Best and Worst of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Foods and Other Fall Items

·14 min read

CR staffers tasted 24 autumnal products. Which did they fall for and which fell flat?

By Perry Santanachote

With Kevin Doyle, Ginger Cowles, Althea Chang-Cook, Theresa Panetta, and Alisa O'Connor

What is "pumpkin spice," anyway—aside from the world’s most overplayed seasonal food trend? As of this year, we have an official definition.

Merriam-Webster included pumpkin spice as one of the 370 dictionary additions in September 2022, just in time for the launch of countless fall foods. What it is, is “a mixture of usually cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and often allspice that is commonly used in pumpkin pie.”

But a trip to any grocery store or chain coffee shop would have you believe pumpkin spice has nothing to do with pie. And no place is this more true than at Trader Joe’s, which has 120 seasonal products featured on its shelves this fall, more than 20 of which are new.

Many of Trader Joe’s fall faves have pumpkin spice, but there’s plenty for pumpkin spice haters, too. I’m looking at you, maple syrup mavens, apple cider aficionados, and butternut squash superfans. Just be warned, TJ’s isn’t shy with the sugar. Seems like, often, more is more over there.

So which treats should you pick up on your next TJ’s run? We sent several staffers to their neighborhood Trader Joe’s to pick up various fall food products—24 in total. Read our reviews and be strategic with which ones to try and when to walk on by.

A Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Morning

Trader Joe's fall breakfast items include Pumpkin Spice Coffee, Pumpkin Waffles, and Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal.

Photos: Trader Joe's, Consumer Reports

Pumpkin Spice Coffee

👍 Try it.

I absolutely love and stock up on Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee. I normally find pumpkin spice lattes and coffee drinks overly sweet and not "spicy" enough. This medium-dark roast coffee, however, has added pumpkin spice plus vanilla and orange peel! Sometimes I add a little ground clove to the brew basket when I make this. The amazing smell is a reason to get out of bed when mornings get darker in the fall.—Theresa Panetta, senior video producer

Pumpkin Biscotti

👍 Try it.

It has the tooth-cracking crunch you want in a biscotti with well-balanced flavors of cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg. They smell authentically pumpkiny, unlike most other TJ’s pumpkin-flavored treats I’ve sampled. A serving (two pieces) has a relatively scant 110 calories, which means I can have two servings without too much guilt. I love them and would serve them to my fanciest friends, but won’t so that there’s more for me.—Kevin Doyle, enterprise editor

Pumpkin Waffles

❌ Skip it.

My 3-year-old child is obsessed with Trader Joe’s Authentic Belgian Waffles, and I can see why. They are soft and fluffy on the inside, tall and crispy on the outside, and have deep crevices for butter. They come as close to perfection as you can with a frozen waffle. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles do not meet that bar. My kiddo took one bite, placed it back on her plate, and left it untouched for the rest of her breakfast. Not a fan.—Ginger Cowles, managing editor

This Pumpkin Walks into a Bar (Cereal Bars)

❌ Skip it.

This is a soft-baked breakfast bar, the kind that’s satisfying to tear open and reveal its jammy insides. The filling has a natural-looking pumpkin color, but the flavor is more pumpkin spice than pumpkin. If I had done a blind taste test, I would’ve guessed it was apple cider. These are cloyingly sweet, and that sweetness stayed with me long after my last bite. I think they might have given me a headache.—Alisa O’Connor, photo editor

The sheaths of wheat and pumpkins on the box suggest it contains a wholesome treat. Looks can be deceiving. What’s inside are doughy, gooey, mouthfuls of over-the-top sweetness. The sugar content is 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA), which seems high for a cereal bar that people might eat instead of a breakfast meal. The most satisfying thing about them is when the aftertaste finally fades.—Kevin

Pumpkin Greek Nonfat Yogurt

❌ Skip it.

I asked Jack, my 5-year-old stepson, to review this yogurt in one word. “Pickle," he said. We all laughed and thought he was joking. Then the rest of us tried the yogurt. Jack was not totally off, unlike this yogurt, which has an offputting fermentation and an overwhelming amount of sugar. Pumpkin did not come up in conversation at all. Yogurt is the defining flavor; it just isn’t good yogurt.—Theresa

Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix

👍 Try it.

This mix was a breeze to pull together—just add eggs, water, and oil. The instructions have a “holiday” variation with cranberries and almonds, but I added dried tart cherries and walnuts that I had on hand. This is the one item from my TJ’s fall haul that I ended up liking. The bread is moist, not overly sweet, and subtly spiced with traditional pumpkin spice flavors. The dried fruit and nuts add a nice textural contrast that elevates it. This was delicious on its own and even better when smeared with Kerrygold butter.—Ginger

This moist bread is a cinch to make, and it has a very good flavor—slightly spicy, not too sweet. I especially love how it fills the kitchen with a warm, homey, holiday scent. It’s a satisfying snack to accompany a cup of coffee or tea. I would bake it on Thanksgiving morning and leave the loaf out for family and friends to snack on throughout the day.—Kevin

Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal

❌ Skip it.

A perfectly respectable flavored instant oatmeal. It smells of apples (though none are listed in the ingredients) with a hint of cinnamon and, though a little on the sweet side, is tasty enough that I was sorry about the smallish portion size. One serving has 30 percent of the RDA for sugar, which makes it more of a very occasional dessert than breakfast fare in my book. I won’t buy it again.—Kevin

Organic Pumpkin Spice Granola Bark

❌ Skip it.

My kids both said it lacks flavor, which is surprising since there’s a lot of stuff in these: pumpkin purée, coconut, spice, maple syrup, almonds, and dark chocolate.—Theresa

The bark has pumpkin spice essence, but the dark chocolate dominates the first bite. It’s densely packed with grains and takes a lot of chewing. During all that chewing, the pumpkin spices come out a bit more.—Althea Chang-Cook, associate director

A Trader Joe’s Savory Fall Snack Spread

Trader Joe's fall snack items include Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps, Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds, and Fall Leaf Corn Tortilla Chips.

Photos: Trader Joe's, Consumer Reports

Pumpkin Chipotle Roasting Sauce

👍 Try it.

This one’s a winner; 10/10. As soon as you open the jar and give it a stir, it’s obvious this is made with real pumpkin. A quick taste test and a glance at the ingredients list confirm pumpkin pureé is the main ingredient. The sauce is a smoky, sweet pumpkin with just a hint of chipotle heat. Since it’s a roasting sauce, I roasted zucchini and acorn squash. (This sauce has a pureé consistency, so it’s important to roast the veggies first before slathering on the sauce and then roasting again. Otherwise, the sauce will burn.) While my veggies were in the oven, I found myself continuously sneaking spoonfuls of sauce, so I broke out the tortilla chips and treated it like a dip. Like most things in this roundup, it is about 30 percent too sweet, but in this case, it’s forgivable. The roasted veggies cut down the sauce’s sweetness and leave you with a lovely, lightly spiced flavor that would complement basically anything.—Alisa

Pumpkin Tortilla Chips

❌ Skip it.

These got a thumbs-up from 5-year-old Jack, who said he wanted more after dinner. Then he forgot about them. It’s how I imagine most people would respond to these: forgettable. They’re undersalted, but the cinnamon comes through a little. I think they would be good with one of my favorite TJ’s items: Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa. I won’t buy these chips again, but I wouldn’t not eat them if they were in front of me.—Theresa

Fall Leaf Corn Tortilla Chips and Pepita Salsa

👍 Try it.

These chips have the shapes and colors of fallen leaves. Cute! I had these with TJ’s Pepita Salsa, which has pumpkin seeds but is otherwise a pretty standard salsa. The chips probably don’t need to be as salty as they are, but they’re good. I would serve these at a fall party, like during Halloween or Thanksgiving, simply because they look festive.—Althea

Organic Maple Vinaigrette Dressing

👍 Try it.

I am partial to sweeter dressings and vinaigrettes, so I enjoyed this vinaigrette, which is sweet but not necessarily maple-y. I drizzled a little on mustard greens, kale, and baby arugula. The key to this dressing is to use it sparingly—about half of what you think you need. It coats salad leaves nicely without being too gloopy. It is sweet without overpowering the salad’s flavors, but it goes especially well with my salad toppings: avocado, spicy pumpkin seeds, and almonds.—Alisa

Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps

👍 Try it.

These deliver when you need a sweet-savory snack fix, especially at only 90 calories for 11 crackers. I still prefer the fig and olive version of these crisps though, which I can buy any time of the year. These would be great with Swiss cheese or soft goat-cheese dip. Maybe grab a log of TJ’s Chevre with Honey while you’re there.—Theresa

Autumnal Harvest Creamy Pasta Sauce

👍 Try it.

Aside from pumpkin pie, I prefer pumpkin in savory dishes over sweet ones. I love this sauce, which is creamy like alfredo but tastes of tomatoes, pumpkin, and butternut squash. It’s great on pasta, but I’d also serve it as a warm dip with garlic bread or a crusty baguette.—Althea

Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

❌ Skip it.

There is butter added to the pumpkin spice mix, which gives it an off-dairy kind of flavor. Oil would have been better for these.—Theresa

I associate pumpkin seeds with saltiness, but these are as sweet as candy. The added sugar and spices actually mask the pumpkin seed flavor. I was happy about the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, but there is so much butter and sugar in this that it reminds me of cinnamon rolls.—Althea

They taste salty and sweet with a hint of something slightly burnt that lands pleasantly on the back of the tongue. But they’re too sweet for my taste.—Kevin

Pumpkin Bisque

👍 Try it.

Warm up this potage-in-a-jar for a comforting, stick-to-your-ribs starter or light meal that’s slightly tangy and redolent of autumn apples and honey. Its taste tends toward sweet but is still savory enough to satisfy the sugar-averse. Tahini and apple cider vinegar lend it a complex flavor that may put some people off, but this is one I’d buy again.—Kevin

Trader Joe’s Fall Sweet Treats

Trader Joe's fall sweet items include Pumpkin Flavored Joe-Joe’s, Cinnamon Roll Blondie Bar Baking Mix, and Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Cake.

Photos: Trader Joe's, Consumer Reports

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Cakes

👍 Try it.

These ring-shaped cakes enrobed in glistening sticky toffee can be prepared in the microwave or oven. I baked mine in the oven, which only took 15 minutes. One of the cakes did not release neatly from the mold, which gave it a messy appearance but didn’t affect the flavor. The cake is moist, dense, date-studded, nicely spiced, and topped with a rich and delicious caramel sauce. It tastes deeply satisfying. I like it so much that I may serve these for dessert on Thanksgiving.—Kevin

Pumpkin Spice Espresso Beans

❌ Skip it.

I generally love chocolate-covered espresso beans but don’t like the white chocolate in these. After the espresso flavor fades, the white chocolate and spices are a bit too much. And its pumpkin flavor comes from pumpkin powder, which tastes totally fake.—Althea

Cinnamon Roll Blondie Bar Baking Mix

❌ Skip it.

These are a breeze to make, requiring only water, butter, and eggs. They smell like a mall Cinnabon—cloyingly sweet with a heavy dose of cinnamon. Blondies are notoriously super-sweet, and these are no different. Various types of sugars are the main ingredients, making them extremely saccharine. I spit out the one bite I took, but they are photogenic, so if nothing else, they’re good for the ’gram.—Ginger

I like sweet things, but "sweet" doesn’t even begin to describe these blondies. They put me off sweet treats for the foreseeable future. The ingredients are essentially three sugar mixes. Start with a cinnamon-sugar mix and add butter. Then take the flour-sugar mix and add more butter. Bake those sugar mixes together, then mix powdered sugar with a little water and drizzle that on top. This product takes the least exciting parts of both cinnamon rolls and blondies to create an affront to nature.—Alisa

Caramel Apple Dipping Kit

👍 Try it.

This would be a hit at a children’s Halloween party. The kit, while annoyingly full of single-use packaging, is extremely quick and easy to set up. It contains a microwavable tub of caramel, autumnal sprinkles, crushed peanut pieces, and wooden sticks for impaling six of your own apples. The caramel sauce solidifies faster than expected, so multiple microwave sessions are needed. My 5-year-old companion ate most of her caramel apple before switching to eating handfuls of sprinkles instead. I could barely finish a small slice. The natural sweetness of the apple reacted with the artificial sweetness of the caramel and sprinkles to create a flavor my tastebuds couldn’t comprehend. Not that it matters; this one is about the journey, not the destination.—Alisa

Petite Pumpkin Spice Cookies

❌ Skip it.

The crisp cookie tastes strongly of allspice and nutmeg, and its thin icing isn’t overly sweet. It’s a well-balanced cookie, but my family and I are not fans. My child took a minuscule bite out of this petite cookie and left the remaining 95 percent on her plate untouched. If you like pumpkin spice, you might enjoy them.—Ginger

The white box with colorful type catches the eye while cutouts reveal sweet, pumpkin-shaped treats inside that telegraph “buy me!” to the tummy. Alas, they may be petite, but they are a big disappointment. They smell like pumpkin spice candles and taste like white chocolate. I didn’t like eating them and didn’t like throwing them away, but I don’t dislike anyone enough to give them to.—Kevin

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookie Mix

❌ Skip it.

I’m a huge oatmeal chocolate cookie fan and had high hopes for this cookie mix, especially since it contains semisweet and not milk chocolate. I was pleasantly surprised by the texture—crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside—but after a few chews, I got a weird metallic flavor. Maybe it’s the combination of spices (nutmeg, allspice), dried pumpkin, and chocolate that I’m tasting, but this is a no.—Ginger

Pumpkin Flavored Joe-Joe’s

❌ Skip it.

My stepson absolutely loved these. "They are pumpkiny, cinammy," he said. "Please buy these every time you go to the store." But they are a little too sweet for me; I prefer more spice.—Theresa

I like that the cookies are extremely crisp and the filling is very creamy on the tongue. They also have a nice fragrance of spicy pumpkin and ginger. I am impressed to see pumpkin pureé and organic pumpkin powder among the ingredients, but they’re too sweet. The explosion of sugar overpowers any other flavor notes. No love here. I wouldn’t buy them again or serve them to anyone but the tax collector.—Kevin

They’re too sweet. There is no way I would buy these again. I shared these in a meeting, and even people who liked them said they are really sweet. It’s like built-in portion control; one or two cookies are enough.—Althea

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