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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trader Joe's Seedless Blackberry Preserves

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this product. I think of the blackberry as a sort of raspberry-esque fruit, but perhaps a bit bolder or more robust - and I'm usually a fan of raspberry products. I've always liked preserves because they taste like actual fruit. They usually don't need to be dressed up too much to sweeten a biscuit or piece of bread.

So it stands to reason that I would enjoy these Trader Joe's Blackberry Preserves...and I did, but not as much as I had hoped.

First of all, there are no chunks of fruit in the spread. It's all a very even, gelatinous consistency. It feels fake. It feels too smooth almost. Secondly, I noted in the ingredients that Trader Joe's not only resorted to adding sugar, but they added corn syrup as well. So it seems as if the blackberry's natural flavor isn't quite sweet enough to make good preserves on its own. TJ's decided it needed some dressing up...and it was still a hair on the bland side in my opinion. Perhaps I overestimated the blackberry.

Please note that plain corn syrup is still better for the body than high-fructose corn syrup, as high-fructose corn syrup is actually a preservative that's created by adding artificial compounds to regular corn syrup that make it even sweeter and give it those preservative properties. (I still have 2 and a half glasses of Pepsi, which is chock full of high-fructose corn syrup like all regular sodas, when I go out to eat. I'm not so big a health nut that I've cut it out completely, I'm just saying it's pretty nasty when you think about it.)

Back to the point: I guess if you want a really natural jam or jelly, you need to buy something that says "100% all-fruit spread." Preserves are not necessarily that.

We ate the preserves with a little butter on Food for Life's brown rice bread, available at TJ's, but unfortunately not a TJ's brand product. Food for Life also makes a great millet bread, for the gluten-intolerant, and they're also the makers of Ezekiel 4:9 bread, inspired by a recipe in the Bible. We're fans.

Overall, the preserves were an adequate jam-like substance for our toast, but I felt that it failed to go way above and beyond like many TJ's products do. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. Sonia liked that it wasn't too sweet. She was a bigger fan than I. She was going to give it a 4, but when she found out about the addition of both sugar and corn syrup, she lowered her score to 3.5. Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trader Joe's Veggie Sausage Patties

So a few posts ago I shared a little about giving up meat for Lent, and Trader Joe's has already really pleasantly surprised me with their soy meat products, so when they had their Veggie Sausage Patties at the sample station a week or so ago, it made for a natural pick up. It also led Sandy to think a little, like "Okay, we like Trader Joe's goods overall, but how do they compare against rival brands?" So this post, I'm going to do something a little different than the usual.

< insert Michael Buffer >

Ladies and gentlemen, today you are about to witness history, the first head-to-head heavyweight championship of frozen vegetable sausage patties. The Soysage Showdown. One brand, known throughout the land, the undisputed champion. The challenger, an underdog, with a devoted following, its quality known to its devotees. Only one can prevail. Are ... you ... ready?

I said .... are .... you .... ready ....

LLLLLLLLLLLLet's get ready to crrrrrrrrrrrrrrumble!!

< /end Michael Buffer >

Ringside Introductions: In the left corner, the defending world champion, in the green box, from Battle Creek, Michigan, weighing in at 228 grams, costing $3.39, it's MorningStar Farms' Original Sausage Patties! (applause)

On the right, the plucky underdog challenger, in the white and light blue box, from Monrovia, California, weighing in at 227 grams, costing $3.29, it's Trader Joe's Veggie Sausage Patties! (mild smattering of hand claps)

Round One: First Impressions: The picture on the Morningstar box shows a serving suggestion of just tossing them on a plate. Also, one singular serving is clearly and consistently referred to as a "pattie." Hrmm. Trader Joe's shows them on top of some awesome looking openfaced sandwich with tomatoes and spinach and some sort of cheese/dressing. I get hungry just looking at it. And they call it a patty. I like the fonts they use better, too. Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Round Two: Nutrition: M'star has less fat and more protein. That's good. TJ's has less calories and sodium. Also good. But in wondering what all has to be done to a scoopful of beans to make them meat-like, I began to look at the ingredients. TJ's has something called carboxymethycellulose in it, and carrageenan in it. Don't know what those do, and don't want to. I can pronounce everything else in it though. M'star though has tasty stuff like tripolyphosphate, hexametaphosphate, disodium inosinate, and loads of other stuff the spell check underlines in a red squiggly. So, this could be wrong but, my thoughts ... Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Round Three: Appearance and Preparation: The patties of both brands are roughly the same size (M'star maybe a little thicker, TJ's maybe a little larger circumference). Both are strangely fairly not-that-cold when taken out of the freezer. The M'star patties look browned and ready to eat, except frozen, whereas TJ's has more of an icy sheen that quickly cooks off. M'star looks a little "meatier" where as TJ's looks a little ... I don't know ... indistinct? I'll go with that. Preparation of both is pretty identical, and sizzle up within a couple minutes, smelling sausage-y enough in the process. Judges' decision: MorningStar Farms

Round Four: Texture: Okay, for both, not bad, but not nearly as good as the real thing. I think I may have slightly overcooked them (not necessarily a bad thing) so the outsides of both got a little browned and crisped up. The insides ... eh. M'star is definitely meatier in texture, but it strikes me as akin to a well-done burger made of slighty chunky firm mush. Which is more or less what it was. TJ's didn't have as much of a meaty bite (definitely more towards the mush end of the spectrum, this makes it sound worse than it was, but don't know how else to describe it) and was more greasy, though not over-abundantly so. Both were decent enough in their own way. Judges' decision: MorningStar Farms

Final Round: Taste: This is always what it comes down to, isn't it? For me, at least, it is. M'star definitely decided to go the well-done burger route and make a meaty, kinda smokey, solid, but kinda plain tasting patty, er, "pattie." TJ's starts off tasting roughly the same, but mid-bite there's like this savory inflection that introduces itself to the flavor that makes it taste more authentically sausage-like. Mind you, it doesn't taste just like it, but a reasonable facsimile for a bunch of beans. I think it's the extra 1.5 gram of fat that the TJ's has to give it just a little more greasy breakfast meat essence. First time we chomped down, Sandy and I made "Soysage Egg McMuffins" and thought the TJ's was the winner, hands-down. I resampled both tonight with my dinner, and realized the taste was closer than originally thought. They're both good, but in their own distinct way. Depends what you like more. For Sandy and I, the choice was still simple. Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Winner, and new world champion, by judges' decision .... Trader Joe's!!!

Post-Fight Wrap Up: Again, I was pretty surprised with the quality of a soy-meat Trader Joe product. Maybe it was the lack of real meat playing with my mind, but while enjoying the sausage patties, it wasn't as easy to recall I wasn't chomping my way through the real deal. MorningStar, while decent, was too unsausage-like despite its meatier appearance and texture to have the same effect. I think even if I sampled both in a blindfolded taste test, I'd choose the Trader Joe's. Sandy usually isn't too big of a sausage fan, but she legitimately liked the TJ's more than the MorningStar as well. "It just tastes better," she said. "If you told me we'd make some muffin sandwiches with the MorningStar patties, I wouldn't be like 'Bllllllllaaaaaahhhhhherrrrrrggggggahhhhhhhhhh' but I'd be happier with the TJ's." I wish I took a picture of the face she made while making that noise I cannot hope to ever replicate. She said if she were grading both brands, she'd give MorningStar a three ("solid, okay, but not great") but give the Trader Joe's a whopping five out of five. "Savory. Mmmm." Well, I wouldn't quite give it a five, but I recognize its goodness and understand it cannot ever be as good as the real thing. I can appreciate it for it is, though. It's the closest I've tasted, and definitely closer than MorningStar. I'm only grading the TJ's ...

Bottom line: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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