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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Trader Joe's Enchilada Sauce

Okay, for at least one post, I'm done with super-long fancy named products. I needed something quiet, unassuming, and ego-less (it's tiring to type them out, making sure words are in the right order and whatnot), and Trader Joe's Enchilada Sauce is about the simplest, most humbly named product I could scrum up. They didn't even go for the Trader Jose name to market it under, but TJ"s did opt for ALL CAPS in its labeling design. Gotta do something, I guess.

Anyways, enchilada sauce. Mmm. It's no secret that Sandy and I love Mexican food, or at the very least bastardized Americanized versions of Mexican fare. We've been to the country twice, and while eating some terrific authentic cuisine in remote mountain villages and small mom-and-pop storefront shops in Mexico City (i.e., when we didn't go to Pizza Hut and Starbucks), we've also had some, well ... not to sound ungracious, but sometimes tortillas with rice were the most viable option. That's kind of like going to Italy and eating plain spaghetti noodles, or Ben and Jerry's and getting a vanilla in a dish, no cone. In a lot of ways, you're missing out on something potentially life-alteringly good, but there's just something to be said for the safe option if the other choices are unfamiliar. (Editor's note: This is a horrible analogy. Everything Ben and Jerry's makes is wonderful, and if you go to Italy and eat plain pasta, I will smack you. Just pretend being presented with a bowl of very fresh-smelling cow tripe and a platter of tortillas and rice. Yeah, thought so). That's why we like our Americanized Mexican-style food - it's Mexican enough to delude us into thinking it actually is, while still being tailored much closer to our tastes and preferences.

TJ's Enchilada Sauce is kind of like that. Don't get me wrong, it's good stuff. It's thick, a little goopy, I'd almost say creamy except it isn't, but it invokes creaminess in some way I can't quite explain. The reddish-orange fiery color gives off some visual cues that this might be some pretty spicy stuff. Strangely, no artificial colors are listed in its ingredients. Well, it has a good kick, and like any good meal-time edible accessory, it does its job - namely, it adds to and accentuates flavor without much, if any, subtraction. I used to love overly spicy sauces and spices until I realized how much of the time their heat masked the inherent good taste of the food I used them on. This sauce doesn't - it's not until you've had the first bite or two that you begin to experience the smoky, slightly heated sensation it gives in the back of your throat, but that's where it stays, leaving your tongue and taste buds free to sink into the actual dish. That's the cumin and cayenne doing what they ought - to be present, but not to interfere. We (well, okay, Sandy) made some pretty basic enchiladas with tortillas, black beans, soy chorizo, Mexican shredded cheese and the sauce to share with my brother and his girlfriend for lunch on Sunday, and it was fantastic. The leftover enchiladas were nearly as good reheated for my lunch today. Again, stupid work microwave.

But how good is the sauce really? How authentic, or at least how inspired? I didn't even consider that question until I asked Sandy for her Golden Spoon ranking. I was all ready to give it a four, maybe more (yes, sometimes I weight my grade based on Sandy's), and in a very wise moment, she said, "Well, it's good, but we have nothing to compare it to. I don't think we've ever had actual enchiladas before." I did a mental inventory, and she's probably right ... no, not probably, she is. I married myself one smart cookie. I probably don't know what enchilada sauce is supposed to taste like, and without reference it's somewhat tough to put it into proper perspective.

Of course, will that being the case for us, it's probably the case for a lot of Trader Joe consumers, and I'd imagine many if not most similarly palate-experienced Americans would overall be fairly satisfied with the enchilada sauce. The heat might be a little much for some sissies and little girls ... go eat your tortillas and rice then. Sandy and I definitely enjoy it - we actually had it for the first time about a month ago, and in anticipation of our Sunday lunch, we got two bottles to make sure we'd have some on hand for our next Tex Mex culinary romp. Some benefit of the doubt is involved, but Sandy gave it a three and a half. All things considered, that's a pretty fair grade, and since she blinded me with science in giving her assessment, I feel compelled to concur. As I said, una chica inteligente.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


  1. I really really enjoyed it! And better yet, my tummy really liked it. You see, I am sensitive to MSG. It's hard to find products that don't have it in it. I was able to whip up a casserole with hamburger, homemade taco seasoning, rice, cheese, and TJ enchilade sauce.
    It was delicious and I had no stomach issues after. My family loved it too! I would have to give it a better rating then 7 out of 10.

  2. Try the TJ's frozen enchiladas (the cheese variety is particularly good)! They're a pain in that they take 9 minutes to microwave, but sooooo delicious for a super low price.


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