Each year, Americans spend almost $300 million on supermarket stuffings. We figured that these products, much like frozen pie crusts, are purchased for the sake of convenience (just add water and butter and serve), shoppers knowing all the while that they're sacrificing taste and texture. But $300 million is a serious vote of consumer confidence, so we decided to hold a blind tasting to fairly judge the quality of store-bought stuffings.
We purchased eight popular brands of herb-flavored stuffing, and it was immediately clear from the ingredient list that fresh, natural flavors had been discarded for the usual suspects: MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, yeast, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oils, caramel color, BHT, propyl gallate, and the like. Chicken stock appeared in just three brands, and flavorful herbs were few and far between. Only one contained herbs other than parsley (rosemary, thyme, sage, and basil), but they came in at the bottom of the ingredients list. Although the labeling on another bag promised that its contents were seasoned with "five savory herbs," only "spices" were listed as an ingredient.
So how did they taste? Well, every brand was a far cry from the real thing. In addition to poor flavor (from bland and murky to strongly objectionable), the stuffings suffered from textural extremes—all were panned as either "pasty" and "gummy" or "dry" and "chewy." Why not buy a packaged stuffing and doctor it up with fresh, high-quality ingredients? A nice idea in theory, but why try to fix something that is so obviously broken? With just a little extra work, you can a make stuffing from scratch that will turn out a lot better.
In the end, the stuffings that made it to the top of our list were put there not because of their great flavor or texture but because they were "not objectionable." As one taster wrote, "The best, but so what?"
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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