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, October 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels

Listen: it doesn't matter that I, Russ, truly enjoyed every tidbit of the irresistible Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter to the fullest. Or, as Nathan will be pointing out on an upcoming podcast about our favorite fall products, those Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls. I have been, still am, and always will be the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Agnostic, doubting the existence of an all-good, all delicious gourd in all the various/nefarious ways it tries to manifest itself this time of year. Maybe that Great Pumpkin exists for the rest of you, but for me, never. Although I will enjoy the occasional well-executed pumpkin product, I will continue to rail against pumpkin spice this, pumpkin spice that, as a voice calling out from the anti-pumpkin spice wilderness. We don't need pumpkin spice everything this time of year! Enjoy something else fall-related! Like apple cider! Or chili! Or Octoberfest brews!

And these Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels are a prime example of the trend gone wild. Look: there's absolutely no reason why this product should exist. I'll tell you exactly what this is: a nifty little box throwing out as many buzzwords as it can in an effort to part you from $5 in exchange for twelve bites of some of the most awful candy you'll ever try. Even if you like pumpkin spice.

Listen: it just doesn't work. At all. It's not the dark chocolate's fault. As is typical with most TJ's dark cocoa products, it's about 55-60% dark - I prefer darker, but that's a level palatable to most of the masses. It's more everything else> Listen: it's widely accepted fact that caramel and chocolate, and also salted caramel, are perfect matches. Salt and chocolate works. Pumpkin caramel can work for some at least...and Sandy did make a decent pumpkin bread with chocolate chips in it, so all that can work. But when all those elements get tossed all together with no real regard...blecch. The caramel reservoirs hold a smooth, rich, creamy center that tends to ooze a little more than what's in our picture, but it sports a hefty pumpkin pie-y flavor level that hits too hard then leaves a funky, almost chemically aftertaste. I'd liken it quite happily to what a dollar store Yankee Candle knockoff must taste like - just too much, too over the top, with no real attempt at subtlety or restraint that would help rein in everything. Honestly, it made my mouth and stomach feel funny, too.

Funny thing is: that's not even the worst part. Oh no. Look at that salt. No way around saying it: it's revolting. There's entirely way too much. Even knocking some off didn't help. Is this what rock salt tastes like? I'm tempted to try and write a pun with "salt" and "assault", leaving out the "u" but that leaves a hyphenated word that, apt as it may be as to describing the flavor, just doesn't appear to be entirely family friendly.  There's too much, it's too potent, and will completely override any other flavor, from start to finish. It's not an accompaniment, it's the center of attention, not because of it's own merit but instead of it's rude, inept clumsiness, like the awkward uncle at a family reunion. I grimaced at every bite I took before finally giving up. A little too much pumpkin spice. A lot too much salt.

So in short: Take decent dark chocolate. Add molten generic fall-themed candle and a pile of salt from your winter driveway stash. Insert in mouth. Chances are, you'll be happier.

 Unless you're my wife.

Listen: I'm not one to question her tastes - I mean, look at who she married, right? But Sandy said she actually kinda almost liked them. I'm flabbergasted. "I like the chocolate, and I think the caramel/pumpkin centers are just fine, but the salt...." she said as she shook her head. "No bueno." Ugh. I don't know what to say - she's literally the only person I've ever heard say anything remotely positive about these candies. And she'll give them a score just as high as her score for the pumpkin cookie butter - a three. I think we need to schedule her a doctor visit to get her taster checked. Anyways, if you can't tell, I didn;t like these. At all. For once, it wasn't just the pumpkin's fault. Absolute zero from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


  1. I tried these last year. Not because I thought they might be good but because I tend to try everything new TJ's offers. As a pumpkin lover (possibly my favorite berry and for sure a top 5 fruit) there is absolutely no way, zero, that chocolate and pumpkin EVER belong together.

  2. These are my favorite candy that TJ's sells. I got them last year, recommended them to everyone, and anticipated their re-release for MONTHS before they finally rolled around again. Love. The salt is a weird color, but the amount is fine. I put them salt-side down on my tongue and let the whole thing melt...

    1. **shudder**

      Well glad you like them - more for you! :)

  3. GASP! a zero rating? Has such a thing heretofore ever existed??

    1. Not very often, but yep - check out our "Blahhh" reviews under the "Ranking Roll Call" menu on the right :)

  4. You should do a review on the pumpkin biscotti. I just bought some and had my first one and it is great. it's not just pumpkin pie spices but also made with pumpkin puree.

  5. Several chocolate snobs I know have tried these and give them an 8 or better. Greater appreciation is required for the Hawaiian salt/caramel/quality dark chocolate combo and the pumpkin is barely there so, disagree completely. Keep making these delicious little bites TJ's and thank you!!

  6. ...btw...your blog is entitled "What's Good at TJ's" ????