Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trader Joe's Twigs, Flakes & Clusters


Growing up in my family, it was pretty easy to tell which parent made the grocery store trek for the week simply based on the cereal on the pantry shelf. If my mom made the trip, we’d be stock full of Cheerios, Chex, Special K, and stuff like that. If she felt wild and crazy, it meant it was time for Crispix. My dad, on the other hand, loved his Cocoa Puffs and would always snag a box when given the chance. One time, he must have found one heckuva coupon and came back with at least six boxes of them, a boatload of Trix, and who knows what other kind of sugary goodness galore. I’m sure he got at least a good Marge Simpson-esque groan when my mom found out. One of my favorite memories from growing up is, on my birthday one year before my mom woke up, my dad made me an awesome ice cream sundae with all the fixings and added Cheerios so we could semi-truthfully tell her that I had Cheerios for breakfast. It’s kind of how my folks were, and they’ve peacefully coexisted and enjoyed each other’s company for 35-plus years despite not always seeing eye-to-eye on breakfast cereal choice.

I kinda am beginning to see a similar pattern developing with Sandy and I, with the two of us playing the same roles. Sandy loves her healthy, plain, simple cereals. I, on the other hand, immensely enjoy chomping down on pretty much any cereal with chocolate, marshmallows, copious amounts of sugar, and/or a deluge of artificial food color and flavor (i.e., anything with “Froot” in its name). If it makes my teeth hurt afterwards, all the better. This is what you get when you have sundaes with cereal for breakfast in your formative years. This isn’t to say that sometimes Sandy doesn’t get a little swayed into having a bowl or baggie of my choice of stuff, or that I can’t enjoy some of the healthy stuff, but when making our cereal choices, we both definitely have our tendencies. We found a happy medium at TJ's with the Honey Nut O’s, but my buddy Nathan already reviewed them, and though his post is relatively pretty short compared to even this one so far, I agree with it enough to not step on his toes and re-review it. So on our latest Trader Joe trip, Sandy and I set out to find another cereal to try out for this week.

It was kinda hiding in an almost-embarrassed kind of way on the bottom shelf, but my eyes spotted the box of Twigs, Flakes & Clusters and thought it just might be worth the try. There were no cartoon characters trying to tempt me into rotting my teeth out, so I’m not sure why it did, but it did and Sandy thought it sounded good to her, the ever sensible one, too.

The Twigs, Flakes & Clusters aren’t too bad. I’ll start with the positives. As far as cereal goes, it’s pretty healthy - lots of fiber, protein, important stuff like that. Low sodium, too. Usually when I wake up, I have the appetite of a bear coming out of hibernation and when cereal is on the breakfast menu, I eat one-and-a-half decent sized bowls of whatever. Because this stuff is so fiber dense, it filled me up with eating a lot less, and it carried through from about 6:30 a.m. when I ate it to about 11:30 a.m., which is a personal record. That’s a big plus, and I liked the fact it was crunchy all the way to the last bite instead of degenerating into mushy nastiness. A rough, pre-caffeine content analysis says this stuff is probably about 75% Twigs, 20% Flakes, and 5% Clusters. Though I certainly would have liked more of the tasty oat clusters, I didn’t mind all the Twigs because they’re what maintained the crunchiness (think Chinese-ish lo mein noodles from a canister, and they’re roughly like them, except better), while the flakes drowned and sank in the milk by the end.

As for the downside … they don’t necessarily taste bad, but they could be better. The twigs, flakes and clusters actually have some decent flavor by themselves to them that could have been enhanced by maybe a little sugar or some honey. I was thinking that maybe some nuts or berries might have helped, but then, they’d probably have to opt for a different name (think about it). After glancing at the ingredients, I think it’s a matter of them trying to be a little fancy. Instead of one of the aforementioned choices, TJ”s opted to try to sweeten them with stuff like pineapple juice. Also it lists “organic evaporated cane juice” - I realize that’s probably different then the overly refined, bleached granules you can pour out of a bag of Domino’s, but still, that’s sugar. Actually, I know it’s different because of the overall aftertaste - between that and the pineapple juice, it’s vaguely sweet, almost tinny, and definitely weird because the twigs, etc, don’t taste all that sweet when biting in - a little sweet, sure, but enough to warrant such an aftertaste. For me, it’s somewhat off-putting, and while it may not prohibit me from getting another bowl, the jury’s out in regards to another box.

True to form, Sandy likes this stuff a fair amount. It’s the healthy aura, the crunch, and the fact that it also filled her up for a full morning as well. She had nothing negative to say about the taste, so maybe it’s just me, but she didn’t say anything overwhelmingly positive about it either. She claims one of her kids at the school she teaches at loves this stuff, or at least twigs in general. She gives the Twigs, Flakes & Clusters a solid 3.5 out of 5. I can’t quite say the same but I’ll give them some extra credit for the texture where the taste falls short to give them a respectable 2.5.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

1 comment:

  1. 10 out of 10 for me. Add a banana and some cinnamon to a bowl of this is an awesome breakfast or lunch. Unfortunately I think they have stopped carrying it. Pure twigs for me now :)

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