April 14, 2024
Which pumpkin products scored with us? And which recipes should Trader Joe's reformulate?

Except for Half Moon Bay, no one does pumpkin season like Trader Joe’s. The autumnal array of products, which seems to have arrived earlier than ever, includes a sizable number of returning bestsellers and a few new options. We bought two grocery bags’ worth of snacks and treats and put them to the test. Here are the results:

THE CLEAR FAVORITES

Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps ($3.99) and Pumpkin Cream Cheese ($2.49): This duo scored the highest in our informal tasting. The crackers, which are a seasonal variation on Trader Joe’s Raisin Rosemary Crisps and Fig & Olive Crisps, are a sophisticated snack, and would be terrific for a Thanksgiving appetizer tray. “Crisp, munchable, good texture” — with a nice pop from the cranberry — summed up the views. We served them with the seasonal cream cheese, but as one taster noted, “They could pair well with a soft cheese like a mascarpone or a goat.” All our tasters thought the cream cheese was a winner too. “Nice, with just the right amount of pumpkin flavor.” Naturally, Trader Joe’s also sells pumpkin-flavored bagels.

Fall Harvest Salsa ($3.49) and Fall Leaf Corn Tortilla Chips ($3.99): “Nice and savory,” one taster said. Put this zippy salsa — a perennial TJ’s favorite — on the coffee table for the football fans, and they won’t realize they’re getting a serving of veggies while screaming for Deebo to rack up more yardage. Pumpkin and tomatoes are the primary ingredients, followed by goodies like tomatillos, butternut squash, bell peppers, jalapeños. Another taster described it as “somewhere between a salsa and a soup” — and that’s occurred to the folks at TJ’s too. On the website, they suggest you can make a fall soup by heating up a jar of this combined with Organic Vegetable Broth.

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Cakes ($3.99): “Decadent” doesn’t begin to describe this dessert. Read the label and you’ll see that the first two ingredients are brown sugar and butter, followed by pumpkin and dates. Nothing not to like about that, right? One taster described it as “pull-at-your-cheeks sweet … and quite delicious!” Two cakes come in each freezer box. Might be good to grab some for the cold nights ahead; these are expected to sell out.

SPLIT DECISIONS

Pumpkin Kringle ($9.99): TJ’s popular Kringle, a family-size Danish that changes seasonally, comes in a pumpkin version that customers say is yummy when heated up. One taster on Reddit described it as “a pumpkin pie inside of a cinnamon roll.” We were divided. Some loved it, with one calling it “addictive.” Another said, “Edging on oversweet, but I could see it pairing well with coffee or tea.” And one declared it too sweet.

Pumpkin Brioche Twist ($4.99): This colorful bread is nicely flavored with pumpkin and cinnamon, but our loaf was on the dry side. One taster thought it could work if toasted and served with butter or cream cheese. Even better ideas: How about making French toast or bread pudding?

Organic Pumpkin Spiced Granola Bark ($4.99): This seed-heavy bark wasn’t bad, but it didn’t garner any raves, either. “More granola bar than bark. Could be a nice hiking snack,” one said. Overall, it feels too health-foody to “scratch the itch of cozy indulgence.”

Pumpkin Spiced Teeny Tiny Pretzels ($3.49): Some of our samplers thought these pretzels needed more pumpkin flavor. But they’re tasty enough. “This sweet treat is balanced enough by the saltiness to be snackable,” one said.

Pumpkin Spice Batons ($2.29): These 7-inch-long rolled wafers with a “light and satisfying crunch” are nice alongside coffee or another dessert. We’d like them more if the pumpkin filling were bolder. As one taster said, “Light, pleasant pumpkin seed flavor but not strong enough to draw me in.”

Greek Nonfat Yogurt, Pumpkin (99 cents): Another mixed assessment. One taster said it was a non-starter because the pumpkin flavor “clashes with the tanginess of the yogurt.” Others who appreciate a nonfat 130-calorie breakfast or afternoon snack thought this would do in a pinch. Frankly, TJ’s does a much better job with other flavors.

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BACK TO THE TEST KITCHEN

Pumpkin Tortilla Chips ($2.49): Rarely do hungry reporters pass up tortilla chips. “Tastes kind of funky. Would not buy,” one said. Another put it more diplomatically: “Corn is not the right vessel for this flavor.” Trader Joe’s says these chips are “crafted with simple ingredients including pumpkin puree, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg.” They’re healthy, gluten-free, with virtually no carbs, sodium or sugar. Maybe that’s the problem.

Pumpkin Bisque ($4.99): We normally adore pumpkin soup, but not this one. There’s an intense, unpleasant aftertaste. One of our samplers said the taste is simply “off.” After scrutinizing the label, we don’t think it’s the tahini, what TJ’s calls the “not-so-secret” ingredient. Maybe it’s the garlic puree? Or the too-sharp combination of garlic, onion and apple cider vinegar? At any rate, TJ’s needs to rethink this recipe.

FINALLY, A NIGHTCAP …

Pumpkin Spice Cream Liqueur ($8.99): If you like Irish cream liqueurs like Bailey’s, you’ll enjoy this. Same flavor profile, with pumpkin spice subbing for the chocolate/caramel/vanilla notes. At 25 proof, or 12.5% alcohol, it’s no boozier than wine. There’s a bit of a harsh edge to this liqueur, but what do you expect for nine bucks? We suggest saving a bottle and toasting the end of the ever-so-long Halloween season after the last trick-or-treater rings the doorbell and you turn off the porch light.

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