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, February 9, 2012

Trader Joe's Corn Penne Pasta

Although I know it's kinda ridiculous to, I feel kinda bad for people with celiac disease or who are otherwise gluten-intolerant. I know it's not pity that those people want, but guess it's just a mild case of inherent self-guilt that while I can eat pretty much anything I want to, those with different allergies and intolerances just can't, and dangit, gluten is pretty much in everything and anything, and, from the outside looking in, that sucks for you all. In a purely jesting way, it doesn't seem that glamorous to have - the most well known celiac celebrity is Keith Olbermann, for goodness sake, and when I think glamorous, I do not think Keith Olbermann. Although, both Drew Brees and Posh Spice make the gluten-free list, so there's some hope, I guess. I also guess that Trader Joe's does a better job than most shops for having a gluten-free selection but my experiences have been kinda hit and miss. Maybe that's because, in my recollection, I've found only one passable treat (Nathan found a great one), I once tried the TJ's rice flour tortillas and, oh goodness, those were so gawd-awful I cringe thinking of them. Just take my word: YUCK. BLAHHH. DISGUSTING. Enough said about those, let's talk about something much tastier...say some Trader Joe's Corn Pasta Penne?

Corn's used for pretty much anything and everything these days, but this is the first I've seen it used to make pasta. That seems like such a simple, yet semi-brilliant, idea, despite the slightly redundant name. Other than the packaging, there's pretty much no indication that this isn't the normal semolina fare. The penne seems perhaps a little thicker and slightly more yellow than the standard, but it'd be hard telling them apart in a police line-up. I'd also say they take a little bit longer to cook. Other than that, boil some up and put on some sauce and whatever else (pictured here with the roasted garlic marinara [meh] and meatless meatballs [see this for my general thoughts on them, it's close enough])*, and you got a plate or bowl full of a pretty tasty dinner. Sandy swore she could taste the difference - "It kinda slides in here and there, and tastes kinda-but-not-really like a corn chip," she says - but me? Nah. It looks and tastes so close to the "real thing" that it's tough for me to draw the distinction. I think that's a pretty high compliment.

There's not really anything bad I can say about the corn penne, and in fact I hope TJ's extends the line to include other pasta types. Really, I could see these taking off, and for $1.39 for a pounder, they're reasonably priced. They're that good, and who knows, maybe they're a game changer for the gluten-free crowd. That's not to say I'll rate them among the stars. Sandy, as usual, said it best. "I'd rate them higher except...well, they're not 'special' enough," she said. "Like I wish they were a little more different from normal pasta that they stood out more." That's a pretty accurate statement, and I think a pair of matching fours from the two of us fit the bill pretty well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Corn Penne Pasta: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

*Let's see, for dinner I ate pasta made from corn and meatballs made from, well, something not meat. If the sauce wasn't made from tomatoes, I *do not* want to know what it was.


  1. It's pretty decent stuff. Brown rice pasta is a little tastier, but I won't complain about any gluten-free pasta when I once thought I would never get to eat pasta again.

  2. I have a bag sitting in my cupboard. I have Meatless Meatballs in my freezer. I smell a pasta party coming soon.

  3. Elizabeth Hasselback is also very vocal about being gluten free and even has cookbook. I like the idea of these over rice flour made pasta, thanks for reviewing!

  4. Elizabeth Hasselbeck probably hurts the gluten-free cause more than she helps it. hahaha

  5. Because of this discussion, I had to google this Hasselback person to know what you were talking about. Sounds like she's a real winner.

  6. I'm not into gluten free myself. I will give these a try. :-), Susan Cooper

  7. The only downside to the corn pasta is it is NOT great reheated the day after. Not that pasta really is, but its worse than the normal stuff

  8. It tastes better the day after if you are sure to thoroughly rinse the pasta right after you cook it. We are gluten free and we buy tons of this stuff and the corn spaghetti because I hate brown rice pasta. We don't live near a Trader Joe's so whenever we drive the 8-9 miles to get there, I always stock up on these pastas because they are so good and affordable (unlike many gluten free items).

  9. I love the corn pasta and I also like the rice flour tortillas, I use them as a pizza crust - they are very good

  10. this corn pasta is an amazing alternative to traditional pastas, but is really tough the next day! thanks The Wife, for the tip on rinsing right after cooking. i will try that next time.

  11. I have celiac disease and had a horrible reaction to gluten free food from Trader Joe's that my husband swore was gluten free (turns out it was manufactured in a facility with wheat.) Thank you for the compassion. It means SO much.

  12. Corn pasta has been around for ages. I remember regularly buying DeBoles and Mrs. Leeper's brands starting back in the late 1970s, usually the elbow macaroni shapes and sometimes spirals, although I know I tried the spaghetti once. I'm sure they were available earlier than that. There were other non-wheat pasta options available back then also, as well as tasty ones made with older types of wheat (spelt, kamut). I'd never heard the term "gluten free" back then, was just looking for variety to avoid developing more food allergies (rotating food types) and because they were tasty.

    Now it's much easier to find corn pastas and those made with corn blends (rice and quinoa seem to be combined with corn a lot) because more people are looking for alternatives to wheat. The blends are typically sturdier in cooking, but being careful to not overcook them works well. A variety of shapes is also available today.

    I like to add corn pasta to canned tomato or lentil soup and it's also good in macaroni salad. My mother's landlady back in the 1980s was always cooking Italian dishes with wheat pasta and was known as a good cook. I am not a cook, but gave her some of my veggie corn macaroni salad concoction (added lima beans, fresh corn, and onions, maybe olives, and used egg-free mayonnaise). She asked me where I got the corn pasta - she loved it, turned out that she wasn't that fond of the wheat pasta dishes she made for her family but the corn pasta made a big difference to her.

    Some really interesting blends for pastas come from Europe (celiac is a growing problem in Italy, for instance). I've had imported blends of rice with buckwheat or millet or lupine (a legume) as well as with corn. I have (but haven't tried yet) black bean pasta, edamame/mung bean pasta, buckwheat/sweet potato pasta (all those are actually flat noodles). I love plain 100% buckwheat flat noodles, I've bought them from Eden Foods for decades (they're Japanese soba type, they also sell a wheat/buckwheat blend). Anyway, there's a huge world of non-wheat pastas out there to try. There's even a very tasty blend of rice, potato, flaxseed, and psyllium (I think) called Pastato. Wheat blends can be good, too. Long ago, a major supermarket brand briefly marketed a very tasty blend of regular white flour with either flax or psyllium, which upped the fiber to whole wheat pasta levels but it really tasted much much better and held up very well in cooking. I thought it tasted better than even good white pasta. Barilla has a whole wheat/oat blend they call multigrain (!) which is very tasty, better than just whole wheat.