2012 Taste Test Awards: Grocery Category Winners

These store-bought foods are the tastiest picks in America's grocery stores. We tested products in 13 different categories so you can keep your kitchen stocked with yummy staples. By: Cindy Hatcher

How Taste Testing Works

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

How Taste Testing Works

When we pick foods in the grocery category, we're looking for products available in most major markets nationwide. We scour nutrition labels for artificial trans fats, too much salt, or too much saturated fat.

After booting out foods that didn't cut the mustard, we served 200 finalists to a tasting panel, who sampled everything blind—brands were not revealed. There are tens of thousands of products on shelves: We rotate through different categories each year.

Gluten-Free Rice Chips

Photo: Randy Mayor

Gluten-Free Rice Chips

Every day the market seems more crowded with chips made from nontraditional ingredients, like lentils and other legumes. We rank brown-rice options high because of the whole grain's nutty crispness.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Lundberg Rice Chips

The company offers these superthick chips in nine flavors. The sea salt variety (with a manageable 110mg sodium per serving) complemented the toasty rice flavor of the chip. Crunchy, hearty—a true snack.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Riceworks Sea Salt

Pockets of rice crackle when you bite down, adding a welcome second layer of crunch, yet these chips are still light enough to maintain a delicate crispness.

Chocolate Ice-Cream Bars

Photo: Randy Mayor

Chocolate Ice-Cream Bars

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Blue Bell Fudge Bars

These bars instantly evoke childhood ice-cream truck memories with a refreshing ice-milk quality. Best for those who prefer milk chocolate over dark, but slight bittersweet undertones keep this bar from being boring.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Whole Foods Whole Treat Organic Fudge Bars

A good choice for dark-chocolate lovers, with just a bit of espresso to round out the flavor.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Healthy Choice Fudge Bars

These bars boast a rich milk chocolatiness and a nice creamy texture.

Honey Toasted Os

Photo: Randy Mayor

Honey Toasted Os

Testers tried each whole-grain cereal dry, then added milk to see how the Os held up.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Malt-O-Meal Honey Nut Scooters

A sweet malty note complements nutty, whole-grainy goodness (a serving provides 25% of the 48g daily whole-grain recommendation).

TASTE TEST AWARD: Wal-Mart Great Value Honey Nut Spins

Glistening Os are lightly coated with a honey glaze. A sweet, bargain-priced standout.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Three Sisters Honey Oaties

Nice crunch with a strong almond flavor; nuttier than a Three Stooges marathon.

 

Smooth Almond Butter

Photo: Randy Mayor

Smooth Almond Butter

Filled with heart-healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, and potassium, it's a rich and toasty alternative to peanut butter.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: MaraNatha All-Natural No-Stir

Tops for taste: Powerfully nutty with an ideal salt level—just enough to bring out the almond flavor, but with a harmonizing note of sweetness. Try a dollop stirred into a winter squash soup.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Barney Butter

Tops for texture: the smoothest, creamiest of the candidates. Ideal for turning a PB&J into an AB&J, or for swirling into banana bread batter.

Semisweet Chocolate Chips

Photo: Randy Mayor

Semisweet Chocolate Chips

We tasted each brand's chips straight, then tried our top three choices baked into a basic chocolate chip cookie.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Hershey's Special Dark

Perfectly balanced ratio of sweet to bitter, with smooth-as-silk meltability. And because they are smaller, you get more per serving. That makes them chocolate chip cookie champs, but they're great added to granola or trail mix, too.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Target Market Pantry Semisweet

Start out sweet, finish nicely bitter. The chips held up well to baking—staying creamy even after cookies had cooled.

Bottled Flavored Green Tea

Photo: Randy Mayor

Bottled Flavored Green Tea

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Arizona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey

A little less tea-intense than green tea purists might prefer, but with a gently honeyed flavor that's refreshing.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Tazo Zen Green Tea with Lemongrass and Spearmint

An earthy green-tea base with a touch of honey, lemon, and mint to keep bitterness in balance.

BEST TRADITIONAL GREEN TEA: Ito En Oi Ocha Unsweetened Green Tea

Deeply aromatic for an iced green tea. A hint of traditional bitterness gives way to a floral finish.

 

 

Frozen Vegetable Lasagna

Photo: Randy Mayor

Frozen Vegetable Lasagna

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Michael Angelo's Natural Vegetable Lasagna

A ton of great veggie flavor without screaming "I am meatless!" The noodles maintained their firmness, the sauce was nicely seasoned, and the veggies (carrots, mushrooms, broccoli) were substantial.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Saffron Road Three-Cheese Lasagna

Close to homemade, this lasagna tastes like someone put a lot of work into it. Gooey, cheesy goodness that falls firmly into the quick-cook comfort food category.

 

 

Fat-Free Strawberry Greek Yogurt

Photo: Randy Mayor

Fat-Free Strawberry Greek Yogurt

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Chobani

Superdense texture, almost cheesecake-like. Tart edge with a hint of sweetness. Chunks of strawberries (and a seedy crunch) keep the flavor real.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Fage

A sidecar of pureed strawberries accompanies ultrathick yogurt, so you can choose the strawberry-to-yogurt sweet/tangy ratio with each bite.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Yoplait

Much improved from earlier versions. A note of vanilla sweetness with a lusciously creamy, seemingly full-fat texture that sticks to your tongue.

 

 

 

Lower-Fat Ricotta Cheese

Photo: Randy Mayor

Lower-Fat Ricotta Cheese

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Calabro Part-Skim

Boasts a lighter texture than its low-fat competitors, which tend to be dense. Moist and fluffy with a wonderfully salty edge that brings out its cheesiness. Great for savory applications, like a pasta filling or bruschetta topping.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Simply Kraft Reduced-Fat (available nationwide in Wal-Mart stores)

A little on the sweet side—as if it had a touch of sweetened condensed milk—this one is ideal for desserts. Try it in a parfait mixed with honey or in a cheesecake.

 

 

 

 

 

Quinoa

Photo: Randy Mayor

Quinoa

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Pereg Gourmet

Cooks to fluffy perfection with a hint of nuttiness and a pleasantly crunchy bite.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Ancient Harvest Traditional

A softer texture makes this a good gateway grain for brown rice fans.

 

 

Frozen Veggie Burgers

Photo: Randy Mayor

Frozen Veggie Burgers

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Morningstar Farms Grillers Original

Beef-like texture and taste with a moist interior. Seasoning gives the all-veggie base an almost sausage-like quality without any overpowering liquid smoke presence.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Amy's Kitchen Bistro

For those who prefer their veggie burgers on the grain-based side. Fully embraces its not-meat status with a tasty mix of brown rice, mushrooms, tofu, pinto beans, onions and celery.

Mixed Nuts

Photo: Randy Mayor

Mixed Nuts

Keep portions to an ounce for a good-for-you snack with heart-healthy fats, fiber, and protein.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Planters Select Macadamias, Cashews, and Almonds

Plenty of freshness, light on salt (with just 95mg per serving). Macadamias bring a sweet, buttery quality, while cashews and almonds contribute nice crunch.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Ann's House Pistachio Perfection

Pistachios lend an extra layer of richness to this mix of cashews and almonds. It's a deliciously salty combo (though still within our less than 100mg per serving limit).

Reduced-Fat Cheddar Cheese

Photo: Randy Mayor

Reduced-Fat Cheddar Cheese

Cheeses claiming to be reduced-fat must contain at least 25% less fat than the original. Winners kept sodium in check (less than 200mg per ounce) without sacrificing flavor.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Kerrygold Reduced-Fat Dubliner

This Irish company has developed its own interpretation of English cheddar. A firm, slightly crumbly texture makes it seem like full-fat. Worthy of a cheese plate.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Cabot 50% Reduced-Fat Sharp

Less of a sharp tang with a more traditional cheddar flavor. Ideal nestled into a turkey and apple sandwich or grated and baked into corn bread.

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