10 Trader Joe’s Products Chefs Love

You don’t have to be a professional chef to shop like one.

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Trader Joe's

We can’t be experts in everything—it’s just not humanly possible. This is why it’s so enlightening to ask questions like: What kind of wine does a sommelier buy? What espresso machine does a barista recommend? What do professional chefs purchase at the supermarket? We set out to answer at least one of these questions by asking culinary experts for their personal favorite Trader Joe’s items—and what to make with them. Here are the Trader Joe’s products chefs love, so you know exactly what to pick up on your next TJ’s run.

Related: 20 Trader Joe's Shopping Mistakes You Should Avoid at All Costs

Zhoug Sauce

Trader Joe’s has an impressive lineup of dips, sauces, and spreads. Zhoug sauce (pronounced “zoog”) is a vibrant green sauce made from cilantro, chili peppers, olive oil, garlic, and spices. “I really like to use this as a marinade for fish or chicken,” says Barbara Rich, a lead chef at the Institute of Culinary Arts. “It adds a spicy and herbal flavor to proteins.” But be careful—if you have a low tolerance for spice, you might find it packs quite a bit of heat.

Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce is a summer staple chefs say you should keep on hand. “This sauce combines the perfect balance of heat and sweetness, making it a versatile addition to grilled meats, sandwiches, and dips,” says Jason Fullilove, a fine dining chef and caterer. It has a unique flavor compared to traditional BBQ sauces, he notes. Specifically, it’s a bit spicier with jalapeño peppers high on the ingredient list.

Vegan Kale, Cashew, & Basil Pesto

If you’ve ever made fresh pesto, you understand why the sauce is so popular. It can also be a time-consuming ingredient to make. However, store-bought pesto can be hit or miss. One place that gets it right is Trader Joe’s, notes Jackie Newgent, RDN, a classically trained chef and cookbook author.

“The Trader Joe’s pesto is not your ordinary pre-made pesto—it’s rich, bright, and delicious,” Newgent says. “Toss it with pasta or gnocchi, spread it on a sandwich, or use it as a marinade.”

Greek Chickpeas With Cumin and Parsley

Chefs love to cook with fresh ingredients, but you can find some gems down the pantry aisle at Trader Joe’s. This can of Greek chickpeas is perfect for making tuna salad, Rich notes. The chickpeas are marinated in a dressing, so you can use this instead of mayonnaise to coat the tuna, she explains. Then, just add lots of vegetables like carrots, celery, and radishes for a delicious but easy and hearty side dish.

Related: How to Find Delicious Trader Joe's Recipes, According to Employees

Papadums Lentil and Chickpea Crisps

Chefs like to snack, too, and when the craving hits, Newgent reaches for these Indian-style crisps. A papadum is an Indian snack made from legumes, like lentils and chickpeas. It can be compared to a fried cracker, and while it’s satisfying on its own, it’s often served with a meal or dip.

Newgent likes them for their crisp, airy texture, as well as their nutrition profile—they’re a rich source of fiber. “These Indian-style snacks make a delightful and even nourishing chip alternative thanks to their pulses and an aromatic hint of cumin,” she says. “Pair with virtually any savory dip, or serve alongside soups, stews, and salads.”

Organic Coconut Aminos

A soy- and gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, coconut aminos makes for a flavorful marinade or dressing, Fullilove points out. “It has a slightly sweeter flavor and is lower in sodium, making it a healthier choice without compromising taste,” he says. Like the name suggests, it’s made from coconut sap, which explains the combination of sweet and savory. It’s just as versatile as soy sauce—use it to season rice dishes, noodles, or sautéed veggies.

Organic 3-Cheese Pizza

Even professional chefs opt for the convenience of frozen Trader Joe’s meals every now and then, and the quirky chain has one of the best freezer sections. When you’re in a bind but want something tasty, Rich recommends the cheese pizza. It’s like a blank canvas you can dress up with additional ingredients, she notes. “I spruce it up with pesto, prosciutto, shaved Parmesan, and baby arugula,” she shares.

Cauliflower Gnocchi

The Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi is on just about everyone’s grocery list—including the pros. “They’re so lovable and give full Italian satisfaction without wheat, dairy, or eggs, making them a no-brainer for those with dietary restrictions or food allergies,” Newgent says. “Simply sauté in extra virgin olive oil until gently crisped, and toss with pesto.” There’s also a ton of cauliflower gnocchi recipes to try.

Unexpected Cheddar Cheese

This cheese is aptly named,” Fullilove says. Is it cheddar? Is it Parmesan? It’s both! “This cheese is sharp like aged Cheddar, but has the creamy, smooth texture of a Parmesan,” Fullilove adds. It even has little crystals of Parmesan, contributing to the fun flavor and mouthfeel of this cheese. So, what can you do with it? “It melts beautifully, making it ideal for gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and grated over pasta dishes,” Fullilove shares, adding that you can also use it on a charcuterie or cheese board.

Related: Here’s Your Trader Joe’s Summer Shopping List—With 15 Items to Buy

Everything But the Bagel Seasoning

Even experts can’t get enough of this cult-favorite bagel seasoning. Well, technically, the bagel isn’t included—but everything else is. You can sprinkle it on bagels, but Rich loves it on avocado toast, too. Add sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and avocado to a piece of toast and top generously with this seasoning for a simple but satiating breakfast, she notes.

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