I tried 15 of Trader Joe's seasonal summer products, and there are only 2 I wouldn't buy again

·20 min read
I tried 15 of Trader Joe's seasonal summer products, and there are only 2 I wouldn't buy again
Trader joe's seasonal products arranged in a red shopping cart
I taste tested 15 of Trader Joe's seasonal foods. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider
  • I reviewed 15 seasonal summer products from Trader Joe's as part of an ongoing series.

  • Foods like the key-lime tea cookies and Bloody Mary salsa will become summertime staples of mine.

  • Next time, I'll pass on the pickle chips and dark-chocolate watermelon sticks.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

From versatile crispy jalapeño pieces to luscious Southern-style peach ice cream, Trader Joe's has plenty of seasonal items for the summer.

As part of an ongoing series in which I review Trader Joe's seasonal products, I decided to give the chain's 2021 summer offerings a try.

Keep reading to find out which products I'll keep coming back for, and which ones I'll pass on next time.

The chocolate chips majorly upgraded Trader Joe's Hold the Cone treats

A hand holding a small chocolate ice-cream cone with the original Trader Joe's Hold the Cone packaging in the background
I was super excited to try this flavor. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Just when I thought Hold the Cone couldn't get any better, Trader Joe's released these.

The chocolate chips were a welcome addition, providing texture and subtle notes of cocoa that didn't overwhelm the creamy vanilla interior.

As with the other flavors of this iconic treat, the ultra-smooth, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate coating inside the cone was still one of the best parts. It reminded me of the jars of Magic Shell I used to beg my mom to buy when I was a kid.

8 Trader Joe's hold the cones lined up in clear plastic packaging
The chocolate cones took this treat to the next level. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Trader Joe's could have left it at that and I would've been more than happy, but the chain knocked this upgrade out of the park by making the cones chocolate as well.

One might think that'd be overly chocolaty, but the chips inside the vanilla ice cream complemented the richer, darker cocoa notes in the cone and shell to create a harmoniously delicious treat.

VERDICT: As a Hold the Cone enthusiast, I highly encourage you to add this product to your summer ice-cream rotation.

These cones the perfect size for a light after-dinner treat, and this flavor will satisfy people who hate chocolate ice cream but happily cover their vanilla sundae with chocolaty sauce.

The lemony arugula salad made for a light and refreshing lunch

Trader Joe's lemony arugula salad kit in clear and yellow bag on a dark wood table
This salad included a nice variety of textures. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I know that arugula gets a bad rep because of its strong, slightly bitter flavor, but give this salad a chance.

This salad's astringent of greens packed every bite with a bold, peppery flavor that played well with the delicious melange of nutty roasted almonds, sweet carrot ribbons, and salty Parmesan flakes.

There wasn't a ton of each topping, but enough for me to notice the textural contributions.

All of this was tied together with a lemon-basil vinaigrette that tasted more like a mustard dressing than any of the two named ingredients, yet somehow still worked perfectly with everything else.

Dressing being poured on Trader Joe's lemony arugula salad, which is in a metal bowl
I wished it had come with two packs of dressing. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

That said, the salad certainly could have used more dressing. So this is me, once again, asking Trader Joe's to please give us two packets of vinaigrette with every bagged salad.

Nevertheless, this salad tasted like something I'd pay $14 for at a swanky brunch restaurant.

Plus it comes as an all-in-one meal kit, with no additional shopping, chopping, or slicing required.

Goodbye, boring mixed-green salads - I've met my match.

Trader Joe's lemony arugula salad plated on a brown spotted plate
This salad would be perfect for a picnic. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

VERDICT: If I had a cooler, this is exactly the kind of salad I'd throw in it and take to an outdoor lunch.

Given how much it would cost to buy this salad's individual ingredients - like the almonds alone - it's well worth $3.99.

The combination of powdered sugar, shortbread, and citrus in these key-lime tea cookies was absolutely divine

Trader Joe's key-lime tea cookies in a small white bowl next to the original teal and yellow box
Key lime is an iconic summer flavor. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Trying these tea cookies was a sensory snacking experience.

Upon opening the box, I was met with the fresh, invigorating scent of Florida key limes - a nice preview for the bright, aromatic, and all-around delightful snacking experience to come.

The cookies themselves were roughly the size of a silver dollar and just a bit thicker than a standard wafer treat, lending them a delicate quality that would make them perfect for an outdoor picnic or afternoon tea, as the name aptly suggests.

3 Trader Joe's key-lime tea cookies in a small white bowl on a dark wood table
These cookies tasted just like the center of their namesake pie. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Trader Joe's absolutely nailed the shortbread texture.

Key-lime pie is often paired with a honeyed graham-cracker crust, but the simple, buttery shortbread made the citrus flavor pop and lent the cookies a soft, yet crumbly mouthfeel.

Every bite bursted with refreshing key-lime flavor that tasted exactly like the center of the famous pie, and the dusting of powdered sugar enhanced the citrus' subtle sweetness.

VERDICT: These key-lime tea cookies were such a nice change of pace from the usual chocolate or strawberry-themed sweets I enjoy during the summer.

Between their delicate texture and yummy key-lime flavor, these cookies will be a shopping-cart staple of mine for years to come - no tea party necessary.

This dill-pickle mustard would upgrade nearly any summer sandwich

Trader Joe's dill-pickle mustard, which is bright yellow and in the original bottle, against a beige tile background
Trader Joe's dill-pickle mustard was both tangy and spicy. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

This dill pickle mustard packed quite a punch. The herbaceous dill was in full effect, almost to an unrelenting degree, and dominated every corner of my nose and taste buds, with a kick of tangy vinegar in tow.

Although dill was the dominant flavor, it didn't completely bury the sharp, savory mustard that was the perfect pairing for this herb and made the whole mix even spicier.

This mustard is flavored with dill weed and contains chunks of pickle. I liked the added texture.

A pulled chicken sandwich with Trader Joe's dill-pickle mustard on it
It worked well on my barbecue-chicken sandwich. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

It tasted great on my barbecue sandwich, and I can totally see it elevating any hotdog or hamburger, especially if you're a pickle fan.

By itself, it's a bit too sharp and strong, but then again, most people aren't just eating mustard by the spoonful.

VERDICT: This mustard was pretty good, but I can't see myself buying it more than once every year or two.

Still, the fun combination of vinegary pickles with aromatic dill and sharp mustard makes this a great condiment to have at any summer barbecue.

Trader Joe's pulled chicken in hickory-smoked sauce may have been the best instant barbecue I've ever had

trader joe's barbecue pulled chicken in it's original blue box on a light wood table
This chicken is ready to eat straight from the box. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I'm not sure it gets any better than tender chicken doused in a slightly smoky, yet sweet sauce.

Each package of this item comes with a pound of ready-to-eat chicken in chunks that are just the right size to add to any dish, which I appreciated as a working single person who doesn't always have time to meal prep.

Everything comes precooked, but you can microwave the meat for two minutes if you prefer it warm.

Trader joe's pulled chicken with the reddish-brown sauce on a brown spotted plate
This chicken was both tender and moist. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

The tender and flavorful results made this option that much better than Trader Joe's year-round offerings, so much so that I don't even know why I'm bothering to cook this summer.

Even better, there was ample sauce to go around, and this stuff tasted like liquid gold and clung nicely to each chunk of meat. It wasn't too sweet and boasted a refined woody, peppery profile with subtle notes of molasses.

This product is the absolutely perfect execution of a convenient meal. Bravo, Trader Joe's.

trader joe's barbecue pulled chicken on a sandwich with bright yellow mustard
This meat has become a versatile staple of mine. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

VERDICT: As someone who loves barbecue but doesn't own a grill or smoker, I'm certain this pulled chicken is going to be a staple in my house.

It's easy to throw together and also super versatile - the tender chunks of meat would make the perfect addition to sandwiches, pizzas, and salads.

The tangy and garlicky dill-pickle hummus would be a superb summertime snack

Trader joe's dill pickle hummus in it's original clear and green packaging on a light wood table
I was skeptical about this flavor combo. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

At first, I was kind of confused by the combination of dill pickles and hummus.

Amazingly, this dip had the same creamy texture as the chain's other hummus options, so you'd never guess there's real pickle and might even mistake the green bits of dill for other herbs like basil.

That said, you can absolutely taste it, but the vinegary tang was light enough to be enjoyable.

The tahini, chickpea, and garlic flavors paired well with the dill, which makes sense since the herb is a common ingredient in tzatziki, which is usually eaten alongside hummus.

A chip in an open container of Trader Joe's dill-pickle hummus on a light wood table
The dill and hummus paired well together. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Given the sodium content in pickles, this dip also managed to avoid being overly salty. It also paired almost too well with savory chips.

At the same time, the brine-y pickle flavor lent the dip a slightly sour overtone, which I surprisingly enjoyed.

I'm salivating just thinking about how this spread would taste smeared on the inside of a turkey sandwich.

VERDICT: This dill-pickle hummus has convinced me to embrace the mantra "don't knock it 'til you try it," and the snack section of my fridge will be eternally grateful.

Plus for just $1.99 a tub, this dip is worth every dollar.

The Bloody Mary salsa was packed with tomatoes, spice, and everything nice

Trader joe's bloody mary salsa in its original glass jar on a light wood table
Trader Joe's Bloody Mary salsa mirrored the cocktail's iconic flavor profile. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I know there's no vodka in this Bloody Mary salsa, but this tasty, peppery dip transported me to a boozy brunch.

Spice-forward, tangy, and bursting with the sharp bite of horseradish, black pepper, and bitter celery salt, this product encompasses all of the flavors of its namesake cocktail.

Really, the only thing that separated this from actual Bloody Mary mix was the texture, but this was so good, I probably could blend it to drink on its own.

a chip being dipped in Trader Joe's bloody mary salsa, which is in a small white bowl
Trader Joe's Bloody Mary salsa was chunky. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

It was undoubtedly a chunky salsa, with tomato bits of varying sizes swimming in a sea of peppers and flavorful juices.

It tasted so much more complex than many of the chain's other jarred salsas, and I'm actually shocked that most restaurants aren't already serving a version of this on their menu. I genuinely wouldn't change a thing about it.

VERDICT: I've recently learned this isn't a 2021 seasonal offering, but rather, a comeback from 2019. This time I hope it's here to stay.

If you haven't already picked this one up, you should head to your local Trader Joe's ASAP.

These gluten-free cauliflower crisps are an essential summer snack

Trader Joe's cauliflower crisps in its original white and green bag against beige tile
These would work as a gluten-free substitute for chips or crackers. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I don't have gluten sensitivities, but I appreciate that Trader Joe's makes snacks that myself and my gluten-free friends can enjoy.

These crisps looked pretty underwhelming. With a slightly murky tan hue and the thickness of a wafer, they seemed like flat cookies - make sure to clearly mark these when you put them out unless you want some confused party guests.

Biting into these cauliflower crisps turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

a hand holding a Trader Joe's cauliflower crisp with the original white and green bag in the background
These cauliflower crisps were sturdy enough for dipping. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Like most gluten-free products, they were thicker than the standard chip due to the base of brown rice and cauliflower, but their texture was both crunchy and scrumptious.

They were sturdy enough to hold up to hummus and the Bloody Mary salsa without breaking or disintegrating, which is better than some of the regular chips I buy.

They also sported a neutral onion-garlic seasoning that would make them palatable with a bunch of different dips, yet tasty enough to eat on their own.

I definitely picked up on a cauliflower aftertaste, but it was so light that I grew accustomed to it after the second bite. Plus the crisps were so well-salted that I didn't mind.

VERDICT: Even though I wish these came in a slightly bigger bag, I still think $2.99 is a solid deal for tasty, gluten-free chips just about everyone can enjoy.

If you're someone who hates coconut milk, don't be put off by the label that lists it as a key ingredient - I couldn't detect the slightest hint of it.

The dark-chocolate watermelon sticks are a unique summertime snack

Trader joe's chocolate watermelon sticks in the original shiny pink packaging against beige tile
Trader Joe's didn't quite nail the watermelon flavor. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I anticipated these sticks were going to taste like a Jolly Rancher, but Trader Joe's instead opted for a jelly filling.

When I first sampled these, I audibly uttered, "Oh, that's different!"

As I ate more, I grew accustomed to the sensation of biting into the chocolate and tasting that sweet, fruity center.

The filling didn't taste like fresh watermelon, but I've come to learn this type of flavoring rarely does. In this case, it was more like a cross between whatever goes in the chain's chocolate-covered Powerberries and toaster pastries, with added watermelon juice.

When paired with the dark-chocolate exterior, these flavors made for an OK combination, but I think it would've been more satisfying with citrus or sweetly tart fruits, like oranges and strawberries.

Trader joe's chocolate watermelon sticks spilling out of the pink packaging on a light wood table
I wasn't in love with the combination of the chocolate and watermelon flavors. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

The sticks are cute, but they're not as striking as they'd be if Trader Joe's made them half-moon-shaped mini watermelons.

I find that salty or spicy flavors pair better with the sunny sweetness of melons, so I'm hoping the chain will put those flavor profiles to use next year.

VERDICT: I didn't love these chocolaty watermelon pieces enough to buy them again, but they'd make a great addition to a snack table.

My roommate absolutely loved them and finished the bag after I sampled them.

The pineapple barbecue sauce was delectably sweet and spicy

Trader joe's pineapple barbecue sauce in the original clear, blue, and orange bottle against beige tile
I was super excited to try Trader Joe's pineapple barbecue sauce. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

As long as I live, I will loudly proclaim and defend my love for all things pineapple, and I'll continue by raving about how great this barbecue sauce is.

Tomato, molasses, pineapple, and other notable flavors come together to form a sauce that's equal parts tangy, peppery, and sweet.

I'd actually call it restaurant-quality. It tasted quite similar to Trader Joe's standard barbecue sauce with a sweet touch from the pineapple. The main difference is the texture since there were some bits of crushed fruit in the jar.

Trader Joe's pineapple barbecue sauce being poured into a small white bowl
This is the perfect sauce to give a kick of flavor to summer meals. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

But this sauce was such a standout because it absorbed all of the natural-sugar flavors and the subtle kick of citrus without tasting fruity. It's the kind of addition that would make grilled dishes come alive.

If I owned a grill, I'd cover everything with it, but for now, my frozen fries and nuggets will have to suffice.

VERDICT: This item is absolutely worth buying for the summer. Even though I can't see myself wanting to use it all of the time, it's a fresh take on standard barbecue sauce.

These crispy jalapeño pieces would elevate just about any summer meal

Trader joe's crispy jalepeno pieces in its original white and red container against beige tile
I had heard great things about the crispy jalapeño pieces. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

After finally getting my hands on a can of these crispy jalapeños, I can totally see them becoming a contender for the chain's next Customer Choice Awards.

Falling somewhere between a ridged potato chip and nacho topping with a scent that's nearly identical to jalapeño-cheese bagels, these crispy bits have the "it" factor that would make them both the perfect snack and sandwich addition.

They're crunchy, salty, savory, and spicy, but not in an overwhelming way. I'd been eating them by the handful and found the burn pleasantly crept onto the roof of my mouth but quickly dissipated.

Trader Joe's crispy jalepeno pieces in the inside of the container, which is silver
These crispy jalapeño pieces would make a versatile topping. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

They reminded me of a cooler version of the onion strings you'd put on green-bean casserole with an added kick, so I'm hoping this product becomes a year-round staple.

Best of all, these pieces seemed to go with everything. I sprinkled a few on top of a barbecue-chicken sandwich and was blown away by how well they enhanced the savory flavors.

They'd likely taste great crumbled on tacos, nachos, or inside of a burger, but they're also just as yummy straight out of the can.

VERDICT: If you're a fan of crispy onion strings and aren't afraid of a little heat, you'll love these crispy jalapeño pieces.

Between their crispy potato-chip texture and a piquant jalapeño flavor, these will make an appearance in many of my meals and snack bowls this summer.

The Southern peach-crisp ice cream was simply irresistible

Trader joe's southern peach crisp ice cream in the original orange and yellow packaging against beige tile
This Southern-style ice cream includes peach puree and oat crisps. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I don't write expletives in my reviews, but I'll admit that I uttered one - in the best way possible - when I first sampled this peach-crisp ice cream.

It was one of the best store-bought ice creams if I've ever tried.

Every bite was full of decadent and milky sweet-cream flavor. The peach presence was subtle enough that it was like receiving a pleasant surprise on top of the dessert I was already enjoying.

The same goes for the oat chunks - I definitely had to hunt for them, but when I did find them, it was liking hitting the lottery since they tasted like mini, soft-baked oatmeal cookies with cinnamon and brown-sugar undertones.

I used to add chunks of chocolate-chip cookie dough to my ice cream, but it's time for me to move on to bigger and better things.

Trader Joe's peach crisp ice cream getting scooped out of the carton
This ice cream was incredibly creamy. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Plus this ice cream was so smooth that it tasted as if an individual person churned it themselves.

If you told me I could only eat one ice cream for the rest of the year and gave me this option, I'd be peachy keen.

VERDICT: I've enjoyed a lot of good sweets in my day, but I don't remember the last time my taste buds were this happy.

No frozen treat is complete without one of these organic sugar cones

white ice cream in Trader Joe's sugar cone against a beige wall
This sugar cone paired great with Trader Joe's peach-crisp ice cream. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

When I was a kid, I always asked for ice cream in a cup for more bang for my buck and less mess, but the older I get, the more I appreciate what the right cone can bring to the table.

This sugar cone was the perfect vehicle for enjoying my Trader Joe's ice cream. It was sturdy enough to keep everything intact without losing its crunch and was a lightly sweet complement to the frozen treat.

It was also just the right size - I comfortably fit a decent scoop onto the cone without any ice cream spilling out of the sides.

VERDICT: If you're going to Trader Joe's to buy ice cream, you might as well pick up some cones. I'll keep these on hand to enjoy with cool treats and avoid sticky dishes all summer long.

These dill-pickle flavored chips seemed unnecessary

trader joe's pickle chips in the original white and green bag against a light wood table
These chips had a weird aftertaste. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

As the "pickle friend" in my group, even I'll admit that sometimes we need to just let pickles be pickles. Every food under the sun doesn't need to be infused with dill, and these chips are proof of that.

Even though they had all of the right elements - the perfect crunch, plenty of seasoning, and ample salt - something about eating them felt wrong.

They tasted exactly like a dill pickle but also left a lingering aftertaste in my mouth that I wasn't particularly thrilled about.

This isn't as noticeable when I eat regular pickles since they're usually dredged in a liquid brine, but coming from a dry potato chip made it an unpleasant experience.

a hand holding Trader Joe's pickle chip against the original green packaging
I'd rather just eat an actual pickle. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I don't understand why these were made - if I wanted a crunchy snack that tasted like a pickle, I'd just eat a one. And if I wanted a bite-sized variety, I could easily get those too.

You could argue that chips are more suitable for dipping, but the dill flavor was so strong that the only thing I'd pair these with is the pickle hummus - which admittedly did make both components taste really good.

That said, I'm certainly not going to sink these into my caramelized-onion dip anytime soon.

VERDICT: Sorry to my fellow pickle fans, but these chips were a disappointment.

This ravioli deliciously blended sweet corn and creamy burrata

Trader joe's sweet corn and burrata ravioli in its original clear bag against light wood
This ravioli looked adorable. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

With the flavors of fresh corn and lightly sweet burrata all wrapped up in pillowy pockets, this ravioli captures the essence of the perfect summer pasta.

This might actually be even better than the lemon version of the dish I most recently tried and fell in love with. The corn added a pleasant pop of fresh flavor while the burrata boasted a creamy, mildly buttery taste.

Boiling trader joe's sweet corn and burrata ravioli on a black stovetop
I boiled this ravioli until the pieces floated. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

This was the most visibly plump Trader Joe's ravioli I've ever sampled, which is probably due to each pasta's pocket-like shape.

Plus every piece held up through the cooking process. The golden stripe on the surface, which I initially thought was to give them a summery look, is actually an egg stripe that seals everything together.

Trader Joe's sweet corn and burrata ravioli served on a white plate and garnished with cherry tomatoes and basil
This may be my new favorite Trader Joe's ravioli. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I couldn't really taste the basil that was advertised on the bag, but I was willing to overlook that since the ravioli was fine without it and I topped my dish with fresh pieces of the herb anyway.

VERDICT: Thanks to the irresistibly tasty burrata and sweet-corn filling, this option might just dethrone Trader Joe's lemon variety as my favorite ravioli.

It's perfect for weeknight dinners when you want something filling, yet light. It will forever receive recognition as a summer staple in my home.

Click to keep reading other Trader Joe's taste tests in this series.

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