Properly balancing sweet and tart makes the difference in a winning preserve.
How We Tested
Trailing only grape jelly, strawberry preserves are America's second-favorite spreadable fruit. We rounded up eight nationally available brands of strawberry preserves and headed into the tasting lab to see which one we liked best. Two familiar names were our big winners. Our tasters preferred these brands because they didn't taste too sweet, and they packed big, distinct strawberry flavor. Interestingly, these two preserves contain more total sugar (from the fruit as well as sugar and/or corn syrup) per serving than most other brands, and yet they weren't perceived as too sweet. Why?
First, not all sugars are equally sweet. Some of our samples listed their primary sweetener as sugar, which tastes sweeter than the corn syrup listed first on the winner's label. Second, the amount of acid (citric acid or lemon juice concentrate) added to balance the sugar had a big impact on overall flavor. We measured the pH (the acidity or alkalinity) of each sample and found that the brands tasters had called too sweet (had the highest pH readings, indicating that they were least acidic. Lower pH readings--signifying more added acid--generally translated into better, more-rounded strawberry flavor.
Our lowest-scoring brands were judged to have the weakest strawberry flavor--no surprise considering neither brand uses strawberries as its primary ingredient.
Testers weren't too concerned about texture. As long as there was a noticeable combination of "jellied" matter and fruit chunks, they were pretty happy.