Towards the end of August, when the weather is still hot and the leaves are still quite green, the first whisper of fall appears on the horizon; no, it's not a cool breeze or seeing people in wool sweaters. Rather, it's the first pumpkin items hitting the shelves at Trader Joe's. That and the Starbucks release of Pumpkin Spice Latte, perhaps, are the first true harbingers of autumn.
Once those initial TJ items hit — maybe Apple Cider Donuts or Pumpkin Overnight Oats — it's only a matter of time before the entire store is filled to the brim with fall favorites. Customers inevitably check in every few days to see what the newest releases are, hoping to find a solid mix of last year's greatest and this year's latest. Sure enough, it's a veritable autumnal wonderland.
Buy the time all is said and done, there will be so many fall items at Trader Joe's that it becomes impossible for one person to reasonably try them all. That's why it's our duty to go going boots-on-the-ground, getting our hands dirty and our mouths full of pumpkin purée by sampling a solid selection of fall finds, ranking them from worst to best. We hope it helps add a little more structure to your shopping trips — though, if you decide to just go wild and throw everything orange into your cart, no judgment here.
Pumpkin Caramel Kringle
It's the most wonderful time of the year: Kringle time! Luckily, Trader Joe's presents these massive, gorgeous rings of pastry a few times per year. In the fall, store aficionados keep their eyes open for the Pumpkin Caramel Kringle, the seasonal offering until the winds shift towards the holidays. Our team has previously tasted the Raspberry Kringle, and was seriously impressed, so the bar was high going into the Pumpkin version. Structurally, everything was just as good. The ring as a whole is quite flat, but there are lovely layers of flavor despite the diminutive size.
The flaky, not-too-sweet pastry wraps around a smooth, flavored filling and gets topped with a simple, sugary glaze. But the pumpkiny filling wasn't as delicious as the raspberry was. It's dense, lacking in spice, and the caramel is undetectable. It basically tasted like a bland grocery-store pumpkin pie someone brought to Thanksgiving dinner because they don't like cooking. Even though the filling wasn't as great as we had hoped, lessening the overall value, the Kringle is still a solid pick for a fall treat.
Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
If you've only ever had plain cheese ravioli, you're missing out on some innovative, delicious twists on the classic pasta dish. Trader Joe's Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli might sound like a strange crossover between dessert and dinner, but pumpkin is more versatile than you might imagine.
It can be utilized in so many different ways: Spicy curries, stick-to-the-ribs chilis, hearty homestyle stews, and more. In these delicate raviolis, the filling is smooth and slightly cheesy, but also, yes, slightly sweet. It tastes confusingly like pumpkin pie stuffed into a pasta dough, but is plenty savory.
Ultimately, the choice of sauce will make or break the dish; try a toasted brown butter and sage situation for maximum enjoyment that doesn't camouflage the pumpkin filling. But if you would feel squeamish if your meal reminds you of pie, you might want to pass on these.
Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Almost inarguably, fall is a time for baked goods. Christmas is for cookies, and summer makes the best of ripe produce, but nothing tastes or smells better than a warm slice of pumpkin bread, apple crisp, or pecan pie on a cool day. So don't worry, Trader Joe's has more than just that Pumpkin Caramel Kringle.
Apple is another member of the ruling class of autumn baking, and so the store has Apple Cinnamon Rolls. First and foremost, these buns are stunning to look at. Danish-style pastry weaved around a gooey, fruity core and drizzled with a light layer of icing.
It's truly like someone carved out the center of a cinnamon roll and stuffed it with apple pie instead. But when the center of a cinnamon roll is the best part, is the swap really a good idea? Sure, the edges of the pastry are a little dry and overbaked, and the whole thing is rather dense. But warming it up in an oven helps all that; the filling is delicious, and the flavors meld together like a dream. If you're obsessed with everything fall and can't decide between all the apple products and the classic cinnamon buns, try this on for size. Trader Joe's really knows its audience, particularly in the fall.
Maple Oat Beverage
Trader Joe's is going for broke on the maple products this year. From marshmallows to fudge to this Maple Oat Beverage — or "milk," for those of you into the whole brevity thing — maple flavor isn't just for pantry shelves anymore. If you're someone who loves guzzling left over cereal milk, this is for you. Lactose intolerant, dairy-free, vegan, omnivore, it doesn't matter; this milk is all about embracing sweet, syrupy flavor whenever possible.
Taste tests proved that the beverage isn't too heavy on the maple, so it won't leave you feeling icky afterwards, like you just straight-up drank a mug of maple syrup. It brings a light, hint of autumn sweetness to your bowl (or coffee) that is a welcomed, fun change of pace from the more typical vanilla-flavored or plain oat milk. It would be amazing to try this in hot chocolate, perhaps with Mini Maple-Flavored Marshmallows on top.
Cinnamon Dusted Toscano
Frequent travelers to Trader Joe's — particularly, the cheese section – have likely tasted one of their flagship cheeses, the Toscano. These wedges are always available but always evolving, from Black Pepper to Merlot to this Cinnamon Dusted Toscano. The baseline cheese is mild and pleasant, maybe not quite as creamy as the label always claims. But that's not a bad thing; it just means there is more room for a little bit of bite and sharpness. It's a winsome cheese no matter how it shows up, but what about when it is covered in ... cinnamon?
If that sounds automatically sweet, like a Starbucks cinnamon beverage, hold your horses. While cinnamon is indeed typically paired with sugary desserts or sweet fruits, that doesn't mean those without a sweet tooth should steer clear of this cheese. The Toscano draws out just as much of the spicier side of cinnamon as it does the sweet, and it all comes together here in a warming, yet surprisingly feisty slice of cheese. If you're still skeptical, try it with some fig jam on a savory cracker.
Mini Maple Flavored Marshmallows
Marshmallows are super fun. They add a nostalgic, puffy texture to anything they touch, and always seem to unlock a sense of childlike joy. From Rice Krispies treats to S'mores, these fond memories are amplified by an association with the autumn season (thanks to their annual appearance on sweet potato casseroles), so why not just make them fall flavored to begin with? That's what Trader Joe's has done with these Mini Maple Flavored Marshmallows.
A handful of these babies is like a maple-syrup-scented cloud; ordinary marshmallows are sugary enough, so incorporating sweet maple syrup is just another element of that dopamine boost. The maple is subtle; a few taste testers even had some difficulty finding it. But once you put a finger on what that flavor is, you can't un-taste the seasonal undercurrent. Swapping out regular marshmallows for these during the last few months of the year is an easy way to add some festivity. No, these won't change your life or blow you away, but they're harmlessly cute fall treats.
Mini Spicy Pumpkin Samosas
Right on the other side of the Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli are the Spicy Pumpkin Mini Samoas. Note, that says "Spicy Pumpkin", not "Pumpkin Spice." There's nothing latte-like here.
Instead, just like the ravioli, this product is a creamy pumpkin filling wrapped up in dough. Obviously, these samosas are a little thicker and more substantial. The other main difference is that they are, in fact, spicy. Not too spicy; unless you have an extremely low tolerance, you will be just fine. But the slow burn of authentic Indian spices land differently, and really hits the spot.
If you ordered these as takeout, you might be disappointed in the samosa shell; but since it's frozen food, it comes with the territory. Like the ravioli, some people might not accept the "pumpkin pie" label, because these samosas have an autumn sweetness that some love and some can do without. Our team falls in the first category.
Do you prefer Golden Oreos to the regular chocolate ones? Do you prefer pumpkin spice season to any other time of year? If you answered "yes" to both questions, these Pumpkin Joe-Joe's are unquestionably going to appeal to you.
Joe-Joe's are Trader Joe's response to milk's favorite cookie, and they pop up with seasonal flavors throughout the year. These are all about the filling, which is more pumpkin pie than pumpkin spice — which is why there's now mention of spice on the box's label. Without much zest from cinnamon or anything similar, the cookies end up being pretty darn sweet.
That's not a bad thing. They are cookies, after all, and think about how much sweeter a Golden Oreo tastes compared to a regular Oreo without the slight chocolate bitterness. If unapologetically, blatantly fall treats are on your radar, try baking a decadent Classic Pumpkin Cheesecake to celebrate the season.
Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps
Any good cheese (shout out to the Cinnamon Dusted Toscano) needs a great cracker. A perfectly crafted charcuterie board is all in the details. When all the effort goes into the cheese, and partakers are left facing the same boring crackers they see on every other charcuterie board, you're short-shrifting yourself. If you're really on the ball, you might be centering the board around an autumn theme. Hey, even if your "board" is only one block of cheese and a box of crackers standing up and snacking, you still deserve something special.
Trader Joe's offers some delicious artisanal crisps, like their amazing Fig and Olive Crisps, but in the fall you're better off switching over to the Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps. Light, delicate and a tad chewy, these crisps are the ideal vehicle for all your fall cheeses, sweet or savory. The hearty, rustic flavors and sophisticated structure combine to create a unicorn of a cracker. Now, any snack is instantly fancy and ready for fall.
Autumnal Harvest Creamy Pasta Sauce
Pasta sauce is extremely subjective. Some people like a pristine one with barely any flavor beyond the bright acidity of its ripe ingredients. Others swing far to the other end of the spectrum, and are die-hard creamy alfredo fans. Is there a happy medium, and can it somehow possess a ... fall vibe?
Give Trader Joe's Autumnal Harvest Pasta Sauce a taste. It has the true flavor of vegetables, like marinara, and the slightly sweet rich consistency of alfredo. But that flavor isn't of pure tomato; instead, you get a cornucopia of autumnal produce like pumpkin, carrot, and butternut squash plus splashes of cream and dashes of spices.
It's sweet and savory, and seems like it would go really well on a plate of al dente rigatoni. Add some sautéed peppers, onions, and sausage and you've got a hearty meal. Honestly, we were prepared to hate this item, but came away very pleasantly surprised.
Maple Flavored Fudge
Chocolate fudge has long been a staple in cookies, ice cream, cake layers, and all by itself in toothsome old-fashioned squares. There's nothing like going into a small, old-timey shop filled with knicknacks, homemade preserves, and giant wedges of handmade fudge. But shops like this aren't easy to find. If you live closer to a Trader Joe's, you're in luck now that the store offers a sweet autumnal Maple Flavored Fudge.
These squares are thick, sticky, rich, and get stuck in your teeth like all fudge should before melting in your mouth. It's not quite what you'd get in a place where you're literally able to watch it made right in front of you, but for a grocery store product, it tastes homey and nostalgic, like a chunk of edible maple syrup. Considering how incredibly — perhaps overly for some people — sweet this treat is, a little goes a long way.
Butternut Squash Italian Lasagna
Fall finds, at Trader Joe's or anywhere else, tend to lean into the sweet side of the season. Maple, cinnamon, pumpkin, and apple all go so well with dessert. But don't sleep on the other great flavors that can infiltrate and lift up savory dishes.
Take Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Italian Lasagna, for example. Lasagna is typically known for being full of tomato sauce, providing layers of full-bodied Italian flavors. But if you simply swap out the sauce, make some tweaks to that cheesy filling, and add a different flavor profile through alternative herbs, suddenly you have what is possibly the most comforting fall meal on the planet.
Though less bold in hue, this lasagna is no less bold in flavor. Those savory herbs infuse the creamy cheese and sophisticated bechamel with coziness; meanwhile, the sauce is even more rich than a traditional marinara. We thought it tasted like a more complex, stacked macaroni and cheese; for an easy meal bursting with fall flavor, it's hard to imagine doing any better than this.
Pumpkin Brioche Twist
Fall is the perfect time of year to have warm, relaxing foods, full of seasonal flavors like cinnamon and apple before going for a long walk and enjoying the colorful leaves. Trader Joe's is doing the most when it comes to brunch items, perfect for such autumn mornings. Case in point: Pumpkin Brioche Twist.
A regular, plain French brioche is already designed to serve as a plush, custardy base for butter and jam, even before getting the French Toast treatment. French Toast, additionally, is the perfect vehicle for something like Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cream Cheese, Cinnamon Bun Spread, or maple syrup. But adding a swirl of pumpkin spiced filling to this bread is just maximum fall content. The cakelike slices of this unusual brioche bread border on dessert, and are decidedly sweet. If you prefer savory breakfasts, another great idea would be to turn this loaf into some bread pudding.
Maple Leaf Cookies
An unassuming box of these naturalistic Maple Leaf Cookies is likely to provide more joy than you'd expect. The cute shape is a large part of the appeal; thanks to the tan coloring and meticulous detailing, every cookie looks like an autumn maple leaf. It consists of two lightly crunchy, moderately sweet cookies, sandwiching a layer of Oreo-like-filling maple creme.
The maple flavor is joyful and right on target, but in no way artificial or aggressive. Basically, it's the perfect everyday fall cookie, the kind that you can have after lunch with a glass of Maple Flavored Oat Milk, or dipped into a pumpkin spice latte. Keep a box around for quick snacking or a fall dessert board. If you're a maple lover and home baker, you might consider whipping up a batch of Maple Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies for a chocolatey break between boxes of these Maple Leaf Cookies.
Pumpkin Butter, at first glance, might appear to be a Bougie spread that doesn't make a lot of sense or have much of a practical purpose. You might want to stick to your fruit jams. But if you do, you're going to be missing out on one of the sneakiest great Trader Joe's fall finds. "It's like a jar of spreadable pumpkin pie filling!" one taste tester said with joy. It's true. This silky-smooth spread is extremely multifunctional, however, unlike an actual pumpkin pie.
Use it as a fall-inspired swap for the usual strawberry jelly in a PB&J, spread it on a buttery cracker and top with a good cheese like the Cinnamon Toscano, stir it into oatmeal or yogurt, or even add some to a marinade. Buy more than one jar, because you'll find that this stuff goes suspiciously fast; a single spoonful turns anything into a fall food.
Salted Maple Ice Cream
One of the best ice creams we have tried in a long time, and the best Trader Joe's ice cream perhaps ever, if you like the flavor of maple syrup, the Salted Maple Ice Cream is deliciously saturated in the stuff. If you end up eating more maple syrup than pancakes at brunch, and willfully reject anything but the very best authentically maple-tree-tapped stuff, you're going to want to pick up a pint.
It's just spot-on, which is rare in a maple-flavored product; like watermelon or bacon, it's an easy flavor to get wrong, often coming across as woefully artificial. However Trader Joe's does it, they fold in those cozy fall tasting notes in a smooth, high-quality ice cream base. With no cookie dough pieces, chocolate chips, or chunks of fruit and nuts, it's nothing too heavy, yet heavy on the flavor of a good autumn brunch.
Pumpkin Cream Cheese
One of the hardest autumnal items to find at Trader Joe's every year is the Pumpkin Cream Cheese. The reason is not that it's the fanciest, trendiest, or most creative food on the shelves; cream cheese is decidedly kid-friendly, and making it pumpkin-spiced is pretty as easy as mixing a shake of a spice blend into plain cream cheese before calling it good. Nope, the reason is simple: It's just delicious.
Obviously, this cream cheese is lush and creamy, ready to spread from the fridge onto ... well, anything. Neither plain cream cheese nor plain pumpkin are inherently sweet, and neither is this fall twist on a bagel staple. The addition of warm fall spices makes it seem a little sweeter, sure, but it's not too dessert-like to go on a savory cracker or alongside prosciutto. Of course, it's still best on a bagel, slice of toast, or waffle — particularly if those items happen to be similarly pumpkin-amplified.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.