The 15 Most Overrated Items At Trader Joe's

Whether you're having a love affair with your local Trader Joe's or not, you would probably agree that there are some items that are pretty overrated. And for some reason –- usually because hordes of fans are contradicting the haters on social media, and with their wallets to boot-– they've stuck around longer than they should have. But you readers deserve better than the disappointment of bland taquitos, chalky cookies, and a cinnamon bun spread that subjectively smells like Band-Aids (whatever those smell like).

So, to help you wade through the aisles without missing a beat, we've got 15 of the top Trader Joe's products to skip, or to at least be aware of, as they might not be as amazing as you expect from your friendly neighborhood grocer, with its own house brand replicas of big box favorites. Would the original Trader Joe's founder Joe Coulombe have appreciated the cauliflower gnocchi? How about the Albrecht family that's now in charge? Do they really enjoy the sushi? 

We might never know! But what we do know is that from faux fishcakes to orange chicken that has nothing to do with fruit (and everything to do with sugar), here are the 15 most overrated items at Trader Joe's.

Trader Joe's Sriracha Sauce

Sriracha sauce can make everything better: bowls, roast chicken, potatoes, quesadillas, sandwiches, you name it. But not all srirachas are created equal. The standard rooster sauce in the squeeze bottle with the green tip that says "Sriracha HOT Chili Sauce" is the OG we all know and love — and it's way better than the Trader Joe's knock-off, says Lauren Koeppe of Create Hospitality (via Thrillist). 

The original is made in Irwindale, California by Huy Fong Foods. The Huy Fong factory mixes the chilis with salt, vinegar and preservatives and seals them in barrels, drawing from that stash to make sauce throughout the year. (Fun fact: 100 million pounds of chilis are processed in the factory every year!)

But the brand isn't without its troubles. In fact, there was a time when the city where the factory operates accused the factory of being too... well, smelly, and this could have threatened the product (via Time). And because sriracha sauce is fermented, it's not always going to be the same in every production, and the chilies can also change depending on supply. So, in comes the competition. 

The problem with Huy Fong's competitors is that some are too sweet or too salty or just lack the perfect garlic-chili-salt balance of the essential kitchen condiment. And TJ's is one of those brands, with Koeppe declaring their sauce "too sweet" and "not nearly as good as the OG Huy Fong/Tương Ớt Sriracha."

Good try, TJ's, but no.

Trader Joe's Black Bean & Cheese Taquitos

These Trader Joe's Black Bean & Cheese Taquitos came back to shelves at Trader Joe's after being discontinued, but they probably should have stayed wherever they went (despite some people who think otherwise). 

There's nothing wrong with them — that is if you like squishy, soft, bland muck — and they're a lot better if you bake them rather than microwave them, but that takes way more effort and still requires you to supplement the meal with something to mask the bland flavor of the beans, which seam to overpower any flavor from the salsa, sour cream, and grated cheese that's also supposed to be in the product, according to Freezer Meal Frenzy. Even if you add dipping sauces, these taquitos are still bland, according to several critiques on Reddit.

Trader Joe's gets points for making their taquitos preservative-free and for using real Monterey Jack cheese, but there's still some work to be done here. Maybe another time-out for these taquitos is in order after all. Besides, you can do as good a job making your own taquitos at home with just 20 minutes and a few ingredients.

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gnocchi

One of the most divisive and stress-inducing Trader Joe's products, as discussed in online forums, is the brand's cauliflower gnocchi.

Some people say they're best made in an air fryer, while others say baking is the key. Others say to ignore the package cooking instructions all together. But despite the cooking confusion, some have loved the pasta since it launched in April of 2018, including gluten-free pasta-lovers who appreciate the fact that it's 75% cauliflower and completely gluten free (it's made with cassava flour and potato starch). And for anyone on a low-carb diet, it contains about half the carbs and 110 fewer calories than an equivalent serving of standard gnocchi made with potatoes, says Good Housekeeping.

But if you don't want to take your chances and diet isn't an issue, you should probably cook some classic potato and flour gnocchi and then roast some cauliflower on the side, toss it all together, and enjoy a more fool-proof version of cauliflower and gnocchi. If you still want to try them, you don't have to fear: We have an easy 5-ingredient recipe with the stuff here. 

Will whatever you do with Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gnocchi make an Italian grandmother proud? Maybe not. Is it overhyped? Probably.

Trader Joe's Vegan Jackfruit Cakes

Trader Joe's is probably on the right path by trying to create a vegan version of a crab cake. And jackfruit is a great meat replacement in any dish that you're going to season intensely, since it's amazing at soaking up flavors and has a texture that can mimic some shredded meats. So you'd think this product would be an easy win — but while these vegan jackfruit cakes should be great, they're a bit disappointing.

The problem is that crab and other seafood are naturally very flavorful. Crab especially has big umami flavor and mild sweetness, but jackfruit has none of that, and celery salt just can't make up for that lack of depth that one might expect from a mock crab cake. These fish-less, crab-less cakes are just shredded jackfruit mixed with modified tapioca starch, potato, green onions, and celery salt-seasoning. Amanda of Mindful Avocado says they're greasy and agrees that they lack flavor, which is why she gives her own recipe for a copycat version. 

She uses breadcrumbs, vegan mayo, and flax eggs as binders and calls for adding a little lemon juice, which gives the cakes some much-needed acidity and brightness. Thumbs up, Amanda. Thumbs down, Trader Joe's. 

Trader Joe's Organic Cold Brewed Hibiscus Tea & Lemonade

Tea and lemonade "beverage"? Seriously? What a boring name for something you want people to drink. And Mantou Joe feels the same: "Is it because there was too much white space on the label? Doesn't tea & lemonade imply beverage?"

But other than that, the Trader Joe's product reviewer thinks it tastes okay. We're not convinced.

Hibiscus is a bit of a superfood. According to Meghan of After Noon Tea Reads, hibiscus tea is made from the flower and sometimes leaves of the hibiscus plant, which is native to tropical areas. It's believed to be high in antioxidants and can lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and it can possibly help manage your weight or even help you lose weight, the blogger reports.

Superfood or not, making lemonade with hibiscus is a good idea! That little acidic touch that it provides adds to the floral scent, so when combined with the 8 grams of sugar in TJ's beverage (not too much, not too little), this should be a great combo. And some people think it is; some people even say this Trader Joe's beverage is refreshing. And yet, some other people besides Mantou Joe think this product could use some work. Some even think it tastes more like erasers than delicious tea. 

Refreshing or eraser –- it's your call.

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken is a grossly sweet interpretation of the popular Chinese takeout dish. If you like cloying, sticky, gloopy messes of sauce, this is your jam. Literally, it could be jam.

According to one user on Reddit, the chicken "tastes like hard crunchy balls of yuck," while another thinks the chicken is low quality. Others say the Mandarin chicken is good if you air fry it (we agree that air frying is the way to go if the sauce doesn't put you off, though a close second in terms of preparation is caramelizing the chicken in a wok). Despite the confusion, the Mandarin Orange Chicken was actually voted the best Trader Joe's entrée in the 11th Annual Customer Choice Awards

So, if you like the Panda Express orange chicken, this could be for you. It's trying to give you that fast food stir-fry feel, and the sweetness is intentional (though you should maybe use just half the sauce) anyway. However, be sure to get some tips on how to cook it, or you could end up disappointed. 

Trader Joe's Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels

See above. Same gross sauce, faker protein and 16 grams of sugar per serving. Trader Joe's Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels actually disappeared for a while, but due to the popularity of the with-chicken version, the company brought it back. They probably shouldn't have.

The "morsels" are fine if you want a quick meal that's animal-free, but according to Steve of Club Trader Joe's, this vegan version of the Trader Joe's Mandarin chicken just doesn't live up to the original. The only thing positive that Steve had to say was about the crunchy exterior after baking the soy-based faux chicken. Otherwise, the reviewer felt it was oily, rubbery, smaller in size than the chicken version, and tasted like cardboard. 

There's also a lot of breading and starch in there, which isn't the best choice if you're watching your carbs or if you want a gluten-free option. To be fair, there's about as much flavor in the real chicken version as in the fake chicken version, which is not much. But as with the regular chicken version, you might be better off tossing the sauce in the garbage and just air frying these chicken-less pieces as chicken-less chicken nuggets instead.

Trader Joe's Organic White Truffle Potato Chips

While having your chips smell like dirty socks might not offend you, even people who like the smell of white truffle have complaints about Trader Joe's White Truffle Potato Chips. Despite the buzz when these chips first appeared a few years ago, they're probably worth leaving on the shelf unless you really love that funky flavor. 

Even then, there are better brands of truffle-flavored potato chips, maybe ones that are less feet-like, like the ones from Natural Nectar or Luke's Organic. (Fun fact: According to The New York Times, white truffle apparently has chemicals that are similar to reproductive pheromones.)

On top of the pretentious ingredients, there's the pretentiousness of the packaging. Are you trying to be Italian or French? You can't appeal to the romanticism of both Italian and French products, Trader Joe's! Consumers are smarter than that, right consumers?

Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch

People say the Trader Joe's chili onion crunch is really just a knock-off of Lao Gan Ma chili crisp sauce, so most of the reasons to avoid the Trader Joe's store-brand sriracha (see above) apply here, too. 

The original version is darker in color and richer in flavor, and generally, it's just tastier. What's especially weird about the Trader Joe's version, though, is that it's made with olive oil and paprika, which isn't exactly known for use in Chinese food, so it's kind of like an Asian chili sauce via the Mediterranean –- which is not what you want in an Asian chili oil. Oh, and there's dried bell peppers in there, too. Again, weird.

Though also not the same, a good substitution made with super high quality ingredients would be the spicy chili miso oils/condiments from Toronto-based Abokichi. They're also MSG-free, unlike the Lao Gan Ma product. Trader Joe's version is also MSG-free, but it's just not as tasty as Abokichi. 

In case you prefer to make your own (it's easy), Serious Eats has what might be the ultimate home recipe.

Trader Joe's sushi

The rule that you should never buy sushi at a grocery store still applies to the sushi from Trader Joe's. 

First of all, it's just not the highest quality fish to begin with (it's definitely not being flown fresh from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo and probably not even line-caught and flash frozen from a sustainable fishery near you). And second of all, you don't know how long it's been sitting there in the counter, getting less fresh while waiting for you to choose it.

In fact, a former Trader Joe's employee wrote on Spoon University that they were specifically told not to eat the sushi at the store because "it's not made in store and it sits in a box from production, to your shopping bag." Another reviewer says the rice is compressed and the sushi features "grey avocado and suspect 'fish product.'" And a third says the rice is gooey and mushy, which sushi rice should never be. 

Basically, if you want sushi, go elsewhere.

Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's

The chocolate vanilla cream Joe-Joe's are the Trader Joe-brand version of Oreos, and like a lot of items on this list, they're overhyped. According to one Reddit user, when compared to Oreos, "they're pretty much the same, if not a little drier."

But what Trader Joe's fails with in regard to quality, it tries to make up for with variety. The store has introduced a bunch of other Joe-Joe's cookie flavors, including vanilla, neopolitan, mango, double chocolate and chocolate pumpkin for Hallowe'en. In that sense, they've provided plenty of cream-sandwiched cookie alternatives to the bigger name brand. 

Their most successful use of them, though, might be the in-house holidays ice cream flavor using crushed up candy cane-flavored Joe Joes cookies.But the regular chocolate-vanilla and chocolate-chocolate flavors just aren't as good as Oreos. They've already discontinued the matcha ones, and who knows if all of the other flavors will last. The gluten free version is also not as good as some other gluten-free chocolate cookies stuffed with a cream filling (via gluten-free baking). But if you're curious about which flavors people do like best, you can find a list at Spoon University

Trader Joe's Pancake Bread

You know when people put all these great expectations on top of you and suddenly your desire to excel gets squished like a plastic-wrapped muffin on the bottom of a gym bag? That's pretty much what happened to this pancake bread. It wanted to be the best pancake and the best sweet bread all at once, but people got so excited that it just couldn't live up to its potential. 

So instead of re-jigging the product to help it excel, Trader Joe's left the bread in the bottom of a gym bag and launched a maple streusel bread, which is pretty much everything the pancake bread was always trying to be, according to one user on Reddit.

Still, this bread got a ton of hype when it launched. Refinery29 called it "half crumbly coffee cake and half fluffy buttermilk pancakes slathered in rich maple syrup" and Thrillist said it "definitely tastes like a denser, cakier version of the fluffy pancakes you know and love from your favorite diner." One Redditer said it might be the best thing they've ever had from TJ's and described it as a really delicious maple-flavored cake, though "not super pancake-y."

To each their own, but these are no short-stack. 

Trader Joe's Elote Corn Chip Dippers

Yeah, Jbaquero, lots of people aren't feeling the Trader Joe's Elote Corn Chip Dippers either. 

According to a Reddit thread, people actually prefer a scalloped potato chip to these spiced chips –- a scalloped potato! Some people are even brainstorming how to give them away. One complaint is that these chips are too thin to dredge through guacamole without breaking, says another customer who prefers the regular restaurant-style tortilla chips (though they add that these are good on their own or with salsa). 

Eater thinks they're awesome, though. Writer Marian Bull had no problem dipping them in guac, and she said they're "sort of like Fritos crossed with Cool Ranch Doritos with a little extra heat." And at least they're organic?

So if you want an overly sweetened version of a Frito mixed with the after effect of ranch dressing and spices, this might be for you. You just might not want to breathe too closely to people for a while. Or maybe just wear a mask. Oh wait, that's everyone anyway right now...so eat away?

But all of these consumers are ignoring the philosophical question: Can you really be called a dipper if you're not guac-dippable?

Trader Joe's Cinnamon Bun Spread

If you love, love, love foods that are crazy sweet and not too cinnamon-y, you might like Trader Joe's Cinnamon Bun Spread. Otherwise, you might be among the group of people who find it underwhelming. But who buys a cinnamon spread because they don't want it to have a decently strong cinnamon flavor? One critic even says it "almost tastes like band aids smell." 

Band-Aids aside, the spread is actually more like a caramel with a bit of cinnamon in it. It's made with butter spiced with cinnamon and artificial vanilla extract combined with cream, honey, brown butter and tapioca syrup. It also has 1.5 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon (not that you're likely expecting this to be super healthy for you). At least it uses tapioca syrup instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

So the Cinnamon Bun Spread a great-in-theory kind of product, but not a really delicious one, unfortunately. You could, however, sprinkle in a bunch of super aromatic ground cinnamon and you'd probably be all right.

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole

There's no reason to put low-fat Greek yogurt in guacamole –- ever. You can be on a high-protein diet, but it's not acceptable. You can be on a low-fat and low-calorie diet (it does have 50% less fat and 40% fewer calories) and it's still not acceptable, we say. You can have some Greek yogurt on the side — weird, but fine — but not actually in your guacamole!

A lot of people love this product (not everybody, though), because it really doesn't taste awful, but the problem is that it's not really guacamole once you add yogurt. It's just misleading. It's more of an avocado-yogurt spread, but that probably wouldn't sell as well, would it?

Besides, Greek yogurt tastes way better when it's high-fat and creamy, not made with skim milk and thickeners. To make up for that delicious fat, his low-fat version uses pectin and agar to give it creaminess. That's seaweed (agar) and pectin (the stuff that sticks together jelly and is found naturally in apples and other fruits and vegetables). Would you put apples in your guac? Nope. Would you put seaweed in your guac? Probably not. 

Either way, you sure wouldn't call it guacamole.