Is Trader Joe’s Spicy Taco Sauce Really a Dupe for Taco Bell Hot Sauce?

updated Jul 24, 2019
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Credit: Lauren Masur

I feel like one of the main reasons that I was put on this earth is to fan the flames around the rumors that a large number of Trader Joe’s products are exact replicas of name-brand ones. So when the opportunity presented itself to compare TJ’s Organic Spicy Taco Sauce to the multitude of hot sauces available at Taco Bell, I sprung into action.

Credit: Lauren Masur

It all started with a Reddit thread in which a few users claimed that Trader Joe’s “fiery, tangy blend of peppers and spices” tasted eerily similar to the special sauce packets at Taco Bell. The only way to confirm these suspicions was to pit them all against each other in a very official taste test.

Credit: Lauren Masur

Apparently, TJ’s taco sauce is not new, according to customers who say the grocer brought back the item after a hiatus. Regardless, it is new to shelves and new to me, so I bought a 13-ounce bottle and headed to the nearest Taco Bell with my friend Hannah who vowed to provide an honest second opinion.

Our methodology was simple: We squished out each of TB’s four hot sauces (Mild, Hot, Fire, & Diablo) side by side along with a sampling of TJ’s. We then ordered a plain cheese quesadilla for dipping so as not to taint the sauces’ flavors with anything that might confuse us.

Credit: Lauren Masur

Upon tasting, we determined that TJ’s “Spicy” taco sauce is not very spicy at all. Since that’s the case, one would likely conclude that this not-so-hot sauce is most similar to Taco Bell’s Mild packets, right? Not quite. Hannah and I agreed that the Mild sauce has a decidedly more smoky flavor than TJ’s. On to the next.

We then compared TJ’s sauce to Taco Bell’s Hot sauce. As any true Taco Bell fan knows, their Hot sauce isn’t very hot either. It has a simple vinegary kick which, believe it or not, tastes pretty similar to TJ’s. A closer look at the ingredient list on both sauces was enlightening. The first four ingredients in TJ’s are water, organic distilled white vinegar, organic tomato paste, spices, and jalapeño pepper purée. Taco Bell’s are water, jalapeño peppers, tomato paste, and vinegar. Aha — now we are on to something!

For the sake of being thorough, we dipped our cheese quesadillas into the rest of the sauces and determined that both the Fire Sauce and Diablo Sauce were too spicy to be a match, ruling them out altogether.

If I had to choose one Taco Bell sauce packet that TJ’s Organic Spicy Taco Sauce is a dupe for, it’s their Hot sauce. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to also have no shame and bring your own bottle of TJ’s taco sauce to Taco Bell. Let me know if you agree.