synergy [ -er-jee ]
You don't see the word "synergistically" used on many food products these days. I've only ever heard "synergy" used in the context of humans working together, but I guess I see how it could be applied to culinary elements instead.
I'm down with various flavor combinations that might initially seem like they'd clash or conflict with one another such as salty and sweet, spicy and sweet, and tangy and salty, but throw them all in the same mix together with "smoky," and there's just a little too much going on for this guy's tongue to handle. I think the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the presence of vinegar in the mix. It's right there next to sugar on the ingredients list. Sweet white vinegar? I want it to work, but it just doesn't in my humble opinion.
Also, I'm not in love with the smoky element here. I've tasted "smoky" done very well, and I've tasted it done poorly in more instances than one. I question the authenticity of "natural smoke flavor." What exactly got smoked? I'm going to bet they didn't put the popcorn itself in a smoke house. It might have worked had they done that, but I'm sure it's not practical or cost-effective to smoke each individual piece of popcorn. I'm guessing it's some kind of liquid smoke or additive.
The spiciness by itself works pretty well. It's not too hot, and it gives the popcorn a pleasant pungency. I think I'd really enjoy the flavor if they'd lose the sugar and smoke elements.
Texture-wise, the Trader Joe's Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn is pleasantly crunchy. Most pieces are large and spherical, flaunting a mouthfeel not unlike the Popcorn in a Pickle, for example. As far as color is concerned, they appear a shade of amber-esque light orange—a color you might assume indicated cheddar cheese flavor under normal circumstances. As far as look and feel, this snack is nothing to complain about.
The bag seems oddly oversized. There's an enormous amount of vacant space—even more than other popcorn products from TJ's. I feel like there's the same amount of popcorn in the bag, but the bag is 50% larger than typical popcorn products. It's always disappointing to open a snack bag and find it only half full.
I'm sure there are some adventurous snack enthusiasts that are mad about the flavor of this product. I'd like to say I'm one of them, but I'm afraid this won't be a repeat purchase if I have anything to say about it. I'm not telling you not to try it. The bag pretty much lays it all out for you: tangy, salty, smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavors...together at last. If that sounds good to you, knock yourselves out. The wifey liked it better than I did. She kept repeating, "It's weird, it's weird" while eating her first couple handfuls. Apparently, her opinion of the product improved as she got used to the flavor, and she settled on three and a half stars.
Two and a half from me.
Bottom line: 6 out of 10.