Consider the humble cherry.
Long-overshadowed by strawberry, the people’s champion, and grape, its cheaper taste analogue, cherry has been trapped in a breakfast aisle pitfall for decades. Sure, there’s Frute Brute, who’s currently trapped in General Mills’s monster mausoleum for…well…ever, probably. And there are Cherry Pop-Tarts, who go unnoticed like the rosy-cheeked nerd girl in every teen movie whose sweetness is only revealed to the one boy brave enough to give her a chance (my Pop-Tart metaphors are complex).
But other than those two and a few obscure health cereals, cherry is very rarely seen as breakfast fare. Which is unfair, because any fruit that tops sundaes and acts as the Kool-Aid Man’s lifeblood deserves a spot at my table.
Thankfully, Trader Joe—a longtime liberator of unsung and under-appreciated flavors—is giving cherry a shot in his latest instant oatmeal cup. This is the same Joseph who once one-upped Pop-Tarts by cramming both cherry and pomegranate into a single toaster pastry, a mad feat I haven’t seen since 1998, when The Undertaker threw Mankind off Hell In A Cell, sending him plummeting 16ft through an announcer’s table.
Staying true to his squirrelly status as “the Uncle Joey of grocery stores,” Trader Joe also stuffed chia and pumpkin seeds into this plastic oat cylinder. Let’s celebrate the dawn of spring by watching this one blossom in the microwave.
I’m going to put my biggest “buyer beware” right here at the top: this stuff is not sweet—like, at all.
I know a lot of people like savory oatmeal, and I’m sure I’ll get an Instagram comment from “SheFit_Sally” about how her sugar-free overnight oats are better than any processed Quaker crap, but I love me some brown sugar-smacked oat mush. From the very beginning, I knew this stuff would turn the Quaker Oat guy’s humble smirk into a discontent grimace: there was no dust or powder in the cup at all.
It just looked like lazily made GORP.
But I gave Trader Joe’s Tart Cherry, Chia and Pumpkin Seed oatmeal a try any way. After a half cup of water (rule number one of instant oatmeal: never trust the suggested fill amount) and 90 seconds in the microwave, I had a pretty sturdy and dense oatmeal cup that was hot enough to steam my camera lens for 5 minutes.
On my first bite, I had to do a double-take: did someone swap my oatmeal for a side dish from a Thai restaurant? The woodsy oats reminded me of steamed brown rice, while the tag-team chia-pumpkin seed duo lends a savory nuttiness to the every spoonful. It’s not bad by any means—though it does lean towards the bland—but Tart Cherry, Chia, and Pumpkin Seed Oatmeal makes a better companion for pad thai than for your morning Cherry Pop-Tart.
If nothing else, I’m just thankful these chia seeds lacked the ruinously bitter pop of every other chia breakfast item I’ve reviewed. I guess that microwave sauna calmed their nerves.
Oh, right: how ’bout them
apples cherries? They’re definitely there. And wrinkled. And chewy. And all clumped together like bacon bits or old fruit snacks. Speaking of which, these dried cherries didn’t have the syrupy, candied goodness of, say, a Daphne-shaped Scooby-Doo Fruit Snack. Instead, their “tart” flavor is more of an oaky anise bite—picture an organic Red Vine. Combined with the brown onigiri, these cherries make the oatmeal taste like every sunflower seed and cranberry salad my relatives ever made me eat against my will.
Translation: Trader Joe’s Tart Cherry, Chia and Pumpkin Seed Oatmeal isn’t for me, but those who are actual adults might enjoy it as an energizing and “clean” tasting breakfast. As for all my fellow grown-up children? Making it with high-fat milk is your best bet.
Or just purée the stuff with a few red Starburst and call it a “protein shake.”
The Bowl: Trader Joe’s Tart Cherry, Chia, and Pumpkin Seed Oatmeal
The Breakdown: Not for the sweet-toothed, this stuff still has enough cozy nuttiness and Twizzler-esque juiciness to earn it a place next to your fried calamari.
The Bottom Line: 5.5 blushing Pop-Tart gals out of 10
(Quick Nutrition Facts: 230 calories, 6 grams of sugar, 6 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of protein per 1 container serving)