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, December 6, 2012

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tots

Back on Thanksgiving, Sandy and I decided to try and give sweet Lil' Baby M a sweet little treat. At a little over 4 months old, she's being staring at us pretty intently whenever we've been eating or drinking something*, so we decided that maybe she was ready to try her first bite of "real people food." So, Sandy scooped up a little bite of our baked sweet potatoes, mixed in a little mama milk, and mashed it up and plopped into Lil' Baby M's mouth. I, of course, had our de facto video recorder (read: iPhone) running to preserve the moment for all of time. And her reaction? Well, to ask that question assumes that she had one. She just kinda looked and blinked and swished it around and spit some up and might have managed to swallow a little, all with a completely blank, pretty uninterested expression on her little face.** Guess she ain't ready yet.

And I'm pretty sure her reaction would have been exactly the same if her first bite would have instead been a Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tot, because, well, that was pretty much ours when we had them a few nights ago. Minus the spit up, of course.

It's not the taste that doesn't work. They're pretty legitimate sweet potato mini-nuggets. No real problem there. It's more the texture. You know how a tater tot is supposed to be - crispy on the outside, kinda soft/kinda firm in the middle, and a little greasy too? Indeed, TJ's makes some freakin' excellent ones that are perfect right from the oven. These...are more like baked mush. Anything purporting to be a tater tot cannot simply be a dollop of potato mush, with the outside being slightly less mushy mush. Doesn't work. And that was even after baking them for a little beyond the 35-40 minutes the instructions give for a crunchy tater barrel. I think to get anything resembling a crispiness or a crunchiness we would have had to flat-out blacken these suckers.

That's part of the sweet potato curse. Kinda like salty/chocolate combos, or stuff made with whole grain, or (for my taste) wheat beers, there's a balance that has to be struck. They can be absolutely great, but if not done well, it doesn't work. A little unlike those examples, sweet potatoes almost always taste great, but texturally they either work very well (like these frites) or not at all (look at these gnocchi! Ugh). I'm not sure what really separates them from their regular cousins in that regard - I guess it's something that has to do with the additional natural sugars softening them up during preparation.       

Anyways, out of our veggie corn dog and tater tot dinner, these were the absolute disappointment. "They're basically like a baked version of the gnocchi," Sandy said. Oooh, that's a deep insult. She gave them a two, based solely on the texture. I'll be a little more generous than I might otherwise and say a three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tots: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*She's the most interested whenever we drink a beer. I guess she likes what's in her bottle so much she wonders what's in ours. I don't know how to feel about this.
**We have so many nicknames for her. "Little Face" is one that Sandy came up with. I wish I had veto rights over nicknames, like what we granted each other when discussing actual names, 'cause man, I hate that one.   


  1. Somehow, I think its just the difference in consistency ... sweet potatoes are more stringier than a regular potato... the idea may be cute, but somehow, it just won't go over... Will have to ask the employees on this one...I think the blank look u got from your little one, would be the same that I would have! lol

  2. I just discovered Alexia sweet potato puffs (aka tots). They are actually pretty yummy IMHO. They do get a lovely crisp (although not as much as regular tots for the very reason that the above commenter states), and the inside stayed soft. They are worth a try!

  3. I saw them at TJ's and had I read your review I would not have gotten them. I didn't really have a problem with the texture per se...you can leave then in the oven a little longer for more crispy outside. It was the taste that did them in for us...kind of a slight sour taste?

  4. I was also not impressed with these. I live in NC where sweet potato fries are on every restaurant menu, so maybe I'm just spoiled. I thought these had absolutely NO taste and yeah, now that you mention it, the texture wasn't very tater tot-esque.

  5. I had already purchased these prior to discovering your amazing blog. With much hesitance I popped them in the oven today (because I was out of the regular TJ's tots) to go with my Meatless Corndog. You are spot on. They're mushy and just lack everything that makes tater tots good. Darn Sweet Potato Curse!