mix has taken the world (and shopping carts) by storm and prompted the brand to release several spin-off products coated with this blend of salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and onion. But the Everything But the Bagel seasoned potato chips are nothing short of a big miss.
We all love a good crispy kettle chip, and these chips certainly deliver on that front. But anyone who has ever eaten a bagel that's been shimmying around too much in a paper bag knows that keeping those seasonings on the bagel is a challenge. The same issue is shared with these chips. There's not enough seasoning for these chips, nor enough seasoning that stays on the chips for a flavorful balance on every bite.
Best: Pancake Bread
Although we can guarantee that no one asked for a great breakfast food to be transformed into a loaf, Trader Joe's went right ahead and did it anyway. And honestly, we're not mad about it.
Pancake bread was rated our top baked good at Trader Joe's because it's brimming with notes of cinnamon and sugar and a decadently soft texture with every bite. And yes, it tastes like a short stack of buttermilk pancakes covered in maple syrup. Plus, the streusel on top of this loaf is the icing on the cake, and it is one we want to enjoy with a warm cup of coffee.
Worst: Kale Gnocchi
Did we try this pasta to make us feel a little bit healthier? Yes. Did we hate every single bite of it? Yes.
The kale gnocchi had high standards, considering the cauliflower gnocchi's well-deserved supremacy among Trader Joe's enthusiasts. However, the issue with these dumplings is that they taste (unsurprisingly) just like cruciferous veggies. No amount of pesto, tomato sauce, or, frankly, butter can hide the fact that it's kale masquerading around as a trendy frozen pasta. Moreover, there are so many other better kinds of frozen pasta at Trader Joe's to choose from that we recommend thinking twice about buying this one.
Best: Dark Chocolate Peanut Buttter Cups
The dark chocolate peanut butter cups have taken hold of our hearts and the Trader Joe's Hall of Fame since being introduced in 2010. While it might seem that these cups are just a riff on Reese's candy, they're actually so much more than just that.
We think there's a tangible difference between the cheap, sweet Reese's peanut filling and the decadent, creamy filling in these peanut butter cups. Plus, the dark chocolate is so rich without being too dark and chalky.
Worst: Cauliflower Pizza Crust
Cauliflower everything just needs to end. The thought that a vegetable could replace the feeling of biting into a soft, beautifully baked Neopolitan pizza crust is nothing short of a farce. And Trader Joe's cauliflower pizza crusts are just one example of the horrifying things people make out of veggies.
These crusts are so dry and cannot withstand the weight of your pizza toppings whatsoever. Plus, a whiff of the crusts will reveal unappealing aromas that will cause you to put down your slice and question why you would ever spend $4.99 on two mediocre "healthy" pizza crusts.
Best: Elote Corn Chip Dippers
Trader Joe's corn chips are a spin on the popular Frito's chips. When it comes to the two, the difference is negligible, although the generic brand may save you some pennies. But there's something Frito Lay can never compete with: the Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers.
These organic chips are slathered with a layer of elote seasoning. Each bite is filled with a taste of buttermilk, chipotle, lime, and habanero chili -- which makes these chips as good to eat solo as they are to scoop in a bowl of your favorite homemade guacamole. Compared to Trader Joe's other chips, every bite of these corn dippers is filled with something new and exciting. It's not just a greasy, salty chip, making it a staple in our snacking routine.
Worst: Almond Butter Puffs Cereal
Trader Joe's created the almond butter puffs cereal as a healthy take on Kix cereal. The description on the box -- "crunchy rice and quinoa puffs coated with almond butter and dusted with powdered sugar and cocoa powder" -- gives you the impression that the ancient grains are better for you than whatever most other breakfast cereals are made of.
But, this cereal tastes like cardboard coated in sugar. The almond butter doesn't do it any favors on the flavor front, and the cereal always seems to come out of the box stale. Plus, you don't get much in the way of sweet flavors, despite the sugar, or help from the cocoa powder. The best thing in a bowl of this cereal is the milk.
Best: Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds
The nut aisle at Trader Joe's is admittedly overwhelming. But if there's one variety that you should add to your cart without hesitation, it's the mesquite-smoked seasoned almonds.
We don't know what the company puts on these roasted nuts. But whatever they do, it's downright amazing. The roasting process gives each of these nuts a satisfyingly crisp crunch, while the mouthwatering flavor brings us back for another handful every single time. Not only are these almonds great for snacking or including in a savory trail mix, but they are also an excellent addition to your charcuterie board.
Worst: Beef Pho Soup
The word "cozy" comes to mind when thinking about a bowl of beef pho. It should be brimming with aromatic flavors like Thai basil and fish sauce and made with perfectly cooked noodles and tender beef. However, Trader Joe's version of this iconic Vietnamese dish couldn't be farther from our romanticized version.
This soup is super watery and lacking in all its flavor promises. You shouldn't be surprised to find only two or three small pieces of beef swirling around in the plastic bowl. The noodles are what you would expect from a freezer-friendly soup, and the aromatics are also highly underserved. While it may be convenient to pop this soup in your microwave and have it piping hot in a matter of minutes, it would leave us craving actual Vietnamese takeout.
Best: Soy Chorizo
Trader Joe's really knocked it out of the park with the vegan foods, including soy chorizo. This log of crumbled textured vegetable protein (TVP) is brimming with the salty and savory flavors of authentic Mexican chorizo. Plus, it has 60% less fat than regular chorizo and can be used to enhance your tacos, burritos, or scrambled eggs. We're also very impartial to using it for tamales.
The flavoring of this meat is spot-on, and we haven't been able to find a log quite like it in our local grocery store, nor have we ever been able to replicate its flavors with a batch of plain TVP. It's one Trader Joe's product that we always keep stocked in our fridge, and should be one that all vegans should take note of.
Worst: Cookie Butter
Cookie butter has gained a cult-like following in recent years, but it's one that we've started skipping over at Trader Joe's. An in-house taste test of Trader Joe's Speculoos and Lotus Biscoff revealed that the Lotus brand was the front-runner in flavor and texture.
The Lotus brand also uses brown sugar syrup in their product that offers a molasses-y, pleasing bite. Moreover, Trader Joe's butter was just concentrated sugar in a jar, which didn't lend well to complex flavors.
Best: Peanut Butter Protein Granola
We purchased the Trader Joe's peanut butter protein granola on a whim and haven't ever gone back since. While other peanut butter granola brands are made with just peanut butter, Trader Joe's packs each morsel with whole peanuts and decadent peanut butter.
Each ⅔ cup of granola contains 11 grams of plant-based protein, which can really pack a punch in a bowl of Greek yogurt or as a topping for your smoothie bowl. Another thing we love about this granola is that it's crunchy but also decadently soft with each bite.
Worst: Everything But The Bagel Seasoning Blend
Like almost every Trader Joe's shopper, we went wild when the Everything But the Bagel (EBTB) seasoning came out. You could put it on top of hummus, sprinkle it on cream cheese, and use it for a little bit of something special on grilled fish. But, like all good things, EBTB has to come to an end.
This seasoning is so coarse that it doesn't stick on anything. If anything, this seasoning should be only used to add texture to food, since it doesn't have much in the way of spice or flavor. And doesn't even do a good job at that since it will only cling to spreads and sticky things.
Best: Yuzu Hot Sauce
Hot sauce lovers need to try Trader Joe's collection, specifically the Yuzu hot sauce. While most hot sauces are, well, hot, this one is filled with bright citrus notes and the sharp bite of yuzu.
The reason why this sauce has made our favorites list is because of how versatile it is. It's an excellent companion for seafood and dumplings but can also be used to add a summery flair to your burger. Plus, this product wins big points for us because we've never found an equivalent outside of a Trader Joe's store.
Worst: Strawberry Non-Dairy Oat Frozen Dessert
Trader Joe's makes a ton of delicious options for non-dairy eaters. But the strawberry oat milk ice cream with almond brittle and candied strawberries is one we recommend leaving in the cooler.
Ice cream lovers should skip this one because the almond brittle is far too soft, while the candied strawberries just turn to mush. Compared with other competitors like Ben and Jerry's, the mix-ins are few and far between. Instead, go with a better-frozen dessert like our personal favorite, the cold brew coffee boba non-dairy frozen dessert. The flavors are much more harmonious than shoving the mismatched strawberry ones into a pint and calling it a day.
Best: Frozen Garlic Naan
Even if you aren't a fan of Indian food, you can't help but grab a pack of Trader Joe's frozen tandoori garlic naan when you pass by it in the store. It's so easy to pop this bread in your oven and enjoy it with your other Trader Joe's frozen favorites, like chicken tikka masala.
Moreover, the brand doesn't skimp on the garlic for this one, which makes it leaps and bounds better than the garlic-less classic tandoori naan. Each slice is plush, soft, speckled with char, and tastes like it's straight out of an Indian restaurant.
Worst: Sriracha Sauce
There are some things that should be left to the professionals, and sriracha is just one of them. It's one of the most overrated Trader Joe's items you should avoid because the flavor doesn't come close to the Huy Fong original.
The knock-off product from Trader Joe's is much sweeter than the spicy, perfectly balanced OG, so much so that we could easily detect a difference between the two in a taste test. And although the price may be right, it's just not the right flavor we want from a sriracha -- or a hot sauce in general.
Best: Thai Lime And Chili Cashews
We love an ingredient that can be used for snacking and complementing our favorite dish. Trader Joe's Thai lime and chili cashews are just that. Each bite is filled with the puckery yet bright taste of Thai lime accompanied by a sweet, back-of-mouth heat from the chili powder.
Eat them straight from the bag, or add them to your favorite curry or salad. Even if you aren't a fan of spice, we think these will quickly become a new pantry staple and one that you can't stop eating once you open the bag.
Worst: Watermelon Jerky
Reddit was divided over Trader Joe's watermelon jerky, and it's no surprise that we are, too. While some shoppers have noted that the flavor of these strips is basically the summer fruit condensed into fruit leather, we're in the camp that watermelon should never have been made into jerky in the first place.
The strips are just plain weird and not one that we would pick from the store's massive selection of dried fruit. It's a gag to get shoppers to buy it, even though the smell is awful and some strips are entirely filled with seeds.
Best: Dill Pickle Mustard
Trader Joe's dill pickle mustard is so simple yet so revolutionary. It combines the flavor of good yellow mustard with the puckery flavor of dill pickles via dill weed, pickle pieces, and "natural pickle flavoring" -- whatever that's supposed to mean. It's a condiment that replaces the need to pick up both mustard and pickles and is the perfect creamy addition to your deviled eggs, ham sandwich, or classic cheeseburger.
We have it on hand at all times. We would also unconditionally recommend it to anyone looking to step up their condiment game or try something new without going too far out of the box.
Worst: Overnight Oats
We can't help but laugh every time we see these packaged overnight oats on store shelves. Trader Joe's prices these oats at $1.99 per container, but you can make them for a fraction of the cost by buying your own whole oats, mixing them in a jar with your milk of choice, and letting it sit overnight.
Its overnight oats are goopy, syrupy, and sad and are only really there because they're convenient if you don't have the ten seconds to make a jar the night before. Plus, there is only a slight variation in the texture based on the flavor options, which include vanilla and almond butter chia ($2.29).
Best: Way More Chocolate Chip Cookies
The Way More Chocolate Chip Cookies are some of our favorites. Compared with other Trader Joe's cookies, including the popular Speculoos and Joe-Joe's, these little chocolate chip wonders are filled with the perfect balance of vanilla flavors, chocolate, and brown sugar.
They walk the line of being not tooth-breakingly hard but not falling apart when you bite into them because of how soft they are. Plus, Trader Joe's solved the problem of chocolate chip cookies that are lacking in the chip department by adding a little bit extra to these -- and we couldn't be more grateful.
Worst: Brioche Buns
We had high hopes for the brioche buns when Trader Joe's first introduced them. But stale batch after stale batch has left these rolls with a bad taste in our mouths.
The brand touts these rolls as being eggy and buttery and filled with decadent flavors. But, the roll's flavor is overwhelmingly rich without little room for flavor complexity. Therefore, these rolls don't do much for the sandwich, even if the chicken salad is out of this world. And while the puffiness of the rolls is true to the Trader Joe's label, we will continue to pass on it.
Best: Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
We could never go back to Toll House after trying the Trader Joe's semi-sweet chocolate chips for the first time. These chocolate morsels are conveniently dairy-free and gluten-free, which makes for a cheaper alternative to some of the allergen-free chip brands.
Each morsel is super sweet and holds together well when baked into a cookie, which makes these bags a must-have for any cookie-baking enthusiast. Even if it's not our top choice to snack on straight from the bag (since it's a tad too sweet), it's always essential for baking and a product we stock up on when we make a trip to Trader Joe's.
Worst: Jingle Jangle
We will singlehandedly fight anyone who stands behind this tin of Christmas-snacking chocolates (if you can even call it that). Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle mix contains favorites like chocolate-covered pretzels, candies, and peanut butter cups and is popular around the holiday season, but otherwise, you won't see it.
And while this mix is all fine and good in flavor and texture, the $10 price tag on the container always hits us with a wave of discontent. If you're a first-time Trader Joe's shopper, you may fall victim to this novelty marketing scheme and add Jingle Jangle to your cart. But well-versed shoppers will leave this expensive snack mix on the shelf for someone else.
How do we select the best and worst that Trader Joe's offers, considering that its stores carry hundreds of products? Our ranking methodology comes down to personal choice and our experience with many of these products. We've often given in to the novelty aspect that the Trader Joe's marketing team is so good at, but have also searched for products that have the best (and worst) rap among shoppers.
The best products we selected have high marks for flavor, consistency, and convenience, while the worst have the opposite. We also only reviewed Trader Joe's brand products, rather than name-brand options that the store sells, to try and encapsulate an authentic TJ's shopping experience.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.