It’s a very special time of year, you Fearless Flyers. Trader Joe’s has brought the holiday hammer down upon us all, and we have no choice but to yield. Here are our thoughts on this year’s line of sweets and snacks, plus our verdict on whether or not each item is worth the purchase. (Special thanks to our pets, who sampled the dog treats.)
These were delicious, exactly as the cashier promised. Salted caramel ice cream goes perfectly with the sweeter caramel of a stroopwafel. “Mini” is a good size for several reasons: it’s easy to hold, it doesn’t melt before you’re done eating, and you won’t feel like you’ve made a huge mistake halfway through. We recommend letting it sit for a minute or so after you take it out of the freezer so that the stroopwafels are a little more manageable; the hardened caramel is too solid to bite through right away, and if you chomp down too hard, all the ice cream squishes out.
December is, unofficially, peppermint-and-chocolate month. It’s a beautiful time. And what is more beautiful than peppermint ice cream in a chocolate cone with a crispy chocolate shell and even more chocolate hiding at the tip of the ice cream cone? (We appreciate that last touch, a true commitment to quality.) The cone itself is crispy and light; the ice cream doesn’t make it soggy. Trader Joe’s seems to know exactly what adults want out of a dessert: we don’t want less indulgent treats. We want tinier versions of indulgent treats, which are enough to quell our sweet tooth and not leave us wanting more. With 87 calories and 7 grams of sugar apiece, one of these cones is a great way to cap off the day’s sugar cravings. (It’s true. I know because I had another one late yesterday afternoon. —Aimee)
Peppermint and chocolate are a divine combination, and hard to screw up, but still, the ratio here is nicely balanced. The ice cream, cookies, Joe Joe filling, and fudgy ribbon provide a nice contrast in textures, and the dairy itself tastes rich and indulgent. (It reminds me of Peppermint Candy, my favorite ice cream from childhood. —Aimee) Best of all, it doesn’t skimp on the peppermint ice cream in the vanilla/peppermint swirl.
This ice cream is not nearly as impressive as the others. It makes sense that Trader Joe’s would try turning the perennially popular Jingle Jangle (a mix of chocolate-covered pretzels, popcorn, Joe Joe cookies, and peanut butter cups) into an ice cream product, but it just doesn’t work. The ice cream’s vanilla flavor is a little dull, and the sweet-and-salty Jingle Jangle sparsely interspersed throughout doesn’t provide enough of a contrast. It amounts to some plain ice cream speckled with candy that you can’t taste all that well because the chocolate coatings are too frozen. A regular, room-temp handful of Jingle Jangle would be preferable.
Verdict: Don’t buy
These crackers have a great peppery taste, but they’d be better if they were slightly thinner and had a bit more contrast in each bite, like Trader Joe’s Fig & Olive Crisps, Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps, and Raisin Rosemary Crisps. The sweetness of the candied ginger stands out a lot, rather than blending in. But it’s a nice, quiet crisp you can eat throughout the day and feel virtuous. It’s fine plain, but would probably be jazzed up by some fig goat cheese (also available you-know-where).
Verdict: Buy for your office snack drawer or if you’re having company over
These little snowballs were packed with sharp ginger flavor. There’s actually candied ginger woven in throughout, which adds unexpected zing—some might even find it overly assertive—but it also adds some unexpected chewiness that, unfortunately, disrupts the butter cookie’s consistency and makes you feel like you’ve bitten into something that shouldn’t be there. They’re not outright unpleasant, but the candied ginger is what lingers, not the butteriness.
Verdict: Skip these
This isn’t awful, but it does have kind of a potpourri aftertaste and the chocolate-covered pretzels seem a bit stale. It’s more sugary and caloric than your standard trek mix, but you might as well embrace that, because it’s Christmas and we’ll be telling you to drink bone broth in a few weeks anyway. This stuff was made for pouring into little decorative bowls at parties, not for hitting the road to grandma’s house. If you actually have to trek in a sleigh, you can do better.
Verdict: Buy if you want guests to stay out of the kitchen while you’re cooking
It’s not terrible. We can’t blame this egg-free, dairy-free product for being a little watery and thin, though it is both these things. We do blame it for having a weaker nog flavor than it should. The flavor is definitely present, but not vibrant enough to compete with all that wateriness. For 20 grams of sugar and 170 calories in a single small tub, it should be more outright delicious. Instead, it’s just tolerable.
Verdict: Don’t buy
This is definitely the superior egg nog yogurt, assuming “egg nog yogurt” is an area of need in your household. It contains both spices and egg, which is kind of the point, right? It’s very rich; it might be hard to get through a full container—but that’s true of real egg nog, too. The most impressive thing about this product is how well it lets both the Greek yogurt flavors and the egg nog flavors shine through. Somehow they never compete or clash with each other, they just coexist side by side. How beautiful.
Verdict: Buy, and probably share with someone
Despite having to improvise in the brewing process in an office kitchen (we ended up with a half-assed version of a pourover and it was probably overbrewed), we didn’t mind this. The roast was very dark, but the spices were still evident. It would go well with real gingerbread.
Verdict: Sure, go ahead
The quality of the dark chocolate is fine (a touch too sweet, maybe), but the shortbread isn’t as yielding and buttery as it could be. It’d be great if the shortbread in this had the same crumbly texture as the cookie portion of a Candy Cane Joe Joe. The mint version of this cookie is superior.
Verdict: Leave ’em on the shelf
Apparently, mini marshmallows are treated as a seasonal release at Trader Joe’s. They taste like marshmallows. There’s nothing really extraordinary about them, but at least they are soft. In fact, being gluten- and gelatin-free (vegan!), these don’t spring back quite as insistently as regular marshmallows, which is actually preferable.
Verdict: If you need mini marshmallows, buy this bag
The same chocolate is used for both products; each one just caters to celebrants of a slightly different holiday. In this case, the Jews don’t get as screwed over as much as they usually do with holiday treats because the solidity of the coins is preferable to the hollowness of the ornaments. Hollow chocolate feels like such a cheat. You think you’re getting something substantial, and then it’s all air.
Verdict: Admit it, you’ve always been a little curious about Hanukkah
This is pretty much Baileys Irish Cream. It can be enjoyed on the rocks, tipped into some coffee, or mellowed out with some hot cocoa. But you already knew that because you’ve probably tried Baileys Irish Cream before. If you’re looking for a budget option, this works great!
Verdict: Sip away
After much sniffing during a side-by-side comparison, the Naughty biscuit was ultimately selected, and gobbled with middling enthusiasm.
Verdict: A beef bone of a concept, but more of a Milk Bone in execution
Flat-out rejected by our canine tester. The gingerbread man shape is cute, though.
Verdict: Be a sport and get your dog something squishy and meaty that she’ll actually like