Trader Joe’s Thai Yellow Curry Sauce review

Executive Summary: This is a C+ sauce.  If you don’t have time to make your own, this is better than no curry sauce at all.  The flavor is not fabulous, probably because it’s made with a lot of the wrong ingredients.

My 14-year-old asked me to buy this sauce as a quick meal option, now that our new family routine involves my cooking dinner after I get home from work.  He knows that my Creamy Lentil Coconut Curry takes at least an hour to make, partly because it involves cooking red lentils until they disintegrate into the sauce.

Obviously, a sauce without lentil protein and fiber isn’t as nutritious, but a meal of tofu, vegetables, and brown rice doesn’t necessarily require additional nutrients.  I decided we’d try this bottled sauce, and if we liked it, we could keep a sealed bottle in the pantry for those times when we’d like to have curry but don’t have time to make it.

Trader Joe's Thai Yellow Curry Sauce bottleYou’re looking at a photo of the empty bottle because I didn’t decide to review this product until we tasted it and then read the ingredients, at which point we all said, “Well, there’s the problem!”

The second ingredient (after water) is canola oil.  I don’t use any kind of oil in my curry sauce because I’m usually mixing it with roasted vegetables, which are plenty oily already.  If I were going to use oil, it wouldn’t be canola because of its icky flavor.  Even with all the spices in this sauce, the canola oil’s “cheap steam-table food” flavor comes through.

Why so much water?  Because they used more dehydrated coconut milk than liquid coconut milk.  (Why use both?  That seems unnecessarily complicated.)  But the coconut aspect of the sauce seemed okay.

The third ingredient in this sauce, right after canola oil and before dehydrated coconut milk, is SUGAR!  There is more sugar in this stuff than either form of coconut milk…and the ingredients also include “cultured dextrose,” a form of corn sugar that’s used as a preservative.  I put a teaspoon of honey in my sauce (to make 8 servings) but it doesn’t need more sugar than that.

The odd thing is that this sauce doesn’t taste sweet; the flavor is much sharper than my sauce.  Overall, it tastes like it hasn’t cooked long enough to blend the flavors.  It’s like curry powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt hastily mixed into coconut milk into which you’ve accidentally spilled way too much canola oil.

That’s too bad, because the whole point of using a bottled sauce is to let someone else do all the hard work of simmering ingredients in the perfect proportions in advance, so that you can minimize cooking time.

Speaking of which, onion powder and garlic powder are time-saving convenience ingredients; if you’re trying to make a sauce that tastes like fresh home cooking, use fresh onions and garlic!  I really don’t understand why this sauce contains any oil at all when there was no “brown the onions in oil” step at the beginning of making it.

Trader Joe’s Thai Yellow Curry Sauce also contains whey, for no apparent reason.  They were making a vegan sauce that would be safe for dairy-allergic people to eat, and then they decided to throw in a little whey just to limit the market?!?  There’s just no reason to include cow’s milk in a coconut milk sauce.

roasted veggies over brown riceAnyway, if you’re going to use this or another bottled coconut curry sauce, here’s what you can do with it to get dinner ready in just 20 to 30 minutes:

Take whatever vegetables you have–perhaps left over from a veggie tray at an event; these were from church coffee hour–cut them up small, toss with oil (peanut, sunflower, or another neutral-flavored oil), spread in a single layer in a pan, and put in a 400-degree oven until they’re beginning to brown.  Or stir-fry them on the stovetop.

Meanwhile, cook some rice.  This is Trader Joe’s Quick-cooking Brown Rice, which does indeed cook as quickly as white rice.  It has a flowery flavor that is slightly strange but goes with Thai or Indian food much better than it does with Chinese, Japanese, or Mexican food.

Meanwhile, pour the entire bottle of sauce into a pot and add some chunks of tofu.  (We used 8 ounces of tofu.)  Heat until bubbly, stirring occasionally.

Put the rice and vegetables in your bowl, and top it with the tofu in sauce.

finished curry bowl

This makes a decent meal that tastes okay, and it’s easy to put together.  It’s not as good as most curry you can get in restaurants, but it’s better than a frozen meal….

Hey, if you want to use this sauce and call it tasty enough and healthy enough, I’m not judging you!  I’m in no position to judge.  I mean, look what’s in the background of that photo of the sauce bottle: an Eat’n Park kids’ cup full of ketchup packets and a glass jar full of jingle bells.  I have no idea why those jingle bells were on my kitchen counter, but I meant to get around to doing something about them for at least two weeks before they disappeared somehow.  I’m not your role model!

But seriously, try my lentil curry when you have the time.  It’s awesome.  Or, when you need a quick sauce, try one of these!

Visit Friendship Friday for other writers’ tips on all kinds of things!friendship-friday-button-1501

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