Ask the grumpies: Suggestions for American foods to import

Zenmoo asks:

An American food store has opened in my town – they import products on request. I’ve got a few foods I like but don’t know good brands- so suggestions wanted for products in the following categories: dark chocolate peanut butter cups, white or yellow cornmeal muffin or cornbread mixes, healthier boxed mac & cheese …

The best dark chocolate peanut butter cups come from Trader Joe’s.  But it’s unlikely your food store will be able to import them because a store in Canada tried and got sued.  This is very sad for you.  :(  Justin’s brand is pretty good (though possibly not Orangutan safe?).  Neuman’s own is also pretty good.  For a truly American experience, Reeses occasionally puts out a dark chocolate version of their peanut butter cups (and these, of course, will still be extremely sweet).  You’re most likely to find the small versions at holidays like Easter or Christmas in my experience.

I like the Ancient Harvest brand quinoa mac and cheese (a discovery in our bad days of wheat allergy, but I still buy it).  The most ubiquitous “healthier” boxed mac&cheese is Annie’s.  Annie’s tends to add yeast extract to things (not their mac and cheese though) so I don’t trust it (disclaimer:  I get headaches from yeast extract) and I’ve just never really been a fan of their boxed mac and cheese.  I mean, I’d eat it if it were actually healthy, but for something that isn’t truly healthy I’d far rather go Kraft or a Kraft imitator.  There are lots of different kinds of mac and cheeses, but if you’re going true american you’ll get a kind that comes with a pouch of powdered cheese to which you will add butter and milk.  The other kind uses velveeta or a similar cheese product and will come with a creamy cheesish substance.  In any case, if you want to experience true Midwesternism, add a can of tuna and some peas for a stove-top casserole.  Yum.

I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to import cornbread mix unless they don’t make cornmeal in New Zealand(?) because it is super easy to make yourself with just cornmeal and a recipe.  However, Jiffy is the brand if you like Northern style sweet cornbread.  This is the cornbread of our youth and our holidays.  If you like Southern style not-sweet cornbread, you’re best off buying the cornmeal itself and making your own.  You’ll want a stoneground cornmeal.  We like Hodgson, Bob’s, or Arrowhead Mills.

Grumpeteers, what are your favorite of the requested American products?

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20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Suggestions for American foods to import”

  1. Leah Says:

    A truly “ymmv,” but I love boxed mac & cheese (grew up on it). I far prefer Annie’s to Kraft now. Not super healthy but super delicious. I really love their shells and white cheddar version, and they also have shells or noodles with yellow Wisconsin cheddar too. I don’t like their funky shape versions.

    Jiffy is our cornbread of choice. It is really cheap here, so it is not the fanciest. But it is so easy to doctor with additions like frozen corn, cheese, diced jalapenos, etc.

  2. Solitary Diner Says:

    I’m so sad that Canada can’t import Trader Joe’s products. I love so many of them, and I only get them when I travel to the States for conferences.

  3. Ana Says:

    Agree completely on the dark chocolate PB cups from TJs. I try to keep some in my office drawer at all times for chocolate emergencies. Boxed mac and cheese is definitely a fave comfort food for me—I also like the white cheddar Annie’s shells (TJ’s white cheddar shells are also good). I like adding peas or broccoli florets to “healthy it up” a bit, but ewww to tuna (I hate the smell of canned tuna).
    We have been making our own cornbread from cornmeal, too. It honestly doesn’t take any longer than Jiffy, but Jiffy is also REALLY CHEAP so I try to keep some in the pantry in case we want cornbread and don’t have corn meal on hand (my older son LOVES cornbread).

  4. Linda Says:

    I can’t add much since I don’t really buy any of those products, but also can’t resist the opportunity to make side comments. ;-)

    I love dark chocolate and strongly dislike milk chocolate and usually have a bar of the former around. On the occasions when I have a chocolate and peanut butter craving, I’ll just slather a bit of peanut button on a square of chocolate. I guess that’s not quite the same? While I’m sure those TJ’s peanut butter cups are fantastic I don’t trust myself to buy them and not eat them all in one sitting.

    Despite being raised in the Northern US, my family used to take driving vacations to the South every summer where I was exposed to non-sweet cornbread and grits. I don’t understand the Northern attraction to sweet cornbread. I like to make non-sweet cornbread from scratch since it’s so easy, and I’ll often use saved up bacon grease in it instead of vegetable oil. Yeah, it’s just as delicious as it sounds.

    No tips on mac and cheese other than to say that I have been known to make that stovetop casserole from time to time. It’s comfort food.

    Have those of you who dislike canned tuna tried some of the imported tunas packed in olive oil? I think fatty fish like tuna and sardines are ruined when packed in water. While that stovetop tuna casserole wouldn’t benefit from it, I enjoy topping a green salad with Genovo tuna or making a tuna salad from it plus lemon juice, chopped flat leaf parsley, red onion, and kalamata olives. It’s so good on crackers. Mmmmm….

    • Leah Says:

      I like all varieties of cornbread. Cornbread is just great, period. When I add stuff to the jiffy mix, that brings the sweetness down, and I don’t find the jiffy stuff overly sweet (totally a ymmv).

      I like tuna in the pouches versus the cans, but I generally go for cans so I can recycle them. I’ve never tried it packed in olive oil; will have to give that a try. I generally mix my tuna with dijon and a dab of mayo, and I find that works really well. I like to eat tuna with carrot sticks and crackers — good camping food.

    • eemusings Says:

      Not big on canned tuna but I will eat certain flavours in oil (eg tomato basil, smoked). And obviously in tuna pasta salad!

  5. First Gen American Says:

    I can only tell you what people ask if me when I travel abroad. The Asian tourists would always stock up on fish oil. They claim it’s cleaner than the stuff they can get at home.

    In Europe people doing a bubble assignments from the US were jonesing for Skippy peanut butter and would ask me to internal mail it to them.

    Cholula Mexican hot sauce is a must have In our household. Most of the other stuff on our pantry shelf you can find anywhere in the world.

  6. Ally Says:

    Velveeta shells and Cheese, the white kind. (For the US folks, it even comes in the individual easy mac cups.) Why? Because it has no Yellow #5, unlike almost all the Kraft ones. And the cheese sauce packet is much better than the powder. (Fair warning – I’m single and I like “cheap” mac and cheese because I grew up eating it – if you want the really good kind of mac and cheese, make it yourself using Alton Brown’s recipes)

    FYI, Reeses sells the dark chocolate peanut butter cups in the miniature form year round if Reeses is acceptable to the one asking. (That used to be my chocolate of choice years ago. Now its Ghirardelli’s Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel squares. Which I do actually at least eat less of, which is a good thing.)

  7. ivy Says:

    Having lived in both NZ and in North America, I would say Mexican food. Mexican food in the average NZ supermarket is dire compared to the US (Old El Paso kits, I’m looking at you…)
    You could get them to import a range of corn tortillas, masa flour and a range of different types dried chillis (although the fresh stuff might need biosecurity clearance). Canned beans, nopales etc.

    (I don’t see the point of boxed mac and cheese, it’s easy to make from scratch and I don’t have a sweet tooth).

    Can you give details about the shop? If it’s in Wellington, I might stop by at Christmas…

    • eemusings Says:

      F*** yes on Mexican food. Anything Mexican at all. I really want a big fat chimichanga with a side of rice and refried beans now. It’s what I miss most about the US.

  8. bogart Says:

    I don’t know if these are “unique” to the US or not, but as a Southerner — boiled peanuts (I am not a huge fan), pickled beets (I am a huge fan), salt-water taffy (I am not a huge fan), pecan logs (mid-range), country ham. BBQ is surely hard to import, but perhaps BBQ sauces? I grew up in the part of the world where these should be vinegar-, not tomato based, but each offers excellent options. Sweet potato chips (a new — at least in packaged form — but tasty phenomenon). Also, though these are not from my neck of the woods, perhaps Amish and/or Mennonite products?

  9. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I’ve never seen the point of boxed mac and cheese. It tastes terrible compared to a mac and cheese made with real cheddar cheese and a white sauce, baked in the oven. If I want something quick, pasta with olive oil is more palatable than the terrible boxed mac and cheese.

    I wouldn’t pay import prices for a peanut butter with added hydrogenated vegetable oil (like many of the national brands)—I’d get one that is just peanuts and salt, even if that does mean stirring the peanut butter. Maranatha is a locally available brand that is pretty good (but not their “no-stir” version, which is adulterated with palm oil, just like the national brands).

    I agree with the suggestions for Trader Joe’s peanut-butter cups, with Newman’s Own as a good (but pricey) substitute.

    I’m not a big fan of cornbread, but it is easy to make if you have cornmeal available—the mixes don’t really save any time. I can’t recommend a brand of cornmeal, because we buy it in bulk (mainly a coarse cornmeal for polenta, but occasionally a more finely ground one for cornbread).


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