Celebrating the season will be different this year, but one thing remains the same: The aisles of Trader Joe’s are brimming with festive treats that are sure to make pandemic holidays more fun.
Every year the grocer brings out old standbys as well as new items that tempt the palate with everything from snacks (sweet or salty) to beverages (bubbly or bold). There’s even some entertainment in the mix!
Like everyone else, my family is stuck at home together. So, I enlisted them — my husband and two college-age kids — to test some of our local Trader Joe’s holiday offerings. Here, our top 12 favorites and why we like them. Consider them for stocking gifts, holiday bar cart essentials or as great additions to any dessert charcuterie board.
1. Jingle Jangle ($8.99)
This mix of pretzels, caramel popcorn, Joe-Joes and peanut butter cups are dipped in milk and dark chocolate should come with a warning label. The kids say the popcorn pieces are the best, which means the next time I reach for a handful, the popcorn will be gone. It comes in a festive black round tin that you will be sure to use again. Family consensus: “If you like chocolate, you’re gonna like it.” A Trader Joe’s cashier gave another tip: “My favorite holiday movie on Netflix right now is ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.’” Sounds like a great Netflix and chill pairing!
2. Festive Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.99)
These are basic tortilla chips that would be great to serve with queso. (Jenna Bush Hager has a great recipe!) What makes them festive is they come in a mix of fun colors and shapes: red stockings, yellow bells and green trees.
3. Trader Joe’s Sparkling Apple Cider ($2.99)
When our kids were younger, we’d do holiday toasts with champagne for adults and sparkling apple cider for the kids. Our oldest is 21 and can partake in the fancy stuff now, which means the 18 year old gets the sparkling apple cider all to himself. Trader Joe’s version is 100 percent juice and comes in a festive green glass bottle. I like that it has a screwtop, so you don’t have to drink it all in one sitting. (Although, he probably will.)
4. Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joes ($3.99)
Regular Joe-Joes are TJ’s take on the Oreo cookie, with white cream between chocolate wafer cookies. For the holidays, this is the pimped out Cadillac version of the cookie. A creamy, peppermint center with candy cane pieces is between two chocolate peppermint wafer cookies covered in dark chocolate and sprinkled with more candy cane. The cookies are dense and rich. Says the family member with the biggest sweet tooth: “These chocolatey-minty sensations have to be tasted to be believed.” Best served with a nice, big, chilled glass of milk.
5. 2020 Vintage Spiced Ale ($5.99)
This limited edition holiday ale exceeded our expectations, as none of us prefer dark ales. TJ’s describes it as “brewed with a delicate balance of noble hops, roasted malts and spices.” Comments from our tasting: “It’s nice and smooth. Rich.” “It doesn’t taste heavy.” “It’s good for a dark beer because it doesn’t have an aftertaste.”
6. Mini Gingerbread People ($3.49)
The flavor combination on these cute little cookies is perfect. The spiced ginger is balanced by the sweet fudge icing (which, ironically, is on the backside of the cookie). The box holds a pound of cookies, which is a lot. Serve them with hot chocolate or tea or the 2020 Vintage Spiced Ale! They would also be a really sweet way to decorate the top of a frosted cake or cupcake.
7. Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Beverage ($3.99)
This festive drink has a great red color and a refreshing taste that’s more gingery than cranberry. It would be a great mixer for holiday Moscow mules or a holiday mimosa, which you could garnish with candied ginger. There’s a mocktail recipe on the can: squeeze the juice of orange and lime and garnish with a few cranberries and sprig of rosemary.
8. White Truffle Popcorn ($2.99)
The newest truffle snack up TJ's sleeve is this delicious version. An heirloom variety of mushroom kernel popcorn is popped in sunflower oil and topped with a seasoning composed of Italian white truffles and French sea salt. The popcorn has a distinct aroma (if you are not a truffle fan, you might not like it) and an earthy flavor.
9. Hot Chocolate Sticks ($3.29)
This is the way to up your hot chocolate game. These 3.5 inch sticks of Colombian chocolate include 46% dark cocoa, with cocoa butter and pure cane sugar. You just put it in a cup of steaming hot milk and stir for about 2-3 minutes until dissolved. The result is a creamy, rich dark chocolate beverage that is less sweet, more decadent. Each pack has eight individually wrapped sticks (and they are just fine on their own, without milk, if you please).
10. Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows ($2.99)
These TJ treats have been around for the past 10 years and never fail. My kids, marshmallow aficionados, call them the real deal. “Really fluffy and soft inside and the dark chocolate is overpowered by the mint.”
11. Mini Dark Chocolate Mint Stars ($2.99)
The cutest cookies of them all. If you close your eyes and take a bite, you might think you are having a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie. We put some in the freezer (like we do with Thin Mints) and they are equally satisfying. Would be great sprinkled over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
12. Gingerbread House Kit ($7.99)
The packaging of this kit is darling — it comes in a festive, vintage triangular box. The price is even better, as it’s hard to find a gingerbread house kit for less than $10. The kit includes icing sugar and instructions: whip egg whites, add to sugar, and add a few drops of white vinegar. It has small packs of candy, gummies and sprinkles. Add the Mint Stars and Mini Gingerbread People and let the decorating festivities begin!