If you have been into a Trader Joe’s lately, you know that It Is Pumpkin Season. You’ve probably seen the curlicued sign with the adorable twee gourd drawn on it, pulling your eyes towards the various pumpkin and pumpkin-spiced goodies throughout the store, all here for the fall season (or until they're gone, because like all good things, pumpkin season ends far too soon). Pumpkin spice granola, pumpkin spice ice cream, pumpkin spice spice—wandering the TJ's aisles, it’s easy to get lost, overwhelmed, and over-pumpkined. What is one to do when they want just a touch of the poster spice for all things fall and cozy, without turning into an orange, cinnamon-scented pumpkin person?
Thankfully, we’ve culled the list of pumpkin spiced-everything gracing the shelves of Trader Joe’s to a few of our absolute favorites; the ones that you should keep in your work drawers or pantry cupboards to pair with mulled cider and well-worn sweaters, the ones to sate late fall cravings—at least while supplies last.
In the interest of brevity, convenience, and my blood sugar levels, I only tested seven Trader Joe's pumpkin offerings, selected mostly by what appealed to me on that particular day: Pumpkin Butter, Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli, Pumpkin Spice Yogurt, Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin & Roasted Pepita Cookies, Pumpkin Soup Crackers, and Pumpkin Spice Rooibos Tea. (Side note: You know when you type or say a word so many times that it starts to look (and sound) nonsensical? That just happened to me with "pumpkin.")
And so, without further ado, here is our not-at-all definitive guide to a few of our favorite (and least favorite) of Trader Joe's pumpkin goods.
Speckled with spice and sweetened with honey, this spread is well-balanced thanks to a hit of lemon juice. I like to spread it on top of toasted Ezekial bread along with a hearty dose of salted butter, but it would also be welcome over vanilla ice cream, or as a jammy layer sandwiching together vanilla (or pumpkin!) cakes.
This "butter" does not actually contain any butter, or indeed, any fat—though it still has a pleasant, smooth texture and feels, well, buttery. Made in much the same process as this genius one, TJ’s pumpkin butter is a passable alternative if you don’t want to spend the time to roast, reduce, and spice your own. (Though if you haven't already, you should really try it.)
Unlike most pumpkin spice goods, this bright, two-tone ravioli puts the emphasis on the pumpkin, not the spice. The filling claims to include an overwhelming list of autumnal ingredients: honey, brown sugar, molasses, nutmeg, parsley, allspice, clove, cinnamon, and black pepper. However, all I could really taste was the pumpkin, a hint of creaminess from the ricotta, some sweetness from the honey (or brown sugar or molasses, which seems like a lot of sweetness for a ravioli), and just a hint of nutmeg. Which, granted, is still quite a few flavors.
As with any store-bought ravioli, the texture was a bit of an issue—though to be fair I may have been slightly negligent and let them boil for more than the 2-minute suggestion. They are also on the sweet side, so the ravioli need to be paired with a savory sauce (and a sprinkle of salt). I'd recommend serving them with salted butter or a spicy arrabbiata sauce, but you can't go wrong with the classic browned butter and sage.
If you still feel like your pumpkin quotient is low, TJ’s recommends making a quick sauce by melting down the aforementioned pumpkin butter with some heavy cream and pouring that over the ravioli. I can’t personally attest to the quality of this combination, but it certainly sounds... festive.
This yogurt seems like it would be a slam dunk. It combines two things no one's inner basic can resist: Greek yogurt (0% fat, of course) and pumpkin spice.
This perfectly inoffensive yogurt actually tastes more like citrus than pumpkin, with no discernible sizzle of the promised cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger. I initially liked it because, despite its 0% fat content, the yogurt was pleasantly creamy and actually tart (though the aftertaste was sort of unpleasant and dried my mouth out). Would probably eat again, but only on the condition that I could swirl in some pumpkin butter and maybe some pumpkin seeds. Which leads me to...
I had high hopes for this meta combination, which TJ's site advertises with the following triptych: "They're crunchy; they're sweet; they're savory." Really, though, they are only two of these things. The seeds are well-toasted and are indeed pleasantly crunchy, and the coating is sweet and slightly cinnamon-y, but I'm missing the promised savory aspect—and it's needed. I’d also like a bit more of the other spices promised on the ingredient list (ginger, nutmeg, allspice). All in all, these pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds are pretty one-note.
As promised, these are very crisp and very thin; visually, they look more like the rye chips you fish out of your Chex Mix (just me?) than a buttery cookie. Good thing their flavor makes up for their minimal visual appeal!
With a taste reminiscent of the cookie part of a chocolate chip-cookie, one that is extra-crispy and made by a baker who has a heavy hand with the brown sugar, these cookies have no discernable pumpkin flavor—but I'm not mad about it. The dry-roasted pepitas provide some welcome textural contrast, lending the already crispy cookies a bit of a crunch. I could see myself eating way too many of these with an afternoon cup of coffee (or maybe even a steaming mug of pumpkin spiced tea, details to come). The only odd thing was the size of the calorie information on the back; apparently these are marketed as a "healthy" sweet? All I know is that I ate about half of the bag in one sitting, most likely destroying any health benefits.
When I first came across this pumpkin specimen in the TJ's aisle, I was full of questions: Are these crackers flavored like soup? Are they intended to be dunked into pumpkin soup? Where oh where does the soup fit in?
After consulting the side of the box, I discovered that I was right on the first try. “Pumpkin Soup crackers have flipped the script on tradition, taking the warm, earthy flavors of pumpkin soup and re-imagining them in cracker form." They're also gluten-free, kosher, and dairy-free!
I did not really expect to enjoy crackers flavored like soup, which seems to defeat the point of both crackers (crunchy, basic, salty) and soup (liquid, creamy, chunky). And, in the end, these guys didn't do a lot to change my mind. They're basically brown rice crackers made with pumpkin purée and oats, seasoned with what essentially tastes like onion powder. For some reason the resulting flavor combination put me in mind of Pizza flavor-blasted goldfish—which is a compliment. The pumpkin flavor did come through a bit at the end, but I kept going back for more just to get more of that savory powder to lick off my fingers... until I overdosed four crackers in and had to take a break, never to return. The assertive powder means that these crackers might be better suited to scooping up a yogurt-y dip or floating in a soup (pumpkin bisque, anyone?) than to solo snacking.
As you might imagine, it is very hard to make tea taste like pumpkin. Upon sipping this caffeine-free Rooibos, all I could taste was a light cinnamon flavor. Comforting? Yes. But not worthy of a second purchase, especially when there are so many other stellar choices in both Trader Joe's tea section and its pumpkin spice repertoire.
If you're going to purchase any of the products sampled here today, I can comfortably recommend the Pumpkin Butter, Honey-Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli, and Pumpkin-Spiced Pumpkin Cookies. But who am I to limit you in your quest to eat as many seasonal snacks and sweets as possible? Go out and catch the last of Trader Joes' pumpkin selections, before—you guessed it—they go away until the first leaf of fall 2018.
What did we miss in our Trader Joe's pumpkin journey? Tell us your favorites in the comments!
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