Friday, October 2, 2015
This nondescript little bag showed up in the Trader Joe’s new products showcase last week. The simple flat bottomed cellophane bag holds tricolor chocolate morsels called Magic Beans. They’re described as chocolate covered nougat beans.
I’ve come to understand that the word nougat really doesn’t mean much as a description. Here in the United States, depending on the initial inspiration of the confection, nougat can be a hazelnut paste, a nut toffee or a whipped sugar, honey and egg bar. In this case, the nougat is a very dark nut brittle.
These Magic Beans come from France, which also makes some stunning whipped egg nougat as well. So, I can see that some folks might be more confused than bewitched by these.
The beans are about the size of Trader Joe’s chocolate covered almonds, though actually kidney bean shaped. They come in three colors, a mottled white, a mottled green and a stand milk chocolate. The coating is a little bumpy on all of them.
Inside the milk chocolate coating is a nugget of almond toffee, or maybe it’s nut brittle, it’s hard to tell from the ingredients label. (They candies may contain traces of hazelnuts, chestnuts, pistachios and walnuts. They’re made with coconut, almonds, milk, soy and wheat.) The nuts themselves are little bits, not whole nuts, and the sugar crust holding them together is very toasted, almost burnt.
The milk chocolate coating is very milky, it has some decent cocoa notes, but for the most part it’s just creamy and sweet. This is a nice counterpoint to the roasted and slightly bitter note of the crunchy center. They reminded me a little bit of the sesame snaps that I pick up at the health food stores.
If you go into these expecting something more like Nutella bites or Charleston Chews, you’re going to be disappointed. These are quite different from other nutty items, so that unique selling proposition is what got me. They’re not magic, but quite enjoyable.
As a side note, I bought something very similar earlier this year in New York City at Eataly. The food mall has an amazing selection of Italian chocolates and sweets, including one of the largest selections of Venchi I think I’ve ever seen outside of Europe.
This is called Venchi Nougatine and are pretty much the same thing as the Trader Joe’s Magic Beans, except they’re made in Italy and covered in 60% dark chocolate. This package of less than 2 ounces was actually the same price as the Magic Beans (7.2 ounces).
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
In this episode Maria and I host our first guests on the show, the crew from Let’s Talk TJ’s (Nathan, Sonia and Russ, who also run What’s Good at Trader Joe’s). We chat about the wide world of Trader Joe’s house branded candies.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Trader Joe’s makes little fanfare with their new products, they just quietly appear on the shelf and perhaps get a mention in the Fearless Flyer. There are rarely announcements of upcoming products, they just show up. However, the same day that the email announced the new Trader Joe’s Ts & Js Sour Gummies, I wanted some for myself. (Sadly, the first location I tried didn’t have them yet, just a blank space.)
The new sour candy pieces are shaped like the letter T or J and come in four flavors: Key Lime, Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Grapefruit.
As I mentioned last month in a long profile about the difference between gummis and jellies, this is another case of jelly candies called gummies. It’s kind of sad that Trader Joe’s did that, because their ingredients are quite clean and vegetarians would probably be more likely to pick them up if they weren’t called gummies.
So, if there’s an analogue to this candy in the big brand world, these are all natural, citrus-flavored Sour Patch Letters. Sorry, I think Trader Joe’s buried the lede ... because this is an incredible concept. It’s everything I already like in Sour Patch Kids, with flavors I prefer and ingredients that shouldn’t interfere with the intensity of the flavors.
The colors are muted, with the lime and grapefruit a little hard to tell apart ... except for the fact that I liked both and didn’t care after a while. All are similar to the structure of Sour Patch candies, a sweet jelly center with a mild flavor and an intense sour sanded exterior. Each piece is a mere bite, not too big and pretty clean to eat with minimal mess.
The red ones are Tangerine: the sour coating is tangy and textured, but melts away easily or provides a bit of crunch if you can’t wait. The center is less flavorful, more zesty. The orange notes definitely veer off into authentic tangerine with quite a bit of orange peel flavor.
The light orange are Lemon: the combination of the sour sanding and lemon peel notes of the center give a good approximation of Meyer lemon, which is more mild than the common Eureka lemons.
Clear is Grapefruit: such a great tangy coating with a very strong bitter zest component. Definitely a winner.
Light green is Key Lime: These have a bright lime flavor that’s pretty generic but really refreshing in a too green apple world. It’s pretty good Key lime notes, which have a little creamy component to them instead of the straight acid of Persian limes.
They’re vegan, there are no artificial colors or flavors ... Kosher and priced pretty well. Really, my only complaint is the fact that they call them gummis.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The description is: crunchy pecans & toasted quinoa with soft & buttery caramel enrobed in chocolate and topped with Himalaya pink sea salt. They’re Kosher and made with mostly organic dairy ingredients as well. Though they use quinoa for the crunchy bits, they’re not a gluten-free candy as they may contain wheat. Also, they’re made in a facility with other tree nuts, eggs and peanuts. Too bad, because a gluten free and peanut free notation would really set these apart.
The patties are about 1.5 inches across, so either one big bite or two small bites. The nutritional listing is a little odd, as it says that 3 pieces are 36 grams and come to 140 calories. That’s just ridiculous for something with so much chocolate and full dairy caramel ingredients. So, my calculations say that it’s 102 calories per ounce, I’m going to say that they’re at least 125.
They smell like a sweet milk chocolate with a hint of earthy cereal notes. The patties are very flat and turning them over reveals that the inclusions are small. So the pecans are really not crunchy pecans but actually crunched pecans along with the quinoa.
The chew of the caramel is good, with some excellent buttery notes and toasted sugar flavors. The quinoa is crunchy, but not overly so. The pecans were barely evident, to the point that some pieces seemed to be lacking pecans entirely. But when I did get them, they had a wonderful woodsy, maple note. I would have preferred much more in the pecan front, even if they were just small pieces, or even just the quinoa and leave out the pecans entirely.
I don’t know if I would pick these up again, but I enjoyed the package I had. If I saw that they had a dark version or mucked around with the proportions, I’d give them another go. But there are other Trader Joe’s items that I much prefer over this, including the Butterscotch Sea Salt Caramels. The price point seemed a bit high, but is far better than DeMet’s Pecan Turtles which are usually about twice the price per pound and use inferior ingredients.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
During early December, Trader Joe’s becomes a hotspot for decadent hostess gifts. In the store I frequent, there is a table with just gift boxed confections and gift samplers by the dairy case. Many of the items featured are new and quirky treats, but some are tried and true classics.
Since I’m on a cherry cordial kick, I did pick up the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Liqueur Cherries which feature a real boost of alcohol (4.4%). They may not be available in all states, as some areas have stricter alcohol laws. I think you need to be over 21 to purchase these in most places. (Even though you’d need to eat the full 14 ounce box to get the same amount of alcohol as you’d find in a beer.)
The ingredients are quite decent: it’s 49% cacao dark chocolate (with no added dairy fillers) and a filling made of sugar, alcohol, a full cherry, corn syrup and cherry juice. There are no artificial flavors or colors ... and it appears to be vegan. They’re made in a factory that also processed milk, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. There’s no statement about gluten and it does contain soy.
The box is serviceable, with some sort of faux wood grain design on the front that verges on old west instead of elegant Christmas gift. The tray inside is plastic, but because it’s metallic gold along with the gold foil wrapping, it’s a good presentation at that point.
Once the box is open, though, it’s hard to carry it with one hand without tipping the contents out ... but at least they’re wrapped in foil, so they’re easy to retrieve.
They’re small, at about 12 grams each and about 55 calories.
I found the easiest way to eat these is pretty common. I turn over the little hemisphere and pry the bottom off with my teeth eat the chocolate coin. Then sip the cherry syrup cordial and then eat the soaked cherry with the chocolate in one bite.
In this case the cherry cordial syrup is not quite sweet and has a light acidic note, probably from the cherry juice. The alcohol has no clear attributes of its own, except that it burns a little bit and gives the effect of cough syrup at times. The chocolate is passable - sweet and with some woodsy/brownie notes to it. The cherry at the center was usually small, but crunchy and chewy.
I enjoyed these since they were less sweet than others I’ve been sampling. I don’t know if I’d buy them again, I’d probably stick with the Brandy Beans if I have a hankering for alcohol filled chocolates. I applaud Trader Joe’s for making a reliable product, though, with good quality ingredients with no preservatives (well, sugar and alcohol are preservatives) or artificial colors. It’s certainly more expensive than the others I’ve profiled from Cella’s and Queen Anne, but you’re getting more real ingredients instead of preservatives and colorings ... and pretty gold foil.
I’ve purchased liqueur chocolates before, and I have to stress that you can’t freeze them (don’t leave them in the car overnight if you’re someplace cold) and they will eventually evaporate so they should be eaten within 1 month of purchase, especially if you’ve taken off the plastic overwrap.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
While Trader Joe’s has been pouring on the pumpkin around their stores, they haven’t forgotten about one of their other core flavors: Speculoos. Their newest item is their Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups.
There are a few spice mix flavors that are popular right now: Chai Spice, Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice. Another one would be Speculoos. The odd thing about the Speculoos flavor is that it’s not just the mild cinnamon and nutmeg mix which is similar to Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread, it includes the actual cookie. The Speculoos cookie is a crispy butter cookie with some brown sugar notes along with the mild spice. I grew up eating Speculoos, though I didn’t know it by that name, they were just called Windmill Spice Cookies.
The tub holds 11 ounces of foil wrapped cups. This quantity doesn’t fill the tub completely, but it’s true to its weight. The cups are wrapped in gold foil, and inside each little piece does not actually have a fluted paper cup like the dark chocolate Peanut Butter Cups which come in a similar format. Each cup is about 11 grams, basically the same size as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniature.
Trader Joe’s also offered up a bar version of the Cookie Butter in dark chocolate a couple of years ago. That bar was made with Belgian chocolate in Belgium. This version is made in Canada (the Peanut Butter Cups that Trader Joe’s sells are made in the USA, which might also explain some of the small cosmetic differences.)
They smell lightly spicy, like cloves and cinnamon. The cups are shiny and nicely formed. The bite is easy, the center is soft and mostly creamy. It’s not as crumbly as a peanut butter cup can be, with a much creamier texture. The chocolate isn’t overpowered by the center, the chocolate flavors are well balanced with a berry/fruit note and a little dry finish to the quite slick melt. The cookie butter center is not overly sweet, not overly grainy. There are a few little bits of cookie, but for the most part it’s more like a batter than a paste.
They’re not completely peanut free, so it’s not like these are a great option for those with allergies. But if you’re a lover of candy cups but don’t actually like Peanut Butter, this might be what you’ve been searching for. I think it’s a unique new product and look forward to more cupification of Trader Joe’s products, such as the new Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter.
Friday, October 10, 2014
There probably isn’t a store as pumpkinfused as Trader Joe’s around this time of year. They have a mix of actual pumpkin items and some that are just utilizing the pumpkin spice array. Happily here’s a new candy from Trader Joe’s that has a little of both: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Seed Brittle Dusted with Sugar and Pumpkin Pie Spice. See, it’s not pumpkin flesh that’s in there, it’s the pumpkin seeds.
The quaint box holds a simple plastic bag filled with a stack of roughly broken brittle pieces. The picture on the box does represent the contents well.
What I found most alluring was that this list of ingredients actually said which pumpkin pie spices they were using: cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. (I find it interesting that cloves is plural.)
The smell of the brittle is dominated by cinnamon, but there’s a sugary, buttery component as well. The pieces vary in size, some as big as three inches long, others are just little shards. They’re coated in mostly-sugar dusting of spices. There are pumpkin seeds embedded in there, but not as many as I would have liked, it’s mostly candy.
The bite is easy, as the pieces are pretty thin. The sugar gets everywhere, though it does a good job of sticking to the brittle as well. The effect of the whole thing, probably because of the easy crunch and sanding is more like a cookie. It’s crunchy and sweet, with a nice balance of textures between the smooth toffee-like brittle (which contains dairy ingredients) and the chewy seeds and grainy sugar. The pumpkin spices are balanced, though it smells like cinnamon, the more nutty and woodsy flavors of the nutmeg and cardamom come through along with a light warmth from the ginger and cinnamon. The lemon keeps it all bright.
It’s simple to enjoy a piece, and it goes well with some nice strong coffee or a cup of tea, just like a cookie would. I would still like more pepitas in there.
The candy contains dairy, corn and wheat ingredients and may also contain traces of peanuts, pecans, almonds, cashews and coconut.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Salted Caramels were also a trend, but apparently every trend either dies out or simply becomes an everyday item. So, it has happened with Salted Caramel and so now they must be trendalized with the newest flavors of the season. These are Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels.
Trader Joe’s makes a version of these for Christmas with white flake sea salt. They’re sold in the same box with a different design. They’re wildly popular, as they’re returned to shelves for more than six years in a row. Since Trader Joe’s will pretty much make a pumpkin spice version of every product they sell at some point, it was just the salted caramels’ turn. (I could list all of the items, but suffice to say that they’ve done tea, coffee, macaron, granola, ice cream, and actual pumpkin pie spice. Here’s a taste test from Serious Eats from a few years ago.)
They’re described on the box:
The ingredients are all natural, but insanely long. The chocolates are made in Ireland (I suspect by Lily O’Brien). The filling isn’t just caramel, according to their list, but actually Sticky Toffee Caramel. There’s no list of what the spices are for their pumpkin spice.
They’re lovely looking caramels, they do well in their package and emerge very shiny and with most of the salt still attached to the squiggle of milk chocolate on top of the 55% dark chocolate.
Though I often find sea salt to be a bit over-hyped, as it’s used in such small quantities that it’s hard to tell different salts apart. In this instance I could tell it was Hawaiian Sea Salt ...and I did not like it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, a friend called it Spaghetti-Os flavored, I thought it was more like carrot, but there’s definitely an additional note to this salt. It was notable enough that for some of the pieces that I ate, I actually scraped the salt off completely.
The spice smell is quite clove-heavy, even before I bit into it. The chocolate is earthy and sweet with a very good bitter note towards the end. It’s smooth and wonderfully tempered. There were no cracks or oozing spots on any of the caramels. The caramel has a light grain to it, which is probably the spice. There’s also a cereal sort of wheaty flavor to it as well. The other spice notes are earthy, with some ginger and black pepper notes and some cinnamon. Not really the best combination for me, if it were a pie, but it goes well with the chocolate.
In the end, this was not a great combination for me, I didn’t like the plain version of these that much and the addition of the spice doesn’t do much for me either. I’ll stick to the individually wrapped Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels or the panned Butterscotch Caramels.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.