This is the Best Under-the-Radar Product at Trader Joe's

Bet you didn't see this one coming!

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The best product at Trader Joe's isn't the frozen pork or chicken dumplings. It isn't the tomatillo salsa or marcona almonds, the kale pizza crust or everything-bagel seasoning salmon, the goat yogurt or even the surprisingly affordable goat brie. It is the pickled beets — sliced, packed into purple brine, wrapped with a pink label, and tucked away into the aisle with the pasta, olive oil, and canned beans.

"We got the beets," the label reads. "Right here in this jar. And they're really good."

Typical marketing hyperbole? Not this time.

So what makes these “cut beets in vinaigrette” so good?

We begin with price. Since these beets were released about four years ago, I have purchased them at Trader Joe's locations from Washington D.C. to Phoenix, and I've never seen a jar priced at above $2.00. The net weight of the jar's contents is 15.5 ounces. The dry weight is 9.2 ounces, all beets but for a few trace herbs floating near the surface. That is a friendly price for beets, especially when combined with the next factor.

Jarred beets are convenient. Sure, fresh beets are great, but they have to be cleaned, cooked, and skinned, and they often tattoo fingers a shade of purple for at least a few hand washings. But this convenience factor, of course, isn't exclusive to Trader Joe's beets.

But these beets surpass others in flavor. Though not marketed as pickled beets, these beets, the larger pieces about half the size of bricks of fudge, are indeed lightly pickled. Red wine vinegar is the third ingredient on the label. When you submerge vegetables in a vinegared solution and give them time, they will pickle. The thin "vinaigrette" solution minimizes the earthiness of the beets, rounding it into a robust but lighter flavor. That deep, loamy, earthy quality more comes through by way of the beets' natural sugar content, a husky sweetness that can hang with the gentle tang. The texture, too, is nice. The beets aren't dense. Your teeth glide right through.

The decision not to market these beets as pickle beets could have two roots. One, they are only lightly pickled. They hardly resemble the salty, heavily acidulated cucumbers that have been slumbering in solution on the shelf for what seems like months. Second, pickled beets, like pickled eggs, have something of an old, dusty connotation. These beets work to remedy that. They are nothing like the limp slices you've fished from a can.

They are a rare species: a cheap jar of beets with a clean ingredient label. There is no corn syrup (which many other jarred beets have). There are no gums or artificial additives. The only remotely troubling ingredient is sugar, but these beets only have 7 grams a serving, which is about half of what you find in a serving of milk. Even the olive oil in these beets is extra virgin.

They are clean and light. They are thickly packed into the jar. They are, crucially for a Trader Joe's product, easy to twist open. (Anybody remember trying to wrench open the now-discontinued jars of Trader Joe's Sambal?) They are arguably the best non-fresh beets you can find, and I usually eat two or three jars a week without even trying.

So how do you eat them?

These beets are great in a wide variety of salads, including those with grilled proteins and leafless salads featuring beans. They do well in slaws, paired with corn, mint, and citrus, or chopped into bits and spooned atop hummus.

They are best, though, with tangy cheese or yogurt. My favorite way to eat them combines three of the best Trader Joe's products: these "cut beets," the Sicilian olive oil, and the goat milk yogurt. They unite into a bowl of savory yogurt.

To make this yogurt, spoon yogurt into a bowl. Add about a third of a jar of beets, minus the juices. Drizzle on the light, grassy olive oil. If you have some roasted, salted sunflower seeds and mint leaves, add these as well. And here is a healthy snack or light meal combining several outstanding Trader Joe's products, a bowl that loudly sings the praises of the grocery store's best unsung item: a simple jar of beets.

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