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The Best and Worst Products at Trader Joe’s Volume 5

The Best and Worst Products at Trader Joe’s Volume 5

If you love Trader Joe's — the colorful shirts, the nametags, the friendly atmosphere, all the quirky products — then you've probably done product recon on What's Good at Trader Joe's?, the four-member team-review site that has been rating the store's best and worst products since August of 2010. Nathan Rodgers, his wife, Sonia, their friend Russ Shelly, and his wife, Sandy, set out almost five years ago to review the cult grocer's 4,500 or so products. They’ve been working their way through all of the offbeat supermarket’s offerings, and five categories are up for review today.

The Best and Worst Products at Trader Joe’s Volume 5 (Slideshow)

While the reviewers are unabashed fans of Trader Joe's, they take their mission seriously, and aren’t afraid to post negative reviews when they don’t like a product. Here's their process:

• They rate products on a scale of one to 10, 10 being the highest.

• For any post, two people rate the product.

• Reviewers give their overall impressions.

In previous installments on The Daily Meal (find Volume 1 here, Volume 2 here, Volume 3 here, and Volume 4 here, and all Trader Joe's reviews here), the good folks at What's Good at Trader Joe's reviewed at least four or five products in each category. Best breakfast, best appetizers, best vegetarian, best frozen treats — there's as wide a range of categories as you'd expect.

But Nathan, Sonia, Russ, and Sandy have had some fun with the categories, too, including things like "Spousal Discrepancy" (when couples disagree) "Biggest Winner Versus Expectation," and "Worst. Stuff. Ever."

For our fifth installment, we’re showcasing the team’s opinions on five new categories: the best hot beverages, condiments, gluten-free goodies, and frozen desserts, and the worst (you knew there would be a worst) sweets. Each product was graded on a scale of one to 10, and the top (or bottom, as the case may be) five products in each category are highlighted. So read on to learn what to buy, and what not to buy, the next time you visit Trader Joe’s.

Hot Beverages #5: Trader Joe's Gingerbread Coffee


Ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg make this coffee a great way to start a cold winter morning. It's like a gingerbread man took a little dip in your java.

Final rating: 7 out of 10

Hot Beverages #4: Trader Joe's Unsweetened Cocoa Powder


Although it's primarily a baking ingredient, it also makes a decent base for deep, dark hot cocoa. Add a good amount of sugar if you're averse to a bit of bitterness.

Final rating: 7.5 out of 10


The Best and Worst Trader Joe's Ice Cream Flavors, Ranked

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With so many options, the frozen aisle at Trader Joe’s can get a little overwhelming. There are always over a dozen flavors of Trader Joe's ice cream, not to mention other frozen desserts.

According to my research, there are currently 17 full time Trader Joe's ice cream and non-dairy frozen desserts available. And that’s not even including the limited edition ice creams that are always coming and going.

I’ve taken the liberty of ranking each option that’s currently in their freezers, so you don’t have to make a wild guess at what flavor to pick up next.


Argentinian Red Shrimp (frozen)

(from the package) Trader Joe’s Argentinian Red Shrimp are caught off the southern coast of Argentina. They have a sweet lobster like flavor and texture. Grill, barbecue or sauté…”.

I now buy these frozen shrimp at Trader Joe’s all the time. Once I tried them I found they were excellent for taste and value. These are nice, very good sized shrimp (aka Large) 20/25 count, wild caught, not farmed, uncooked “Argentinian Red Shrimp”* that have been cleaned and flash frozen separately, so easy to take just some and freeze the rest. Super convenient.

Patagonian Red Shrimp are said to be “the sweetest shrimp in the world”. Well maybe a marketer came up with that, but they are nice and sweet!

If I’m not using the whole bag of shrimp at once I just take out as many as I need and put the rest back closed with a twisty and double bagged in another ziplock freezer bag.

One can cook these Patagonian Red Shrimp any way that you would normally use any other shrimp, after defrosting them of course. So first things first, best ways to defrost them. First I would suggest leaving them to slowly thaw in the fridge overnight or longer in a covered bowl.

If you have less time, some options: Leave them in a colander over a bowl (save any liquid – shrimp stock).

OR: Put them in a ziplock bag, submerge the bag in a bowl, and run a light stream of cold water till defrosted. Weight bag down with a plate. They will be defrosted in about 15 minutes. Save any juice they give up which you can use as “shrimp stock”. I also have simply put them in a bowl and covered them with an inch of cold water, stirring them every 5 minutes or so, which worked as well.

Cooking: If you are say using a sauce, you can simmer your (defrosted) shrimp slowly in the sauce at the very end cooking them maybe 2-3 minutes (turning them over once). Whatever cooking method you use, be sure not to overcook them. They say Patagonian Red Shrimp actually cook faster than other shrimp. They do cook quite quickly, in maybe 1-2 minutes. As soon as they are no longer translucent and look firmed up they are done, or at least should be removed at that point and then added back to your dish at the end. Not over cooking them will keep them tender, juicy and plump the way you want them. If you overcook shrimp they become tougher/chewier. You can blot them with a paper towel, sprinkle them with a little seasoned flour, or panko, and sauté them in oil and butter. One little trick I saw on MilkStreet recently was to grill shrimp on one side only, take them out of the pan then finish them in the dish for one minute. This is a Great idea!

These shrimp are of course great grilled or sautéed in garlic and butter, and used in a pasta dish for example, or any shrimp dish. They are equally great gently poached (TIP: marinate 15 min in lots of TJ’s CUBAN SPICE BLEND, super yummy) Or any spices of your choosing.

TJ’s Wild Red Shrimp cost $10 for a 1 lb. bag (20/25 count). If you find these Patagonia Red Shrimp frozen or fresh they are usually double that price elsewhere. (UPDATE : TJ recently raised the price not long after I posted this they are now $11 – Feb 2021).


Snacks

If I am having a large party or a houseful of guests for the weekend, there is no better place to stock up on nibbles, cocktail party snacks, or little sweet treats to have on hand. Here were the ones that the most people wish would come back:

  1. The Frozen Phyllo Cigars with brie and raspberry. The ideal thing to keep in the freezer for spontaneous guests or an easy start to a dinner party.
  2. The Black Bean Taquitos apparently made a big impression, especially since they were a great appetizer, but also worked as an after-school snack, or even a light lunch or dinner in a pinch. Many said they were their go-to option for vegetarians at parties.
  3. Japanese Frozen Sticky Rice snacks were apparently very popular with parents and kids alike. Celise said, “We were heartbroken when they were discontinued.”
  4. Vegetable Shumai was another global favorite, people praised the ease of preparation and everyone said that they were always the first thing to disappear off the buffet, and many mentioned them as being the “vegetarian dish that the meat lovers loved.”
  5. Ginger Cat Cookies still have a lot of fans out there. Anna said “they were a decades-long staple in our house, and one of the only cookies we were allowed growing up. Still mourning their loss after five years.”

The 5 Most Popular Products at Trader Joe’s in 2019

Today is a special day. It might be Monday again (UGH) and also January (DOUBLE UGH), but today is also the day that Trader Joe’s blesses us all with a gift: The results of their 11th Annual Customer Choice Awards!

For over a decade now, Trader Joe’s has asked its customers to tell them their favorite products of the year, and every year it’s one of my favorite things we get to talk about on Kitchn. We talk about Trader Joe’s a lot on the site. We try all the new products, we round up the best things we’ve tasted, we cover all the trends we’ve seen at the cult-favorite grocery store, but TODAY we get to hear from the real MVPs: the customers themselves.

For the past five years that I’ve personally covered the Customer Choice Awards, there’s only been two products that have won overall favorite. First, there was the cookie butter for 2014 and 2015, and then for the past three years (2016, 2017, 2018) the Mandarin Orange Chicken has been the supreme ruler of all products. WELL, this year is different. This year, a new product has taken the throne and I’m honestly a little surprised it hadn’t taken the lead before considering it’s been around (and so popular) for the last few years.


"Oh, holy crap. I bought them the other day and ended up eating the last one that was supposed to be for my boyfriend. Made a special trip Friday evening to buy more. I had to have him hide the last one so I wouldn't eat it again. They're incredible."

"Honestly these are some of the best cupcakes I've ever had (including homemade, Magnolia, and Georgetown.)"


The Best Products at Trader Joe's 2021

Favorite Produce

Teeny Tiny Avocados

A top choice of crew members and shoppers alike, these single-serving avocados are "so conveniently sized," explains co-host Matt Sloan, the brand&aposs vice president of marketing, on the newest Inside Trader Joe&aposs podcast all about the results. "Literally handy," adds co-host and marketing director Tara Miller (earning our vote for best food pun of the day). Bananas, Honeycrisp Apples, Organic Arugula and the Broccoli and Kale Slaw Kit also ranked high among their fruit and vegetable competition.

Favorite Entrée

Mandarin Orange Chicken

In a landslide victory, this frozen Chinese-inspired entrພ "received 10 times as many votes as the second highest vote-getter in this category," Miller says in the podcast. It was also last year&aposs #1 main dish pick. Also earning a substantial amount of votes and worthy of a spot on your shopping list, according to loyal TJ fans: Joe&aposs Diner Mac &aposn Cheese, Chicken Tikka Masala, Cauliflower Gnocchi and Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Butter and Sage.

Favorite Snack

Salted Peanut Butter Filled Pretzel Nuggets

A consistent favorite of both crew members and customers, these 10-calorie bites are crunchy, salty and sweet all at once. While you&aposre in the snack aisle, this year&aposs voters say to also grab runners-up Organic Corn Chip Dippers and Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers, Plantain Chips, Chili and Lime Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips and Bamba.

Favorite Cheese

Unexpected Cheddar

For more years than the hosts admit they can count, this crowd-pleasing Cheddar is a winning addition to a cheese board or a quick and easy homemade mac and cheese. Honorable mentions in the cheese case this year go to English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions, Wild Blueberry and Vanilla Chèvre, Creamy Toscano Soaked in Syrah and Baked Lemon Ricotta (seasonal).

Favorite Vegan or Vegetarian Item

Soy Chorizo

Even though it didn&apost make the crew members&apos list of top five plant-based items at Trader Joe&aposs, this spicy soy-sage is certainly a winner with shoppers. "So versatile," Sloan says. "Like if you do roasted potatoes, bell peppers, onions, actually carrots, and then you put Soy Chorizo in there and make a burrito—good stuff." (Their culinary wizards also suggest using it in biscuits and gravy, frittatas and low-carb cauliflower thin tacos.) Other fan faves in the meatless category this year include Vegan Kale, Cashew and Basil Pesto, Cauliflower Gnocchi, Vegetable Fried Rice and Vegan Banana Bread With Walnuts.

Favorite Sweet Treat

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Nearly impossible to pass up on any TJ&aposs stock-up trip, these Reese&aposs cup copycats will satisfy your sweet tooth as-is or make a delicious addition to six-ingredient flourless peanut butter cookies. If you&aposre in the mood for other dessert champions, consider this year&aposs runners-up: Hold the Cone! Mini Ice Cream Cones, Sublime Ice Cream Sandwiches, O&H Danish Kringle (seasonal) and Brookies (an irresistible brownie-cookie mashup).

Favorite Beverage

Sparkling Black Tea with Peach Juice Beverage

In its first year sold and up for nomination, this refreshing drink (try it spiked with whiskey!) beat out competitors including Sparkling Honeycrisp Apple Juice Beverage, Non-Dairy Oat Beverages, Cold Brew Concentrate and Spiced Cider.

Favorite in Home, Bath and Beauty

Scented Candles

Made with a soy wax blend and with a 20-hour burn time, these candles are so popular, you could say they&aposre on fire. (Sorry!) They come in a variety of seasonal scents throughout the year. "The Cedar Balsam was the top vote-getting individual candle. the second highest vote-getter that went to the Honeycrisp Apple, which was really, really close to the Cedar Balsam," Miller reveals in the podcast. Hot on the heels of the candles were the self-care runners-up: Grapefruit and Lemon Hand Sanitizer Spray, Ultra Moisturizing Hand Creams (seasonal), Rose Water Facial Toner (seasonal) and Shea Butter and Coconut Oil Hair Mask.

Favorite Overall

Drumroll please. Beating out last year&aposs winner, Everything But The Bagel Seasoning Blend as well as perpetual faves Cauliflower Gnocchi, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Unexpected Cheddar, it&aposs Mandarin Orange Chicken FTW!


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.


Expensive hand soaps are a treat for visiting guests (yourself, too, of course), but it’s frequently difficult to justify buying a bottle that’s ten, sometimes 20 dollars more than the most basic option at the store. With the Trader Jacques French Liquid Soap, you get the subtle but sweet scents of a floral honey with the skin-healing hydration of a soap three or four times its cost𠅊nd no one has to know it was only $3.99.

The Trader Joe’s Coconut Body Butter has a big collection of fans, which makes this one of the brand’s most popular non-edible food options. (The $5.49 price tag doesn’t hurt, either.) Launched in 2012, you might struggle to find the hydrating lotion in winter months, when dry skin drives everyone to buy the brand’s body butter by the bucket. The thick, smooth cream leaves behind no oily residue but plenty of soft, fresh skin. In the fall, look for limited edition Pumpkin Body Butter.


Here Are the Most-Loved Trader Joe’s Products of the Year, According to Customers

The 12th Annual Customer Choice Awards spotlights the best Trader Joe’s products right now. Did your favorites make the cut?

Each year, fan-favorite grocery store Trader Joe&aposs invites its legions of customers to vote for the best products of the previous year, and the winners for 2020 (collected in early 2021) are in. Some might argue that everything at Trader Joe&aposs is worth buying, but regulars certainly have their favorites𠅊nd their votes don&apost lie.

Many winners of the 12th Annual Customer Choice Awards are tried-and-true classics, but some are trendier, newer options, or even some products that aren&apost necessarily offered at all stores.

In the announcement of the winners, the grocery store chain does note that availability of all items is not guaranteed, especially when it comes to seasonal favorites, so don&apost be surprised if you have to wait until the next holiday to get your hands on certain items. As any savvy TJ&aposs customer knows, the chain doesn&apost stock the same items (particularly niche or seasonal items) at every single store if you see an item on the list of the best products at Trader Joe&aposs that you haven&apost seen in your store, it likely just hasn&apost arrived yet, or is a more niche item.

In the past, the awards were split into 16 categories, with one winner and four runners-up for each, for a total of 80 top-ranked Trader Joe&aposs items. This year, the Awards were simplified a little bit, with just nine categories, though long-time fans of the grocery chain will still see some familiar products, plus a few shake-ups. (Spoiler alert: Everything But the Bagel Seasoning Blend has been dethroned in one major category.)

Get your grocery list ready and scroll on for the 2020 winners—these top items may give your next TJ&aposs run a new purpose.