Traditional recipes

Taste Test: Trader Joe’s Wild Salmon Jerky

Taste Test: Trader Joe’s Wild Salmon Jerky

Dan Myers

Trader Joe’s sells a surprisingly wide variety of jerky through its house brand, and most of it is of the turkey or beef variety, obviously. One different type of jerky caught our eye, however, and we had to try it: wild salmon jerky. Boasting a large quantity of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, the jerky starts with sliced wild Pacific king salmon, which is brined in brown sugar, molasses, sea salt, and maple syrup before being dried.

The first thing you’ll notice when opening the bag is the smell, which was off-putting to the majority of our tasters due to a close resemblance to the smell of fish food. That carried over into the flavor of the jerky as well, which was strongly fishy and salty, with the flavor of brown sugar and molasses coming through as well. It was extremely sweet and salty at the same time, with a tough texture that made it tough to chew. It also left our hands rather sticky and fishy-smelling.

That said, there is a place for salmon jerky in the American culinary lexicon. One taster noted that "this is exactly what salmon jerky is supposed to taste like," so for those out there who are fans of the stuff, you’ll likely be a fan of this as well. It just wasn’t our personal cup of tea.

Click here for all our Trader Joe's product reviews.


30 Of the Best Ideas for Trader Joe's Smoked Salmon

The browned butter blended with that honey garlic sauce is what makes that salmon recipe stick out from the remainder. Nevertheless, there comes a time when individuals intend to keep things simple, and there’s nothing wrong with streamlining a recipe! Actually, you people are going to love this set otherwise more than the previous one.


Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad with Tumeric Garbanzo Beans

I may occasionally give Trader Joe’s a real tongue lashing, like I felt compelled to do the other day with their strange and terrible pseudo-salad, but only when the really deserve it, and in any case I like to try and give TJ’s the chance to settle the score. In that spirit, I went out and picked up Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad with Tumeric Garbanzo Beans.

As you might gather from the picture, or the long, strange name, this is another entry in Trader Joe’s new line of little grain-salads-in-a-tub, and close cousin to Trader Joe’s underwhelming Nutty Grain Salad. Surely TJ’s wouldn’t have released two, tiny, grain-based salads unless they had damn good reason to think people would actually enjoy them. They couldn’t both be as bad as the first one I tried, right?

The fact of the matter is that Trader Joes Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad is miles better than it’s counterpart in both taste and nutritional content, and I was glad I picked it up. That said, it’s every bit as twisted and insane as the Nutty Grain salad, just on a different axis.

The main thing you’ll probably notice when you pick this salad up is how it is topped with bright yellow chickpeas. Oh, great, you might think – Curry, that’s brilliant. I bet curry could taste really good on a salad like this.

Only it’s not curry, it’s just tumeric. All the other rich and exotic spices that give curry it’s magical kick – the cardamom, the cumin, the garam masala in general, aren’t present. Just musty old tumeric – wonderful for color, but dull and dusty when it comes to taste. In fact, given the overall taste of the salad the garbanzo beans are a total non-sequiter. I went into this bulgur salad expecting it to taste something like Trader Joe’s Vegetable and Country Grain Salad – one of my all-time favorite TJ’s salads, and place holder on my Best of 2013 list. Instead of the nutty and mellow tastes of that salad, or something that would work well with tumeric, we get the strong flavor of orange juice. Yes, orange juice is the primary flavoring agent in this salad and I swear to god that you can taste it in every bite. This whole salad is infused with the strong zing of not just citrus, but real oranges, real oranges and a hint tumeric.

It’s incredible. Taken back to back with the Nutty Grain salad, it feels like Trader Joe’s has started to curate a small selection of recipes broadcast to it from a parallel universe several degrees separate from our own. “Mmm-boy! Serve me another plate of cooked bulgur and a tall galss of orange juice!” demand the insect-headed denizens of that universe before scuttling off to work in their cities beneath the sea.

The other flavors you’ll experience with this salad are the slightly nutty taste of the bulgur, and the strong, lingering taste of carrots. Surprisingly, the cilantro that gets top billing in the product name is only present as a subtle background touch, emerging mid chew, then vanishing again without a trace.

All in all, this salad tastes more like an orange/carrot juice drink than anything else. In salad form, that makes for a very strange eating experience but not necessarily a bad one. Once I got used to the fact of the thing, I happily munched this salad up. There’s enough texture and chewiness to the dish that it lasts you a surprisingly long time for only eight ounces, and the orange and carrot flavor works together, if not perfectly, than well enough.

The other nice difference between this salad and the Nutty Grain salad is that it has a much more reasonable calorie count. There are only 240 calories per serving, and only a slender 10 calories from fat. There is still a considerable 54 grams load of carbs in the tub, but that’s too be expected from so much grain, and it’s ameliorated somewhat by the 9 grams of fiber in it as well.

Overall, it might be the most unusual salad I’ve ever had – even stranger than the Korean Spicy Seaweed Salad – but isn’t that what we go to Trader Joe’s for? Whether it sort of work out, like today, or misses entirely, like with the Nutty Grain salad, I have to take my hat off to Mr. Joe if for nothing more than his boldness of vision.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not to the populous at large. This is a unique salad with an unusual taste.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so. It was okay, just not good enough to justify repeat purchases.

Final Synopsis: A small, bulgur salad flavored with orange juice.

Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad – Nutrition Facts


Exploring Trader Joe's

These two items were more samples in my quest for backpackable snacks for my trip.

Beef jerky is a rare treat for me these days. By far the best I've ever tasted is Jack Link's "KC Masterpiece Barbecue" flavor. That stuff is so good that it's hard not to snarf down the whole bag in one sitting.

The Trader Joe's? I can resist the temptation. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's nothing to make it stand out as special, either. It seems completely generic.

That goes equally for both the "original" and the "teriyaki" versions. The latter might be a little more salty/soy-saucy than the former, but not by much. If you had me taste one piece from a mixed bag, I'd have a difficult time being confident which one I was eating. If I could taste one of each, I'd probably get it right--but if you have to do a side-by-side comparison to tell which is which, you've failed to make the product have whatever supposedly distinct flavor you're calling it.

I shared some with my sister-in-law. Her first reaction was, "It must have a lot of sugar in it." She was right, though I had not noticed it. The label reveals that the regular flavor has 5 grams of sugar per 28 grams of product, making it about 18% sugar. The teriyaki is even more, with 6 grams of sugar per 30 grams of product, making it about 20% sugar.

On the rare occasions that I indulge in beef jerky, I'll be going back to my favorite brand and flavor, which is definitely not TJ's. (By the way, while finding that link above, I noticed that Jack Link's has two new flavors of beef jerky: "Sriracha" and "burrito." MUST TRY!)


Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa

A handsome can, hiding a deceptive heart.

I was really excited for Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa to work out. On paper this sounds like a dangerously brilliant idea – combining a dark roast coffee with powdered cocoa to make a quick brewing mocha. Read the back of the can and you’ll get even more excited:

“You could go out and pay for a mocha, but with Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa you can make one – without any added sugars – right in your own kitchen.” The label goes on to reference the use of “chocolate fudge oil” and uses the word “choco-riffic”

Sounds pretty dang good, right? Maybe like a mixture of hot chocolate and dark coffee? Oh, if only. Sadly I found this coffee to be nothing of the sort.

The last time I reviewed a Trader Joe’s coffee product it was the incredible Cold Brewed Coffee Concentrate. I might be all but untrained in the art of understanding and appreciating coffee, but even I was blown away by that coffee’s mellow, smooth taste and convenience. As a rule, I try to avoid reviewing those things which have a vociferous armchair expert culture built up around them (wine, beer, cheese, etc). This isn’t so much out of fear of looking foolish in public so much as a desire to avoid being yelled at by indignant pundits. Nevertheless, bouyed up by the success of the cold brew concentrate, and the promise of numerous cups of rich mocha, I seized this can of grounds and took it home.

To my dismay, I discovered that this coffee is not at all what it appears to be. I suppose I should have been tipped off by the “No sugar added” bit in the description above.

The thing that I seem to always forget about chocolate, is that in it’s natural state it is inedibly bitter. Even an three quarters pure bar of chocolate is more like chewing on bark than enjoying a nice piece of confection. Chocolate needs a least a little sugar to taste good at all, and possibly some cream mixed in as well depending on your taste. Without any sugar added, you have nothing to protect you from the bitter, mouth curdling tannins. It’s like Trader Joe’s asked itself the question, “How can we make something even more bitter than straight, dark roasted coffee? We’ll add, 100% dark, bitter baking chocolate – of course!”

It’s a strange question and not one I feel need to be answered. All would be forgiven, of course, if the brew actually had a chocolaty taste too it. Shockingly, it doesn’t. Not a traditional mocha taste, at any rate. If you’re expecting the mocha brewed by this mix to be anything like a mocha you’d pick up at your corner coffee shop, you need to re-calibrate your expectations. There is a chocolate taste present in the coffee, technically, but it’s much more akin to the chocolate tones you might be told to expect in a beer or a wine. Think subtle hints of chocolate that emerge from a lingering undertone, not a tasty chocolaty infusion.

This is doubly strange considering that the cocoa is paired with the above mentioned “chocolate fudge oil”. This sounds utterly delicious on paper, but when I say the phrase out loud it sounds terribly wrong. Fudge oil? How does one get oil from fudge? Is someone loading baskets of raw fudges into a fudge press somewhere? The answer might very well be yes. Google turns up frighteningly few results regarding “fudge oil”, outside of opportunistic recipe sites that seize desperately on that rich search term.

The best I could dig up was a brief e-mail from Trader Joe’s Customer Support stating the following:

“The ingredient ‘Chocolate Fudge Oil’ used in our Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa is a natural oil that is derived from cocoa in a fudge form.”

Is this the same thing as cocoa oil? I simply do not know. Mysterious ingredients aside, Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa is a straight coffee and nothing else. Could you make a resonable mocha out of it if you added some cream and sweetener and chocolate. Sure, but that defeats the point, doesn’t it? Come to this product if you’re looking for yet another subtly flavored medium-dark roast coffee. Those seeking something sweeter should stay away.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not if you’re looking for a mocha. Yes, if you just like coffee.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t drink much of either mocha or coffee, so probably not.

Final Synopsis: A totally acceptable medium-dark roast coffee misleadingly presents itself as a mocha.


Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips

If life gives you parsnips, you make parsnip chips. This is another Trader Joe’s product that, like Avacado’s Number Guacamole, I can’t help but feel existed as a clever name first, and only a product as an after thought. A rhyming snack food that uses an obscure vegetable? How could anyone at TJ’s say no to that? Certainly it’s what I’m always on the look out for.

Ranking: 3 stars

But if a product exists only to serve novelty, can it really be all that good? In this case, the answer is a surprising “Yes!”. Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips are a wonderfully flavorful, surprisingly sweet, crunch alternative to run-of-the-mill potato chips. It’s a classic case of “Try it, you’ll like it.” But what exactly is a parsnip anyway?

In the wild, the parsnip looks, to the untrained eye, exactly like a big, white carrot. In fact, the parsnip is a close relative to the carrot. Originally native to Eurasia, the parsnip was imported to the Americas by early European settlers in the 1600’s. By the 1800’s, the root vegetable – firmly ensconced in three continents and with a long history of use that extends back to the Roman Empire – was basically forgotten, sidelined as modern agricultural and shipping practices replaced it with other vegetables on an industrial scale. Nowadays, the parsnip is really only encountered by most people in certain niche applications or as the basis of regional traditions.

While the parsnip may not be as popular today as it was in ages past, these parsnip chips make a good case for a comeback. You might not expect a colorless root vegetable to be sweet and flavorful, but these chips are exactly that. Inside the bag, the chips themselves are small, thin and brittle with a tendency to bunch up in clusters – definitely unsuited for dips, but good for general snacking. The frying process has made the parsnip slices curl and brown, more like a plantain chip than a potato chip. However, as soon as you take find that they pack an over-sized taste – long sweet and mellow, with a vaguely carrot-y aftertaste.

I’ve written before about the surprising sweetness of carrots – well it turns out that parsnips are naturally sweeter than even its own close cousin. In fact, in ancient times, before sugar canes or sugar beets were grown, it was parsnips that were used to sweeten meals. It’s this sweetness that is the most notable feature of the parsnip chip, but a very mild sort of sweetness that satisfies without overloading you on sugar. That sweetness, combined with the nuanced, earthy, root vegetable taste, is a real delight.

I was expecting something dry and bland from these chips, but instead I found a wonderful substitution for other “naturally sweet” type chips – in fact I liked these parsnip chip so much better than, for instance, the sweet potato chips you find around. However these chips are far from a healthy alternative – due to the fact that these parsnips have been fried up in a serious amount of oil. With a rather surprising 12 grams of fat per 12 chip serving, these are some very oily chips. Expect some greasy fingers after polishing off a bag.

To my taste, I found these parsnip chips more than just a novelty. For a list of ingredients that is nothing more than “parnsips, oil, salt” I was completely surprised by the fullness of flavor – a world away from the one note starchiness of potato chips. If they were healthier I’d be eating them all the time. As it is, I’ll enjoy picking them up a few times a year for an interesting snack that has stands out from a pack of monochrome competitors.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes – these are worth a taste.

Would I Buy Them Again: Not often, but I will.

Final Synopsis: A completely different sort of “potato” chip.

Trader Joe’s Parsnip Chips – Nutrition Facts


Farmed vs. wild salmon: Can you taste the difference?


Panelists assess 10 samples of farm-raised and wild-caught salmon during a blind taste test at The Washington Post. To prepare the fillets for tasting, local chef Scott Drewno lightly salted and steamed them onsite. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Read a story about salmon, and the odds are good that, somewhere, it’ll tell you that wild salmon tastes better than farmed. But does it? We decided to find out in a blind tasting, and assembled a panel that included noted Washington seafood chefs and a seafood wholesaler.

The fish swam the gamut. We had wild king from Washington, frozen farmed from Costco, and eight in between, including Verlasso farmed salmon from Chile, which is the first open-pen farmed salmon to get a Seafood Watch “buy” recommendation. The tasters came from the Food section and the local seafood scene.

Scott Drewno, executive chef of the Source by Wolfgang Puck, was gracious enough to prepare the fish this was like Usain Bolt consenting to go for a jog. Drewno steamed portioned fillets simply, with a little salt.

The judgments were definitive, and surprising. Farmed salmon beat wild salmon, hands down. The overall winner was the Costco frozen Atlantic salmon (Norwegian), added to the tasting late in the game — to provide a counterpoint to all that lovely fresh fish, we thought.

There is an important caveat about the winning salmon: It was packed in a 4 percent salt solution. Many of the tasters noted, and liked, the saltiness. Chef-restaurateur Kaz Okochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro, Masa 14) mentioned that salt doesn’t only affect flavor but also helps make the texture of the fish firmer. Salting is “a typical Japanese technique for fish” and one he uses on salmon sushi. The Costco/Kirkland label product was a fine piece of fish, and one any of us would put on the table. Yet it wasn’t strictly comparable to the others. It was also about $5 per pound cheaper than any of them.

The next three top-rated fish, with closely grouped scores, also were farmed: Trader Joe’s, from Norway Loch Duart, from Scotland and Verlasso.

Ancora chef-restaurateur Bob Kinkead, who estimates that he personally has garnished upward of 350,000 servings of Pepita Salmon, a signature dish at the now-closed Kinkead’s (“Salmon built my house,” he says), seemed disheartened that there was so little difference among the fish. “None stood out and said, ‘Buy me,’ ” he said.

When standout flavors were detected, it wasn’t in a good way. A couple of samples had off-flavors that were picked up by some tasters but not by all. And, although some samples had either the large flake and high fat content that gave them away as farmed, or the finer grain and meaty texture that identified them as wild, we could not consistently tell which was which.

One thing, though, is certain. You’ll never catch any of us saying wild salmon tastes better than farmed.

Other panelists: Bonnie S. Benwick, Tim Carman and Jane Touzalin of The Post and John Rorapaugh, director of sustainable initiatives at ProFish.

The fish, in order of panel preference (overall ratings 1-10, with 10 being the highest score):

1. Costco farmed Atlantic, frozen in 4 percent salt solution, from Norway $6 per pound (7.6 out of 10)

2. Trader Joe’s farmed Atlantic, from Norway $10.99 per pound (6.4)

3. Loch Duart farmed Atlantic, from Scotland $15 to $18 per pound (6.1)

4. Verlasso farmed Atlantic, from Chile $12 to $15 per pound (6)

5. Whole Foods farmed Atlantic salmon, from Scotland $14.99 per pound (5.6)

6. ProFish wild king (netted), from Willapa Bay, Wash. $16 to $20 per pound (5.3)

7. AquaChile farmed Atlantic, from Chile $12 to $15 per pound (4.9)

8. ProFish wild coho (trolled), from Alaska $16 to $20 per pound. (4.4)

9. ProFish wild king (trolled), from Willapa Bay $16 to $20 per pound (4)


Trader Giotto’s (Joe’s) Balsamic Glaze

Let’s keep it up with the balsamic vinegar , yeah? Today we’re going to look at Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze.

Now a glaze is an interesting thig to buy – one of those intriguing grocery product outliers, like bouillon cubes or cloves – that you only by once every 3 years or so and which seems to be manufactured exclusively by tiny, unknown companies with names like “Winslow’s” or “Classic Star”.

Let me say, up front, that this is a pretty good product. Glaze is a weird accessory to food – only lending itself to a few dishes – and I’ll admit that this glaze has vexed me in my efforts to incorporate it into my meals. It’s certainly not something you’re going to use every day, but it does have a multi-year shelf life so that’s not a big problem. Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze is a mixture of a thick, natural grape syrup (called grape must) and balsamic vinegar, and it tastes exactly like what you’d expect a vinegar infused grape syrup would taste like. It has a sweet, strong tang that pairs nicely with pork medallions or roast beef, or as a side sauce with Italian-herbed potatoes. There’s no sugar added to the glaze, but don’t underestimate the sweetness – the grape must, being the concentrated remains of crushed grapes, is 10-15% glucose by weight. That said, the balsamic vinegar is strong enough that it makes up the primary taste. This one will zing your tongue before it soothes it. I’m not going to ladle the praise on too liberally here though. A sweet, vinegary syrup is a bold new taste but not necessarily one everybody is going to flip over. I dip into this bottle twice a month or so and have always left satisfied but never blown away.

What intrigues me more than the taste is the weird marketing shenanigans Trader Joe’s has gotten up to with this product. This is sold on the Trader Giotto’s label, it also proudly touts the fact that it’s not just “Made in Italy” but even a “product of Modena” made with “traditional methods”.

Let’s take a look at what they’re insinuating.

Balsamic vinegar, true balsamic vinegar – Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena – is essentially refined grape must, aged for a decade in special casks within the town of Modena, Italy. This is a designation protected by international law to prevent cheap knockoffs. True balsamic vinegar sells for around $100 an ounce, and is justly craved by the well-to-do trendy gourmet set.

On the other hand, Aceto Balsamico di Modena (no “tradizionale”) is an inexpensive, commercially produced imitation of true balsamic vinegar, which is to say it’s the only type you or I have every had. This balsamic vinegar is really just a mixture of ordinary vinegar with food coloring, some caramel and bit of thickening agent. A dollar a gallon, in other words.

If Trader Joe’s were the hardcore mofo’s they want us to think they are we would be discussing the former right now. In reality, of course, this glaze is made with the latter. What I don’t understand is why they’re bothering with the antics here. We’re not idiots, TJ, we’re not going to think you’ve somehow figured out a way to package super-expensive, authentic balsamic vinegar into a plastic squeeze bottle at $2.99 a pop. Why bother with the misleading language? Made with “traditional methods”? Really? You mean the method of mixing food coloring and ordinary wine vinegar, just like they did in the middle ages?

It’s a sad fact that we live in a time where the shape of our daily life has predominantly been decided by marketers trying to make a buck. Every man-made thing we come into contact with, from our cradles to our coffins, have passed through the hands of a marketer at some point. I’m aware of this, it’s the way of the world, but I sometimes like to fool myself into thinking that maybe there’s a corporation out there that could change things, that maybe there’s a CEO who values genuine human interaction over a forklift full of money. Trader Joe’s does a better job than most at coming across as sincere , so moments like this are important reminders that in this day and age, faking sincerity is just one more way to get that dollar out of your pocket.

The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: If you have use for a sweet, vinegar glaze this is a good bet.

Would I Buy It Again: One is enough, thanks.

Final Synopsis: A sweet, tangy glaze that promises more than it can deliver.



I wish you fall for this delicious Baked Salmon! We definitely enjoy salmon recipes and this is consistently our favored for years. According to my visitors, it has actually conserved marital relationships, pleased in-laws, as well as had lots of picky eaters grinning.


Whole30 Trader Joe’s Beverages

Some delicious drinks to enjoy along with plenty of water!

  1. Any whole bean or ground coffee
  2. Any tea bag
  3. Tejava black tea
  4. Sparkling mineral water

  1. Organic cold brew coffee
  2. Spindrift
  3. Kettle brewed unsweetened black tea
  4. Kettle brewed unsweetened green & white tea with a hint of mint


Watch the video: TRADER JOES HAUL. TASTE TEST NEW ITEMS. SO MANY NEW SNACKS! (January 2022).