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June/July 2014

Peach Preserves

We tested five brands to find our favorite peach flavor.

How We Tested

We like peach preserves on toast, with cheese, in desserts, and in a sweet glaze on smoky barbecue. We included both jams and preserves in our taste test because they are processed identically (preserves sometimes contain larger chunks of fruit) and we liked both in past tastings.

First off, tasters demanded strong, tangy, fresh peach flavor and marked down one product for being overly sweet. A perfectly ripe peach is sweet, but this bottom-ranking product went overboard. Yet when we checked nutrition labels, we found that it had the same amount of sugar as our top-ranking preserves—9 grams per tablespoon—so why did tasters find one product too sugary and the other just right? Sugar in jam comes from both fruit and added sugars. The overly sweet product is the only one that adds more sugar than peaches; the rest add more peaches than sugar and tasters found them to be more complex, tangy, and fruity, with a measured sweetness. Type of sugar was key, too—we preferred products made with granulated sugar to those sweetened with corn syrup or fruit concentrates, both of which tasters found cloying.

Texture was equally important; tasters liked preserves that were loose and spreadable and downgraded those that were superfirm or gelatinous. Here the culprit was pectin, a carbohydrate found naturally in fruit that makes jams thicken during cooking. Most manufacturers add powdered or liquid pectin, too, so we were interested to find that our top-rated product contains no extra pectin. When we asked its maker about its preserves, we learned that the company chooses peach varieties rich in natural pectin and processes them in a multistage, small-batch method to protect the fruit’s taste. The result of this careful process is not only a looser texture but also a fuller peach flavor. Among the products with added pectin, we preferred those that list it at the end of the ingredient list. Tasters liked the spreadable texture of these products and were put off by products with firm, Jell-O-like stiffness.

In the end, the supermarket peach jams we reviewed were overall very good: We can fully recommend four of the five jams we tasted. That said, one product was the standout winner. Tasters liked its bold, ripe peach taste and balanced sweetness, but at more than double the cost of any other jam in our lineup, we’ll splurge on it when eating it plain on biscuits or toast. When we used each product in baking and cooking, the differences weren’t as noticeable and we found all products suitable as an ingredient.

Methodology

To find the best peach spread, we gathered 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers and sampled five national products plain, and in both sweet and savory recipe applications.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.