The 8 Best Things We Bought from Trader Joe’s in 2021

published Dec 5, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn

This year, like every other year, Trader Joe’s played a pretty integral part in keeping our pantries stocked and our bellies full. We loaded up on breakfast hacks, vegan appetizers, dinner shortcuts, and other staples. And we also found a few new favorites, including a box of the most chocolatey gluten-free cookies! 

While we wait (a little impatiently) to see what they have in store for 2022, let’s take a look back at our favorite dips, bites, jars, and bottles.

1. Everything and the Elote Greek Style Yogurt Dip, $3.49 for 8 ounces

We love it when TJ’s finds a theme and runs with it. Their Everything but the Elote Seasoning hit shelves in February 2020 (which seems like a lifetime ago) and now they’ve got it in a dip. It’s a creamy, tangy, Greek-style yogurt dip that also has corn, cheese, and that elote seasoning. For an extra-meta snack, use TJ’s Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers as a vehicle to get the dip into your mouth!

2. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese Bites, $3.99 for 10 ounces

Of all the fall items to hit shelves this year, these bites just might be the best. Period. In just 10 minutes they’ll make your kitchen smell amazing — like you spent all afternoon preparing a homemade casserole. While they’re really too big to be called “bites,” they taste creamy and saucy, and predominantly of butternut squash, the main ingredient that almost wasn’t (according to a TJ’s Product Developer, these started out as pumpkin mac and cheese bites during development, but 25 versions later, the sweetness of the butternut squash reigned supreme).

3. Double Chocolate Almond Flour Cookies, $3.99 for 8 ounces

We still remember standing in the store holding a box of these new cookies when a TJ’s crew member who was passing by stopped to tell us how great they are. Sold! Also, he was right. The almond-flour based, gluten-free, bite-sized cookies taste delightfully chocolatey and the crumbly texture remind us of a favorite childhood cookie brand we grew up eating.

Credit: Mara Weinraub

4. Platinum Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, $8.99 for 8.5 ounces

Is there anything better than a delicious balsamic glaze? Whether you’re making steak, chicken, veggies, or a jar of vinaigrette, you’ll want a good bottle of balsamic vinegar nearby. This one, which just appeared on the store’s shelves in November, is lusciously sweet and bright — and more viscous than other bottles we’ve tried. Don’t wait until 2022 to get your hands on some.

Credit: Katie Leaird

5. Raw Walnut Halves & Pieces, $4.99 for 1 pound

TJ’s is a treasure trove of affordable baking essentials — nuts, in particular — according to one of our writers who runs a baking business. Beyond walnuts, you can stock up on Raw Slivered Almonds ($3.49 for 8 ounces), Raw Pecan Pieces ($4.99 for 8 ounces), Raw Pistachio Nutmeats ($5.99 for 8 ounces), Roasted Unsalted Peanuts ($2.99 per pound), and Pine Nuts ($9.99 for 8 ounces). Store them all in your freezer until you need them. 

Credit: Lauren Manaker

6. Trader Joe’s Island Salsa, $3 for 12 ounces

Do you have a slow cooker? (If not, there’s still time to put one on your list.) This salsa, made with mangoes, pineapple, and jalapeño peppers, is the key ingredient in one incredibly versatile dish. You just need chicken thighs, sliced red and orange bell peppers, onions, frozen mango chunks, and an entire jar of this salsa. Slow-cook it all and then serve it over rice, inside a baked potato, on top of nachos, in tacos, etc. It’s also great with plain ol’ tortilla chips.

7. Cacio e Pepe Pasta Sauce, $3.49 for 14.5 ounces

Sometimes we don’t want a red sauce. Sometimes we want a white sauce, with lots of cheese and flavor — in the convenience of a shelf-stable jar! This one is incredibly rich and creamy and thick. It has Pecorino Romano cheese and lots of black pepper — the two crucial ingredients — and smells like cheesy, peppery heaven. Obviously, it’s perfect with pasta, but try some over cooked veggies, on grilled cheese, or even mixed into your morning eggs. We highly recommend it.

Credit: Nilina Mason-Campbell

8. Chickpea Balela, $3.29 for 8 ounces

Zero prep. Four dollars. Tons of flavor. That just about sums up the grocer’s ready-to-eat version of Balela, a Middle Eastern bean salad that usually features chickpeas, black beans, tomatoes, and other chopped veggies. It comes in a very transportable plastic container (which, let’s be honest, very easily doubles as a bowl) and makes for one filling lunch.

What was the best thing you bought from Trader Joe’s in 2021? Tell us in the comments below!