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Friday, April 29, 2022

Trader Joe's Organic Vegan Nacho Dip

A little about me: I had severe allergies to wheat, milk, and sugar all through my childhood. I was deprived of the vast majority of foods that my friends and classmates got to eat on a regular basis. I was treated with daily allergy shots, often administering them to myself, and have now, for the most part, outgrown those food allergies, though I still suffer from some mild to moderate sensitivities, namely to gluten, while my wife Sonia has some mild to moderate lactose intolerance.

All through those years of food allergies, my parents did what they could to provide alternatives: goat milk or soy milk instead of cow's milk, rice bread or millet bread instead of wheat bread, NutraSweet and later stevia instead of sugar, and so on. There weren't any Trader Joe's or Whole Foods around, so our options were pretty limited. Fortunately, there were a few mom and pop's "health food" stores and some local farms that offered foods that were hard to find at typical mainstream grocery stores.

I'm actually somewhat grateful for those years of having an extremely limited diet. First, because it taught me to more fully appreciate those very common foods that most people take for granted. Second, because it forced me to broaden my horizons early. There were certain things that I discovered during those years that I would still eat and do still eat now: Rice Dream or coconut-based ice cream, for example. I still generally love things made with rice flour, too.

But there are also alternative foods that I tried back then that were so awful in my opinion that I would have rather just done without any version of said food. Sugar-free carob chips come to mind. Some might argue: "Well, Nathan, you can't have real chocolate chips, so you'll have to eat sugar-free carob!"

But then that argument doesn't make sense at all, does it? I would much rather give up on both chocolate chips and their disgusting alternative at that point.

All that to say when I review things that are dairy-free or gluten-free or sugar-free or whatever, I'm reviewing it from the perspective of a little boy who will happily try almost anything, but will then share his genuine opinion of that thing. I will not sacrifice honesty for the sake of people who might have a different opinion of a particular product. If you disagree with my assessment of an item, feel free to post your opinion as a comment on the blog or our social media, but don't accuse me of lacking "compassion" and "gratitude" because my viewpoint is different than yours. Every reviewer brings his or her own bias to the table to some degree, and I'm no different.

And along those lines, this product falls squarely into that sugar-free carob category. If I were strictly vegan or still allergic to milk, I would happily do without real nacho cheese dip AND this cashew-based alternative...because it's simply not good.

For the record: I like cashews. I also generally like anything nacho cheese flavored. But from the moment I peeled back the plastic covering, there was an off-putting smell. It was a kind of foot-esque odor, strong enough to make me wince. There was something vaguely nacho-ish about the smell, but nothing suggesting nacho cheese dip.

After heating, the smell was more heavily nacho than feet, but it still wasn't particularly pleasant. Taking a bite with an unsalted tortilla chip, there was a moment where the dip was just a flavorless mush. Then a moment later, there was a wash of vague nacho spice. Sonia's experience was very similar. The condiment never even came close to approximating the richness or creaminess of real nacho cheese, and there's just not enough spice to cover up the product's weaknesses.

Texture-wise, it seemed oddly thick and pasty, maybe a little oily. Sonia said it reminded her of toothpaste. I don't disagree, although the texture and appearance are both a notch more impressive than the flavor if you ask me.

I'll throw out one star for that reason. Sonia will go with a generous two for Trader Joe's Vegan Nacho Dip, pointing out that it might conceivably work as a minor ingredient in a grand mishmash of southwestern style foods. We'll most likely take advantage of Trader Joe's outstanding no hassle return policy and get our $3.99 back on this one.

Bottom line: 3 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Bite Sized Crackers

Sometimes just a little rebranding is needed to get a little spark or buzz. Just ask Dunkin'. Dunkin' who? That's not a question that needs to be asked, but now I'm able to tell my kids that when I was their age, it was called Dunkin' Donuts. Now, just Dunkin'. You barely noticed that change, but I'm betting those DD suits are betting you'll now notice everything else that their "bake places" have, including crappy oversugared coffee drinks and greasy sammies. Oh well. Their profits are looking good as a result. 

More relevantly, here's Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Bite Sized Crackers. Ahh, good ol' EBTB. It's a growing behemoth of a TJ's-nurtured "pet brand" so to speak - it's everywhere now - the seasoning blend, on chips, interestingly on bagels (everything but the bagel bagels? what?) and even on salmon. And now, finally, crackers. 

Oh wait. I stand corrected. According to my TJ's inside sources (AKA whoever happened to be the cashier on my last trip), these crackers have been around for YEARS and were just rebranded under the EBTB banner. This actually sounded vaguely right - I kinda remember a red box - but never tried them, never picked them up. Didn't help that there's only so many crackers one household should buy on any given trip, and all our usuals were out of stock, which highlighted this gleaming white box of snacktime promise even more prominently. 

Anyways, as far as crackers go, it's a decent cracker. Think of a slightly knock-off Wheat Thin with all the usual garlic and onion and various seeds which somehow is universally accepted as "everything" when quite frankly it excludes a lot more than it includes, and there you have it. There's plenty of flavor by themselves - I'd almost say too much - which we've been snacking on and off on. It is a bit too potent for a cracker, so a little pairing with some cheese is a good move. There's ample munch and crunch, for sure. In our household, at least, the purported adults like them more than the kiddos do - they can down a pallet of Cheddar Rockets in a day, this box has survived for nearly a week now. It's a good snack, for sure, but not addictive. At most, it's a fairly possible rebuy.

My apologies for the crappy pic. It's what happens when you have to snap one before dawn as you rush out the door. Maybe instead of rebranding myself, i just need a better set up And time. Lots more time. Sigh. 

Anyways, give 'em a try if you feel so inclined, and if like us you previously ignored their existence just to be enticed by the new packaging. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Bite Sized Crackers: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 25, 2022

Trader Joe's Hold the Dairy! Mini Chocolate Frozen Dessert Cones

When they say "mini cones" they're not joking. These are obscenely diminutive desserts in my book. We've seen miniature cones from Trader Joe's before, but I think these are the smallest yet.

And it wouldn't be such a big deal but each cone is individually wrapped, and they're not super easy to get out of the packaging without mangling some of the pretty waves of coconut ice cream on top of the tiny cones. I dunno. Maybe I'm just hopelessly inept at unwrapping teensy little baby frozen desserts. I have fat hands. Perhaps I'd do better using an exacto knife and tweezers.

I'm exaggerating of course. But only a bit. My complaints about this product are primarily the format of the packaging. I'd much rather have, say, four normal-sized Nutty Buddy-style sundae cones than a dozen microscopic ones.

The flavor? It's good. It's chocolatey coconut milk. It's not a far cry from dairy. I mean, you can tell it's not dairy if you pay attention. I feel like they chose chocolate because it's rich and it overshadows the natural coconut milk flavor. I'd almost always prefer vanilla. I think it would allow the natural coconut milk flavor to shine even more. But if you're trying to trick a dairy-lover into eating something totally vegan, these are a decent choice.

The wafer cone and other ingredients are very much on par with a regular dairy-ful ice cream sundae cone, and there's nothing to complain about there. The overall effect is sweet, crunchy, and long as you eat more than one. I wouldn't have minded some nuts of some kind.

$3.99 for 12 very small cones. Not a terrible value. Just too much packaging. Dairy-free. Vegan. Coconut-based. There's actually coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut oil.

I'd probably reach for one of the other "Hold the Cone" options before I'd purchase these again, although I'd love to see these larger and with other flavor options. Three and a half stars a piece on these Hold the Dairy! cones. 

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.