Taste Test: (Almost) Every Pumpkin-Flavored Item at Trader Joe's

[Photographs and illustration: Robyn Lee]

Trader Joe gets really into pumpkin season. Walk through any of the stores this month and it's like a pumpkin patch spilled all over the place. Flip through Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer, the chain's product newsletter/comic book, and you'd see that every other word in the October issue is pumpkin. Pumpkin Bread Mix, Pumpkin Ice Cream, Pumpkin Cream Cheese, Pumpkin Macarons, even Pumpkin-flavored Doggie Treats. Even Pumpkin Trees.*

* Don't worry, everything you learned about pumpkins growing on a vine like watermelons do is still true. Pumpkin Trees are not garden variety pumpkins; these munchkin pumpkins grow on a stick, 3 to 5 feet long.

Wouldn't it be fun if we bought every single pumpkin-flavored product in the store and tried them?

If you were shopping at the Brooklyn TJ's this week and saw a girl pushing a basket piled with only pumpkin products, that was me. It was a veritable scavenger hunt to find each of the pumpkin things advertised in the Fearless Flyer. "We just can't keep the Pumpkin Ravioli on the shelves," said one of the jolly Hawaiian shirt-wearing staffers, who didn't seem fazed by my pumpkined-out basket.

A small part of me was expecting them to ring all the bells and induct me into some kind of Trader Joe's shopper hall of fame (with a plaque presented by Joe himself), but no. Apparently many people feverishly stock up on Joe's seasonal pumpkin treats this time every year, especially the pumpkin butter.

But here's the question, and it's one over which I've lost some sleep. What do pumpkins even taste like? We all have an orange, squashy flavor in our minds, right? But when people think "pumpkin-flavored" they also think nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and other pie spices that show up to the pumpkin party. Sometimes pumpkin itself doesn't even show up to its own party! "Pumpkin-flavored" is often just synonymous with a mouthful of spices (and sugar).


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It felt necessary to judge each item on its pumpkintensity and pie spice strength. That's not to say that something with a low pumpkintensity can't taste good and put you in an autumn-happy mood, ready to throw on a flannel and scamper through a corn maze. (TJ's Pumpkin Spice Bread Mix, for example, put me in that mood.) I don't want to be the Pumpkin Grinch here and say this whole "pumpkin-flavored" craze is one big sham, but few things truly tasted of pumpkin.

(Almost) Every Pumpkin-Flavored Item at Trader Joe's

Note: We didn't get to try the Pumpkin Ravioli or the Pumpkin Soup because all the stores near us were sold-out.

Have you noticed the pumpkin mania at Trader Joe's? How pumpkintense do you like your pumpkin-flavored foods?