I tried all of the seasonal products I could find at my local Trader Joe’s and reviewed them.
Some things, like the holiday vegetable hash and candy-cane Joe-Joe’s ice cream, are definitely worth buying again.
Next time I go shopping at the chain, I’ll pass on repurchasing the turkey pot pie and peppermint bark.
Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Even though the pumpkin-spice season has come and gone, that doesn’t mean the fun is over yet.
Over the past few weeks, Trader Joe’s locations all over the US have started to roll out iconic holiday foods just in time for the winter.
As someone who can’t get enough of festive, winter flavors, I decided to hit up my local store and try 19 of the chain’s seasonal treats.
Read on to find out which Trader Joe’s holiday products I would buy again and which I would skip.
The Gobbler quesadilla seemed like a cool idea, but the execution just didn’t work
Although I appreciate Trader Joe’s for taking a risk, this quesadilla is proof that creative leaps don’t always pay off.
This quesadilla looked floppy and sad, especially after being cooked in the microwave. I understand that this meal isn’t necessarily the thickest of dishes, but I still would have hoped for a more substantial filling.
But the most glaring flaw about this quesadilla – which consisted mostly of mozzarella cheese, butternut squash, kale, and some strips of turkey – was that it contained a few sporadically placed cranberries hidden throughout its folds.
Although cranberry sauce is noticeably sweeter than the actual fruit, I don’t mind it paired with turkey since those two ingredients work well together, but every bite of this dish was so inconsistent.
Sometimes I’d get pockets of turkey, kale, and cheese, and then out of nowhere, I’d taste a surprise burst of cranberry without any turkey, which would catch me off guard. The tart flavor stood out a little too much, which made the ingredient feel wildly out of place.
Apart from the cranberry issue, I thought it was a decent quesadilla. The turkey and jack cheese tasted great together, and the addition of butternut squash and kale gave it a more sophisticated, complex flavor. I just don’t think my palette was ready for it to be that complex with the cranberries.
Verdict: If Trader Joe’s rereleased this product without the dreaded cranberry bits – perhaps as turkey quesadilla with sauce on the side – I would give this option another chance, but for now, I’m going to skip buying this one again.
The peppermint bark had a nice flavor but was thicker than I expected
Of all the delicious sweets to eat each winter, I probably look forward to peppermint bark the most, as it’s a quintessential classic Christmas confection.
I’ve wanted to try Trader Joe’s famous peppermint bark for years, but have never been able to do so because it’s usually sold out at my local store. After hearing friends online and offline rave about it, I made sure to pick up a box as early as possible so I could finally give it a try.
Immediately, I was impressed by the item’s appearance – the tin looked like a beautiful present with candy-colored ribbon, and on the inside, each piece of bark was individually wrapped to maintain its freshness, which would make it a great gift option.
Like most peppermint bark, this one consisted of a layer of candy-cane-topped white chocolate over a peppermint-infused dark-chocolate base.
It is worth noting this peppermint bark is extremely thick – I’d almost go as far as to say a more apt title would be a peppermint brick. The piece I tried seemed a tad hard and required a much heavier bite than I anticipated.
Of course, once I got past that initial crunch, the nuances of silky smooth dark chocolate, buttery sweet white chocolate, and fresh peppermint created a harmonious mix of flavor in my mouth.
Verdict: I probably wouldn’t buy this peppermint bark again on my own, but I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it to me.
The festive chocolate pack contained high-quality candy and would make an excellent stocking stuffer
There’s no need to choose between dark, white, and milk chocolate when you can have all three wrapped in a cute, festive package.
Trader Joe’s chocolate collection contains a small assortment of these three flavors in a variety of adorable holiday designs.
This time of the year, I’m a sucker for anything that’s shaped like a snowman. Thankfully my purchase turned out to be well worth the money, because the chocolate used to make this candy was seriously top-notch.
I tried the white-chocolate snowman first, which had a nice bite to it that gave way to an exceptionally smooth, buttery mouthfeel.
The other two varieties also had that same rich, luxurious texture and a robust chocolaty flavor unrivaled by any other candy I’ve purchased at a grocery store. I’m still salivating just thinking about it.
Verdict: For the price, I believe these chocolates would make an excellent last-minute gift for anyone. I don’t know if I need to buy more than one per season for myself, but I’d totally buy this again for someone else.
I used the chocolate-peppermint-loaf mix to make extra-soft, chewy crinkle cookies
Having spent most of this year baking pumpkin and banana bread to pass the time, I was pretty burnt out on dessert loaves by the time November rolled around. When I bought this box of chocolate-peppermint-loaf mix, I was happy to learn that I could use it to make cookies instead of bread.
And I have zero regrets about that decision because the cookies turned out very good. They had a yummy, soft texture and robust dark-chocolate flavor that was further enhanced by the subtle dusting of powdered sugar.
I can see these treats pairing well with a cold glass of your milk of choice or eggnog, if you’re feeling adventurous.
Some of the cookies seemed like they had a slightly grainy interior which made me wonder if the peppermint component of the product was made from crushed candy canes or if I just did a terrible job mixing the dough – for now, I’m going to guess it was the latter.
Either way, since these cookies required minimal steps to prepare, they’re a great option for anyone who wants to do some easy holiday baking with family or friends.
Verdict: I cannot recommend this chocolate-peppermint-loaf mix enough, due to its incredible versatility.
The cranberry-topped goat-cheese log had a pleasant tang to it
If it’s not clear by now, if there’s a way to add cranberries to something, Trader Joe’s will make it happen.
In this case, the fruit is dried and added on top of the chain’s signature goat-cheese logs for the ultimate festive upgrade.
As a fan of both goat cheese and dried cranberries, I bought this fully knowing that I would probably love it.
For the purpose of this taste test, I kept things simple and paired the cheese with Trader Joe’s Social Snackers.
After tasting this cheese and realizing how delicious it was, I can see it being great on top of toast, spread on a bagel, or clumped over a kale salad.
It’s slightly tangy, tart, and above all, creamy. It’s also sturdy enough to be sliced but soft enough to spread. In other words, it’s a supremely versatile cheese that you can use to add a festive flair to a cheese board or any other dish that could use a pop of flavor.
Verdict: I believe this cheese is good enough to be a year-round staple, and I wish Trader Joe’s made it available past the winter season so I could buy it again and again.
The peppermint-coated Pretzel Slims were a crispy, delightful snack with just the right amount of minty flavor
‘Tis the season for holiday films, which means it’s also the season for movie snacks. That’s where these Pretzel Slims come in handy – they hit the right balance of salty and sweet with just enough mint to put a smile on your face.
Rather than using dark chocolate, which is the conventional peppermint partner-in-crime, Trader Joe’s switched things up by going with a sweet white-chocolate coating, which made the fresh minty flavor stand out much more.
These pretzels also sported a peppermint-candy crust that gave them a signature, festive look and tasty crunch.
This made them almost too easy to eat. I portioned out a small bowl while watching “Love Actually” for the 100th time this year, and they disappeared well before the Hugh Grant dancing scene.
Verdict: I am totally going to buy another bag of these ASAP.
The turkey pot pie had potential but was drowning in gravy
Nothing complements a cozy winter night indoors quite like the comfort of a warm pot-pie dinner. And during a year where I didn’t get to have an actual Thanksgiving, I was especially eager to try Trader Joe’s seasonal take on this beloved dish.
Right away, I was stunned by how large the meal was. It’s easily big enough to be shared by two people, and potentially a family of three.
Considering that it only costs $6.99 for the whole container, I thought this had good value for the price.
In the interest of convenience – or perhaps sheer laziness – I microwaved my pot pie rather than baking it. I immediately regretted this decision because the dish turned into a soggy mess that looked nothing like the photo on the box.
According to the product description, this pot pie is supposed to capture all of the flavors of holiday leftovers in one package. I’d say that’s sort of true because all of the individual components are there: stuffing, turkey, carrots, onions, and other root vegetables.
I was disappointed to learn that most of these flavors were pretty indistinguishable from one another, but it didn’t help that my dish was literally drowning in gravy, which made everything taste exactly the same, save for the few unexpected, super-tart cranberries.
I also couldn’t get past the rubbery, soggy texture of the crust. If I’m being honest, the whole thing made me think of sloppy cafeteria food, so I didn’t even bother finishing it after a few bites.
Verdict: As much as I wanted to like this pot pie, it lacked enough pronounced flavor for it to be a memorable dish.
After consulting some friends, I learned that baking it in the oven is the only way to go when preparing this meal, but I still think I’ll pass on buying it again.
The gingerbread sandwich cookies tasted like they were freshly baked
Pillowy soft, perfectly spiced, and packed with a yummy, vanilla cream-cheese frosting, these gingerbread cookies are the embodiment of holiday bliss.
They were so soft and moist that they practically tasted like they were baked that very morning – I didn’t eat any of them until two days after purchasing and they still maintained their freshness.
They also had the perfect balance of every spice without any overpowering the other. I could easily detect ginger, nutmeg, clove, and a subtle, yet powerful hint of molasses. These components were only further enhanced by the super-rich cream-cheese vanilla frosting in the center.
Instead of pie, I put these cookies on the table for myself and my roommates on Thanksgiving, only for the top layer of the box to disappear before the night ended.
Verdict: I probably don’t need to purchase these again, but I’m still going to do so because they brought me and my roommates so much joy.
Plus a box of 18 cookies that taste bakery fresh for $4.99 is a hard deal to pass on.
The chocolate-covered pretzel assortment had an impressive variety of flavors
I don’t throw around the word “artisanal” often when it comes to food, but that is the best way I could describe these dark-chocolate-covered pretzels.
They’re pretty enough to put on display at a holiday party and scrumptious enough to make you think they came straight from an upscale confectionery shop.
The box came with three different pretzel types – dark chocolate with almonds or candy canes and milk chocolate with sprinkles.
I really appreciated that Trader Joe’s included an option made with milk chocolate because this meant the box could be shared with anyone who doesn’t care for the subtle bitterness of the darker alternative.
My personal favorite was the dark-chocolate almond-topped pretzel because I really loved the symphony of crunchy textures.
Each piece was roughly the size of my palm, so I could eat one and totally satisfy my craving for something sweet and salty.
But I also thought the pretzel-to-chocolate ratio was a bit off – the former was just slightly too thick, which made every bite dryer than it should have been. The thickness may be a byproduct of the larger pretzels, but I think these could have been a bit thinner.
Verdict: Although I thought these pretzels were slightly too thick, I still thought they were quite yummy and would totally buy them again.
The dark-chocolate mint star cookies tasted like crunchy handfuls of holiday magic
Sweet and buttery with a delicate chocolate-minty finish, these bite-sized shortbread cookies have rapidly become a new seasonal favorite of mine.
They have a pleasing crunch that makes them super snackable and white sprinkles that give them an adorable snow-capped look.
And although it would seem these cookies aren’t anything to write home about, I’d argue their size makes them ideal for satisfying a chocolate or mint craving without going overboard.
The closest thing I can compare these treats to is a massively popular flavor of Girl Scout cookies – but this alternative comes in a much cuter, festive shape.
Verdict: We are already on the second box of these in my house, so it’s safe to say I would highly recommend adding these to your shopping list.
The harvest grain salad contained my favorite savory winter flavors, but it could have used more dressing
After spending the week devouring so many sugary sweets, I wanted to try a savory seasonal item, and this salad seemed to be the perfect option.
It contains a medley of my favorite winter flavors: savory greens, butternut squash, pecans, cranberries, and kale. Underneath this colorful melange was a layer of grains, primarily farro.
It reminded me of those salads-in-a-jar that I always see when I’m scrolling through food on Pinterest or Instagram.
You could eat this directly from the container for convenience, but if you’re particular about salads like I am and hate it when you eat all the toppings first, leaving you with nothing but greens, it’s best to toss this option in a bowl.
There were a lot of reallygreat things about this salad.
For one, it was big enough to be split into two separate servings which covered my lunch and dinner for a day. It’s also vegan, which makes it an easy option for people who have dietary restrictions.
Taste-wise, the combination of crunchy pecans, tart cranberries, sweet butternut squash, earthy greens, and slightly nutty, bran-like grains created a delicious mix.
I personally think the salad would’ve been much better without the inclusion of raw celery, which caught me by surprise because it wasn’t listed on the front packaging as an ingredient.
Celery flavor nearly overpowered every other bite, so I did my best to avoid eating that vegetable.
And although I appreciated the convenience of having the salad pre-tossed, I wish that the dressing came in a separate ramekin. At first, I questioned whether I accidentally bought a package that didn’t come with any until I got a mouthful of farro that had a lightly spiced, acidic bite to it.
But I really liked the dressing and wish I had more of it. In the end, I added a few globs of goat cheese to my salad to give it an extra pop of flavor.
Verdict: Although I could have done without the celery, I still thought the harvest salad was quite tasty and had great value for the price, so I’ll definitely consider buying it again.
Although I enjoyed the chewy, fluffy texture of the sugar-glazed Lebkuchen cookies, I didn’t care for their strong fruity flavor
I really wanted to like this product because it looked so cute and festive, but these Lebkuchen treats tasted like the cookie version of a fruitcake.
Their standout feature was a strong orange flavor and texture that seemed slightly denser than a regular cookie, but not quite cake-like.
After some light research, I learned that traditional German Lebkuchen is known for having a bar-like texture and being coated with candied fruit, nuts, and spices like ginger and nutmeg.
I definitely detected all of those flavors in this cookie, but I am still not sure if I actually enjoyed the way the combination tasted.
It could be that my palate is used to chocolate and peppermint desserts, because I wanted this option to be sweeter – the sugary glaze coating on the bottom got lost in the flavor of nuts and spices.
Verdict: I’m glad that I gave these a try, but I probably won’t buy them again for myself. But I recommend them to anyone who wants to try a dessert that isn’t based on peppermint or chocolate.
The Minty Mallows’ fluffy center practically melted in my mouth
When compared to treats like peppermint bark or candy-cane Joe-Joe’s, the Minty Mallows seemed pretty unassuming as far as winter desserts go.
Basically, they’re marshmallows topped with a semi-thick coating of mint-infused chocolate, but that doesn’t make them any less special.
The marshmallow on the inside of this treat was noticeably softer than the regular bagged alternative. The texture seemed closer to marshmallow creme, which in some ways resembles “snow” and makes it a holiday snack by default.
That pleasantly fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth texture was enough to make these worth the purchase, but it was the sweetness of the mint-infused dark-chocolate coating that really won me over.
I still don’t completely understand the exact difference between mint and peppermint, but there was something distinct about the flavor in this treat that seemed to resemble the kind of nuance I associate with mint-chip ice cream rather than candy canes. But above all, it was quite tasty.
Verdict: The Minty Mallows were surprisingly one of my favorite things from this haul, and I’d absolutely buy them again.
The cranberry-and-Camembert fillo bites were exquisite appetizers that were easy to prepare
Normally, I pride myself on making elaborate cheese plates for my family’s holiday parties, but since my Thanksgiving was limited to my household this year, I decided to treat myself and my roommates to these cranberry-and-Camembert fillo bites as an impromptu appetizer.
These little morsels were totally crispy and ready to eat after just 12 minutes in the oven.
The entire pack came with eight pieces total, which made them perfect for sharing, and each nibble was the ideal bite-sized amount of food for a light pre-dinner snack.
This product also made incredible use of all its ingredients – Camembert cheese reminds me a lot of a more pungent Brie because it has an almost funky aroma and strong grassy flavor, which makes it the perfect partner for another slightly sweet and tart food like cranberry sauce.
I also loved the way the snack melted and practically oozed out the sides of the flaky, buttery fillo after I bit into it.
Verdict: Overall, I thought these bites were a solid seasonal item, but I still don’t think I’d buy them unless there was a special occasion.
The candy-cane Joe-Joe’s were a solid holiday snack, but I didn’t think they were as good as the chocolate-dipped alternative
It’s impossible for me to say no to a Joe-Joe, and the peppermint version of these iconic Trader Joe’s sandwich cookies did not disappoint.
For one, the creamy center had actual candy cane crushed into it, which gave every bite an added layer of texture and sugary sweetness.
I appreciated small details like this one that gave the cookie a more natural taste, like something I’d buy at a bakery rather than from a package.
The chocolate cookies of these Joe-Joe’s had a very mellow cocoa flavor, but this allowed the peppermint component of the treat to really shine.
Verdict: Even though the candy-cane Joe-Joe’s were pretty tasty, I think the chocolate-dipped version of these same cookies is superior. That said, I would probably skip buying these again in favor of buying more of the latter.
Of course, if you’re not a fan of dark chocolate, stick with these.
The dark-chocolate-covered Joe-Joe’s were a serious upgrade from the candy-cane version
Although I enjoyed the candy-cane Joe-Joe’s as they were, I couldn’t help but wish they had more chocolate.
It turns out someone at Trader Joe’s thought the same thing, because these dark-chocolate-dipped Joe-Joe’s were the answer to my wish.
I wouldn’t even classify them as an ordinary cookie, because the chocolate coating around them was so thick they may as well be deemed their own unique form of sweet.
At a glance, they reminded me of the kind of dessert I would have unsuccessfully begged my mom to buy at a holiday county fair or amusement park, but with much more polish.
At first, I was concerned the dark chocolate would overpower the candy-cane flavor of the Joe-Joe cookie, but it had the opposite effect.
It’s also possible my palate is just used to thinking of peppermint as the accent flavor rather than the base, but either way, these had a much bolder chocolate flavor than the regular Joe-Joe’s, so they were a huge win in my book.
Verdict: I hope these Joe-Joe’s stay on the Trader Joe’s holiday roster for years to come because I will absolutely be repurchasing them.
The candy-cane Joe-Joe’s ice cream was a dream come true
With ultra-smooth, creamy vanilla ice cream, a delicate whisper of natural peppermint flavor, ribbons of soft dark-chocolate fudge, and chunks of chocolate peppermint Joe-Joe cookies, every spoonful of this dessert was like a perfectly tuned symphony in my mouth.
I’ve eaten a lot of peppermint ice cream over the years, but this one deserves to be recognized as one of the best.
It had just the right amount of vanilla, peppermint, and chocolate that made me want to keep me coming back for more spoonfuls.
But the one quality of this ice cream that stood out the most to me was that the cookies managed to stay soft while maintaining their shape. I usually avoid ice cream with mix-ins, because I don’t like how the cold temperature makes them hard, but that wasn’t a problem with this purchase.
Take this as a warning: Once you take that first bite, this ice cream is nearly impossible to put down.
If I didn’t have roommates to share this with, I could have easily devoured an entire carton over the course of a single day, it was that delicious.
Verdict: I’m currently thinking about how I’m going to buy this again next week and probably grab an extra carton to keep for January.
I could easily eat an entire box of these mini gingerbread people
I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but when pitted against the combination of lightly spiced white-fudge icing and bold ginger flavor that enveloped these mini cookies, I was powerless. I simply could not get enough of these cookies.
The contrast of flavors and textures between the slightly soft chewiness of the sweet fudge icing and crunchy, spicy gingerbread made these simply irresistible.
I also liked that they tasted like they had real ginger rather than an artificial flavor enhancer. After one snacking session, I was left with a pleasant, spicy taste in my mouth that didn’t feel sticky or overly sugary.
Most of all, I couldn’t help but smile when looking at them.
Gingerbread people are such an iconic holiday snack and eating them always puts me in a festive mood – I munched on these while decorating my tree and shopping online for gifts with a Christmas playlist on full blast.
Verdict: I can’t wait to buy these again.
I could easily eat the vegetable hash for breakfast every day
As someone who fully believes the most tedious part of cooking is evenly chopping vegetables, this hash automatically earned points in my book for doing the work for me.
Prior to buying this, I mistakenly thought hash only referred to meat or potatoes, but it turns out the term comes from the French word “hacher,” which means “to chop,” so it can be anything – including this delicious combination.
Inside of the box was a fragrant, colorful medley of finely chopped butternut squash, sweet potato, red onion, celery, parsley, sage, and rosemary.
I didn’t know what to do with this when I first bought it, but given that the first thing I thought of when I heard “hash” was breakfast, I decided to stick with what I knew and incorporated it into an egg casserole.
The holiday vegetable hash elevated the entire dish – the rosemary, sage, onion, and parsley flavors permeated throughout every corner of the pan, which packed each bite with yummy, herbaceous seasoning.
The butternut-squash and sweet-potato components of the hash cooked perfectly in the oven and paired well with the buttery flavor of the baked eggs.
After my second helping, I started picturing all the other ways I could use this hash to hack my way into an instantly tasty, meatless meal and immediately realized it would make an excellent base for a vegetarian stuffing.
Verdict: Using the hash was a convenient way to save time when cooking, and it added a substantial aromatic and savory flavor to my food without much extra effort.
For this reason alone, this product was one of my favorite seasonal items this year, and I can’t wait to buy more of it soon.
Read the original article on Insider