REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

“Ganache” is such a French word. It’s so French that if you say it into a mirror three times, French Candyman appears. Instead of a hook hand he has half a baguette on his stump and he doesn’t murder you, he gives you cigarettes made of young cheese. Then you have to watch an entire Jerry Lewis movie and make small talk with his mistress while he looks for your bidet. And then you have to drive him to the airport to get back to France. It’s kind of a hassle, honestly.

The Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar tries to French gourmet up the grocery proceedings but also keeps it real down home by featuring USA’s favorite swine meats. It says what’s in it right there on the packaging: “A rich combination of dark chocolate ganache, pieces of uncured bacon, and a hint of smoked salt.”

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar 4

The ganache is tucked inside the bar in tiny pockets, along with the pieces of pig. The particular bar I had was very fragile and almost immediately featured a diagonal crack that allowed the insides to leak out and made it look like it was bleeding chocolate blood.

Fun fact: In old black and white films, Dracula would use chocolate syrup in place of blood. Another fun fact: In the commercials, Count Chocula drinks human blood in place of milk in his cereal.

The bar boasts a 70 percent cacao rating thing, and, yes, it’s bitter. It has a smooth cacao flavor which crescendos into an acrid bite when the pools of ganache touch the tongue. There’s maybe a facsimile of smokiness—which actually comes off as a bit sour—but the tenor changes with a subtle touch of saltiness. It’s a complex hit that might even include the sixth taste, umami, or the seventh taste, your mommy.

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar 2

The experience is a bit tough to describe because while it’s a combination of all these interesting things, I also found it not that pleasant. I imagine it is a little bit like what Coca-Cola tasted like when it was being sold as a cure-all tonic. There’s not much sweetness involved and it tastes a little bit like medicine.

Ironic, isn’t it, that this product has “uncured” bacon in it, because medicine “cures” diseases and this tastes like medicine and “uncured” is the opposite of “cured.” Haha. Good one, dude. Good one. … *cricket sounds for ten seconds* … “It’s like raaaaaaaain on your wedding day/ It’s the freeee riiiiiide….”

Where is the bacon? It’s in little torn up pieces in a sea of chocolate ganache, represented by the hints of salt. Catching them in my mouth here and there, texture-wise they sort of felt like balled up pieces of wet tissue paper rolled between my fingers to make wispy strands. Without it billboarded on the front, I would never have guessed bacon was involved in this product.

The chocolate is really a stronger flavor here and overpowers just about all the bacon qualities. It’s a fine, bold dark chocolate taste, but with the bar and the insides being all chocolate, all day it’s a bit overwhelming. Maybe if I say “ganache” three times backwards into a mirror it will dial back the intensity? “Ehcanag, ehcanag, ehcanag.” Nope, that just summoned Opposite French Candyman. He’s exactly the same as French Candyman but his skin is inside out and rides a bicycle backwards. Pretty cool.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 bar – 220 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 3 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Dark chocolate central. If you need that fix, it has it. Complex flavors.
Cons: Not very sweet at all. Bacon gets lost a bit, tastes like medicine.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Sour Gummies Ts & Js

Trader Joe's Sour Gummies Ts & Js

I just wanted to go to K-Mart. That’s all. So I took the shortcut through Madison Square Park, where I stopped to admire the horizontal mirrors.

This is where something went wrong.

I don’t know what it was. I didn’t wave my arms, ruffle a squirrel, toss a hot dog cart. Nothing that would otherwise incite Karmic wrath. So did I expect to suddenly be running from a vehement Great Horned Owl while being stared down by a group of early mothers who might’ve just left the casting call for NBC’s next Crime Drama?

No.

But there are good days and there are days when you are chased by a talon-wielding species of bird with a vast wingspan. Thankfully, we are not weaklings. We power forward, trudge onward, seek counsel in the Magic 8 Ball we kept from 3rd Grade. Sugar helps in the recovery.

And Trader Joe’s is helping in that recovery by expanding their gummy landscape, coming in with excellent prices and a limited alphabet with their new Sour Gummies. Indeed, if your name is T.J. or J.T., count yourself among the lucky ones: you can now transcribe love notes to your significant other whose name is T.J./J.T.:

Trader Joe's Sour Gummies Ts & Js Love

Softer than Sour Patch yet chewier than a lump of Jell-o, these all-natural gummies prove to have a semi-chewy, gumdrop-like squish. They require very little exercise from your jaw, yet are still firm enough to hold together, so I’m 92.7% confident Yoshi could’ve use these as weapons to defeat the Slime Drops in Super Mario World 2.

The outside coating reminds me markedly of Sour Patch Kids, having only a subtle sour pop before going forth into the sweet flavor. Seekers of taste-bud-dissolving, Warhead-like sour pain will be at a loss as the coating of sour sprinkles contributes more of a granular texture than actual mouth-puckering sourness.

However, this lack of self-sabotaging sourness only allows the all-natural citrus flavors to stand out. Here’s the play-by-play for each flavor:

Key Lime – This one has a fine juicy tartness. It reminds me of the lost-but-not-forgotten Lime Skittle: tangy and juicy on its own, no bitter, dishwashing detergent notes in sight, much like a true Key Lime candy from Key West. Ernest Hemingway and his six-toed cats would be proud.

Lemon – Zesty, tangy, and zippy as a Spanish bull. There’s both a juicy quality and a citrus tartness that I thoroughly appreciate. It’s like a lemon Starburst, only a hint milder. Combined with the lime, the two taste like Lemon-Lime Gatorade. Mmmm…electrolyte-enhanced beverage…

Grapefruit – I was equally excited as I was disheartened by this flavor. While I looked for the tart-bitter-juicy-sweet notes of a grapefruit, I only found a vague “Fruit Juice” quality. Indeed, it tastes like a Juicy Juice box with a bit of a berry note. Perhaps it’s from the black currant coloring? It’s not bad by any means, but not exactly grapefruit.

Tangerine – This one eschews the sour, bitter depth of the tangerine peel, and goes straight for the juice. It has a sugary, one-note citrus quality that reminds me of Orange Hi-C, which I used to chug in abundance at the Free Refill soda machine at Taco Bell, so it’s not so much “tangerine” as just “orange.” It’s simple and I love it.

Trader Joe's Sour Gummies Ts & Js Closeup

There are no crazed-eyed, kid-shaped gummies here. No wild tangles of hair or neon blue raspberry flavors. There are just these little alphabet letters. They make for good chewing. Think of them more as the all-natural, slightly softer Sour Patches of the gummy world. While the grapefruit ended up being a bit of a Snooze Fest, the rest of the flavors have solid citrus flavors and combine with one another excellently. The lemon tastes like lemon. The lime tastes like lime. The snozzberry…wait, there’s still no snozzberry?

Good job, Trader Joe’s. Until we meet again, I shall be searching for the snozzberry. Hopefully, I won’t run into any Great Horned Owls along the way.

(Nutrition Facts – 17 pieces – 150 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein..)

Item: Trader Joe’s Sour Gummies Ts & Js
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 7 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Tangy. Soft and chewy. Doesn’t result in jaw surgery. Lime doesn’t taste like dishwashing detergent. Lemon is like a Starburst. Tangerine is like Hi-C. Free refills at Taco Bell. Super Mario World 2.
Cons: Grapefruit doesn’t taste like grapefruit. Doesn’t satisfy Warhead-level sour cravings. No snozzberry flavor. Talon-wielding birds of prey.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

The Muffaletta.

The Bánh mì.

The Fat Darrell.

What do all three of these sandwiches have in common, aside from being excellent examples in regional specialties with cult-like followings?

They’re all, unequivocally, the three least desirable sandwiches on the planet earth to make a yogurt flavor out of.

Of course, this begs the question of why in God’s good name would you want to make yogurt that tastes like a sandwich? Granted, I think of a lot of weird shit when I’m standing at an open fridge thinking “geez what’s for lunch?” But to tell you the truth this has never really crossed my mind until Trader Joe’s debuted their Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt.

That’s correct — with nonfat Greek yogurt, as if Greek yogurt has been reduced to some third-rate opening act. Ok by me, if Trader Joe can pull it off. Let’s be real though, putting peanut butter and jelly into a yogurt isn’t like putting peanut butter and jelly into a Pop-Tart. No, this is something only a man in a Hawaiian shirt would be capable of pulling off.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt 2

For something produced by a company that supports such an eclectic sense of style, the look and feel of the yogurt leaves much to be desired. It’s more viscous than Greek yogurt ever should be, with a texture reminiscent of nonfat light yogurt that’s been sitting on the counter for too long. The color is, in its most flattering sense, a somewhat stained shade of beige that might adorn a dilapidated beach house. In less flattering terms, the color of your dog’s throw-up.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt 3

Moving right along, I’m struck by the presence of small strawberry seeds in the yogurt, a welcomed sign given my uncompromising position in the highly contentious issue of grape vs. strawberry jelly (no offense to you grape jelly loving heathens out there). Yet when I dip my spoon into the gloptuously gloopy mélange of peanut butter and jelly with yogurt, I’m just not getting that burst of unpretentious strawberry jelly I expect. It’s there, certainly, but the prevailing taste is peanut butter. Like real, seriously roasted and even stick-to-your-throat, peanut butter.

This is both supremely exciting and altogether disconcerting.

Let me explain. If it hasn’t occurred to you before now, the bread component is of unquestionable value to the heart and soul of peanut butter and jelly. Not just the sandwich, but peanut butter and jelly. Its glutinous texture and non-offensive taste serve as the perfect medium for the flavors to come together, a perfect balance of salty and sweet to mingle in unison to a Strauss Waltz. Get rid of the bread, or at least something functioning as bread (as with a Pop-Tart) and you remove that which allows the flavors to register in the familiar sense to the taste buds. Not being a taste bud I can’t speak with absolute certainty, but I’m pretty sure each spoonful caused those little guys to send a WTF meme to my brain.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt 4

There are a few other minor issues which add to this quandary; a slightly noticeable taste of peanut butter extract (which can be bitter), while the tartness standard in regular Greek yogurt isn’t quite offset by the strawberry sweetness. Probably the most noticeable, though, is the absence of a salty component. A salty peanut butter is the jam to my perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but the saltiness hardly registers with only 40 milligrams of sodium per container.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt captures the peanut butter taste we all know and love, but it does so in such an unfamiliar medium that even longtime PB&J fiends will find something  disconcerting about taking the plunge with their spoon. Coupled with a tart aftertaste which just has no place with the PB&J flavor profile, it makes for a novelty snack and proof that iconic sandwich flavors aren’t complexly off limits to being shoved into yogurt. But seriously, it’s weird, and one can only handle so much weird at a time from Trader Joe.

(Nutrition Facts – 170 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 40 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 14 grams of sugar, 14 grams of protein, 10 % calcium, and 4% iron.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 5.3 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Nails the peanut butter and jelly flavor with uncanny accuracy. Real bits of strawberry. Natural ingredients. No crusts. Probably much better than a cheesesteak flavored yogurt.
Cons: Missing the bread. Peanut butter lacks salty component to add to salty-sweet synergy. Strawberry isn’t as sweet as it should be. Tart aftertaste is just weird. The single most aesthetically displeasing product ever manufactured by a man in a Hawaiian shirt.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

What do we want this summer?

We want to accomplish our goals. To clean out our garages. To power wash the driveway. To fulfill that suppressed dream of joining Cirque du Soleil as a zebra.

We want to eat cold stuff. By the bucket-full. Ice cream works, but we want variety. We want snacks. Hand-sized snacks. Snacks that are parceled such that they are easy to carry, easy to share, and are arranged in such a way that you don’t have to make a big deal out of it: no sparklers or rhinestones or dainty bows, people. Just fun, simple, and sugar-laden.

Thus enters the Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Ready to be Chomped

At the size of a keychain Rubik’s Cube, each 25-gram bite comes out ready-to-go upon defrosting for two hours in the fridge, which translates to 30 minutes on my kitchen counter. Perhaps this 30 minutes seems like a Very Long Time to you (it did to me). Never fear. Simply channel your impatience into reverse engineering a Dodge Caliber or learning to play the bagpipes. Watch as 30 minutes goes by like a breeze.

Lacking the thick film of cookie butter seen in the holiday Cookie Butter Cheesecake, these come with a milder Speculoos hit than its seasonal counterpart, but the spice cookie still holds a strong presence in the form of a small swirl on the top of each bite. That swirly-gig of creamy cookie spread, coupled with the Speculoos crumb crust, just nudges at the trademark cinnamon-and-molasses spice cookie, which is plenty for me. I’m really here for the cheesecake, people.

And that cheesecake is dealt with grace. Nothing avant-garde. Just cream cheese and sugar, well-whipped and in a balanced ratio with the cookie butter. The cheesecake has that uniquely light yet dense quality that cream-cheese-based cheesecakes carry, ending with a tangy sweetness. If you’re sensitive to such tang, proceed with caution. If you adore such tang, prepare thyself to crave these at two in the afternoon, which is when they go splendidly with your afternoon coffee and lo, life is perfect.

But perfect only for a micro-second. Blink and the whole box could be gone in less time than it takes your roommate to pick up his/her socks (really, how long have those socks been there?), and, at $4.49 a box, these 12 cubes seem increasingly teeny. Luckily, the taste justifies the price and, with all that dairy and wheat pummeled somewhere in there, you can have them as part of your balanced breakfast. Some may say there’s too much sugar. You should not let such statements hold you back. I know I didn’t.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Breakfast Time

April on this East Coast is long: 30 shower-filled days, teasing false promises of “warmth.” But summer is coming. I know it. And I’m trying to be patient. These cheesecake bites? They help. They are pricey, yes, but they are worth enjoying.

Tangy, cool, and yet filled with warm Speculoos spice, they are the bridge between warm winter desserts and cool summer weather, carrying me into the Promise Land of lounging by the ocean with a glass of Kool-Aid, so pull out your over-sized flippers, grab a cheesecake bite, and prepare: summer’s coming.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 piece – 90 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 10.6 oz. box
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Cream cheese tang. Crumbly crust. Tangy sweetness. Balanced ratio of cookie butter:cheesecake. Summer’s coming. Becoming a Cirque Du Soleil zebra.
Cons: A little pricey for the small size. Must wait for them to defrost. Realizing I have no patience. Supports Cookie Butter’s world domination. Dainty bows. Socks that are never picked up.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt

What is happening?!?!?!?!

Cars are driving themselves.

Cookie Monster is a life coach.

Pink chickens are running around Portland.

And now this. Partially Popped Popcorn.

Like the rest of the above news, I am terrified, curious, and impossibly hopeful. Could this be re-animated Corn Nuts, one of the most brilliantly underrated gas station snacks of all time? Or is it the gunk at the bottom of my half-burnt popcorn bag? The stuff that drilled me with two cavities? Will it be brilliant? Will it be terrible? Will it be edible? (I don’t have dental insurance, people.)

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Tumble

Bust open the bag and gaze in wonderment at the poofs. They are smaller than I imagined (think: tinier than a marble, yet larger than a ladybug), but they make up for their diminutive size in aroma: just a slight crevice in the bag and wafts of butter, salt, and slightly sweet corn breeze into the air.

Less poofy Styrofoam associated with over-popped movie kernels, Trader Joe’s special “mushroom kernel” has a slight crisp-crackle before giving way to an inside that is both crisp and smooth with each kernel having a different level of partial puffiness. The kernel bits still have a special skill of getting snagged between teeth, but it seems that my former fear of actually chomping out a tooth has no basis in reality or logic, which seems to be a common trend with most of my thoughts.

Each corn bit is coated in a salty, buttery film that strikes a balance between the nutty butter and sodium while allowing the corn’s sweetness to come in at the end. What’s better is that this film is actual butter (in fact, the entire ingredient list is as follows: popcorn, canola oil, butter, and salt). It leaves a gentle trace on one’s fingers in much the same way as Cheetos might. This butter-salt mix combines with little crumbles of corn, leaving you with salty-sweet fingers to lick at the end of your journey and, as a result, less sorrow when you find your bag is empty. Less sorrow is good.

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Bowl of Habit Forming Goodness

Well, what a pleasant surprise. I dig these partially popped nubs. They are inverted and wackadoo, and, depending on your propensity for corn-like goodies, the full bag might be in your digestive system less than 15 minutes from the moment you crack it open. The plain butter-salt flavor may be boring for adventurous tasters, but when/if you get a hankering for a simple salty snack, these are worth a shot. If you pick them up and find yourself uninterested in their Plain Jane flavor, perhaps you could put them on mac ‘n cheese before you pop it in the oven or sprinkle them on an ice cream sundae for a crunch. I imagine it all going excellently.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Popcorn Traditionalists. I’m not saying these are better than regular popcorn. I’m just saying Orville Redenbacher should be distressingly anxious about his business right now.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/3 cup– 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Butter, butter everywhere. But not too much butter. Poofy. Crispy. Crunchy. Something new, delicious, and a little wonky. Low ingredient count. Corn=counts as a vegetable (right??). Cookie Monster as a life coach.
Cons: Generic butter-and-salt flavor may put some to sleep. Kernels have chance of getting stuck in teeth. Probably not REALLY a vegetable. Lack of dental insurance. Questionable pink chickens.