I swear I’m not a pumpkin spice hater. Pumpkin spice is fine. But autumn has more to offer than cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Trader Joe’s agrees and, for at least some of its fall offerings, has embraced the savory side of squash and pumpkins. Sometimes to success.
I tried a bunch of Trader Joe’s offerings that include pumpkin (or squash) but don’t lean on the whole “pumpkin spice” thing. My thoughts are below. Spoiler alert: not every item managed to free itself from tasting like a pumpkin pie.
Trader Joe’s describes these as looking like traditional samosas on the outside but harboring a “twist” on the inside: “Soft chunks of pumpkin, patterned with paneer cheese and a host of savory spices, including garam masala, coriander, chili power, and fennel seeds.” When they first came out of the oven, I had concerns, because I thought I smelled something akin to pumpkin pie. But I was apparently projecting my autumnal fears onto these tiny, crispy triangles of joy. They do have a slight sweetness from the inclusion of pumpkin, but they’re ultimately spicy and exceedingly delicious. These are a home run.
In addition to pumpkin, the ingredient list for this bisque includes “butternut squash, onions, carrots, honey, brown butter, and fresh sage leaves for a decidedly unique taste.” Personally I think “unique taste” might be a reach here; I found this soup kind of thin and in need of a little salt. But it’s fine. It would pair well with a grilled cheese on a nice autumnal day. I’m not saying rush out and get it, but if you like pumpkin bisque, it’s worth a try for around $4.
This is an intriguing product that definitely leans into the savory side of what pumpkin has to offer. Overall it had a pretty vinegary, molasses-forward profile, which personally isn’t my jam when it comes to roasting sauce—but I’m not totally discounting this, because if things like vinegary barbecue sauce are your jam, this would be a good match for you. I took Trader Joe’s advice and made roasted chicken thighs with this sauce. In the Fearless Flyer, Trader Joe’s suggests putting this on pasta, and while I didn’t do it, I have to say I think that would be… horrendous.
Okay, hear me out: This stuff tasted like the smell that hits you when you walk into Trader Joe’s. Herbs, vegetables, maybe even flowers? But it was also… good? I can’t explain it. It’s a blend of cheddar, gouda, and parmesan cheeses, butternut squash purée, a “classic béchamel,” and a sprinkling of “seasonal spices like nutmeg and sage.” Overall this was a hit for me, even though it tastes like the smell of a grocery chain (one I love, to be fair!).
One would think that, because they’re simply the ball form of the exact product mentioned above, these mac & cheese bites would also taste like the inside of a Trader Joe’s. But despite the store’s claim that this is the same stuff—just with macaroni instead of rigatoni, then dipped in batter and rolled in breadcrumbs—I found the flavor of these to be totally different. As in, kind of nonexistent. Somewhere in the process of all that dipping, rolling, freezing, and cooking, the flavor disappears from this butternut squash mac and cheese. That said, these were a fun little food to throw in the air fryer and my almost-2-year-old loved them.
Proceed with caution: This ravioli is described as being filled with pureed pumpkin mixed with brown sugar, honey, and molasses, plus ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. While all that sugar-forward language should have clued me in to the fact that they were going to be sweet, nothing on this package suggested “pumpkin spice,” so I expected something like a typical butternut squash ravioli—slightly sweet, but certainly not pumpkin pie in pasta form. These are pumpkin pie in pasta form. Delicious, just maybe not what you want for your dinner. And if you hate the flavor of pumpkin pie or the Starbucks #PSL, definitely avoid these.
The clear winner among these Trader Joe’s pumpkin products was the package of mini pumpkin samosas, which I’ll be buying more of before pumpkin season’s demise. I’d also entertain the “honey roasted” pumpkin ravioli again if I’m feeling like having pumpkin pie for dinner, and the butternut squash mac & cheese if I have a hankering to taste the smell of a Trader Joe’s. Paradoxical as it may seem, it honestly wasn’t bad.