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What's BAD at Trader Joe's?

  • c
  • Chris VR Feb 10, 2006 03:05 PM

We've had plenty of threads hashing out what's good, but a thread below on the risotto got me wondering what else should be avoided.

I agree that the TJs risottos aren't very good. I also have to heartily recommend against the pierogies.

So what other TJ-branded (or only available at TJ)products should be avoided?

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  1. I will preface this by agreeing that there are a lot of good things- but for the bad stuff:

    two buck chuck sav blanc ( have not tried any others)
    bried in brioche (not sure if it is TJ branded)

    1. Another TJ's fan here. My short list:

      -frozen asparagus stalks (stringy, limpy mess)
      -milk (sometimes goes bad before exp date)
      -TJs vegetarian chili in a big round can (weird off-flavor)
      -Hansen's diet soda (not a TJs item of course, but it's so nasty I couldn't not include it).
      -white or whole wheat "naan" in the oblong shape. I use quotes since it's nothing like naan, but I'm not dinging it for that, I'm dinging it b/c twice now it's gotten moldy the day after I bought it.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Alice Patis

        I did not like the frozen asparagus either.

        1. re: valerie

          Third the Frozen Asparagus and also add the Frozen Garlic Herb Fries... just VILE! :P

          --Dommy!

          1. re: Dommy!

            NOBODY'S frozen asparagus is any good, just like frozen mushrooms; there are some things people simply should not try to freeze. Somebody must like all this awful stuff, though, 'cause if it stops selling they stop selling it.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Exactly. Corn and peas freeze very well. Green beans aren't bad. Okra freezes ok, Like frozen pearl onions, they work well and a lot easier than having to peal fresh ones. Other than that, not much worth buying frozen. One haa to appriciate living on the west coast where fresh produce is available almost year round.

              1. re: Will Owen
                q
                quiz wrangler

                So true - that asparagus is ghastly! I was amazed to read an article about the big business that is frozen guacamole. Good lord! Once someone brought pre-made guacamole to one of our parties. We forgave them because they had only recently arrived here from the UK and obviously didn't know yet that friends don't do that to friends, at least not in California.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Oh ye of little faith: put the asparagus in a quiche with a mixture of Swiss and Feta cheese. Use the tips.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Asparagus does not freeze well. I know gardeners that grow a lot of it and never freeze. I use TJ's frozen tips to make cream of asparagus soup....can't beat the price especially when fresh is not available or expensive.

                    We do not like the TJ breads. The low sodium soy sauce is barely tolerable.

            2. Two Buck Chuck
              All of the cured and smoked sausages

              1. Frozen fish - at least the scrod/halibut. Some of the TJ own brand cereals are nasty too. Had one with raisins literally as hard as rocks.

                1. Oh, my! Where to start?

                  The frozen enchiladas (any flavor), the frozen gnocchi, the refrigerated tamales, the "caponata" pasta sauce (I guess they make a plain old caponata as well that others say is good), artichoke pesto, basically every prepared food I've tried except the soups that come in that funny shaped can.

                  1. A large majority of all the TJ's brand items that are manufactured, like sauces and mixes are nasty. Things that are ok are oils, vinegars, pickled products, etc. Also almost all the frozen items are pretty bad.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: biltong

                      A couple exceptions. The white clam sauce is pretty tasty and much better than Progresso or other canned products.

                      I also like the new Thai curry or veggie stir fry packets that come with jasmine rice. Easy to microwave at work and decent but not great.

                    2. My mind is blanking on a lot of them, but I've unhappy with most TJs frozen stuff (Except for Peas and Rock Shrimp) and also their salsas... especially the fire roasted Guacmole and the Mango Habanero one... ICK!!! :P

                      --Dommy!

                      1. Their sushi, where the rice is this gelatinous, gummy clump, w/no discernible individual grains. Blecch!

                        I also hate their frozen asparagus.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: LisaM
                          e
                          Eldon Kreider

                          Has anyone ever had frozen asparagus anywhere that was good for anything except pureeing into soup? Asparagus just does not freeze well.

                        2. As many of us have mentioned in other posts, their strong point is staples. Yes, dairy is a little sketchy insofar as their storage practices are defeating---I've gotten the cylindrical butter (can't remember the name) that's actually been moldy on the day of purchase. Yeah, I know they'll take it back, but that's a huge hassle. I've had bad luck with their cheeses lately, too.

                          Their frozen enchiladas are awful, as are the frozen Thai curries. Same with the gnocchi with gorgonzola, blech. I've tried some of the small party appetizers, like the mini quiches. Blech, again. I liked the oft-recommended Alsatian "pizza" pretty well the first time; the second one had clearly been frozen and thawed more than once and the texture of the crust was a cross between cardboard and a rawhide dog chew.

                          I usually pick up one item that I haven't tried before on any visit. Last time was the pico de gallo in the refrigerator case. Unbelievable! Way too watery and it had a single flavor: black pepper. One of the worst salsas I've ever tried.

                          The chicken florentine in the deli case is about 20,000 calories of bland white sauce with some chicken and noodles thrown in for good measure. I don't mind the meat lasagne but I think the chicken lasagne is awful. I used to like their salad with baby spinach and gorgonzola; the last couple times my digestive tract suffered really negative "nitrate (or is it nitrite?) effects." I'm off that now.

                          I wouldn't try their sushi for any money.

                          Still, there are a few things that draw me back, but I'm very, very skeptical about anything new.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Christine

                            The frozen tiramisu torte is very tasty...until you read the list of ingredients. The first ingredient listed is partially hydrogenated oil. Lovely!Tossed that puppy out.
                            I tried their stuffed salmon once (a long while back) and was not impressed.
                            I also have yet to find a bottled salad dressing that I like. Still, too many good things to go back for.

                          2. 1. The frozen spinach/mushroom lasagna. Disastrous!

                            2. Almost any of the super-"healthy" breads, especially the utterly inedible low-carb stuff. Milton's is mostly OK, though it's also available elsewhere.

                            3. Frozen mushrooms. Why or how anyone would ever think this might work is beyond understanding. Canned is superb by comparison.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Will Owen

                              Okay, I LOVED the frozen mushrooms in stir-fries and pasta salads...but now they're gone... for good...sob...

                              OTOH, I enjoyed them so much, I'm doing much more cooking with dried mushrooms.

                              Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com

                            2. Oh God, where to start. Here's my top ten in no particular order.

                              1. Frozen green curry. UGH!
                              2. Thai curry simmer sauce. For the price of a single bottle of the stuff that tastes bad anyway ($3.29 when it's not on sale), I can buy a branch of fresh lime leaves ($0.40), a stalk of lemongrass ($0.05), a can of coconut milk ($0.59), an inch of galangal ($0.30), basil and cilantro ($0.10 each) a can of chicken broth ($0.59) and a whole bottle of fish sauce ($0.99) and make twice as much and have it taste great.
                              3. Frozen asparagus. Who thought that was a good idea?
                              4. The roasted beets in a packet. Slimy!
                              5. Any of those prefab salads in the small plastic tubs. I swear they go bad before I even get to the checkout counter.
                              6. Salsa. GROSS!
                              7. Any of the weird breads. Actually, TJ's breads in general. The tortillas are usually fine and the muffins are OK, but I stick to La Brea Bakery or Il Fornaio if I need to buy bread at TJ's.
                              8. The brie with the cranberries and nuts in. The nuts are squooshy, I kid you not.
                              9. The premarinated fajita meat. Just avoid it.
                              10. The lines on the day the Fearless Flyer comes out.

                              There are so many things I love at TJ's (goat cheese, granola, cheap fresh mozzarella, Fage yoghurt, buttermilk, eggs, tagine simmer sauce, English muffins)

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Oh, I actually like the beets! Mine have never been slimey (so far). Knock on wood...

                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  If I could get the ingredients you list for the Thai curry sauce as effortlessly as you imply, especially at the prices you quote, I surely would.

                                  Here in the real world, fresh lime leaves are usually found frozen (if at all)and not for $.40. Galangal is usually found in a jar (if at all), and not for $.30. Fresh basil and cilantro are hardly $.10 each, and a stalk of lemongrass doesn't go for $.05 anywhere. Perhaps we would only use $.10 cents worth of basil & cilantro, but the rest we'd eventually throw out as leftovers anyway. Chicken broth is only $.59 on deep sale, especially if you want College Inn. For the most part, only the lowest quality coconut milk is $.59. I don't remember the price of fish sauce, but $.99 sounds low.

                                  Pre-made sauces exist for convenience, and Trader Joes Thai green curry sauce is a much better-tasting alternative to most other existing brands.

                                  1. re: LoveaFair

                                    Pre-made sauces DO exist for convenience, but they need to taste good in order for me to spend the money on them, and the Green Curry sauce does not taste good to me. It tastes bad to me, and thus went on my list of things that taste bad to me.

                                    As for your so-gracious rundown of the prices I list, perhaps where you live you are not blessed with Thai and Mexican groceries as we are here in the San Fernando Valley, but fresh lemongrass costs between $0.05 and $0.08 per stalk. If you go to the fancy 99 Ranch it might be $0.15 per stalk. You can get basil and cilantro at Mexican markets are usually 10 (admittedly small) bunches for $1. Galangal behaves like ginger, where you break off as much as you need rather than buying the entire root. I buy regular cans of chicken broth, because unless it's the central flavour of my food I see no point spending more money on something where you won't be able to distinguish the flavour. Chaokoh coconut milk is routinely $0.59 a can at the market nearest my house, and a small bottle of Three Crabs brand fish sauce (about a pint) costs $0.99 at the same market. I did forget the green curry paste, though, which is $0.59 for the can or $2.19 for the giant tub.

                                    If I didn't have these resources nearby (and given that half the Trader Joe's are in California and Nevada where the likelihood of having Asian markets is higher, many people do, whether they know it or not), I still wouldn't buy the $3.29 simmer sauce, because it tastes terrible.

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      Your nom de plume says it all...you are an "Ubergeek" Smile.

                                    2. re: LoveaFair

                                      I'm in the LA area, as well, and will vouch that Das Ubergeek's calculations are correct. We're blessed here to have a variety of ethnic sources; it comes with the traffic.

                                  2. The frozen avocado halves are beyond disgusting.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: loveskittles

                                      I always pick up a couple of bags of avocado halves when I go, but I don't live in California. The ones we get here aren't any better and you have to let them sit for a week just to ripen. Nice to be able to pull them out any old time. And they don't turn brown after they sit.

                                    2. I found their ready-to-roll pizza dough shockingly bad. Their selection of mid-price NV sparkling wines is pretty hit or miss, as well. Not worth the bother to shop there for me - too many other good Chicago options.

                                      1. Well, the absolute worst, never buy again thing, besides the sushi (argh!!!!), and the pizza dough (way too wet), is their Tuna Stir-fry with wasabi sauce. HORRIBLE! The tuna tasted old and stale, even tho i barely cooked it, no enough veggie, yet what there were wer totally inappropriate, and badly cut; I could go on and on, but don't do it...

                                        Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: galleygirl

                                          I think their sushi is a local thing. I've enjoyed the ones I've had from our TJ.

                                          1. re: Sharuf

                                            Hm, maybe you live near the centralised Trader Joe's sushi factory! (laugh) I haven't been able to get up the gumption to buy TJ's sushi, and this is coming from someone who routinely buys California rolls at Albertsons.

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              Really think this is a location issue. I live in So Cal and the TJ sushi, well it isnt GREAT, but its serviceable for cocktail parties.

                                              1. re: Mealcentric

                                                Here in L.A., I think the TJ sushi is the same brand as the Costco sushi - Okami or something like that. A lot of the sushi looks disgusting and I wouldn't try if if they paid me, but the Calif. roll and the spicy Calif. roll are, IMHO, edible enough for the price (cheap). Haven't tried any of the other varieties and won't.

                                        2. I've never encountered dairy that went bad too quickly in the SF Bay area. They seem to have some different items in different areas, maybe local suppliers? adding your location to your good and bad would help.

                                          1. Now I'm wondering about some of the products I have in my pantry and keep stalling to use. Should I just return the following jarred items I have? I'd hate to waste all the other ingrediants I'd be using if this stuff wasn't any good.

                                            Trader Joe's Wok Sauce-Kung Pao
                                            Trader Joe's Enchilada Sauce
                                            Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce
                                            Trader Joe's Thai Peanut Sauce

                                            Not sure if they still sell frozen seafood appetizers in phylo dough. They were the nastiest thing I have tasted in my life. The spinach/mushroom ones were ok.

                                            1. Many many things are very, very bad at Traders, and yet I still find a minimum of one visit per week an absolute necessity.
                                              I agree with all of the negative postings below and would even suggest avoiding ANY prepared TJ item: fresh, frozen, refrigerated, canned or bottled. In addition, the TJ branded cookies, chips and candy are clunky, unsatisfying and equally skippable.

                                              So what's left? Plenty. Unfortunately, you'll actually have to do the preparing on your own. For instance, you could snag a bag of arborio rice, a chunk of parmesan, a package of dried mushrooms and a cheap bottle of white and make yourself a kick-a** risotto in no time.
                                              (Great, easy (and impressive) for Valentine's...)
                                              Just one example. TJ's has tons of other high quality low priced staples easily combined for serious chowing.

                                              If all that TJ preprared dreck sucks so bad, why is it there and why doesn't it go away? (TJ's stays competitive by ruthlessly eliminating weak selling items)
                                              The answer IS: You love it!
                                              Fast convenient microwaveable muck, aimed directly at the Hot Pocket crowd. Tastes bad? Add some more salt, drink an extra beer and finish it off with a nice sweet cookie-to get rid of that nasty aftertaste.
                                              BTW, consumtion of the above usually leads to "irregularity" of one type or another. Not to worry.
                                              Traders' vitamin section has powdered Psyllium fiber in 16oz drums. It's always in stock and the price kicks-a**!

                                              1. I sometimes have problems with the shelf life of the milk and the heavy cream, but I continue to buy them. Sometimes they last just fine. The heavy cream I'm referring to is the non-ultra-pasteurized heavy cream in the plastic bottle with the pink top.

                                                I gave up on the TJ brand half-and-half a long time ago because of shelf life problems.

                                                Today I chucked about half a quart of TJ whole milk with a Feb. 17th date which I bought last Sunday. I have slightly better luck with the nonfat milk but that's true with any brand.

                                                I don't eat thin-sliced deli turkey but my husband does, and I bought him some from TJ's. It was just nasty - slimy - smelled worse than cat food. Good thing he didn't like it because I banned it from the house.

                                                One time I stupidly tried the TJ brand sriracha and it was terrible.

                                                But overall TJ has many items that I love and that are staples in our home, such as cage-free eggs for at least $1.00 per dozen less expensive than other stores, Fage yogurt, I could go on.

                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: Debbie W.

                                                  Hmmm...that's odd about the heavy cream...I find that it usually lasts weeks beyond the "sell by" date.

                                                  1. re: Debbie W.

                                                    I don't know if it's worth the effort to you, but you might zip off an email to their corp HQ (wherever it may be.) My first suspicion about the dairy is that they let it sit too long unrefrigerated somewhere in the distribution chain - probably at that store. An individual store's manager might not care as long as they don't get a lot of complaints, but that's the sort of thing higher-level corporate quality control might do something about...

                                                    1. re: MikeG

                                                      Have had the same issue with dairy at TJ's both in OR and CA. Managers have always been polite and offered to replace/refund, but I think they have issues with improper handling of dairy - maybe at the warehouse level. First pblm I had was in the SF area where I opened cream cheese with a good date to find it covered with green mold. Learned not to buy 1/2 gal of milk there, just quarts - otherwise it goes off before we've had a chance to use it. As for contacting TJ, their website (at last view) suggested you write snail mail - one of the few major companies I've run across w/o email customer service.

                                                      1. re: nancy

                                                        Hmmm. [sarcasm]Makes me totally not be able to wait for the promised NYC TJ's to open...[/sarcasm]

                                                        If it really is a systemic problem that big, it strikes me as a really bad sign as to their handling practices in general. If the NYC store ever opens, I'll remember to stick to dry goods and cans, if anything. LOL

                                                        1. re: MikeG

                                                          I've never had a problem with TJ's dairy here in the Chicago area.

                                                        2. re: nancy

                                                          It is true that you have to snail mail them if you want to communicate with them but over the years, I sent several letters begging and pleading to get a store open in my state and they always took the time to send me back a personalized response, not just a canned letter.

                                                    2. j
                                                      Judith Hurley

                                                      This won't mean much to people in big east coast cities, but where I am it's hard to get kosher meat and poultry, so I bought a package of kosher chicken at TJ's. It was utterly and completely disgusting, nearly rotten. That would be awful under any circumstances, but seemed particularly insulting considering it was sold as "kosher." They took it back, but they still sell the brand, and as much as I enjoy the store, I'd never buy fresh meat or poultry there again.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: Judith Hurley

                                                        Was it Aaron's Best from Rubashkin's? If so, I can vouch for the fact that it leaves the packing plant wholesome and tasty, and gets ruined down the line somewhere (possibly due to the same problem as the dairy other people have mentioned). I used to live about ten miles from Postville, Iowa (where the packing plant is) and would go up and get Aaron's Best kosher chicken all the time -- it was great.

                                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                          I used to buy the Aaron's Kosher from TJ's and it was always good (and it saved me from having to brine). But it disappeared from my 2 local TJs a while ago, and I haven't seen it since.

                                                        2. re: Judith Hurley

                                                          At our local Trader Joe's I see staff sorting through dated items all the time, and removing bad/outdated product routinely. If one package of chicken got past them one time I wouldn't cross them off my list forever. If a pattern developed, that would be different.

                                                          Meats and produce go bad over time and under poor conditions (temperature mostly). Trader Joe's is unlikely to be accepting meat into it's stores that is bad when it gets there. The problem is much more likely how the store has handled it than anything to do with the producer or distributor.

                                                        3. I concur that the frozen asparagus is awful. Which is generally true, granted, but for some reason the TJ's package called out to me against my better judgment and fooled me.

                                                          Surprised no one has mentioned the four-packs of frozen hamburgers. Of Australian origin, I think. I tried pan-frying patties both defrosted and straight from the freezer -- both times they oozed foamy gray goo as they sizzled. And were tough as shoe leather when I attempted a bite.

                                                          Another vote against the frozen avocado halves -- these would be such a great convenience -- and a bargain -- if they were good (here on the east coast avocados are pricey), but the texture is just weird -- almost grainy.

                                                          Frozen pineapple chunks -- who knew pineapple could be so tasteless?

                                                          And most of the breads in the Boston-area markets are lame. Particularly the ones that promise something special -- "Pane Toscano" and the like -- definitely not Tuscan, and just not good.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: MichaelB

                                                            Don't know where you are but I too am in the east and recently discovered TJs sells When Pigs Fly bread under their name. It is excellent and much cheaper here than other markets. I recently bought Harvest Wheat and a Pumpkin Seed variety.

                                                          2. Their tomatillo guacamole is revolting. Didn't I read someone on this board say that it wasn't bad? Maybe they were talking about the regular guac. I'm too scared to try it now.

                                                            Also some butter cookie with a "chocolate" drop filling offended me so much that it became the only thing I ever actually returned to the store.

                                                            1. The frozen key lime pie is really awful!

                                                              1. s
                                                                sally from LA

                                                                It's interesting that the short half life of TJ's milk was mentioned by in so many posts. I too have noticed that milk from the local supermarket lasts days longer than milk from TJ's, and have often wondered why, since one would think that the pasturization method is standard for all brands, and that nothing else is added. Or perhaps it's residual antibiotics left over in the milk, in the case of supermarket milk. If that's the case, we'd be better off buying TJ's and replenishing it more frequently!

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: sally from LA

                                                                  I've also had that problem with TJ's milk. I have since switched to their Organic Fat Free milk. What's interesting is that this stuff lasts way beyond its expiration date. Go figure.

                                                                  1. re: Bob Brooks

                                                                    Perhaps it lasts longer because it is ultra-pasteurized?

                                                                    1. re: Bob Brooks

                                                                      I always buy organic 1% and whole milk at TJ's and love it. Tasty and mine always lasts beyond the expiration date, too.

                                                                    2. re: sally from LA

                                                                      I think it's lackadaisical handling, maybe having the cases sit arouns for awhile before anyone gets around to putting them in the reefer...

                                                                      Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com

                                                                    3. j
                                                                      Jersey City Mods

                                                                      Below someone said the Sushi was servicable but I think that is being quite generous. The Sushi is GAWD-AWFUL!!!

                                                                      I only tried it because someone had it at a party. I mean, it LOOKS horrible but just had to try it to see if it is as bad as it looks. It is even worse!! I just can't believe anyone eats that stuff. It might be different in California, but where I come from it's that horrible imitation crab and stuff like that.

                                                                      And never mind that at this same party they had a dog running around and wagging its tail over the food. WOOF!!! (I tried it before it got dog hair on it though).

                                                                      BARF CITY!!