The suave Suzette sauce derives her elegance, at least in part, from the dynamic duo of cognac and orange liqueur. When making crêpes Suzette, should you shell out big bucks for a name brand or will something cheaper, like triple sec or Curaçao, work just fine? And does the same choice serve as the best blend in a mixed drink like sangría and margaritas?
To find out, we started by tasting different brands of the two relatively inexpensive orange liqueurs, triple sec and Curaçao. Sweet, clear triple sec is, like most flavored cordials, a generic, vodka-based spirit. It is a simple mixture of vodka, artificial orange flavors, and fructose (a form of sugar found in fruits) flavored with the peels of both sweet and bitter oranges (and sometimes lemons, too). We tasted eight brands.
Curaçao is flavored only with the peel of bitter oranges, specifically those native to the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Manufacturers may tint their Curaçao blue, green, orange, or amber, but color does not affect the flavor. We tasted two brands.
Orange-infused cognac is well known to most home cooks as Grand Marnier, but there are other brands, which are usually less expensive. Oranges of various types are harvested, pulped, and laid out to dry and ferment in the sun, which preserves the pungent oils in the skins. This orange essence is combined with cognac, a brandy made from grapes and aged in oak barrels. We tasted Grand Marnier and six lesser-known orange-infused cognacs.
The other prestigious name in orange liqueurs is Cointreau, made by combining the peels of bitter Caribbean and sweet Spanish and Brazilian oranges with neutral spirits, cane sugar, and water. This mixture is distilled in steam-heated copper stills and filtered of any impurities before bottling. The result is a clear orange liqueur that is higher in alcohol and drier in flavor than the contemporary spirits.
First we sampled each straight up and then in sangría and margaritas. For these mixed drinks we found a winner. Then we turned to cooking. We tasted three winners of our straight tasting against the two premium choices in crêpes Suzette. Our conclusion? Although the high-priced liqueurs might be better for sipping, for cooking we found that the cheaper choices were just fine.
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|
For complete access to the results,
start a 14-Day Free Trial.
Start Your 14-Day Free Trial Membership
Every Recipe. Every Rating. Every Video from
Every Magazine & Every Episode!
- 8 years of Cook’s Country Foolproof Recipes
- Complete Cook’s Country TV Video Library
- 2,900+ Equipment Ratings and Ingredient Taste Tests
- Step-by-Step Technique Photos
- Save Favorites, Create Menus, Print Shopping Lists