Like much of the ocean’s bounty, fresh-off-the-boat crabmeat is best—sweet and tender with a touch of salinity. Most of the crabmeat eaten in this country, however, isn’t fresh, but prepackaged Blue Swimming Crab from the South Pacific. Packaged crabmeat often doesn’t cost much less than freshly shucked meat, and even the cheapest brands are shockingly expensive compared with other processed seafood like tuna or salmon—anywhere from $0.90 to almost $2.00 per ounce. The advantage is that, unlike fresh crabmeat, the packaged kind (which comes both refrigerated and canned) is readily available in most supermarkets.
To find a worthy substitute for fresh crabmeat, we sampled five nationally available brands of crabmeat both straight from the package and in our recipe for crab cakes. We ruled out finer, flakier backfin meat (made from pieces that fall apart during extraction from the shell) from the start, choosing to test only more desirable lump and jumbo lump meat.
In both the straight tasting and our crab cakes, we strongly preferred the two refrigerated products—and for good reason. To be shelf-stable, most canned crabmeat is typically pressure-heated at high temperatures (220 to 250 degrees), but the trade-off is drier, chewier meat (our tasters described some of the canned brands as “fibrous” and “cardboard-y”). Manufacturers of canned crabmeat also often add additives such as citric acid to prevent discoloration or offset moisture loss during heat processing, but some don’t do the meat any favors; we found products with added citric acid, like our least two least favorite brands, mushy and spongy. Refrigerated crabmeat, on the other hand, is typically processed at lower temperatures (182 to 190 degrees) and is considerably juicier and more tender—and also pricier. Our favorite boasts “sweet,” “meaty,” and “plump” pieces that most closely resemble fresh crabmeat—a product we think is worth the $1.69-per-ounce splurge every now and then. Our canned Best Buy, processed at a lower temperature than most other shelf-stable products (220 degrees), is an acceptable, slightly more economical ($1.38 per ounce) alternative.
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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