Canned Baked Beans
Since they are so mild, white beans are often cooked with plenty of salt, sugar, and pork—the alchemy that makes baked beans so popular. And while baked beans are a staple of backyard gatherings, few of us bother to make them from scratch. Canned baked beans deliver convenience, especially in the heat of summer. But are they any good?
We gathered cans from industry leaders and three vegetarian-style brands. We rounded out our lineup with an outlier: a pork and bean product that isn’t technically baked beans but was deemed close enough (through pre-tasting). All the beans were heated in saucepans and sampled plain by our panel of 22 tasters. Our preferences quickly fell into line: We liked sweet, slightly firm beans.
Surprisingly, a meatless product came out on top, just ahead of two well-known brands. Tasters rated these three brands the sweetest, and a check of the ingredient list confirmed that they did indeed contain the most sugars. The top three brands were also judged to have the best texture, which makes sense when you consider that sugar slows the softening process (our tasters liked beans with a little bite).
More important, the type of sweetener had a big impact on flavor. Our top four brands all contain molasses, a classic baked bean seasoning that adds complexity and depth. Our three least-favorite brands rely on high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice and maple syrup, and sorghum (respectively) instead. Finally, the three lowest-ranked brands contain tomato puree, which made the beans taste inappropriately “ketchup-y”; the recommended brands are not made with any tomato product.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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