Monday, April 28, 2008

My Favorite Things at Trader Joes

Trader Joe's is a very trendy, Hawaiian-themed grocery store chain that opened up a new store in my town about six months ago. They offer an odd mixture of products for picky organic brown-ricers and other oddball stuff that their buyers found in out of the way places that they can buy in quantity and sell cheap. Most of the items I buy there fall in that second category. Here are a few examples.

Trader Joe's Pinjur comes from Bulgaria. It's a mildly hot red pepper sauce/spread/relish that is good with a bit of Hummus on a slice of toast, or on pasta, or as a cooking sauce for chicken or pork. I really like it. But, based on some news stories that Google provided, they appear to have had some quality-control problems with this product and it's been discontinued. *sigh*

Red Pepper Spread
Trader Joe's Red Pepper Spread is sweeter and smoother than their Pinjur. Not as spicy and, candidly, not quite as good. But I like it. It has a pimento-and-cheese flavor that is good on Toast and makes a nice addition to a tomato-based southwestern soup, or a pinto bean recipe. It is also from Bulgaria, comes in the same kind of jar as the Pinjur and probably comes from the same manufacturer. It was around for several months after the Pinjur was pulled but it, too, appears to have been discontinued. ...oh well.

India Relish
Trader Joe's India Relish is a spicy Tomato-Tamarind chutney that I bought looking for a substitute for the Red Pepper Spread. It is too spicy to be used as a spread but a few spoonfuls in a pot of lentil soup is wonderful. I found that I can make an excellent Indian-flavored seafood soup from 1 can of white tuna, 1 can of diced tomatoes and two tablespoons of India Relish -- just stir it all together, heat and serve. Really quite good and easy enough to make in the office microwave. But, sadly, the last few times I have been in... no India Relish. I guess it's gone.

I used to like this stuff, too. A dollop on a slice of crunchy toast and I have a quick and easy breakfast-on-the-go. Haven't seen it lately.

Are you starting to notice a running theme here? Me too. Trader Joe's business model does not reward product loyalty. They buy things in lots, sell them until they are gone, and then look for something else to sell. If you have developed a taste for that oddball Bulgarian pepper relish while they have it -- tough. I get the feeling that they have spies that follow me around taking notes on what I buy. If I buy the same product more than twice they discontinue it.

Based on that theory, here are the next few products to get the ax.

Citron Honey
Trader Joe's Citron Honey has a rather disappointing label. Picking it up you expect that Citron Honey would be like Orange Blossom honey or Clover Honey or Sourwood honey and that Citron would be what the bees used to make the honey. But actually, Citron and Honey are two ingredients. It is chopped citron mixed with ordinary honey. But, if you get over than disappointment and buy it anyway you will find it very useful. It tastes like orange marmalade except that is tastes even more like orange marmalade than orange marmalade does. It goes great in oriental salads and sauces. Stir a spoonful into your coleslaw dressing or throw a blob into your stir-fry. I like it a lot. It's days are numbered.

Update: 8/4/08 See comments section for reports that Citron Honey may be getting hard to find and some discussion of alternate sources.

Trader Joe's new flavors of Hummus are really quite good. The ones to look for come in the one-pound tubs. They have other varieties that come in smaller (10oz?) tubs and aren't as good.

Update: 25 May 2008. The Red Pepper Spread seems to be back. I bought two jars today.


vb said...

My mom just called me today to tell me that her TJ's in Las Vegas claims that the India Relish has been discontinued due to low demand. They've done that before with other really good products like the Mushroom Cheddar Burgers and this delicious Kalamata Olive Preserves. Can I ask where you bought your India Relish?

BigLeeH said...

For what it is worth (which is not much) I bought my India Relish about a month ago at the Trader Joe's in Cary, North Carolina. The photo I posted is of my last jar. They seem to have discontinued it here, too.

Dana said...

Dang it... you called it. The citron honey is no longer available. At least my consumption of crackers, brie and this glorious honey will decline... to the delight of my waistline, but DARN IT, that was good stuff!

BigLeeH said...

I did a bit of Googling to see if there is an alternate source for Citron Honey online. (My Trader Joe's still had it last time I was in but ya never know...)

Apparently, what Trader Joe's sells as "Citron Honey" is also sold as "Citron Tea" or "Yuza Tea" or "Yuzu Cha". It is a Korean specialty also popular in Japan. It is used to make a hot winter-time drink by dissolving several teaspoon-fulls in a cup of boiling water. It is very high in vitamin C and said to be soothing when you have a cold.

You might try an oriental grocery store that has a good selection of Korean or Japanese products and don't be put off by the product describing itself as a "tea".

Anonymous said...

Now about my India Relish, when I first stopped seeing it I thought it was seasonal. Years went by, then in store one day I finally asked about. I was told to contact corporate, so I did (626-599-3700). I got the blah blah blah . . . if enough people ask for it, they "might" bring it back.
With that relish, I was a good cook! So sad now.