The 13 Best Spicy Foods at Trader Joe's, According to Employees
You may have guessed it by the explosion of hot sauces on supermarket shelves, the meteoric rise of kicky condiments like chili crisp and the growth of hot chicken outside of Nashville, but hot foods are, well, hot right now in the U.S.
In fact nine in 10 Americans enjoy eating spicy foods, according to a 2017 survey by the food manufacturing company Kalsec.
If you are among those heat-lovers, you'll soon have more options than ever before at Trader Joe's, their crew members reveal on the latest Inside Trader Joe's podcast episode.
In addition to sharing some of their all-time favorite fiery foods in a game of "Spicy, Spicier or Spiciest" to rate the heat level of various TJ's products, co-hosts Tara Miller, marketing director, and Matt Sloan, vice president of marketing, interviewed a couple other spice-smart employees about the best hot food finds at their stores.
"Now sometimes spices aren't that spicy and sometimes spicy food doesn't include a lot of spices. So spices and spicy are two different topics," Sloan says as he kicks things off. "The difference between spiced and spicy comes down to the chemical compounds in some of those spices being spicy. And depending upon how much you use and how long it's been in that sauce or that food that will also affect the level of heat."
Sometimes "spice" is sparked by acidity on the palate, other times it's a chemical in an ingredient. Either way, "it is a complicated topic because the words are sort of interchangeable yet they don't really mean the same thing," Miller adds.
For this roundup, we're focusing on all kinds of kick—be it gingery, peppery, tangy-hot or otherwise. Read on for their top sweat-inducing sauces, snacks and more.
The 13 Best Spicy Foods at Trader Joe's, According to Employees
Crispy Jalapeño Pieces
Like a pepper version of those crunchy onions you might remember from mom's green bean casserole, these will be rolling out in Trader Joe's stores this May.
"Oh my gosh, so good! I think people would be putting this on top of salads. I could see them kind of crunched up on top of some macaroni and cheese," says Jasmine, category manager of grocery at Trader Joe's. (In other words, she runs the show regarding everything the supermarket stocks that doesn't need refrigeration.) "And you know, those really fancy burger spots that you go to that kind of do something really unique? I could see people kind of recreating a lot of those kinds of burger experiences and then putting these on top for that kind of crunchy, textural, spicy element."
Spicy Dill Pickles
These pickles are also hitting TJ's in late May, and Jasmine admits that she could only eat one of them at a time since they pack such a spicy punch.
"This is a really, really amazing product," Jasmine says.
Chili Sesame Oil
Coming later this summer, this tasty condiment is made with just three ingredients: sesame oil, chilis and dried chilis.
"I think it's really spicy. Take a boring soup that needs some help and then this would just totally energize it," Sloan suggests.
Trader Joe's Apple Mango Jalapeño Fruit Snacks
Deemed "surprisingly spicy" by David, a Trader Joe's crew member and the podcast's "resident aggressive foods connoisseur," these rank as "spicy" on his spicy, spicier and spiciest scale.
"You really wouldn't expect it, but they actually do kind of creep up on you," David says.
Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips
Falling under "spicier," these chips are great to add to taco salads instead of the full tortilla shell or perfect to dunk into guac or salsa.
"These, I would actually rank spicier. And part of that has to do with how actually citric they are, it really primes your tongue," David says. "The more you eat them, the more like it just builds and builds until you're eventually sweating. It's great."
Crispy, Crunchy, Spicy Mochi Rice Nuggets
Sloan and Miller, who "obviously are not as strong in spicy shape as David is," according to Miller, think these are h-o-t hot. But in the best way.
"So good. I mean, it's like, you want to just jump right into that bag," Sloan says.
They're made with a wide variety of spice-boosting ingredients, including black pepper, white pepper, chipotle pepper, habanero pepper, red chili pepper and Sancho peppers.
"I would actually rate spicier also, especially because you can just keep eating them. And the more you do, the more that that does develop, like in the back of the throat, on the cheeks. That's a fantastic one," David says.
Green Dragon Hot Sauce
Infused with tomatillos and spinach, this jalapeño and habanero hot sauce also ranks as "spicier."
"It's so nice and fresh. It can really burn, like, that one I think that's my favorite hot sauce that we've got," David says.
David enjoys this "spicier" sauce that hails from Yemen, which is made with fresh cilantro, jalapeños and chili flakes.
"Very aromatic, very herby. It's very, very easy to get overwhelmed with that one, but very worth it," David says. (Psst...we're pretty fond of our homemade Zhoug Sauce, especially if you don't have a TJ's in your neck of the woods!)
Italian Bomba Sauce
"Just on the edge," of spiciest, according to David, "I would still rate it spicier."
Bomba, a Calabrian chile paste, "is exquisitely hot, like super sharp and tangy. But I can eat that by the spoonful still," David says.
Ginger Juice Shot
Since these superfood shots include a potent dose of both ginger and cayenne, drink this all at once for "a great way to induce your eyes popping out and becoming like a slot machine, like a cartoon," David says. "This is a different kind of spicy, but I would actually, just based off of how pure, like that does overtake your sinuses and make your eyes well, that actually that I probably would put in 'spiciest.'"
Yuzu Hot Sauce
Spiked with yuzu, a citrus fruit used in East Asian cooking and beyond, this is one of the most unique hot sauces David has ever tried.
"That's a 'spicier' for me and it's a solid spicier. It's quite hot," he says. "The Yuzu is so nice and tangy. There's almost something comforting about the heat on it. That one is fantastic."
Hot Hot Crispy Habanero Peppers in Olive Oil
Firmly ranking as the "spicy-EST" in David's perspective, this fiery food was so popular, it's currently sold out at most stores.
"People who are excited by this product have just been so taken with it and so in love with it, which makes me so nervous because we sold out, we ran out so quickly," Sloan says. "I know that the grocery team is working hard to get more back in stock."
It's David's #1 favorite and has a place of honor in his fridge—when he can score some.
"It's super hot. I put that on everything that I can. I made a vegan chili the other day and just put like ¼ teaspoon of that into it, and it totally changed the whole thing. It's rather extreme," David says.
Thai Spicy Shrimp Fried Rice
For a full meal with plenty of fire, this stir-fry "will actually occasionally like, knock my socks off," David says, in the best way. "I am often taken aback with how spicy [it] can get!"
Now that you're well-versed on all of the (literally) hottest foods at Trader Joe's, keep the zip going with our top 40 recipes for spicy foods that boost your metabolism.