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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Friday, May 27, 2011

Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa

One of the best parts of writing for this blog is using it as an occasional forum to poke some light fun at my wife. Food is a pretty easy and tame avenue for me to do so. A few years ago as we were beginning our dating relationship, I remember it taking a lot of effort (and trial and error) on my part to try and learn Sandy's "food rules." Chili? No. Red meat? Except for a burger here and there, nope. Some vegetables are okay, others aren't. We kind of turned it into an ongoing joke where I said I'd need to keep a spreadsheet of what was and wasn't okay, and when. For example, squishy cooked vegetables are flat-out never acceptable. Onions are okay only sometimes, such as onion flavor, but Sandy doesn't like big chunks of them, except for onion rings. I really wanted to learn these rules so I could impress her and make sure when we were going somewhere there would be food choices she would like. I took it quite seriously, to the point where one night early on in our relationship when I was making a homemade dinner and dessert for us, I felt compelled to ask her if she liked from-scratch chocolate chip cookies because I didn't know and didn't want to make them if she didn't. As she can attest to, Sandy certainly loves them (who doesn't?) and probably wonders why I don't make them more often (the answer = like we need more cookies).

By now, I've grown so accustomed to them I rarely have to think about them much. It's kind of like natural knowledge at this point. And to her credit, I think she's opened up to more kinds of foods. But there's still one sure-fire food item that she'll refuse to have nearly any part with: tomatoes. Except for maybe a little ketch-up and just enough sauce to make her pasta noodles semi-red, Sandy wants nothing to do with them. Increasingly, salsa is getting some more leeway for her in this department, even though she's still a little wary of the chunkier varieties and prefers salsa verde, which is made from tomatillos, over the more usual salsa types.

I guess that's why Trader Jose's Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa appeals to her so much. There's the huge upfront plus of no tomatoey guts being spilled for its sake. Plus, it's something different than the usual variety, though I'm not so positive about its authenticity as an actual salsa class instead of being a gringoey gimmick. Correct me if I am wrong. The only other time I've seen or heard anything about corn-based salsa is at Qdoba's or Chipotle's, and though I've never tried it there, that stuff has always appeared to me to be more spiced corn than an actual salsa. That's how the TJ's brand strikes me as well, except to say it's spiced is a little bit of an overstatement. It doesn't have the spicy pepper meter that usually overstates heat level on the jar label, and I'd like to think that was on purpose because, to me, it'd barely register a blip. There's a little heat that emanates from the back of your throat after a corner-of-a-chip-ful or three, but that's about it, and it's more than balanced out by the overall sweetness. Like any good American food product, the two chief ingredients in the salsa are corn and sugar, which makes the salsa seemingly syrupy-sweet. There's not nearly enough jalapeños and spices to combat it with any sort of effectiveness. It's kinda like flinging rubberbands at a tank - not gonna work. One good thing the salsa has going for it is, it's decently fresh tasting as the corn kernels taste like they were just stripped from the cob, and certainly not mushy but good and firm, almost crunchy in a way.

Anyways, Sandy loves it. Last night, as I came downstairs after a post-work/pre-dinner shower, I could hear her rustling our bag of soy and flaxseed chips shut followed shortly by the sound of a jar lid being screwed back on. I got to the kitchen just in time to see her one step away from our fridge, half-gone jar of salsa in hand, with a very guilty look on her face. This is an extremely common scenario in our house, except with the roles reversed. Granted, we poked at it some the night before, but she did some serious work on it while I was washing away the day at work. "It's just so good, I could eat it by the spoonful," she said. "Apparently," I said as I shook my head and tsk-tsked her. I couldn't be too mad not only because I've been the guilty party in this situation way too often and therefore thought grace would be the wisest route to go, but also because honestly I don't like nearly as much as she does. I'm going to have to go low and give it a 1.5. Sorry, while it's a good premise and has potential, it just doesn't have enough spice to hold my interest, and it's way too sugary-sweet for me to even try to pretend it's a mild, enjoyable salsa for me. While she agreed it needed to be spicier, Sandy was so joyful about finding a salsa she liked without tomatoes, she literally broke out into song as she scaled our stairs to turn herself in for the night with a good book. "It has no tomatoes, it has no tomatoes, that makes me happpppyyyyy, it has no tomatoes," she sang to our beloved little fur baby as he no doubt shot back a quizzical look. Sandy toyed with giving it a perfect five before settling on a 4.5, tripling(!!!) my score. Usually we agree more or less on our rankings, so this type of split is definitely unprecedented and hard to repeat. Sandy's probably happy though, because since I don't like it so much, it means more for her.

Enjoy the rest of the jar, dear. All yours.

Bottom line: 6 out 10 Golden Spoons


  1. Must agree with your wife on this one! Perhaps not a "true" salsa, but really good, nonetheless!

  2. Hi Susan! Yeah, I can see other how other people would like it a lot more than me. TJ's does have a pretty decent salsa selection so it's tough to not find one or two to fall in love with, and if the corn salsa is your thing, go for it.

  3. mix in some avocado or mango and put it over seared scallops. u will love it!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks! 10 bucks and he's ALL yours :)

  5. I enjoy most types of salsa, and found this product absolutely foul. It was too sweet, and the coriander does not, in my opinion, work with the other flavors. It made this sugary mass of clashing flavors.

  6. I don't like it as is, but use a whole jar of it as part of the filling for pork or chicken enchiladas. Once you try it however, your regular enchiladas will taste bland without it.