2010 Taste Test Awards: Grocery Category Winners

Our judges ate their way through 200 foods to find these winners—our picks for the best products on grocery store aisles nationwide. By Cindy Hatcher

 

Cooking Light Taste Test Awards

Photo: Manfred Koh

How We Taste-Tested

To qualify, foods had to be available in major markets nationwide. We vetted products against nutrition standards, eliminating those that contained artificial trans fats, too much salt, or artificial sugars.

We tasted almost 200 finalists “blind”: The tasters did not know which brands they were sampling until after. Keep in mind that not all products are low-fat: Good nutrition agrees with good eating when high-fat items are chosen for maximum quality and used moderately.

Best Hummus

Photo: Manfred Koh

Hummus

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Tribe Classic. Hummus has come out of nowhere to crowd shelves with dozens of flavors. We tried the plain versions only and loved Tribe, which starts with fresh chickpea flavor, adds just the right hint of sesame tang, and ends with a good balance of cumin and garlic.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Athenos Original. A delicious hummus for garlic lovers, with a slightly tart, lemony finish.

Best Oat and Honey Granola

Photo: Manfred Koh

Oat & Honey Granola

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Cascadian Farm Organic. Perfect granola, crunchy and sweet, with a hint of salt to balance. Not too chunky, not too bitsy—just right.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value. Slightly puffed brown rice gives this not-too-sweet granola a nice, light crunch.

Quaker Natural. Raisins make this one sweet and cereal-like, with a slight hint of coconut.

 

Best Tuna, Packed in Oil

Photo: Manfred Koh

Tuna (gourmet, packed in olive oil)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Ortiz Bonito del Norte. High-end oil-packed tuna is a whole different animal from the ordinary variety: rich, meaty, tangy with olive oil. It’s a splurge (the winner is about $10 a pop!), but don’t discount the pleasure potential until you taste this treat. We savored Ortiz straight from the tin, like caviar.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Cento. Firm, with strong but not fishy tuna flavor and just the right amount of briny salt.

Best Whole-Wheat Breads

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100% Whole-Wheat Bread

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Rudi’s Organic Bakery. Coarsely ground cracked wheat adds chewy texture and grainy flavor, and there’s the slightest hint of molasses.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Whole Foods Organic. A hearty, dense texture makes this ideal for toast, slathered with a tart fruit preserves.

Best Salted Gourmet Butters

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Salted Gourmet Butter

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Organic Valley. Cultured butter has rich, subtle flavor, aromatic hints of cheese, and is often higher in butterfat than regular butter. Organic Valley is a lovely example, with a creamy finish, a beautiful milky flavor, and rich, farm-fresh grassy notes.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Lurpak. Well-rounded with a pleasantly salty zing at the finish.

Chimay. A beautiful shade of buttery yellow on the knife, with buttery richness to match.

 

Best Canned Tomatoes

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Diced, No-Salt-Added Tomatoes

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Del Monte. This brand stood out for balanced, bright tomatoey sweetness—a go-to tomato for a quick-cooking pasta sauce.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Whole Foods 365 Organic. A midsummer-fresh tomato taste and a nice, thick texture make this a great option for any soup, stew, or sauce that needs body.

Best Canola Mayonnaise

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Canola Mayonnaise

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Hellmann’s (East Coast)/Best Foods (West Coast). Hellmann’s offers creamier texture and superb spreadability. Canola-based mayo, by the way, is a heart-healthier option (lower in saturated fat than traditional mayonnaise).

TASTE TEST AWARD: Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value. Light, silky texture, balanced vinegar-lemon tang, and a nice salty kick.

Best Canned Chicken Noodle Soup

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Reduced-Sodium Chicken Noodle Soup

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Progresso. Big chunks of white meat chicken and carrots, plus lots of rotini noodles, took Progresso to the top. The hearty broth  approaches homemade, but you can be eating it in seconds instead of hours.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Campbell’s Select Harvest. A nice hint of rosemary and sage perk up this soup, which is built on a broth that’s rich in chicken flavor.

Best Frozen Margherita Pizzas

Photo: Manfred Koh

Margherita Pizza

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Tandoor Chef Naan Pizza. Few frozen pizzas made it under our sodium threshold. Tandoor’s Margherita does, and it’s a novel treat, using flavorful, Indian-style naan bread as a base, finished with fresh tomato and basil-rich flavor that delighted our panel.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Amy’s Kitchen. Topped with organic tomatoes, whole-milk mozzarella, and lots of basil, this one is a thin-crust-lover’s primo pick.

Best Tortilla Chips

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Tortilla Chips (100% yellow corn)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Target Archer Farms Organic. They’re corn-yellow-pretty, delectably crunchy, nicely salted, and loaded with hearty flavor. Plus, a zip-top bag closure staves off staleness (if they last long enough for a third or fourth session).

TASTE TEST AWARD: Tostitos Natural. Thin, almost delicate chips have a delightful crunch, true corn flavor, and modest salt. Simple and delicious from a grand total of three ingredients.

 

Best Mild Tomato Salsas

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Mild Tomato Salsa

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Green Mountain Gringo. You can visually identify almost all of its ingredients (not so for some of the overzealously pureed salsas out there). The tomatoes taste like they were harvested at the peak of summertime freshness, and pasilla and jalapeño peppers provide just the right amount of lip-tingling heat.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Frontera. Its smoky kick resembles the salsas you find in authentic Mexican restaurants.

Organicville. The best organic brand we tasted. Lots of fresh-tasting herbs, plus a bit of sweetness from agave nectar make it a pleasantly unusual option.

Best Microwave Popcorns

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Light Microwave Popcorn

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Newman’s Own 94% Fat Free. This one is irresistible, serving up buckets of popcorn crunch with nothing artificial or cardboard-y about its buttery flavor.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Smart Balance Light Butter. The butter-lover’s better, lighter popcorn.

Act II 94% Fat Free Butter. Big, fluffy kernels with great salt balance.

 

Best Raisin Bran Cereals

Photo: Manfred Koh

Raisin Bran

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. Many try, few compare. The old standard stands up to milk after some competitors become soggy. Best combination of bran crunch, tangy raisin flavor, and flakes with that classic pebbly texture.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Fiber One Raisin Bran Clusters. The fiber-seeker’s raisin bran: crunchy and sweet with a whopping 11 grams of fiber per serving.

Best Light Sour Cream

Photo: Manfred Koh

Light Sour Cream

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Daisy. Daisy has the richest, freshest flavor on the sour-cream aisle. Ideal for simply dolloping on top of a tasty baked potato.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Organic Valley. Close to full-fat flavor with its tangy taste and creamy texture.

Target Market Pantry. So thick and luscious that one tester thought it might be mascarpone cheese.

Best Firm Tofu (water-packed)

Photo: Manfred Koh

Firm Tofu (water-packed)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Melissa’s Organic. A slight nuttiness keeps this tofu interesting, and its meaty consistency will stand up well to stir-fries or even bold curries.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Nasoya Organic. Try this if you like a softer sort of firmness: still stands up to wok-browning, but more delicate, less dense.

Tree of Life. Chewy, curdlike tofu with lots of body and soy flavor: ideal for soups, stir-fries, or browning.

Best Long-Grain Brown Rice

Photo: Manfred Koh

Long-Grain Brown Rice

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Lundberg Family Farms. Complex, nutty full-grain taste and a hearty chew. The grains remained plump and separated after cooking—a real virtue in a variety of rice that typically cooks for an hour.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Arrowhead Mills Organic. Big, moist grains with a hint of popcorn flavor.

 

Best Light Vanilla Ice Creams

Photo: Manfred Koh

Light Vanilla Ice Cream

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Turkey Hill Vanilla Bean. You don’t want light to seem light, and Turkey Hill doesn’t. Abundant vanilla flavor (with vanilla bean specks), creamy texture, pleasing mouthfeel—and 3g less saturated fat per 1/2-cup serving than the full-fat variety.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Edy’s Slow Churned (Dreyer’s on the West Coast). Supercreamy with an intense vanilla flavor.

Cannellini Beans

Photo: Manfred Koh

Cannellini Beans

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Progresso. Stock up on cannellinis for salads and stews: They offer 5g of fiber per 100-calorie serving and lots of rustic flavor and texture. Some beans pour from the can soggy, even gummy, but not these. Great bean flavor with no metallic taste. 

TASTE TEST AWARD: Goya. Perfect chewy texture, and a good salt balance even after rinsing.

 

Best Unsalted Everyday Butter

Photo: Manfred Koh

Unsalted Everyday Butter

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Target Market Pantry. Superior creamy texture at a great price—about $2 a pound. This is the butter to stock up on for this year’s holiday-baking marathon.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Borden. Light, almost fluffy texture that incorporates easily into a recipe.

Whole Foods 365 Organic. A good basic-butter choice if you’re looking for organic.

Wal-Mart Great Value. Clean, clear butter flavor.

 

Best Whole-Wheat Spaghetti Noodles

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Spaghetti (whole-wheat)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Gia Russa. With a wheaty goodness reminiscent of brown rice, this sturdy noodle begs for a hearty sauce like puttanesca or Bolognese.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Racconto. True wheat flavor, but there’s nothing grainy about the texture. Pair with bold, chunky sauces.

Target Archer Farms. Great for those just starting down the whole-wheat pasta path. A subtler flavor for subtler sauces—basic marinara would be perfect.

Best Canned Albacore Tuna

Photo: Manfred Koh

Albacore Tuna (packed in water)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value. What you want from canned tuna are distinct, meaty flakes, and that’s exactly what you get here—plus clean, pure tuna taste.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Crown Prince Natural. Fresh, not-too-fishy flavor and firm texture make this a great everyday option.

 

Best Chicken and Apple Sausage

Photo: Manfred Koh

Chicken and Apple Sausage

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Lou’s Famous. We looked far and wide for sausages with healthy salt levels (less than 200mg per ounce), and finally found Lou’s: a flavor-packed punch of pepper, sage, and sweet apple with just 185mg sodium per ounce.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Al Fresco Sweet Apple. As delectably juicy as the pork version, but with about half the calories and almost 80% less saturated fat.

 

Best Soy Milk

Photo: Manfred Koh

Soy Milk (plain, light)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Target Archer Farms. Stands out for its nice, thick, creamy texture and light sweetness.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Silk. 30% fewer calories than regular, with a light, quenching consistency, delicate flavor, and balanced sweetness.

Best Greek Yogurt

Photo: Manfred Koh

Plain, Nonfat Greek Yogurt

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Fage. This is the brand that started the craze, and it’s the gold-medal standard. Beautifully thick, creamy, with a strong tangy kick. You’ll like every ingredient on the list; no stabilizers or thickeners.

TASTE TEST AWARDS: Chobani. Supersmooth with slightly less tang than our winner, making it ideal for use in recipes or for anyone who wants less tartness.

Voskos Organic. So thick and luscious that it would be a great swap for full-fat sour cream.

Best Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice

Photo: Manfred Koh

Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Uncle Ben’s. We couldn’t believe how tasty this rice is—and how quickly it’s ready (about 10 minutes). Grains are fluffy and distinct, not mushy or watery, and its nutty flavor makes this so much more than a dutiful health-food choice.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Success. Pleasantly tender with just the right amount of al dente bite.

Best Lower-Sodium Soy Sauce

Photo: Manfred Koh

Lower-Sodium Soy Sauce

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Kikkoman. Soy sauce is like butter: You want maximum flavor in a small amount. Kikkoman wins for its thickness and meaty flavor.

TASTE TEST AWARD: Target Market Pantry. Dark, strong, with an intense smoky character.

 

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