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, December 14, 2011

Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread

...what's that you say? "Better than Nutella"??? Them's fightin' words where I come from!

Someone on our Facebook page stated that about the new Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread. Fair enough, I say, we're all entitled to our own opinions. That's kinda one of the premises of this whole blog, after all. But when at Trader Joe's for myself and seeing this on the new product endcap and it say so right on the product tag, well, we're in for a scrap.

See, I love Nutella. My wife Sandy says that's an understatement. It's gotten to the point that whenever I purchase it, I have to be a jar for me and a jar for her, mostly because I want to eat it all while she wants to be sure to have some handy whenever she wants. I'm sure she's hiding her jar somewhere...wish I knew where...I wish I had the chance to do something like that to her. Want to know a truly decadent and kinda weird way to enjoy some Nutella that I just discovered? Try Nutella topped with crumbled bacon on a whole wheat waffle (the whole wheat is to make it healthy). Freakin' amazing. Just don't over do that, Elvis.

Anyways, if TJ's claims to have a better chocolate nut spread than Nutella, there's only one way I know how to determine the winner: a full out, jaro-a-jaro, chocolatey cage match to the death!!!...err, to my belly! This method helped crown the king of fake sausage a while back so let's get it started.

Ringside Introductions: In the left corner, from Canada, weighing in at 13 ounces of pure choco-nutty tastiness, costing $3.99 (but conveniently on sale this week for cheaper at a non-TJ's), ladies and gentlemen, it's Nutella! Wooooooo!!!!!

On the right, coming to you from Belgium, also weighing in at 13 ounces, the unknown challenger, also costing $3.99, is Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread! *mild applause*

Round One: First Impressions: Nutella comes in a oval-shaped jar with a round opening, which I know from experience makes it slightly tough to scrape out every tasty tidbit. It has very plain looking packaging but full of cool stuff like "over 50 hazelnuts per jar" (for the 13 oz size) and disclaimers stating to not refrigerate or microwave it. It doesn't say why but I like to believe that it has Happy Fun Ball-like properties if improperly provoked. The TJ's has a round jar and a cooler illustration on the front (both plusses), but the name's kinda clunky. "Cocoa Almond Spread"...hmm...maybe like "Can-u-tella it's not Nutella?" Ok, that's lame, but a step in the right direction. No fun nutty statements either. Judges' decision: draw.

Round Two: Nutrition: Look at the pics and figure out how you'd split that. A few differences? Sure, but nothing definitive enough for me to make a call. Ingredient lists seem to be pretty similar with the obvious exception of Nutella having hazelnuts and, from what I hear, the Cocoa Almond Spread having almonds. Maybe that makes a difference to you, but it doesn't to me. Ohbytheway, they're both terrible for you. Judges' decision: draw.

Round Three: Appearance Upon Opening and Spreading: Twist the lid open and bust the foil seal on either of them, and you'll be greeted by much the same sight: a brown smooth vat of deliciousness waiting to be devoured. The TJ's is kinda darker, though, and doesn't have as much of a glassy sheen. Pretending they were marching towards a tar pit of muddy despair, I grabbed some animal crackers to dip in both. The Nutella seems a little softer when dipping things in, as it draws out and curls up a little bit more than the TJ's. The Nutella also spread better on top of bread when tested. The TJ's was close, but not quite as dippable/spreadable. Judges' decision: Nutella, but it's close.

Round Four: Texture: Pretty related to the third round, of course. Along with its slightly superior spreadability, the Nutella is creamier and lighter than the Cocoa Almond Spread. The TJ's is more dense and lays a little thicker and lingers around a little longer in your mouth. Both have their plusses but.. Judges' decision: Nutella. To me, it's close. To Sandy, not so much.

Round Five: Taste: In the first four rounds, we have two draws and two slight advantages to the Nutella, leaving the TJ's brand with a fighting chance if it tastes better than its competition. And again, it's close. Imagine if you will two heavyweights fighting at the top of their game, and this is what we got. This ain't Little Mac against Mike Tyson here. And as always, it comes down to taste, and taste invariably comes down to preference. Like milk chocolate with hazelnuts and a little extra sugar? You'll like Nutella. Almonds and dark chocolate? The TJ's just may be your winner. Both are rich, full of chocolate, and with the toasted elements of their respective nuts being present. Nutella tastes a little richer and kinda silky, if that makes sense, while the TJ's is just more straight on. To me, they're both appealing and both tasty, and I'd eat either one of them and be a happy fat kid while invariably smearing it all over my face. But we can have only one winner. Judges' decision: Nutella.

Post Fight Wrap Up: Sandy likes them both, too, but it's a clearer decision for her. I'm not sure what she'd rate Nutella at, but it's on my personal pantheon, so Nutella is an absolute five for me. Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread is step, however small, below. I'm wavering between a 4 and a 4.5. Not shabby there, rookie. Sandy's not quite as enamored with the TJ's. "The texture's a little bit weird and kinda off," she said. Also, as she flatly stated while climbing into the car a morning or two ago after sampling it for the first time, "The Trader Joe's just isn't as good as Nutella. Taste isn't as yummy." So there you have it. Sandy said she'd three it up. Seems a little low to me, so I'll go with that 4.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

9 comments:

  1. I like, not love, Nutella. Not sure why, cause I love nuts and chocolate. Based on your taste test, I just might like TJ's Cocoa Almond spread more. I'll have to try it, it might be the almonds and darker chocolate that make that combo go over the top for me. Anywhere I can put bacon, especially TJ's Applewood Smoked, I'm on it. Thanks again for an informative, fun review............

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  2. Although I am a Nutella fan, I do this. Happy Holidays, Susan Cooper

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  3. I don't know where you hail from geographically but in Brooklyn, NY a lot of the ethnic (Turkish or Russian) groceries have Nutella for cheaper than 3.99 all the time, no need to wait for sales.

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  4. I went to my local TJ's this weekend to buy a tub and they told me that it was back-ordered until January 12th! Eek! BUT, on another note, I noticed TJ's new speculoos cookie butter...hopefully we'll be seeing a side-by-side comparison of that and Biscoff spread soon? :)

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  5. I'm not a fan of hazelnuts, so I'm excited to learn about this chocolate almond spread... I'm going to stock up and just substitute for all recipes that call for nutella. Love this review!

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  6. The TJ version wins in this house - hands down!

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  7. My first thought was that, if it were significantly cheaper, I'd try it, but at the same price I'd just stick to Nutella.

    However, after reading the comments, I'm now tempted to try it.

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  8. I like both but since I've had Nutella for so long I am getting kinda sick of it. So I picked up a jar of the almondy stuff today from TJ's (had never seen it before?! whut?!) and omg love it! It's a new favorite. But jesus look at the calorie content! I could eat 4 tablespoons of that shit and be good for the whole day. Only I'd be starving again in a few hours. And I'd probably puke. ew. Haha. But yeah it's good stuff. My mum just found out she's developed a hazelnut allergy so maybe this will be a good alternative to Nutella for her.

    Love the blog BTW. I've been considering starting reviews for TJ stuff too.

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  9. Trader Joe's used to make a Nutella-knockoff, with hazelnuts but no palm oil. Sadly, it's been discontinued. Almonds don't agree with my digestion, so I avoid them when at all possible, which puts this newer product off limits to me. I would they'd bring back the hazelnut version!

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