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TJ's Items That Would Devastate a Non-Initiate

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We've had hundreds of threads suggesting good things to try at Trader Joe's. But the thing about TJs - which I'm always struggling to explain to the uninitiated - is that it's not about knocking you over with deliciousness. It's about a selection of stuff a few notches better, healthier, and cheaper than can be found elsewhere. Also some unique things that are good to have. Most aren't, like, GEMS, but it's not aiming for that sort of an experience.

However! A few things truly are bona fide great. Not items one might have become "addicted to", not items that are "very good" or "useful", but strictly bona fide GREAT items. So I wonder if we can compile a list of things someone who doesn't "get" Trader Joe's would taste and exclaim "wow, that's freaking AWESOME!"

I'll go first!

Apple Blossoms (frozen)

Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar (for me, nearly as good as some of the best single-estate chocolates)

Vacuum-fried pineapple (discontinued, it seems)

Freeze-dried mango (because it's an interesting varietal we'll never get to try fresh here)

and....?

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  1. the frozen basil puree cubes - Dorot brand IIRC - high quality, very useful and good in the dead of winter.

    and of course the 3 buck chuck...

    6 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      I nominate the dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds. Much better than any others I've tried, and quite addictive.

      1. re: hill food

        Whoever created that Dorot stuff is my hero. Seriously,

        1. re: cheesecake17

          they do cilantro cubes too right?

          1. re: hill food

            Yes. And ginger, carmelized onion, and chile

            1. re: hill food

              My TJ's only sells the garlic and basil. But whole foods has the whole lineup.

          2. re: hill food

            Dorot Garlic is always a nice backup for when I've run out of fresh.

          3. Rosemary raisin crisps

            1. The sea salt caramels that usually only come out at the holidays. These are on par with my local high end chocolate/candy maker. They come in small, round decorative box. I buy at least two boxes during the limited season and rarely share.

              1. I must agree about the Apple Blossems. I bypassed them for a long time, assuming that they would be the equivalent of a Pepperidge Farm apple turnover ( inedible). Tried them after reading the recs here. They are shockingly good by any apple dumpling standard!

                1. Heirloom Oranges in the wintertime - sweetest, juiciest navel oranges out there.

                  Peppermint Pretzel Slims - Christmastime item that flies off the shelves quickly.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: littleflower

                    ITA on the Heirloom Oranges
                    The Chocolate Bar with Caramel and Black Sea Salt (I think is is Vosges, repackaged)
                    The Frozen Macaroni and Cheese (NOT the reduced fat version)

                    I really like their Wild arugula (I'm in Southern California) and it's not something I see often. It's not delicious the way a chocolate caramel bar is delicious, but it's really great for arugula, if you like something like that.

                    I also think their heavy cream (in the plastic bottle) is really great, but again, different from a chocolate bar.

                    1. re: littleflower

                      Another vote for the Heirloom Oranges. And the Saturn Peaches that have been available this summer are great - very sweet and juicy.

                      1. re: EM23

                        Actually, the regular peaches that come in the 5 pound box in So Cal in the summer are amazing. As good as some of the best farmer's market peaches. They ripen perfectly, and have that great ratio of sweet and acid.

                    2. I am addicted to their uncrystalized candied ginger.

                      And the wasabi mayo

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: autumm

                        I LOVE the uncrystallized candied ginger and have never seen it elsewhere under any other brand. I'm a huge ginger head but I don't like crystallized ginger at all. TJs was out of it for several months a year or two ago and it was such a difficult time for me...

                        1. re: Fromageball

                          Love your name.

                          1. re: Fromageball

                            i have never seen (or looked for) this - so is it sweet? is it ginger in syrup?

                            we like ginger but not if it burns when you taste it - you know what i mean? Mellow ginger would be how i would describe.

                        2. -Rosemary marcona almonds

                          - Dark chocolate covered Tahitian vanilla caramels, in the small purple bag near checkout

                          -ditto on the uncrystallized candied ginger

                          1. Frozen chocolate and almond croissants that you let rise overnight and bake. /swoon

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: givemecarbs

                              Oh Yeah! Better than many chain coffee houses selections for sure.

                              1. re: givemecarbs

                                Just gave these a try this morning, thanks to this thread. Wow! I never would have thought a frozen croissant could work so well. Almost wish it didn't. Going to have to double down on my gym membership.

                              2. Thanks for your replies

                                1. The jumbo raisin medley, a mix of very moist and large raisins of several varieties, very hard to find similar elsewhere.

                                  14 Replies
                                  1. re: Dan D

                                    This sounds delicious. Would the raisin medley work well in baked goods, or is it more a hand-held snack? I make a holiday whiskey cake that has raisins and I would like to use a better quality raisin in it this year.

                                    1. re: buzzardbreath

                                      Have you ever tried other kinds of dried fruit in your cake?

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        Yes, I can't seem to leave recipes alone. LOL ;-) Some of my MIL's homemade candied citrus peel and our homegrown Chinese dates (jujubes) have been in there once or twice, though not at the same time. ;-) I most often use what dried fruit at the store looks good but these raisins sounded really tasty.

                                      2. re: buzzardbreath

                                        Those raisins are perhaps double the size of supermarket raisins. There's no reason not to bake with them but some folks might want to chop them up a bit, if the particular recipe might wind up with the fruit sinking to the bottom.

                                        My preference is golden raisins, and I like them to be small since most often I am using them in cookies. Smaller means more even distribution, and less sticking/scorching at the outside. I find these raisins at Asian markets, usually Swad or other Indian brands.

                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          TJs has nice golden raisins. I wonder if the Asian market ones are cheaper, though?

                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            I read some time ago that some manufacturers were cheating on golden raisins by bleaching dark ones - have you heard of this?

                                            EDIT: Found this link:
                                            http://www.discoverbulk.com/HealthBen...

                                            Interesting. I have to think about this.

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              I'm not sure where "cheating" figures into it; at least the link you posted has no suggestion thereof. Conventional golden raisins/sultanas are generally made the way the article describes, AFAIK - Thompson seedless grapes treated with sulfur dioxide. Not cheating, but standard process. Organic golden raisins are other varieties that will retain their light color when dried without sulfur dioxide (which is prohibited by US organic standards).

                                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                I just said that I'd READ it - I didn't say I agreed with it or that I even knew anything about it - ???

                                                The link is interesting, as are your remarks.

                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                  Oh, I'm sorry, I misunderstood; I thought you were saying that this link was where you'd read about it, and my comments reflected that I didn't see that info in the linked piece.

                                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                    Poorly written on my part!

                                        2. re: Dan D

                                          Their Organic Thompson's are also oustanding at a very reasonable price.

                                          Large, plump, moist and unsulphured unlike most of the other TJ's raisins. These fired Newman's Organics raisins in my pantry as soon as I discovered them.

                                          1. re: Dan D

                                            Yes, I get the version that has dried cranberries, golden raisins, etc. I use it in recipes that call for any dried fruits -- such as granolas, cookies, oatmeal, etc. -- to add more flavor variety than just regular raisins.

                                            1. re: foodiefan6

                                              I add that mix (I think it's called Golden Berry Blend) to my morning oatmeal. Love it!

                                              1. re: AmyH

                                                Yes, that's it!

                                          2. The first things that sold me on TJ's were the tubs of little chocolate chip cookies. So little, so crunchy, so cute!

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: sciencediet

                                              +1 - my favorite being the Mini Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies in the tub

                                              1. re: littleflower

                                                On my first trip to TJ's, bought the mini chocolate chip cookies. Rarely go without buying them or the mini oatmeal raisin.

                                              2. re: sciencediet

                                                Almost all their tub cookies are deadly. Just finishing off the Oatmeal Raisin which were spectacular even if there's not a raisin in sight. Their on the ingredients list though so perhaps their finely ground into the batter? In any case they're still great.

                                                The dark chocolate chip almond cookies in a tub are so devastatingly good that I won't let them in the house any longer lest they be scarfed in a single evening.

                                                1. re: NuMystic

                                                  I'm addicted to their cinnamon graham crackers in the plastic tub. So good and so different from any of the commercial boxed graham crackers. Great crispiness and cinnamon flavor. Love them!

                                                  1. re: AmyH

                                                    Those ARE good.

                                                  2. re: NuMystic

                                                    The gingersnaps are AMAZING!!!

                                                    1. re: schrutefarms

                                                      Yes, I don't even like Gingersnaps, and I like them!

                                                2. Jim,

                                                  Thanks for creating a great website! I spend far more time here than on any other one.

                                                  As for Trader Joe's, sigh, maybe there'll be one near Tampa some day!

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                                    Isn't there one in Sarasota now? Maybe not too far for a field trip...

                                                    1. re: gfr1111

                                                      Tallahassee and Pinecrest are set for this Fall, but it looks like Sarasota is your closest store. I'll keep my ears open.

                                                      1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

                                                        The Tallahassee store is now open! (And to stay on topic, I like the soft pretzel sticks -- they're like a hybrid between a pretzel and a good sourdough bread). Hubby likes the Maple Leaf cookies.

                                                        I've only been to the store once, and they were sold out of a few things I wanted to try: red bell peppers .99 every day; speculoos cookies, and cookie butter!

                                                      2. re: gfr1111

                                                        You are in luck. TJ's to open in Tampa in 2014. You can read about it here: http://bit.ly/1d0xSDl

                                                      3. Goat yogurt. $8.99 or something crazy at my usual store, $5.49 at T J's.

                                                        I like the spicy Italian chicken sausage and the eggplant hummus as well.

                                                        1. Frozen Ricotta & Spinach Tortelloni with Red Pesto. Either heat it up, or defrost at room temperature and enjoy as a pasta salad. If I go on a long trip, I take the frozen package, let it thaw in the ambient air, then enjoy! It costs about $2. I couldn't make this from scratch any better for any amount of time or $. A GEM.

                                                          1. The frozen mac & cheese, for sure. Microwaved a few minutes longer than the directions state and you have something that could easily be sold for $12.95 in a restaurant.

                                                            And, for all the Trader Joe's I've gone to, in four different cities, they always have the best, NOT ultra-pasteurized, heavy cream, sold by the pint.

                                                            The Los Angeles Trader Joe's won the prize even in that category - in the past, I've gotten heavy cream that was so thick I would wonder if it was already whipped. Perfection.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Violatp

                                                              If you make chocolate truffles, TJ's heavy whipping cream is one of the only ones that isn't ultra-pasteurized which is necessary for candy making. The Pound Plus 72% bar is really nice for making the ganache filling and the Organic 73% Super Dark bar is my favorite to coat the exterior.

                                                            2. Whole milk mozzarella. Nuts. Persian cucumbers ($2 less than other stores). Handmade flour tortillas. 72% chocolate. Chocolate-covered almonds. Hand Soap. Shampoo. Brie. Parmesan. Coconut Chips. Triscuit look-alikes and other crackers. Raisins. Vanilla extract. Coconut Oil. Hericots Vert. Campari tomatoes. Some occasional dairy products. More that I'm not thinking of right now, I'm sure.

                                                              Not very fond of the frozen meal items, in general.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                Is the mozzarella in a tub? I couldn't find it last time.

                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                  No, it isn't fresh, it's regular Mozz with whole milk rather than part-skim, so it isn't in liquid.

                                                                  It's vacuum-sealed and is sort of a rounded barrel shape. Be careful not to get the part-skim one - they look almost alike.

                                                                2. re: sandylc

                                                                  Coconut chips: bingo.

                                                                  They're great. Thanks.

                                                                3. I think I once tried the apple blossoms but didn't care for them. Are they perhaps made with Golden Delicious or another insipid variety? I like to bake with tart apples.

                                                                  I agree on the frozen almond croissants.

                                                                  Within the last year they introduced medium roast decaf coffee beans that make great-tasting coffee. Granted, it's been a long time since I've been able to have caffeine but it seems to me this one tastes as good as regular.

                                                                  The raspberry preserves in the tall jar that says "Fresh Raspberry" in the name. It really tastes like fresh berries, better than home-made preserves.

                                                                  I love the 12-grain crackers. About an inch in diameter, with loads of fiber, taste like a less-salty, more complex Ritz. I also use them instead of croutons.

                                                                  1. Garlic marinated mushrooms in a jar (by the pickles).

                                                                    39 Replies
                                                                    1. re: GraceW

                                                                      Do you have a description of the label on these? I didn't spot them on my last trip but I'm making another in a few days.

                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                        This is not my image.. BUT THESE ARE SO GOOD. Find them, even if you have to approach someone who works there, look them smack in the eyes, and say: "Take me to your garlic marinated mushrooms in a jar. Now. Please and thank you and musha-BOOMS."

                                                                        (not my image--but this seems close up!)
                                                                        http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-9gno4G3nj7Y...

                                                                        1. re: GraceW

                                                                          Thanks! I probably should stay away. I don't know if you've tried the marinated mushrooms on the Mediterranean Bar at Whole Foods but I really just have to not go near it as I end up buying $20 by weight of mushrooms. If I find them, several jars will be in my cart.

                                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                            You'll love them, being the vinegar freak you are :-)

                                                                            I returned mine, and I like acidic flavors, but this was over the top for me. Maybe I just bought a bad one?

                                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                                              Oh wow, really it sounds just right! I will hide my face when I admit that I really do take swigs of vinegar quite frequently. I'll definitely request them if I can't find them. The store isn't that big, they can't hide from me :)

                                                                              On an OT but related note, they accept returns? I try not to return things but I always like to know a store's return policy. I love Whole Foods anything at anytime for any or no reason, Wegmans is OK with non perishable items but won't accept other things, so just wondering.

                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                Oh, TJ's is the best for returns! Easy peasy! Not liking something is actually perfectly valid there.

                                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                  Here is their return policy and they are always friendly and nice about it!
                                                                                  http://www.traderjoes.com/about/gener...

                                                                                  <<2. What can I expect from Trader Joe's private label products (anything with Trader Joe's, Trader Jose's, Trader Ming's, etc. on the label)?
                                                                                  Trader Joe's private label products promise great quality fare for exceptional, everyday prices. We taste everything before we put our name on it and offer only what we feel is extraordinary. We tried it. We like it. If you don't, bring it back for a refund or exchange — no hassles.>>

                                                                                  1. re: foodieX2

                                                                                    Great, thanks. Wow I think I've been missing out being stubborn and deciding it wasn't for me for so long.

                                                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                      First off, I'm having to stop myself from calling you Flo. :-)

                                                                                      Second, yes. Yes, when you see the grass fed butter, the amazing cream, the coconut oil, the frozen haricot verts...

                                                                                      Yes, you will mourn time wasted! :-D

                                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                        Fldhkybnva, I also like vinegar.. however, I have never noticed a vinegar type taste to the mushrooms (in my opinion).. and I will be honest and say I use/drink the juice sometimes in the jar (although not all of it). They are $2.99 a jar and usually I can con myself out of buying something unhealthy at TJoes (and save it to bring to a meeting, so I can try a little of it..) by instead promising myself two jars of the mushrooms.

                                                                                        I've never tried the mushrooms at WHF because I am scared I would go into debt.

                                                                                    2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                      Wegmans will take back perishable things if something is wrong with it. (Like arugula gone bad before the date, or spoiled milk)

                                                                                      A great thing about trader joes, is they'll give credit for a return with just a photo. Took a picture of the date/UPC on a box of mochi that was a solid clump. They gave me the credit towards my purchase

                                                                                      1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                        Wow that is some return policy

                                                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                          I've had them take back things on just my word alone. "I bought a gallon of milk last week and there was something off about it - it tasted terrible." "Just tell the clerk and we'll credit your bill." It's great. I really don't abuse it, but I've taken back things that have gone bad super fast or tasted off (we buy the milk all the time to the tune of 2 gallons a week - this was the only one that had that off taste)

                                                                                          1. re: Savour

                                                                                            One bad thing about TJs is that some of their items don't keep well at all - cheese often grows a furry green wig very quickly. We don't live close enough to return as much as we should, so we lose a bit there. We remain aware of this when we shop.

                                                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                                                              I haven't had this experience, wondering if your store has too high a fridge temp? Turning mine to very cold has things lasting forever without spoilage, in general.

                                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                                This happens at all three stores within my willing driving range. The cheese that has been plastic-wrapped (rather than vacuum-sealed) has a very short fridge life compared to cheeses from other stores (stores that charge 2-3X the price, BTW).

                                                                                                In our house, if the cheese came from TJs, eat it fast!

                                                                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                  Some cheese managers cut the wheels too early, then cheeses are wrapped in plastic and just rot instead of ripening. Big problem at Fairway, near me.

                                                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                    Sandy, are you keeping the cheese in the plastic after getting home? Our cheesemonger tipped us off to always transferring to a container right away and now our cheeses are lasting dramatically longer than they ever did wrapped. (we use glass but I doubt that's a factor, tupperware should serve the same purpose)

                                                                                                    I suspect the temp changes from the fridge to the basket/ride home can cause condensation which will then lead to early molding.

                                                                                                    1. re: NuMystic

                                                                                                      I agree, I transfer all cheese to cheesepaper when I get home. How do you store? I just wrap and keep in the cheese drawer but have pondered a central container in the fridge on the lower shelf to make access easier.

                                                                                                2. re: sandylc

                                                                                                  This was a strange situation. As I said, it's milk we buy frequently, and we usually go through 2 gallons a week. This was the only one that had the issue.

                                                                                              2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                It's awesome bc if its not good, they money's not in the garbage

                                                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                  I almost had an argument with a TJ clerk over a bottle of Gruener Veltliner. He didn't think they had it but perhaps didn't recognize the proper German pronunciation. I found it and pointed it out to him so he'd know if another customer ever asked for it. He thanked me. I mentioned that I had never tasted it but figured if I didn't care for it, I'd cook with it.
                                                                                                  He pleaded with me to bring it back if I didn't like it. I said I would never return a non-defective item to any store just because it didn't taste good to ME. He said they WANT customers to be happy and to please bring things back. At this point, I took a deep breath and said that if he wanted me to be happy he would quit pressuring me to do something I consider unfair to the store! I did wind up cooking with the Gruevy, (SHH, don't tell!) but I love their rieslings.

                                                                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                    they're like the Nordstrom's of food!

                                                                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                      Wow! I was feeling bad as I started to ponder the fact that him there is no risk to buying anything there but wasting things I return just because I don't like them. That's a new one to me in the world of food shopping, but if they want that much customer satisfaction I won't argue. Just in the past few days I've read so many threads which make it sound like its a common practice to just take stuff back.

                                                                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                        Not pushing you greygarious! :)

                                                                                                        That said, it's not even remotely unfair to the store and they know it. That's why every staff member is trained to encourage taking full advantage of the policy.

                                                                                                        This policy has led to us "risking" a try of far far more things than we ever would at another market, especially things of the odd/unusual variety that normally would get passed with little more than a muttered "interesting".

                                                                                                        So while we have returned a great many items over the years that didn't pass muster, it's also added literally dozens of items to our regular shopping list that are now household staples. Many of which have replaced things we used to buy elsewhere which is exactly what TJ's had in mind in creating the policy.

                                                                                                        I'd say we easily spend twice what we once did at TJ's thanks to that policy alone, so they are surely not getting an unfair shake from our liberal use of it.

                                                                                                        1. re: NuMystic

                                                                                                          Very true, this is the rationale I used to talk myself into it an remind myself to bring the cheese back on Friday. I clearly am still invested in the store as I'm returning to return but also to shop more and check out more of the wonderful things they offer.

                                                                                                          1. re: NuMystic

                                                                                                            Their customer service in general is incredible. Case in point, the cashier asked if I had ever tried the mochi ice cream as she was ringing me up. I said I got it regularly, and was just picking up another because my last box looked like it had melted and refrozen. Not a big deal right? Before I knew it, she had voided the item and told me it was an even exchange to replace the other one. For all she knew, I could have been me leaving the freezer door open a crack or whatever so I was surprised. That's the kind of store they are, and that's why I wouldn't hesitate to bring back something I didn't care for.

                                                                                                            1. re: ohmyyum

                                                                                                              Wow, it seems these stories are the norm at TJs. It's so nice to know of a place with consistently great customer service. In fact, it's so unusual that just this morning as I popped into CVS as I often do on weekday mornings and was greeted as usual by a super-friendly employee I commented "thank you, you guys are always so friendly, it's very nice." Sad that this shocks me, but I'm glad to add another place to the list.

                                                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                Really? My experience is the opposite. TJs is the only place I've ever been harangued by a bagger because I wasn't helping pack the food away. I kind of figured that he was getting paid to do it.

                                                                                                                The few times I've been in the stores, the salespeople don't seem friendly or helpful. The only reason I've even gone in recent years is that my sister likes the store and she was caring for my sickly mother.

                                                                                                                1. re: 512window

                                                                                                                  Wow. So sorry to hear your local TJ's seems to be such an exception 512!

                                                                                                                  In years of going to multiple locations we decided long ago that theirs is the friendlies staff we've ever dealt with in any chain store bar none.

                                                                                                                  We've even had staff shoo us off helping with the bagging when they're not enormously busy, and everyone from the stocking crew to the management has bent over backwards at the slightest request without exception.

                                                                                                                  1. re: 512window

                                                                                                                    Where did this happen? I cannot imagine such a scene at any of the TJ's we have shopped at.

                                                                                                  2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                    Fldhky, I can't easily digest mushrooms but the marinade in this is so good that I have used it to impart the flavor of mushrooms to a variety of dishes. Awesome product - I have to thank Grace W for her recommendation on this one!

                                                                                                    1. re: littleflower

                                                                                                      Woohoo I can't wait! Likely my pre dinner appetizer on Friday night. Not to be gross but I don't digest them well either or at least don't chew them well, no tummy symptoms but they don't all get absorbed. Perhaps I'll use them to inspire dinner.

                                                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                        Nobody digests mushrooms well. They're pretty much indigestible, period.

                                                                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                          Maybe that's why I eat so many of them, freeish calories :)

                                                                                                          I'll be sure to report back when I try them.

                                                                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                            Sometimes I dump extra raw mushrooms in the jar and let them marinate in the juice to make more--it's not quite the same, but cost effective.

                                                                                                          2. re: linguafood

                                                                                                            "Nobody digests mushrooms well. They're pretty much indigestible, period."

                                                                                                            Nonsense.

                                                                                                            They're scientifically proven to be a good source of potassium, B, selenium and many other nutrients which wouldn't be possible if we weren't digesting them.

                                                                                                            Heck, Maitake mushrooms are a super-food known for aiding in digestion and boosting the immune system.

                                                                                                            The indigestible myth stems from mushroom's raffinose content which is something the body does indeed struggle to digest, so it ferments in the intenstinal track causing flatulence.

                                                                                                            That's only one element of the mushroom though and doesn't hinder the body utilizing the rest.

                                                                                                            Raffinose is also present in Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Beans and countless other vegetables infamous for their familiar gastronomic side effect… and they're all still quite digestible despite this common trait.

                                                                                                            Raffinose only needs to be avoided if you're someone prone to painful gas and bloating along with all the other usual suspects. Otherwise they're both nutritious and good eats.

                                                                                                            It can also be easily dealt with by taking any decent digestive enzyme containing alpha-galactosidase which breaks down oligosaccharides like raffinose.

                                                                                                            1. re: NuMystic

                                                                                                              So THAT's what does it? Thanks for the great information here, NuMystic.

                                                                                                              1. re: NuMystic

                                                                                                                Well, golly-gee. Thanks for that little lecture.

                                                                                                                Whatever it is, they fuck me up, but I love them.

                                                                                                2. One of the nicest things about TJs is that they have already narrowed down the selection. I don't have to compare many different different sizes or brands to figure out which package of X it is that I want to buy if I want some X. I know the quality is going to be among the best available.

                                                                                                  The prices are higher than sale prices at other grocery stores but much lower than the regular prices so I don't have to worry too much about the price, either.

                                                                                                  This means I can just go through the store and decide what I want and put it in my basket without a lot of hesitation or calculating prices or reading ingredient lists.

                                                                                                  If I had to pick one item, it would be something unique to Trader Joe's, and that would be the Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joes.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: RussTheRaccoon

                                                                                                    Those Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's are delicious when eaten straight from the freezer. These Joe Joe's are portion controlled for me, because I am satisfied with just eating one at a time (they are on the rich side for me - but in a good way).

                                                                                                  2. A couple more: the crumpets and the peanut butter-filled pretzels.

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: sciencediet

                                                                                                      Oh gosh, I try to forget those peanut butter filled pretzels exist. I have tried other brands but they don't hold a candle.

                                                                                                    2. - fresh buffalo mozzarella.
                                                                                                      - Greek feta in brine.
                                                                                                      (Actually, most of their cheeses are great and WAY cheaper than elsewhere).
                                                                                                      - Alsatian tart
                                                                                                      - lemon bars
                                                                                                      - yellowfin tuna in olive oil
                                                                                                      - smoked sardines, herring & trout
                                                                                                      - Spanish and Cretan olive oil

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                        Oh I absolutely concur on the yellowfin tuna in olive oil as well as the canned (tinned?) smoked trout.

                                                                                                        I buy both of these on a regular basis, and have not found anything that can compare to them price and quality wise at other stores.

                                                                                                      2. Speculoos Butter
                                                                                                        Frozen Black Bean Enchiladas
                                                                                                        Dark Chocolate Toffee Bite candy
                                                                                                        Frozen Chocolate Croissants

                                                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: boogiebaby

                                                                                                          Speculoos Butter?! :-) Where in the store do I find that yumminess? Near or with peanut butter? I have been using the high-priced Name Brand stuff in my baking lately and I imagine TJ's is much better.

                                                                                                          1. re: buzzardbreath

                                                                                                            TJ's labels this as "Cookie Butter" and it is usually near the other nut butters. They have both smooth and crunchy varieties - the stuff is like crack to me.

                                                                                                            1. re: FlyerFan

                                                                                                              Have you tried the Speculoos cookies? Very addictive - I find myself buying and going through a pack of cookies a week.

                                                                                                              1. re: littleflower

                                                                                                                I wonder if anyone buys a jar of Cookie Butter and a package of Speculoos cookies, then spreads the butter on the cookies?

                                                                                                                1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                  ... Me. No shame.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                    Yes.

                                                                                                                2. re: FlyerFan

                                                                                                                  Consider a jar of each type of the Cookie Butter to be in my shopping tote. :-) I will add this to my rapidly lengthening TJ shopping list for my next trip to SF. What does this taste good on besides a spoon? :-)

                                                                                                                  1. re: buzzardbreath

                                                                                                                    Cookie Butter + Bananas on a flour tortilla is very yummy. Also like dipping apple slices in cookie butter.

                                                                                                            2. The other thing to tell newbies is that TJ's doesn't just carry Amurrican standards but foods from China, Japan, India, etc, and what's called "gourmet" food. This wouldn't be devastating for most people, but it could be confusing. And if you really want to confuse them, you can play the health food/organic angle. For example, one of TJ's best things (for me, anyway) is the Vegetable Masala Burger, which people might walk past because they can't imagine what it is - but that would be a mistake. :-)

                                                                                                              1. I absolutely LOVE their refrigerated salad dressings - the pear champagne vinaigrette and the Asian spicy peanut salad dressing. They are unique to Trader Joes and phenomenally better than other similar salad dressings.
                                                                                                                Most people rave about trader joes Goddess salad dressing too, whine is also a recipe unique to trader joes.

                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: Mellicita

                                                                                                                  The refrigerated cilantro dressing is excellent, too. I always have a bottle in my fridge.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Mellicita

                                                                                                                    Yes the spicy peanut dressing is spectacular!

                                                                                                                  2. mesquite smoked almonds - a pretty good deal compared to the national brand we all know (except for maybe at costco type place) - and delicious too.

                                                                                                                    i also like the vanilla cake mix in box - instead of melted butter, i use orange-scented olive oil - turns out well for a quick dessert with fruit (our version of a shortcake)

                                                                                                                    and the main thing that wows butter lovers re TJ"s is their price on Kerry Gold irish butter.

                                                                                                                    dried seaweed snack is popular around our place too

                                                                                                                    +1 on the wasabi mayo
                                                                                                                    + 1 many of the other packaged nut / dried fruit products - good prices, good quality - handy for baking, granola, etc.
                                                                                                                    +1 mint jo jo's
                                                                                                                    +1 on some of the cheeses - definitely good prices

                                                                                                                    also refer to current Yay / Nay thread for more Yay insights.

                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                    1. re: Georgia Strait

                                                                                                                      I have yet to purchase their Vanilla Cake Mix but your review has reminded me that I should really give it a try. I am sure the ingredients list reads much better than standard box cake mixes found in other stores!

                                                                                                                    2. Also, (opinions are very divided on this one, btw) the Trader Joe's Real Mayo is my favorite store bought mayo, hands down. It tastes like European mayo to me - it also has NO sugar and comes in a glass jar - both pluses. I think some Hellman's devotees dislike it because it has a stronger taste than Best Foods/Hellman's, but I grew up a staunch Best Foods devotee and I've made the switch.

                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Savour

                                                                                                                        Yes people either love it or hate it. I am in the "love it and will never switch back to Hellmann's" camp.

                                                                                                                        1. re: littleflower

                                                                                                                          I recently made the switch, based on reccos from CHers, to TJ's organic mayo in glass jars, too. Muy bueno. Hellman's uses so much soybean oil it tastes like engine grease might, I threw out a nearly full jar.

                                                                                                                          And I don't want my food in plastics if I can avoid it.

                                                                                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                            Boy, I agree with you. HATE soybean oil - tastes terrible. I like the TJ mayo better, too, for taste, ingredients, and glass. Only complaint is that we don't eat very much mayo, and like many TJ foods, it doesn't keep well.

                                                                                                                            Of course, REAL food isn't meant to hang around for very long, I know...just frustrating.

                                                                                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                              So here's the thing; TJ's uses soybean oil, too! But it's not so heavy nor is it prominent. I also bought Spectrum organic canola mayo in glass, but TJ's with soybean oil tastes better.

                                                                                                                              I first tried a return to Ojai Cook organic, a one time fave, but it was even worse than Hellman's. I tasted rancid, like engine grease thick soybean oil texture and taste. I tossed it into the garbage after a single taste.

                                                                                                                              I make home made cole slaw a lot, so it goes fast. I also keep my fridge very cold, things last forever.

                                                                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                I have tried the Spectrum, too, but I am not a fan of canola oil, either.

                                                                                                                                Wow, interesting about keeping your fridge cold - good idea. What temp?

                                                                                                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                  On the door, the warmest part, where my mayo is, about 35-37. The rest us probably 33-35 when I check it. My dairy lasts forever, too, when it's unopened.

                                                                                                                      2. Two things I am totally in love with: Wasabi almonds and PB and J chocolate bars. OMG.

                                                                                                                        1. Vegetable Masala Burgers, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Peppermint Joe-Joes are definately my favorites.

                                                                                                                          1. Ummm.. FRESH MOZZARELLA string cheese.

                                                                                                                            Tarrazu coffee.

                                                                                                                            Mini PB cups.

                                                                                                                            Their sea salt.

                                                                                                                            The amazing selection of Valhrona chocolate.

                                                                                                                            Mirepoix mix when you're in a pinch.

                                                                                                                            ALL OF THE dried fruits & nuts. Just, that whole section.

                                                                                                                            Chile Verde chicken burritos. Like holy fucking moly.

                                                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: cozylummox

                                                                                                                              Good to know about the chile verde type, haven't yet tried them, just the regular kind which registered just a MEH with me.

                                                                                                                              1. re: littleflower

                                                                                                                                Yah, it's good. I haven't had a microwave for at least 2 or 3 years, so it probably helps that I oven bake them... in tin foil with sliced tomato and like at least 1/2 cup of salsa verde (TJ too)

                                                                                                                              2. re: cozylummox

                                                                                                                                Fresh mozzarella string cheese sounds amazing, with the regular sliced cheeses?

                                                                                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                  yes! it's not always there- but if you see it, try it. they're great because you can obviously use them the same way you would use normal mozzarella (e.g. on a small pizza, grilled cheese, in pasta...)...but it's a string cheese sized portion.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: cozylummox

                                                                                                                                    Oh, by that you meant "just eat it" :) I think that would be much more handy though as you don't have to deal with the big ball and wrapping and brine and all that nonsense.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                      It is very milky, and not quite as firm as normal string cheese. It also doesn't pull apart into strands, but it is delicious in its own right.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: ohmyyum

                                                                                                                                        yeah and like god forbid you put some salt on it, because your day will just be over after that. SO GOOD!!!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: cozylummox

                                                                                                                                          Or a drizzle of the balsamic glaze. :-)

                                                                                                                              3. okay, so they're not food items, but the fresh flowers are VERY tasteful and really reasonably priced! also, the greeting cards!

                                                                                                                                1. I think most of the people haven't really answered the question that was asked, which is, as I read it, not about "stuff a few notches better, healthier, and cheaper than can be found elsewhere" but about things that are (1) unique to Trader Joe's (or hard to find), and (2) really great. Using those criteria, I'm having trouble thinking of anything. Of course, part of that may be that, living in the Bay Area, there's almost nothing that can't be found elsewhere. So while there are a number of things I regularly (or exclusively) buy at TJ's, they're on the "better/cheaper/more convenient to buy at TJ's" list.

                                                                                                                                  A couple of things that come to mind are are:

                                                                                                                                  Pita bites crackers, which are simply the best crackers I've ever had, and

                                                                                                                                  Dark chocolate covered shortbread stars (seasonal for the holidays, buy them when you see them because they tend to sell out).

                                                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                    Under that criteria, my answer would be the California Estate EVOO. Truly great.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: ohmyyum

                                                                                                                                      I will throw my hand up for that EVOO as well. I was a die hard fan of California Olive Ranch but my bottle ran dry last week and I decided to give the TJs CA Estate a try and it's wonderful.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                        +1 on the EVOO

                                                                                                                                        Always have a bottle in my cruet and a back-up in the pantry. For true gourmands the price will provide the wow, and show the palates of average consumers what they've been missing with mainstream supermarket brands.

                                                                                                                                        As for other bonafide "wow" items for TJ's newcomers:

                                                                                                                                        - Rosemary Olive Oil Toasted Marcona Almonds

                                                                                                                                        - Organic Thompson Raisins (anyone used to sunmaid will find these a plump moist revelation)

                                                                                                                                        - Sweet and Spicy Pecans (try and eat just one, I double dare you. It's a wonder these even make it back home.)

                                                                                                                                        - Belgian Dark Chocolate Pudding (Dark. Chocolate. Pudding. 'Nuff Said.)

                                                                                                                                        - Frozen Vegetable Biryani (nothing transcendent but a frozen indian rice dish worth reheating is itself wow-worthy in my book. Even better with an additional handful each of the TJ's frozen org peas and the org. thompson raisins mentioned above.)

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                      Yes, most replies have been OT. It's a function of the size of the community (more people = more noise), plus the muscle memory from dozens of previous "Tell Me Stuff You Like at TJs" threads. People are in the habit of doing that here, and habits break hard.

                                                                                                                                      I'll try the pita bites and Choc shortbread stars. Speaking of holiday-only items, I love the "Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe-Joe's".

                                                                                                                                      Agreed about the California Estate EVOO.

                                                                                                                                      The one tip for something I (and I think most people) didn't know about but which really turned out devastating was for the roasted coconut chips. Everyone should try them (though in modest quantity....see the nutrition info).

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                                                        Yeah those coconut chips are pretty great.

                                                                                                                                    3. - Chocolate Star cookies they have around Christmas. Excellent and dangerous.

                                                                                                                                      - Frozen naan. Better than the frozen naan I can get at local Indian markets.

                                                                                                                                      - Organic Morning Lite cereal. REALLY tasty, IMO, as compared with Kashi and other cereals with similar health goals.

                                                                                                                                      And finally, one from the retired products column, just for old times' sake: Frozen prik khing green beans. Ah, how I miss them. Best TJ's item EVER, in my humble opinion.

                                                                                                                                      1. Their bacon - applewood smoked and black forest. better than any other store-bought brand for the price ($4 or $5 for 12oz)

                                                                                                                                        also, they have applewood smoked bacon ends ($2.99) for your Momofuku-esque recipes. WAAAAY cheaper than Benton's and close enough.

                                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: ns1

                                                                                                                                          Hmm. I actually was disappointed with the applewood bacon. I prefer Kunzler (any type, really, but the thick-sliced is best), which is about the same price, maybe a buck more.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                            Where do you find this Kunzler brand, because I have never heard of it.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: ns1

                                                                                                                                              http://www.kunzler.com/index.asp

                                                                                                                                              It's available at one of our local supermarket chains -- ironically the one I frequent the least. I just go there for the bacon, the Graeter's, and pickles.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                                not available at our local supermarkets (SoCal), so moot for me. If anyone in SoCal has a lead on this brand please post.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: ns1

                                                                                                                                                Kunzler is a Pennsylvania-based brand. I don't know how big their distribution area is though. I like their bacon too, and other porky products.

                                                                                                                                          2. We've been hooked on the British Muffins for years. He likes white, I like whole wheat. They are quite inexpensive and have become our breakfast staple. We no longer even like Thomas's.

                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                            1. re: Berheenia

                                                                                                                                              I loved the whole wheat ones, but recipe changed about a year ago. Nutrition numbers aren't as healthy, and flavor's not as tasty, but still pretty good. I've learned to store them in the fridge, or else they get moldy fast.

                                                                                                                                            2. That they once offered mango sticky rice bums me to have to type "that they ONCE offered..."

                                                                                                                                              The rosemary pecans and edamame hummus (it's still hummus?) got it done too.

                                                                                                                                              1. I love the spicy hummus and jalapeno-cilantro hummus. Better than any other store brand hummus I've tried and better than what I can make at home.

                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                1. re: sasha1

                                                                                                                                                  That jalapeno-cilantro hummus is amazing! Especially with the multi-grain pita crisps.

                                                                                                                                                2. This might sound mundane, but I love their California Garlic Powder, it is noticeably better than any others I've had.

                                                                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Atomic76

                                                                                                                                                    Is it granulated style garlic powder (like pourable table salt) or the kind that's more like baby powder or confectioner's sugar?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: NuMystic

                                                                                                                                                      I hope it's the former, the latter drives me insane

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                        I share that hope!

                                                                                                                                                        The fine powder is great for a few specific things (part of popcorn seasoning, even incorporation into flour like mixes, etc.) but I have much more use the granulated style.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: NuMystic

                                                                                                                                                        It's granulated. And I agree it's excellent, especially for $1.99!

                                                                                                                                                    2. While it's not edible, unless you're really desperate, the honey mango shaving cream for $2.50/tube is an absurdly good value. I would never think for a second about buying a more expensive brand.