Sweet Pickle Relish
The main ingredients of sweet pickle relish are revealed upon tasting it: cucumbers, sugar, vinegar, and salt. Yet when we took a close look at the labels of commercially prepared relishes, we were surprised to find cauliflower, cabbage, "spice," and dehydrated peppers on some of the lists. Given the differences in manufacturers' recipes, we had to wonder whether the right (or wrong) brand of pickle relish could make or break our potato salad recipe.
To find out, we shopped local supermarkets and returned to the test kitchen with six samples. We then prepared six potato salads, using a different relish in each. The results were far from conclusive, with tasters finding only minor differences between the samples. Clearly, the other ingredients in the potato salad made it difficult to detect any nuance contributed by a few tablespoons of relish.
Contrarily, tasting relish straight from the jar produced decisive results. The only organic brand in the group, won first prize. This relish has a drab gray-green hue, surely because it lacks yellow dye #5, an ingredient in every other relish in the tasting. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in flavor, which tasters described as "piquant," "sweet," "fresh," and "natural". Our runner-up radiates a shocking glow-in-the-dark color and won tasters over with its "crunchy" texture and "mustardy" flavor.
The losing relishes had a number of problems, including mushy, soft cucumber bits, strange spices (tasters detected cinnamon and clove flavors in one relish), and an abundance of high fructose corn syrup.
Here's the lesson: If you are adding relish to a dish with many competing flavors, use whatever is already in your fridge. But if the relish is to be the star condiment for a perfectly grilled hot dog-—don't get yourself in a pickle by choosing a lousy relish-—choose carefully.
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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