We Tried Trader Joe's New Vegetable Soup Dumplings With Dim Results

Things are heating up at Trader Joe's this summer with the arrival of the chain's latest frozen vegan food offering: steamed vegetable soup dumplings. Launched this June, the grocer's steamed vegetable soup dumplings are a fresh new take on a traditional dish that has plant-based Trader Joe's customers crowing with excitement. The delightfully soupy dumplings, modeled after the classic Chinese delicacy xiao long bao, are the third and only vegan member of the Trader Joe's soup dumpling family, alongside pork & ginger and chicken varieties. According to Trader Joe's, the chain received "countless requests to make a vegan version" before releasing the long-awaited product.

Making soup dumplings from scratch can be a monumental task, especially in the mid-summer heat, so TJ's vegetable soup dumplings are a quick and easy alternative. Containing a blend of scrumptious veggies, from jackfruit to cabbage, aromatics, and spices, the dumplings sound like a feast for the senses on paper — but how do they fare on a plate? To find out, I purchased the Trader Joe's frozen dumplings alongside a formidable competitor, Great Value's steamed soup dumplings, for a soup-filled showdown. 

What are Trader Joe's steamed vegetable soup dumplings?

Trader Joe's steamed vegetable soup dumplings are a frozen, vegan version of xiao long bao, a Chinese dumpling filled with soupy, savory broth and protein. Typically, soup dumplings are made with animal ingredients such as chicken, fish, or pork, which help accentuate broth's rich, velvety taste and texture. 

The new Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings, however, are crafted with veggie fillings, like jackfruit, spinach, and carrot. There's also cabbage and ginger in the mix, along with a plant-based thickener, agar-agar, taking the place of the traditional gelatin or bone broth. Those with dietary sensitivities should note that while Trader Joe's latest launch is vegan and vegetarian-friendly, the vegetable dumplings still contain three types of common allergens: soy, sesame, and wheat.

Like many frozen appetizers, you can prepare Trader Joe's steamed soup dumplings in a microwave — but that doesn't mean you should. For optimal taste and texture, it's best to steam frozen dumplings on top of vegetables, like cabbage leaves, in a stovetop steamer or basket. Microwaving soup dumplings can result in gummy, doughy skins and dry fillings, neither of which is very tasty.

Where to find Trader Joe's steamed vegetable soup dumplings

If you're a regular shopper at Trader Joe's, finding the chain's steamed vegetable soup dumplings should be a snap. Available at Trader Joe's stores nationwide, the compact snacks are located in the freezer section alongside the grocer's other two soup dumpling varieties, steamed pork & ginger and steamed chicken soup. The new vegan-friendly release has a snazzy green box that hints at the earthy goodness inside, and its familiar graphic design suggests it may be a permanent addition to the existing Trader Joe's dumpling pack. With just six dumplings in each cardboard box, they're on the smaller side — so keep this tidbit in mind as you scan your store's freezer aisle.

When I visited my neighborhood Trader Joe's, I had no trouble spotting the dumplings' lime green package from a few yards away. Fortunately, there were also plenty of boxes stacked on the shelf, which wasn't the case when I recently hunted down Trader Joe's limited-edition frozen seafood boil. Still, before you head to your local TJ's to test out these new vegetable soup dumplings yourself, it's worth giving the store a call first to see if the popular new product is in stock.

How much do Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings cost?

Just like Trader Joe's other frozen soup dumplings, the steamed vegetable soup dumplings cost $3.49 per box. Each box contains six dumplings, meaning you'll get two dumplings for about a dollar, depending on the pricing at your location. Though vegan-friendly fillings and flour aren't particularly pricey, making dumplings from scratch can take a fair amount of time and effort. Furthermore, shaping traditional soup dumplings by hand is a commendable skill — and not all of us have the energy for such culinary endeavors come dinnertime.

Outside of specialty grocers and Asian supermarkets, frozen soup dumplings can be hard to find on store shelves, especially in compact sizes like at Trader Joe's. And tracking down vegan or pork-free soup dumplings is an even greater challenge. Interestingly, Walmart's Great Value steamed soup dumplings turned out to be the closest match for Trader Joe's steamed vegetable soup dumplings. At $2.98 for six, Great Value's steamed soup dumplings have the advantage of being slightly less expensive than their opponent.

Taste test: Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings

Just like their meat-filled shelfmates, Trader Joe's steamed vegetable dumplings looked shiny and succulent after taking a dip in the steamer basket. Unfortunately, they also seemed a little deflated, which is rarely a good sign for dumplings. My fears about their flattened fillings were confirmed by the first bite. Though Trader Joe's calls these vegan treats soup dumplings, I'd have to respectfully disagree with the cult-favorite grocery chain. From an aerial view, the vegetable soup dumplings seem to fit the part, but they're missing the main attraction of xiao long bao: soup!

After placing a dumpling on my spoon and tearing into it, I was met with an unexpected twist. Soft, dry, and squishy, Trader Joe's steamed vegetable dumpling filling is a dead ringer for veggie burger "meat," like Dr. Praeger's Super Greens or Hilary's World's Best patties. The filling's unusual bright green color may be off-putting for younger taste-testers but shouldn't deter seasoned vegans or vegetarians. Still, the pasty green mound inside each dumpling is fairly disappointing for fans of soup dumplings or dumplings in general. Aside from the abject lack of broth, the Trader Joe's steamed vegetable dumplings aren't anything to write home about flavor-wise, either.

Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings vs. Great Value steamed soup dumplings

Some taste tests require extensive deliberation to settle on a winner, but picking the best frozen soup dumpling was a quick and unanimous decision. In a rare upset for Trader Joe's, Great Value steamed soup dumplings were miles ahead of the competition in every category, from their flavor to their, yes, great value. Priced at $2.98 for six dumplings, Walmart's soup dumplings were cheaper than Trader Joe's, which retail for $3.49 per half-dozen.

It might be difficult to believe that tasty, elegant soup dumplings could come from a place like Walmart, but it's true. The thin, chewy dumpling skins gave way to a lightly seasoned broth and tender filling with no gristle in sight, a miracle for a mass-produced frozen food product. Even though Walmart's dumpling filling contained meat, it had little do with the chain's win over Trader Joe's. The best part of Great Value's dumplings was the abundant broth found in each doughy package — a crucial element of any good soup dumpling. Flavor-wise, Great Value's broth leans on the milder side, so be sure to add a splash of black vinegar and soy sauce for dipping to upgrade your soup dumplings.

Are Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings worth it?

If it's the authentic xiao long bao experience you're after, you might be better off skipping Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings on your next shopping trip. They share many physical characteristics with the store's meatier frozen soup dumplings, but they're suffering from a severe lack of soup inside. From a textural perspective, Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings are much closer to other types of dumplings, like baozi. If you're hoping to enjoy meatless soup dumplings, making your own vegan xiao long bao may be a better, albeit costlier and more time-consuming option.

But when it comes to ready-made soup dumplings, there aren't many frozen options out there for vegans. As such, there are a few reasons why you might still want to reach for Trader Joe's vegetable soup dumplings, even though I wasn't the biggest fan. Vegans and vegetarians may not mind the unusual texture, given the wide array of frozen fare with similar-tasting veggie fillings. The low price is another handsome feature, though there's always Trader Joe's easy-going return policy if they really aren't your thing. Overall, Trader Joe's steamed vegetable soup dumplings aren't the worst frozen dumplings around, especially if you pair them with a tasty dipping sauce — but don't expect anything traditional.