Alt-Eats: Trader Joe’s Soyrizo

A few weeks ago Annie started talking about nachos. An image quickly commandeered the collective family imagination: corn chips, layers of molten cheese, pickled jalapeño slices, beans, homemade salsa, sour cream. Drool.

We added nachos to the meal menu, and picked up ingredients during the weekly and masked swing through our markets. As the engines behind Alt-Eats, we decided the nachos needed some kind of meaty impersonator.

Annie and I have munched on chorizo-like sausage made from soy protein for years. It’s crumbly, hot, salty and fatty, just like true chorizo. If tofu, tempeh and seitan represent plant-based meatiness 1.0 — ancient and true OG products, as discussed in last week’s newsletter — second-generation stabs at plant meat, like soy chorizo, are 2.0. Now we are onto 3.0, the tech-food world of Impossible Burgers and the rest of it.

It had been a while since digging into soy chorizo. And we never tried Trader Joe’s iteration. We understood that vegans loved TJ’s soyrizo. 

A little Googling also brought us to an article with the headline, “The Trader Joe’s Foods You Should Never Have in Your Kitchen.” Soyrizo was one of them.

So we gave it a whirl.

I made a special trip to TJ’s for the soyrizo soon after Annie’s invocation of nachos. And then we waited four days to build the spectacle of gluttony, which included two versions: one without soyrizo but freighted with real cheddar cheese, the other laced with vegan cheese and showered with soyrizo. The classic version calmed fears Ruby nursed of a perfect dish, nachos, ruined by fake this and alt that.

Soyrizo in the pan. It was wet at first, but became crumbly.

TJ’s soyrizo, like the kind we picked up in other groceries over the years, came in a plastic sleeve. Maybe one day manufacturers will pack refrigerated items like this in other materials. Annie slipped the soyrizo from its container and plopped the wet baton of ground soy into a hot pan. We both tended to it occasionally, stirring to prevent burning. Over time, the moisture evaporated and the soyrizo turned crumbly.

As this was our dinner rather than a quick snack, we carefully assembled the ingredients into a layered mound of salt and fat, crunch and pliability. Nuked? Absolutely not. The mound rose from a baking sheet. We slipped into a 350-degree oven.

Soon, the inhalation commenced. 

Verdict: a triumph. 

A small plate of the final product. Chips, pickled jalapeños, guacamole, cheese (this plate has real cheddar rather than plant-based cheese) and soyrizo.

Just as Beyond Meat’s Hot Italian Sausage, as described in last week’s newsletter, doppelgängers its porky partner, so does TJ’s soyrizo pull off a smashing body-double of real chorizo. In fact, in both cases I prefer the planty stand-in for one reason (other than the lack of animal flesh part): less greasy.

It may be one of the Trader Joe’s foods you should never have in your kitchen. But hey, it’s junk food. Sometimes we crave the crappy-great things. When we finish them, we lie down and experience the salt and fat sluicing through our veins. And then we grunt to ourselves: another year, another plate of nachos. Next year, yet another one.

Can’t wait.

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