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
September 05, 2012
1 of 14Photo: 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.
2 of 14Photo: 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.
3 of 14Photo: 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.
4 of 14Photo: 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.
5 of 14Photo: 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.
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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.
7 of 14Photo: 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.
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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.
9 of 14Photo: 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
14 of 14Photo: 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.