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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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Trader Joe's Fat Free Spicy Black Bean Dip

Before I ever met Sandy, I seriously doubt I ever ate a single black bean in my life. There's not a single childhood dinner I can recall with them included - the only beans I can remember were green, Boston baked, or red kidney when my dad and I made chili. And I think my mom very occasionally made lima beans when my siblings and I were being jerks and deserved to eat something nasty. But black beans? Except black jelly beans (my absolute favorite - there was a candy stand my folks took us to every Easter Saturday that sold a bag of only black ones - I was in heaven), nope. I'm willing to bet my surviving baseball card collection on it. It might be worth a whole $20...thanks early '90s market glut!

But once Sandy and I started spending some QT together, one of the first things I learned was, girl loves her black beans. Loves. That might not be strong enough of a word. Any way she can eat them, she will and be on Cloud 9. Black bean burgers, omelets, quesadillas with corn too, beans and rice with chorizo, bean chips, pizza, brownies...the only thing she won't touch with black beans is my homemade chili. She has no idea what she's missing. I've quickly learned to really enjoy them, too and I'd say they're now considered a definite staple of our diet, and I don't mind that one bit. They're good, wholesome, tasty, and satisfying. Both Sandy and I like hot and spicy fare as well (I can stand hotter and spicier, but she has a pretty boffo palate, especially for a girl), so hot and spicy, black bean based dishes are almost always a hit for us.

Which is exactly why TJ's Fat Free Spicy Black Bean Dip is so incredibly disappointing. If TJ's dips and salsas were Jennifer Lopez, this would be her "Gigli." If it were Sean Connery, this would be George Lazenby. If it were a basketball team, it would definitely be this year's Miami Heat...sans the heat, that is. And what talents Lebron James may or may not have brought.

Hate to do it, but I have to call out the pepper spice-o-meter on the label on this one. It's about 2/3 full, so I was expecting it to be at least somewhat spicy. Well, the dip is 2/3 full...of vinegar. Once again, Trader Joe's, VINEGAR ≠ SPICE. No no no no no no no. I took a bite tonight and immediately made the bitter beer face the instant this assaulted my taste buds. Ugh. It was if someone condensed all the flavor from a bag of salt and vinegar chips, ground it down and dumped it into the one corner I lifted with my tortilla chip. Each successive bite wasn't much better except I was able to brace myself better and not stomp as much. Maybe that's your kind of thing. For me, heck no. To be honest, by now, I so distrust that pepper pictogram and believe it is so full of lies and deceit I expect it to run for office any day now, or at least call me about a credit card offer.

That's all you taste, the vinegar. Nothing else. TJ's might as well have marketed this under dark vinegar hummus-y matter. Sandy, who likes it marginally more than I do, wholeheartedly agrees. "I wish it actually tasted like black beans or was actually spicy," she said. I concur. I look at the ingredients label and wonder where all the other stuff is - Onions? JalapeƱos? Bueller? - it's indiscernible in this horrid mix of blahness. I took several tastes of it trying to figure out if there was any other aspect to the flavor but there's absolutely none. It's just nasty, not the nastiest thing I've ever had from Trader Joe's, but not too far off either.

Like I said, though, the love of my life also loves her black beans madly, and like she has to do with me from time to time, I think she affords the black bean dip a certain level of grace. She gave it a two despite her misgivings...then again, she loves salt and vinegar chips, too, but this is a low, low grade for her with anything involving black beans as a primary ingredient. I have to go lower. I originally thought one, to give it some of the doubt, but seriously considered a zero too. I think something has to be truly epically bad to be given a zero, though, and this falls just short of that criterion. Half a star from me. Hate to be harsh, but have to call it as I see it.

Bottom line: 2.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

29 comments:

  1. Do you ever give a product a second chance? I only ask because this is one of my favorite products at TJs. Of course, our taste buds may just differ, but maybe you got a jar from a bad lot.

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  2. I just tried this and I have to agree. There is way too much vinegar, and I, much like your wife, love all things black bean. I was so excited to see this dip, but was so so sad when I tasted it.

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  3. Matthew - I actually first tried it months ago, before writing for this blog, and didn't like it and had much the same reaction. Second go-around was much of the same for me. Hey, to each their own, right?
    Eve - I really wish it were better so I'd like it. I saw someone recommend maybe on the Daily Meal article that it's good mixed with sour cream. But stand-alone, yeah, it's bad.

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  4. Totally off! I use this as a condiment, makes a great spread for sandwiches and quesadillas. You can add a couple tablespoons to soups and sauces and I mix it into salsa and tomato sauce to create a great Tex-Mex lasagne. The biggest problem with Joe's foods is the sodium, but if you cut their products with other wholesome ingredients you're good...

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  5. I love this stuff! It's a great value compared to the other salsa/dips and it's either 0 or 1 point for people on weight watchers! It's true it isn't very black-beany but if you like tangy and spicy it's great!

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  6. "Tangy" and "spicy" are not the words that come to mind for me for these. I've gotten lots of feedback saying that it's better when mixed with salsa or sour cream. I can buy that. Just, for me, for a stand-alone product, no thanks!

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  7. Stumbled across your blog - Love TJs so great to read some reviews. Actually have their chocolate cake baking in the oven right this second! I totally disagree with this one, though :) I LOVE this dip paired with TJ BBQ popped chips. Sounds like a strange pairing, I know - but a great, fairly low-cal snack.

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  8. I haven't actually tried this dip because I forget to buy it every time I got to trader joes, but this seems to be a love or hate product... another blog i was looking at had their own recipe to recreate this dip at home http://peasandthankyou.com/2011/07/05/wannabe-recipea-spicy-black-bean-dip/

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  9. This is the first thing at Trader Joe's that I ever tried and it is the reason I will keep going back. SO GOOD!!

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  10. I stumbled upon your blog, and I have to say, I agree! This was disgusting. Worst of all, I brought it to a little jazz on the lawn thing we have in my town, and was rightfully embarrassed!

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  11. hmmm - well we have been hooked on this for years and it is a staple of our diet. And I have taken it to lots of places and turned lots of people onto it and never had anyone dislike it. Different strokes for different folks.

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  12. The vinegar is off the charts on this stuff. Very surprised at the comments indicating otherwise.

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  13. Wow - just tried it and my thought was "did someone at the factory double or triple the vinegar by mistake?". I took a can of black beans from the cupboard, drained and put them in the food processor with the jared dip. Still too vinegary but will be able to at least eat it. I googled "vinegar + Trader joe's bean dip" and found your review. I am delighted to find out I am not the only one who found the taste awful. But the good news is I now know about your site and will read some of your reviews on my hunt for good and tasty food. THanks!

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  14. Amelia, Aaron, and Melanie - finally, more people agree with me! Ugh, it's bad. To each their own but...jeez, I don't like it at all.

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  15. this jar is the hardest thing to open ever! seriously every time I buy it...

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  16. Wow, this stuff is great for diets. it is only 12 calories per 2 tablespoon serving size. Plus if you take one bite you will either quit eating it or you will throw up.

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  17. The most important thing, in my opinion, to realize about this product is that Trader Joe's ORIGINALLY offered it in TWO flavors: Spicy and Smoky. The Smoky flavor was one thousand times better! Inexplicably they canceled it... I still like the "Spicy" (= Vinegary) version myself, but it probably should be called Black Bean Vinegar Dip to be fair.

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  18. More sour than a lemon pickled with vinegar.
    This is just plain sh#$.

    Isnt trader joes aware of this? Where is it made?

    Toxic dip like acetone.

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  19. I've not tried this product from TJ's but I've had one that looked and tasted exactly how you described this, and I suspect it may be the same product in different clothes. It's Guiltless Gourmet Spicy Black Bean Dip.
    http://www.guiltlessgourmet.com/products/dips/spicyblackbean.php

    I tried to eat it a couple times but it mostly sat in the back of my fridge until I eventually through it out. My first thought, after the pucker face wore off, was "Where's the spice?"

    Now I know not to try this at Trader Joe's either.

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  20. Haha!! I thought the SAME THING! Too vinegary =6 I actaully found this trying to figure out how I can use this dip! I hate to throw it away.

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    1. Hooray! Someone else who agrees with me! It is pretty gross...

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  21. I have no idea how this tastes by itself, but I do know that a jar of this, a jar of their Queso salsa, and a pint of sour cream makes an astonishingly great and universally revered dip. I'm making a batch tomorrow as a birthday treat and I've actually been looking forward to it for weeks.

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  22. i might have to try this on a sandwich or some place else where the vinegar will be cut but HOLY VINEGAR! the first time i had this dip i was slightly intoxicated and thought maybe that was throwing my taste buds, but nope. sure enough the next morning i tried it with some flaxseed chips for lunch and just as bad. at least it was cheap, but i definitely won't be buying this again.

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  23. I was kind of sad to read this review because this is one of my favorite things from Trader Joe's, and I'm not really even a black bean fan. I will admit that one of the reasons I like it is because of the vinegar taste and because it's not spicy. If you're expecting spice I can see how it would be disappointing.

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  24. This is one of my favorite products - but it is probably based on what I do with it. We may soy chiorizo and egg burritos on Sundays for brunch. I use this bean dip as a spread in the burrito before layering on the eggs/chiorizo. It adds a nice punch to the burrito.

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  25. i was shocked when i took my first bite... thought it would be more spicy and that there would be bean flavor... instead, it just tastes sour!

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  26. I was wondering if anyone else thought this. I got a jar and when I tried it I immediate thought it was outdated or rotten. All I tasted was vinegar too. No beans. It's crap. I have no idea who buys this.

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  27. This is hands down my favorite thing to get at Trader Joes!! Love this!!

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  28. I looked up this review when I took a bite of this stuff for the first time and thought surely this can't be right ... maybe I got a weird, messed up batch of the bean dip where they accidentally dumped an extra few gallons of vinegar in ... because you're absolutely right! Glad to know I'm not alone, but also disappointed that I didn't have just a weird fluke jar of it. If TJ's could ever get a good bean dip recipe that actually tastes like black beans, they'd be doing good business!!

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