Trader Joe's has such a cult following that a new store opening brings front page news and traffic jams, as recently demonstrated in my old neighborhood of Winter Park, Florida. Our readers are not immune to TJ's mania, and many of you consider Trader Joe's an essential resource in stocking your pantry with staples and treats.
We riffled through past Trader Joe's posts and comments (hundreds of them!) to sift out some of our readers' favorites. There was small consensus, with ardent devotees of many different products. But a few themes emerged, and one product was the big winner at the top of the list. Can you guess what it is?
What Makes Trader Joe's So Compelling?
I think of Trader Joe's as the luxury grocery store for the masses. It deals in luxury non-essentials like chocolate, nuts, and prepared foods while offering just enough budget basics to make you feel like you actually went grocery shopping and didn't just pick up snacks for a cocktail party.
I appreciate the convenience items TJ's offers, like pre-cooked lentils and beets, which of course are easy to make myself but are so helpful when I don't have much time and still want to eat healthy. (Side note: Healthy food has got to be easy and convenient if America's eating habits are going to change, and so while $3 cooked lentils may make frugal folk squirm, I really do think they are more part of the solution than the problem.)
That joint emphasis on budget basics and luxury treats to sweeten the trip is certainly seen in our readers' favorites from Trader Joe's (see posts here, here, and here — so many comments!). This isn't a terribly scientific list but after scanning lots of posts and comments, these are the things that stand out.
As for the readers' very tippy-top pick, let's start there...
17 Favorite Trader Joe's Products
1. Cookie Butter!
Yes, if you guessed cookie butter, you get a prize. We grant you full permission to pick up a jar on your next visit. This cinnamon Speculoos cookie butter has the advantage of novelty (peanut butter? that old stuff?) and total treat. It was mentioned more frequently than any other single product... by a lot.
Cookie butter is not allowed in the house anymore because we eat it straight from the jar it is so good. - jenbachand
2. Nuts (Thai Chili Lime Cashews FTW)
Lots of love for the nuts, especially more snack-oriented things like Thai Chili Lime Cashews, which I've found can be dumped into a bowl and served alongside fancier hors d'oeuvres very nicely.
3. Dried Fruit (Especially the Apricots)
Dried fruit as a general category came in for a lot of love too, especially unsulfured apricots.
I always stock up on their unsulfured dried apricots. You can't find them anywhere else and they are so much better than regular dried apricots. - HeidiJoe
4. Chocolate, the Baking Sort
People love the chocolate at Trader Joe's — especially their big, inexpensive bars that are great for pastry and baking. Those Pound Plus bars are decent quality and a great deal
5. Chocolate, the Eating Sort
But chocolate isn't just for projects. You can eat it straight too. The chocolate-covered almonds with a touch of sea salt came in for an inordinate amount of love.
I third the dark chocolate covered almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar. - Ashlea144
6. Olive Oil
After cookie butter and chocolate, olive oil was perhaps the most mentioned product. But not all their olive oil is great. I like to refer to this list from olive oil expert Tom Mueller, who calls out the 100% Greek Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil as the best buy in the oils.
The flavor of this oil, according to olive oil expert oil Tom Mueller, is "Nice mature fruit, real zing of pungency, pleasant bitterness, a gentle nutmeg-like spiciness." - Trader Joe's Extravirgins (and Floozies)
7. Coconut Oil & Coconut Oil Spray
Lots of love for coconut oil from all of you. I also am a fan of their coconut oil spray, which I use as a regular baking spray and for cooking kale and other greens.
They also have a coconut oil cooking spray I like (no cfc's). - threeacres
8. Pop-Up Sponges
These pop-up sponges come in a compact packet and somehow they just work better than cheap-o cellulose sponges. These come 10 to a sleeve and are cheaper at TJ's than at Williams-Sonoma.
Pop up sponges, they're the same ones you get at Williams Sonoma and SO much cheaper! - DoitYerself
9. Roasted Red Peppers
Trader Joe's is a good source of inexpensive basics like canned tomatoes but roasted red peppers are my own favorite; I always scoop up a few jars there.
10. Gluten-Free Oats
These gluten-free rolled oats are a good deal in their oversized bags.
Gluten-free oats, you can buy them for half the price they go for at Whole Foods. - lobita
11. Frozen Chocolate Croissants
Chocolate croissants in the freezer, ready to be baked? Several of you mentioned these, and they're an example of how Trader Joe's does prepared and processed foods just as they should be: Indulgent, not a daily affair, but absolutely perfect for those moments when you just want a hot croissant.
Frozen chocolate croissants (these are absolutely delicious). - kathy_pdx
12. Triple Ginger Snaps
I usually pass by the sweets but you guys talked me into trying these triple ginger cookies with fresh ginger, candied ginger, and ground ginger. Spicy and tiny!
Second the triple ginger snaps... They're soooo good and I can't find any other crunchy ginger cookie what that much candied ginger mixed in. Yum! - PintSizeChi
13. Nut Butters
Peanut butter, almond butter — you guys love the nut butters at TJ's.
My cousin swears by the peanut butter in a jar. - Sylph2
14. Chicken Broth
I almost always buy my broth at Trader Joe's. I find it has decent flavor and at $1.99 a box is a handy staple for the pantry.
15. Frozen Pie Crust
Here's one that I actually didn't see on anyone's list, but I'm calling editorial privilege and adding it myself. While I liked the old all-butter crusts better than these, which contain palm oil, it's still a pretty good frozen dough and it doesn't contain any hydrogenated oils.
16. Frozen Naan
Naan isn't something I often think to buy at TJ's (I usually pick it up at the Indian grocery) but if you don't often shop at an Indian grocery it's a great meal-starter to get here instead.
The garlic naan (frozen). It's our easy-peasy pizza crust. - KansasKate
17. ...and Hummus
Hummus seemed to be the most frequent tack-on to long laundry lists of "and I love this, and I love that, and... hummus." It's an easy healthy snack to throw into your basket, and their flavors are indeed very good. Extra props to the cilantro hummus.
Do these things reflect how you shop at TJ's, or do you have a different list of favorites?
(Image credits: Faith Durand)