A classic, any way you slice it

When it comes to pound cake, traditional flavors count

There are few better accompaniments to fresh berries than a slice of pound cake, that perfectly balanced classic originally made with one pound butter, one pound sugar, and one pound flour. Now the formulas vary, but it’s always plain, unfrosted, dense, and rich.

We tasted five brands of pound cake, unadorned. Berries and ice cream came later. Cakes range from dense and compact (like frozen Sara Lee Pound Cake) to light and fluffy (Entenmann’s All Butter Loaf Cake). Contrary to the advertising jingle, nobody among our pound cake pundits really liked Sara Lee. She was voted least favorite by six of the 10 tasters. “I’ve seen sponges that have more texture,’’ said one.

Everyone went for the ringer in the group, a cake made from a mix (all others are sold already baked). Betty Crocker Pound Cake Mix, to which you add eggs, butter, and milk, came in first. Cake mix aficionados caught on immediately. “Smells like store-bought box cake mix, which is a good thing, if you ask me,’’ announced one.

Alas, the list of stabilizers in some of these confections is staggering. The one from Roche Bros., called “Our Own 100% Butter Pound Cake,’’ is the closest to made-from-scratch with only seven ingredients. The loaves are baked on the premises and frozen immediately. Other brands contain up to 18 ingredients.

One taster always requests pound cake for her birthday and advised us how to prepare leftovers.

“Toast slices in a dry skillet or toaster oven. There is plenty of butter in the loaf without adding more.’’ Then, of course, pile on berries and ice cream.

Betty Crocker Pound Cake Mix WINNER!


Prepare this mix and you get two 8-inch loaves and a kitchen that smells like imitation vanilla. Two ounces of butter give the cake a buttery finish, but that’s the only real butter in it. Several tasters gave Betty thumbs up for appearance: “Nicely browned.’’ “Healthy look makes it seem less naughty to indulge.’’ But one thought it had a “painful, rocky’’ look. “Outside color is quite light and it is hard on the top. Tastes like it’s from a mix.’’ (Astute.) Many found the cake’s texture to be “light, almost like angel food cake.’’ “Fluffy’’ and “airy,’’ said others. “Very vanilla. Great aroma. Not too greasy!’’ Another: “A lot of vanilla. Nice smell and texture, but a little dry on the edges.’’

Capitol Old Fashioned Golden Pound Cake

$1.19 for 10 ounces

This was the bargain of the lot. The label says “golden’’ but should say “lemon.’’ Every taster detected citrus flavoring. “Fruity taste,’’ said one. Another: “I like the lemon flavor.’’ “Has a very sweet orange taste.’’ “Tantalizing citrus aftertaste.’’ The appearance bothered some. “Points off for paper wrapping,’’ said one. Others: “greasy,’’ “extremely sweet,’’ and “processed.’’ Then again, one person’s greasy was another’s “melts in your mouth.’’

Entenmann’s All Butter Loaf Cake

$4.29 for 11.5 ounces

Entenmann’s blue and white package is a supermarket standard. This was the most yellow cake of the batch, garnering comments like “bright easy appearance,’’ “looks homemade,’’ and “looks buttery.’’ That buttery quality made it seem “naughty to eat’’ for one taster. For another: “The split across the top is very attractive. It looks appetizing and moist. But looks are misleading. Only the top was moist, the rest is dry. It actually tastes more like pancakes than pound cake.’’ Two chose it as a favorite because they liked the moist texture, sweet taste, “pleasant light flavor,’’ and “good vanilla taste.’’

Roche Bros.

$3.99 for 16 ounces

Wow, this is a pound cake! And one true to the claim of 100 percent butter. Two chose it as their favorite: “The top rose up and is golden brown with a split down the middle. From looks alone I was most excited about this one. Very dense and buttery, tastes most like a pound cake. The top is sugary and pleasant.’’ Seems that most loved the crust, “Looks really good, like I want to pick just at the top, like a muffin,’’ said one. “Cookie-like exterior,’’ “great crust! Most homemade looking!’’ Judgments of the texture ranged from “dense’’ to “very dense’’ to “super dense.’’ You get the picture.

Sara Lee All Butter Pound Cake

$3.99 for 10.75 ounces

This familiar pound cake, from the freezer case, is often used as a base for layered desserts with fruit and cream. Going solo didn’t win it any compliments. “A little industrial.’’ “Strange, artificial appearance on top.’’ “Very flat top, doesn’t look appetizing. It tastes like frozen Sara Lee. Taste is very ordinary. I like bland, which is why I like pound cake, but this is pushing it.’’ Someone else picked up on this too: “Tastes and looks like frozen pound cake.’’ It wasn’t all bad. “Nice vanilla tones,’’ “sweet and creamy,’’ “not too rich or sweet,’’ “nice, unremarkable appearance,’’ and “overall, average.’’

© Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Which is the better butter?

March 10, 2010

Few things taste better than crusty bread spread with butter. Real butter. Many families have banned bread and butter from their tables, but restaurants are serving premium butters again, rather than presenting little dishes of olive oil. We tasted seven brands of unsalted butter, first just the butter, then some of it on a slice of rustic bread. It was a decadent event.

Three of the American brands are made in New England: Kate’s Homemade Butter in Maine; Vermont Cultured Butter, European Style; and High Lawn Farm Unsalted Butter in Lee. Two were imported, from France and Ireland.

Plugrá European Style, made in Winnsboro, Texas, was the big winner. A Belgian taster wondered if the name were taken from the French “plus gras,’’ which means more fat. In this case it was more taste. American regulations require 80 percent butter fat in a product for it to be called butter. European-style butter generally has 85 percent butter fat and is churned, which lowers the moisture, making it very good for using in browning and baking.

With its deep hue, Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter looked like it had been dipped in a pot of gold. It was least favorite. According to the company’s website, cows munch on grass rich in beta carotene. One taster said it was the color of “cinema buttered popcorn’’ and others didn’t like it, either.

Some butters were cultured, which means a slight fermentation of the cream or milk, giving them a soft tang. Several tasters picked up on this - but not in a good way; they thought the butters were “off.’’ All were well within their sell-by dates.

Ingredients typically listed just one word: milk or cream. What a relief. And without salt, noted one in the group, the taste was “more genuine.’’ Please pass the bread.

Plugrá European Style WINNER!
Unsalted Butter
$4.99 for 8 ounces

“My favorite butter from France’’; “French or European,’’ declared two tasters. This is an American-made butter, which comes in a half-pound rectangle. Plugrá is part of Keller’s Creamery, which represents several brands (Breakstone and Borden’s among them) and is part of the cooperative Dairy Farmers of America. The website says the butter has 82 percent butterfat and is “churned in the old world style’’ which adds more air and makes it less moist. Our tasters enjoyed it. “The sweet pleasant mild flavor and perfect color.’’ “Best color and texture.’’ “Like the shape.’’ “Creamy nice texture and nice taste.’’ One said “fattier.’’

Celles sur Belle
Premium Churn Unsalted Butter
$4.29 for 8 ounces

This butter from the Poitou-Charentes region in western France comes in a rectangular shape. It was instantly identified as a European brand by several and had one favorite vote: “Import quality, not American butter.’’ The texture was described as “creamy’’ by several people. Others commented: “Light and mild taste,’’ “pale yellow and pale taste,’’ “sweet, delicious and mild.’’ The color worked against the brand for one: “Pale color. Looks like lard.’’

High Lawn Farm
Unsalted Butter
$5.99 for 16 ounces

This home-grown company from Lee got low marks for its packaging. “The fact that this butter is in a tub works against it. You take it less seriously because of that.’’ “Reminds me of margarine.’’ People found the taste “average,’’ “not much flavor,’’ “airy.’’ Some found the texture “heavy and hard,’’ “brittle,’’ “OK on bread.’’

Kate’s Homemade Butter
$5.39 for 16 ounces

Little Kate and her red kerchief are very appealing on this Maine butter, which comes in a box with four 4-ounce bars. Most tasters found it lacking in flavor: “Least buttery,’’ “not much taste,’’ “short on flavor.’’ Many liked the texture: “Very creamy and smooth,’’ “creamiest,’’ “tastes good with bread.’’

Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter
$2.69 for 8 ounces

Kerrygold is made in a rectangular shape. Those happy grass-fed Emerald Isle cows produce a very golden butter, whose color was a detraction. “Looks like margarine.’’ “Very yellow; oily with a margarine taste.’’ “Yellow. Strange aftertaste when tasted alone. Less pronounced when eaten with bread.’’ Others: “I like the look that is more yellow. Tastes better with bread.’’ “Nice color, great taste.’’ Two said the texture was “oily,’’ “greasy.’’ “It left a film on my tongue.’’ “A bit of a smell (buttery?) which I didn’t find that pleasing but it definitely tasted good on the bread.’’

Land O’Lakes
Unsalted Sweet Butter
$2.50 for 16 ounces

The brand with the iconic (and controversial) Native American woman kneeling before a lake is the butter most Americans know best. “Subtle smell. Smooth and velvety. Tastes like the brand I usually eat? Pleasant both on and off bread.’’ Most noted its taste: “Light, not full flavor.’’ “Sweet and mild.’’ “Watery flavor.’’ “I can taste vegetable oil.’’ The color was described as “pale.’’ On the texture: “Bit of an oily aftertaste.’’ “Creamy mouth feel.’’

Vermont Cultured Butter

European Style
$4.99 for 8 ounces

This butter comes in a half-pound cylinder. “Surprised this tasted sour in comparison to others. I believe this is from Normandy and I usually love their butter.’’ (It’s made in Vermont.) “A little too oily. Better for cooking than eating, but good taste.’’ “Soft, smooth, melts in your mouth, spreadable.’’ As for flavor: “Bland, fat taste.’’ “Mild. No aftertaste.’’ “Not much taste on bread either. Greasier.’’ The appearance put one off: “Looks like a yellow sausage tube.’

Navigating a veritable sea of tuna salads

For many people, tuna salad is the ultimate lunch, spread between hearty slices of toast, tucked inside a sub roll, or scooped onto shredded lettuce. It’s filling and deliciously old-fashioned.

Eight people tasted prepared tuna salads from the deli departments of four supermarkets and one delicatessen. Of the five sampled, only Barry’s Village Deli in Newton is made daily on the premises. Roche Bros.’s prepared tuna salad is made in Haverhill and delivered four times a week; Whole Foods Market delivers six days a week from their commissary in Everett; Shaw’s does a cross-county trip from Oregon three times a week; Stop & Shop did not answer calls to tell us where theirs was made.

Textures range from chunky to pureed. “I like chunks of tuna,’’ one taster said. It turned out she was eating Buck’s tuna from Whole Foods. Stop & Shop offers a creamy puree. Tasters found Barry’s sweet, Roche Bros. zesty. A constant in all the salads is mayo and celery, but after that each entry is different. They include pickle relish and onions. An unexpected add-in is matzoh meal. What’s matzoh meal doing in tuna? Stabilizing, probably.

Colors range from shades of white to pinky tan. Barry’s, Roche Bros., and Whole Foods Market use white albacore; Shaw’s and Stop & Shop use light tuna.

Roche Bros. was the winner. It’s made by food purveyor Hans Kissle in Haverhill. Barry’s was a close second. “We sell at least 200 pounds of the stuff a week,’’ says Barry’s manager Scotti Leslie. It’s a popular item elsewhere too. “It’s one of our top sellers in prepared foods,’’ says Robin Rehfield of Whole Foods Market North Atlantic region.

Each of the candidates got at least one favorite vote; Shaw’s got three. When all the tasting was done, the crew topped whole wheat bread with their favorite spread, added tomato and lettuce and sat down for a classic lunch, sweet pickles and chips on the side.

Barry’s Village Deli
$8.99 a pound

If you like your tuna on the sweet side you’ll love his version. Some tasters didn’t: “Very sweet and relishy - not a big fan. The tuna flavor is mild and consistency is OK.’’ Then: “Sweet! I love it! You can feel the freshness.’’ “What’s that seasoning? Sugar? Spice? Something nice,’’ another wrote. (In fact, it’s sweet pickle relish.) “Pleasant taste and smell, grainy texture but a distinctive flavor.’’ “Low mayo ratio,’’ said another. Scotti Leslie of Barry’s says the shop uses a high-quality low-fat mayonnaise. Several noted the texture, “I like the chunky tuna in this one, tastes fresher, but a bit too sweet.’’

$6.99 a pound

The creamiest of the lot. “The tuna is so pureed it is practically a spread. A very smooth texture and noticeably light color; you can definitely taste the mayonnaise in this one.’’ “Run of the mill, ’’ announced another. “Tastes a bit processed. Not enough lemon or onion.’’ “Salty and not appetizing.’’

Stop & Shop
$5.99 a pound

The other creamy entry. This is the salad that lists matzoh meal in the ingredients. “Looks like flesh-colored mayonnaise. Too creamy and mushy feeling. Slight fishy taste.’’ “Tuna puree is more like it,’’ said another. “Far too processed. No lemon, no onion, just sugar.’’ One thought the consistency was a plus: “Very creamy but with a nice addition of pickles. Distinct shiny color and perfect for spreading.’’ Another: “Looks gooey, pinkish, and tastes good.’’

Roche Bros. Winner!
$6.99 a pound

This is the salad that the tasters found most balanced and interesting, without sweetness. Ingredients include white tuna, celery, mayonnaise, garlic salt, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. “Good taste, texture, and the balance between tuna and onion is good. Perhaps a bit more lemon would be good.’’ “This one tastes the most fresh! Not too sweet.’’ “Good honest tuna salad. Just crunchy enough, not sweet, like homemade.’’ “Smooth texture, with nice crunchy bites mingling with the tuna.’’ The lone detractor said, “No imagination, not particularly snazzy, but you know, it’s fish.’’

Whole Foods Market’s Buck’s Tuna Salad
$7.99 a pound

A Whole Foods team member named Buck submitted her favorite recipe for an in-house contest and Buck’s tuna became a favorite among many consumers. It’s simple: albacore tuna, mayo, red onion, and celery. Many noted that onion taste: “Lots of red onion and lemon (not sure about that), but slightly dry. Strong fishy smell and taste, which is not nice.’’ “Onion?’’ was the single comment from another. Several noted the size of the tuna chunks: “Very creamy in both taste and texture, the large-ish pieces of the tuna still manage to feel dry. I don’t find any flavor.’’ (The store uses dry-pack albacore.) “You can actually taste tuna meat in here, not tuna puree like most others. Problem is there is no other flavor.’’ “Tastes OK, but very dense mouth feel.’’ “I like the chunks in this one, tastes fresh.’’

Squeeze in some lemon sorbet

By Debra Samuels, Globe Correspondent

September 9, 2009

Lemon sorbet is a refreshing dessert any time of year. At the end of summer, when local fruits are in the markets, pair them with a cool scoop of lemony ice and add a crisp cookie.

We sat down to taste six brands of lemon sorbet and among 16 tasters there was no clear favorite. Ciao Bella Lemon Sorbetto, with four votes, edged out three others with three votes each. “Most intense lemon flavor and best palate cleanser,’’ was heard repeatedly. But neither was there a clear loser; 365 Meyer Lemon Sorbet (Whole Foods Market’s house brand) was turned away by four tasters with “bitter’’ being the most common remark.

Sorbet is generally defined as containing water, fruit juice or pulp, and sugar. That’s what each brand contains, plus stabilizers and preservatives. Most are labeled “naturally fat-free.’’ Sorbet is often confused with sherbet, its creamier cousin, which can contain dairy and sometimes egg whites. That said, ingredients vary. Sorbet recipes are also made with dairy products such as cream and half-and-half. Gus Rancatore, owner of Toscanini’s and maker of icy confections, says, “I’m a traditionalist. Sherbet has milk or egg whites.’’ Many chefs ask Rancatore to make sorbets using dairy products because, he says, chefs don’t live in a rigid world of definitions.

None of our brands contain dairy or eggs. Tasting a particularly creamy sorbet, like Stop & Shop’s Lemon Sorbetto, one of our crew wrote “this is not sorbet!’’ Well apparently it is. The texture comes from stabilizers such as carrageenan, pectin, guar gum, and xanthan gum. This would explain the “gelatinous’’ and “gummy’’ comments leveled at several brands, which by the way, were easier to scoop. But “creamy’’ can also come from whipping, which is why many recipes for homemade sorbet encourage immediate consumption.

As for color, all of the brands sampled are white, with one exception. Sharon’s is lemon yellow - really turmeric yellow. The color put some tasters off: “How artificial looking! It must be food coloring,’’ one said. Others found the color to be “luscious’’ and an eye-appealing “baby-chick yellow.’’

Most sorbets are flavored with lemon juice concentrate, which could include flavorings and sugar. Only Ciao Bella has plain lemon juice and rind among its ingredient list.

Ciao Bella Lemon (Limone)
$4.99 for 1 pint
This brand was lauded for its lemony taste and grainy texture. Lemon juice is the second ingredient, the highest proportion among the competitors. “This has the most intense lemon flavor and would be the best palate cleanser.’’ “Nice icy consistency, tastes like it might have some peel in it.’’ “Delicious, looks like a sorbet. Consistency is nice and fresh.’’ Another: “Yum-o. Nice fruity flavor with a crisp texture.’’ “Acid not creamy too sherbet-y.’’ “Tangy and sweet.’’ “Icy, tastes artificial.’’ Others: “Tastes a little like Mr. Clean smells - pine-scented kitchen cleaner. But the texture is nice.’’ “Light on flavor and substance.’’

Haägen-Dazs Fat-Free Sorbet Zesty Lemon
$3.99 for 1 pint
“Good texture and plenty of flavor but also has a medicine-y aftertaste that is off-putting.’’ “A bit of a bitter after-taste. Too creamy. Something other than lemon is in back.’’ “OK for bitter lemon sorbet. It is too sweet and too bitter. Lacks the tart clean taste of fresh lemon and peel.’’ “Nice white smooth looking. No scent. Very smooth quite metallic, false lemon flavor.’’ “Dreadful glop of bitterness.’’ “A nice smooth blend of lemon and sweet.’’ “Good creamy.’’ “Did they add a lot of lemon flavor? Too sweet.’’ “No taste of lemon really.’’ And from one who chose it as a favorite: “Full rich ice creamy, tangy; too lemony chemical aftertaste. But still good.’’ What kind of endorsement is that?

Sharon’s All Natural Fat Free Lemon Sorbet
$2.69 for 1 pint
(This brand got three favorite votes and three least favorite.) “Tastes like mom’s lemon meringue pie!’’ “Bold lemon flavor and luscious yellow color. Love the crunch.’’ “Tart, icy, lemony . . . delicious.’’ Not everyone gushed over the color. “Why so yellow? More crunchy than smooth. My tooth hurts. First sweet, then turns sour.’’ More texture comments: “Not very creamy, but subtly lemony taste. Better once it thawed a bit. Artificial yellow color.’’ “Seems like real lemon, maybe a bit bitter in the aftertaste.’’ “Looks grainy, no smell at all.’’ “Smooth icy.’’ “Too yellow, too sweet.’’ “Consistency is not very smooth. More like flavored ice.’’

Stop & Shop Simply Enjoy Lemon Sorbetto
$4.49 for 1 liter (half gallon)
(Got three favorite votes and three least favorites.) Easiest of all to scoop. “This is not sorbet. Gelatinous texture after-feel on tongue. Overly sweet. Too much lemon oil, not enough fresh lemon.’’ “White like snowflakes. Smooth tangy refreshing, opens up the taste buds.’’ “Bitter lemon tastes artificial. Too creamy for sorbet.’’ “Very sweet, not real lemony.’’ (Lemon appears as the fifth ingredient; most other brands list it third or fourth.) “Creamy, a little bitterness in mouth.’’ “Love the smell, texture, and taste of this sorbet. It has the right amount of sweetness.’’ “Smooth, sort of creamy, light lemon flavor.’’ “White color, creamy smooth consistency, mild initial flavor, tart aftertaste.’’ “Lemony scent with a bit of extract smell. Lovely texture. Very smooth no granules. False lemon flavor. All extract, no real lemon bitter edge.’’

Whole Foods Market 365 Meyer Lemon Sorbet
$3.39 for 1 pint
“Very smooth, nice blend of sweet and tart.’’ “Remote flavor of lemon like it was near a lemon at some point. Texture is not unpleasant, just not good.’’ “Least sweet and has an aftertaste which is bitter. Texture is smooth and creamy.’’ “Bitter and too much stabilizer.’’ “White, very creamy, astringent.’’ “Gummy - OK acceptable.’’ “Creamy and a little bitter.’’ “This is too thick and acidic. Tart without lemony flavor.’’ “Rich, too lemony, too intense, smooth.’’ “Smooth white, looks like there might be flecks of rind. Lemon scent is extract-y. Flavor is bitter, too much extract but right amount of sugar. Too bad about the bitterness - it has that metallic bitter edge but nice smooth texture.’’ “Consistency excellent.’’

Whole Fruit Sorbet Lemon
$2.69 for 1 pint
Some commented: “No artificial color’’ and “nice off-white looks, smooth, scent is soft lemon.’’ Others: “Feels chemical and smooth.’’ “Not bad for a lemony sherbet. Lemon-ish and not too sweet. More creamy than I like a sorbet to be.’’ “Dense full flavored. Tangy and white. More ice cream than sorbet.’’ “Color OK. Excellent lemon flavor. Not quite as icy as it could be, but really good.’’ “Very creamy with a balanced flavor and pleasant aroma. Lacking intensity.’’ “This has a great tang. Smooth texture with a lemony fragrance you expect in a lemon sorbet.’’ “Way too tart. Doesn’t have sweetish aftertaste.’’ “More authentic fresh lemon flavor. Not as strong as others.’’ “White, smooth, tart, with very little sweet.’’

The word on rotisserie bird

The aromas from five rotisserie chickens, purchased just before the tasters arrived, were so enticing that the group of six sat at the table, forks at the ready, and let out a collective "Mmm." All of the birds had come out of their ovens between 4 and 5 p.m., timed perfectly for shoppers on their way home from work.

Debra Samuels

March 25, 2009
By Debra Samuels

Globe Correspondent / March 25, 2009

The aromas from five rotisserie chickens, purchased just before the tasters arrived, were so enticing that the group of six sat at the table, forks at the ready, and let out a collective "Mmm." All of the birds had come out of their ovens between 4 and 5 p.m., timed perfectly for shoppers on their way home from work.

Many markets have the birds on view doing their slow pirouettes on spits behind glass-door ovens. When done, the chickens are packed and placed under warming lights. We chose the plain flavor each store had to offer but only one bird was truly plain. Others were roasted with spices. Shaw's supermarket, Market Basket, and Roche Bros. list ingredients that include a solution of water, salt, sodium phosphates, and sundry other items (some up to 20 percent).

The winner was Shaw's Sea Salt and Pepper chicken, chosen by four tasters, labeled Culinary Circle. A friendly staff person at Shaw's told me they cook chickens every three hours (all the stores are on similar schedules) and if you're willing to take home a cold bird, it's $2 less. "It's not old, its just cold," she said. Boston Market did not list ingredients on its package; if it did, salt would be at the top. It garnered one best vote but was deemed way too salty for the others. The only bird without spices was Whole Foods Market's, which got four least favorite votes; most found it dry and tasteless.

Prices range from $4 to $10 for a whole chicken regardless of weight. Not bad for feeding a family, considering there will probably be leftovers for a sandwich or at the very least bones for a tasty chicken soup.

Culinary Circle, a Shaw's brand ($6.99)
Packaged in a domed plastic container.
This chicken with sea salt and black pepper received consistently high scores across the categories. On appearance: "Looks appetizing, color is good." "Browned just right." "Best color - evenly roasted." Taste: "Breast is moist and delicious. Thigh is moist and tasty." "Juicy thigh; juicy breast." " Skin looks appetizing and is tasty too." "Not overcooked." Aroma: "Smells delicious." Only one didn't join the love fest: "Why no flavor? High marks for being moist, low marks for flavor."

Boston Market ($8.29)
Packaged on an aluminum tray in a lined hot bag.
The overwhelming consensus: way too salty. "More salt than could possibly be healthy. The chef must have stock in Morton's," said one. Chosen best by our resident salt lover and worst by another who found the "legs salty, and the back not done." Someone else found "thigh somewhat moist and very salty." The appearance received low marks from two for uneven coloration. "Bird doesn't look appetizing, burned markings are uneven." "Color is not attractive - too pale." As to size, "Puny," sniffed one as she examined this bird. Some found the meat and texture good. "Moist white meat, moist dark meat." "White meat is very tasty, but the skin is soft." And finally the only comment about the aroma: "There is none."

Whole Foods Market
Plain Rotisserie Chicken ($9.99)
Packaged in a domed plastic container.
Apparently chicken being the only ingredient isn't enough. And the skin wasn't appealing either. "Doesn't look done enough." "Not browned enough. Pale and on the small side." "Looks like cardboard, tastes like chalk." The texture was indeed dismissed by all with one word: "Dry." If other birds were too salty, this one lacked it entirely. "Thigh: no salt! Breast: no salt!" "It's flavorless," announced one. But another said, "Dark meat is tastier" if she had to choose between white and dark. Then this: "Tiny wings and tiny legs." As the Borscht Belt line goes: "It tasted terrible - and there wasn't enough."

Roche Bros.
The Kitchen's Rotisserie Chicken ($6.99)
Packaged in a domed plastic container.
One person was very enthusiastic and picked it as a favorite. "Most inviting, visually dark. The taste is very moist and balanced." Another echoed that. "Looked good and the breast is plump." "Dark and white meat tasty and moist." "Not too salty - good!" One liked the way it looked. "Color is good, looks appetizing." But two others thought it looked burnt. One person thought the bird "isn't easy to cut." And in spite of the chicken being carried home in the domed container, with moisture collecting inside, two tasters commented that "the skin is crispy" and "somewhat crispy."

Market Basket
Perdue Rotisserie Chicken ($3.99)
Packaged on a foam black tray wrapped with plastic wrap.
This bird received relatively good marks for appearance. "Very even color; darkest of the five." "Color is OK but looks dry." On looks and texture: "Dry, crisp outside. Moist inside." One found it to have "a mushy texture overall." But many found the "white meat dry and the dark moist." "It seems overcooked but whatever is on the coating makes it feel moist," said another. Taste drew these remarks: "It tastes good, enough salt." "The flavor is OK not spicy." "Missing a spice or two or three."

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

Bowled Over


Bowled over
By Debra Samuels
Globe Correspondent / January 7, 2009

In a supermarket, the breakfast cereal aisle is a football field-long corridor. Some of have morphed into many other brands. Recently, nine members of a food and nutrition-oriented 4-H club, ranging in age from 6 to 17, tasted five brands of toasted O's. The young group took our blind tests cereal-ously. (Couldn't resist!) First they nibbled on dry O's and then added milk. For a while, all you could hear was the sound of crunching. There were eyebrows raised pensively, requests for one more taste, and pleas for more time to finish. One thing was clear: These youngsters wanted their O's toasty and crunchy, even when submerged in milk.
All the brands are made with whole grains. Although this is typically not a sweet cereal (1 gram of sugar per 1 cup serving), sugar is the third item on the ingredient list in four of the five brands. Cascadian Farms Organic purely O's, the only cereal with no sugar, got seven pairs of thumbs down as the least favorite. Most of the cereals are similar in texture, but this one tastes like air. Trader Joe's brand, Joe's O's, was the favorite. Its first ingredient is whole grain oats, which you taste and which have an agreeable aroma. The brand Cheerios came in a close second.

Cascadian Farm Organic
purely O'sOrganic whole grain oat cereal
$4.69 for 9 ounces
This brand was often compared with an inert object: "Dry, it tasted like old paper, it tastes better with milk." "Smells like some kind of flower, sweet but appealing, but tastes like cardboard. Better after milk." One taster compared the smell to an attic. "Very pale compared to others. This egg-white looking cereal is smooth in your mouth and is awkward to chew. After adding milk the flavor is weak and gets soggy." But another thought it "maintained its crunchiness with the milk, but not the best taste." The final word: "Not sweet, tastes like cardboard. Not crunchy, horrible."

CheeriosToasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal
$3.19 for 8.9 ounces
A close second for best, three chose this as the favorite. Texture and smell were important factors for most: "Smells like toast, not very sweet, and more crunchy than the others." "Even crunchy with the milk. Also has a good after-taste." "Before milk, smells grainy, really has lots of flavor. With milk tastes good and has good texture." "Looks less hole-y and bumpy than the others. When chewing, the cereal is crunchy and tastes like freshly toasted bread." Another also said it "smelled like toast." One observer wrote this: "Different color than the others. Tastes good with milk. I think they might be Cheerios."

Food Club Original Toasted Oats
Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal
$2.50 for 15 ounces
We found this brand at Roche Bros. Not a lot of enthusiasm here but some liked the size: "O's bigger than other brands." As for the texture: "Feels kind of stale and tastes bland. Tastes the same with milk - like sawdust." "It almost looks as if it is made of Styrofoam. When I taste it, it is like Styrofoam with a very bland flavor." "The texture is crunchy and rough." Others liked the taste. "Has a nice sweetness to it, which makes it less bland. I smell honey." (There is no honey). "Not very sweet, not very sweet smelling, but very very crunchy!" "At first they are a bit stale, but as you progress the taste is OK." Another: "Blander with milk."

Stop & Shop Oats & O's
Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal
$2.69 for 15 ounces
Most of the kids commented on the texture before and after adding the milk: "Before milk, crunchy, just sort of doesn't have a taste. After milk, kind of soggy. Still no taste." "Has a sweet smell, but tastes bland. The texture is crunchy. With the milk it is still bland, but got soggy quickly." A "sweet smell" appeared on many comments. Another who chose it as a favorite wrote: "It looked bland at first. When I tasted it, it was crunchy and seemed to dissolve in my mouth. It reminds me of my own toasted O's that I eat at home." Several thought the milk helped. "Milk adds more flavor." Our youngest gestured with a thumbs up and his scribe (his mom) said he was all smiles after he finished it.

Trader Joe's Joe's O's
Toasted Whole Grain Oats
$2.29 for 15 ounces
Waxing eloquent, one wrote: "The golden brown cereal, smelling toasty and warm, tastes great and the texture is just right. The combination of milk and cereal is good but the flavor diminishes." "Before milk: smells nice and appealing and the color is golden and yellowish. Tastes very good and is quite easy to chew. After milk: Tastes even better. The milk complements the flavor of the O's." "Absolutely no smell, tastes really good and good with milk." "Very sweet and crunchy!" "Not too much of a smell. Is more oat-y, has small o's." "It has a very weak scent and looks pale. The taste is somewhat bolder and doesn't taste so much like paper." Two described it as having a bland taste: "When I have 8 in my mouth they taste like rice crackers. Very, very bland." And one was just not sure: "It tastes between good and bad."

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company


Don't put all of these chewy, colorful sweets in one basket

The Easter bunny would have a very heavy basket if he filled it with all the brands of jelly beans out there. We tested beans from companies such as Life Savers, Starburst, and Jolly Rancher that tasted like their other-time-of-the-year products, and shockingly bright beans from Crayola - which thankfully didn't. There were two organic brands in the bunch that won no awards for beauty, but they tasted like real fruit and had no artificial coloring, as did most of the other brands. Our taste test also included jelly beans with added vitamins A, C, and E, and the immediately identifiable Jelly Belly, which comes in unconventional flavors such as coconut, mango, and chocolate pudding.
Eight people tasted 12 brands, and by the end of the session they were ping-ponging off the walls. Jelly beans are loaded with sugar and memories of Easters past, which affected the choices of the tasters - preferences were so personal that there was no clear winner. - DEBRA SAMUELS

Brach's Classic Jelly Bird Eggs
$2.49 for 19.5 ounces
Big, bright, and traditional. "Yum - not! Taste like colored olives and take too long to chew." "Hate the way these look! Too big - you can only eat one at a time. Looks like 99 cent candy from 7-Eleven." "I like these flavors - they feel familiar, traditional." "Good texture, lasting taste - possibly a little large." "Tastes sugary rather than fruity." "Flat, childish taste. Why do the big ones all seem less sophisticated?"

Brach’s Orchard Fruit Jelly Beans
$2.29 for 14 ounces
Made with real fruit juice, so the colors actually taste like cherry, grape, and so on. They contain vitamins A, C, and E. "Looks like they would be more at home in a bead store. Tasty though." "Strong colors, nice taste, and very candy-flavored." "Crispy crunch outside, way too gooey inside." "Each color has different flavor." "Grape flavor makes you feel bad swallowing it - it tastes like grape gum!"

Confectionery Lane Assorted Jelly Beans
99 cents for 9 ounces
This is your standard 99 cent brand, and people knew it. "Tough, very hard to chew, and flavorless." "Least favorite, crudest flavors." "Too hard. Too big. Too gloopy. Too nasty!" "More brilliant color, sugary - cotton candy style." "Waxy finish, low grade, and each tasted the same across the rainbow."

Crayola Jelly Beans
$1.49 for 12 ounces
Manufactured by Simply Smart from BlueberryHill, these also contain vitamins A, C and E, as well as real fruit juice. "These are so neon I need sunglasses. You taste the sugar, not the flavor - bad aftertaste." "Nice assortment of chewy colors. Easy to keep eating. Gentler flavor than the traditional kind." "Reminds me of Easter when I was a kid - very typical." "Flavor is very artificial, as is the color." "Best balance of texture, flavor, and aroma - the best." "Normal looking. Mushy consistency after initial crunch.

Budget bean."
Jelly Belly
$1.99 for 5 ounces
Calling itself "the original gourmet jelly bean," these come in 20 flavors. Most people could identify the beans in one bite. "Almost exotic, super-aesthetic, delicate but strong. My favorite." "The chocolate pudding was a surprise. Flavors all a tad too exotic." "Delicate, easy to eat, and modern flavors. Desire to taste each and every one." "Jelly Belly, right? My favorites but a little tough to chew." "Cute actual 'bean' shape." "Weak flavor, tastes like gelatin."

Jolly Rancher Jelly Beans
$2.49 for 14 ounces
If you like Jolly Ranchers, you'll like these tropical-colored beans. "Smallish, shiny, tropical flavors." "Glassy, pleasant balance between chews." "Good size and excellent flavor." "Great texture; each color is a distinctive flavor." "There is a weird chemical in this - icky." "Very candy-ish - but this is too sweet."

Life Savers Candy Jellybeans
$2.49 for 14 ounces
Life Savers lost the hole and molded its fruity candy into chewy beans. "Like Bubble Yum in a jelly bean." "Shiny. Back taste evokes herring - worst." "Favorite in terms of color. Nice and light - sort of transparent." "Light flavor. Not too harsh."
Russell Stover Candies Pectin Jelly Beans

$3.49 for 12 ounces
The venerable company includes pectin in its beans. "Glassy. Kerosene flavored." "Not a fan of fruity flavors, would prefer more cinnamon-y flavors." "Super duper shiny - too shiny, actually. Surprisingly good flavor, though." "Subtle flavor - this is a grown-up jelly bean." "Fragrance is not very good." "No difference between the colors, strange aftertaste."

Shaw's Jelly Beans
$1.50 for 15 ounces
An old-fashioned mix of big beans, with plenty of black and white. The ingredient list includes a roster of artificial colors. "Too big, dull shine, and shocking texture - dough-like." "Too grainy and gelatinous." "Strong flavors that corresponded to the color - yellow tasted like lemon." "I like these flavors - less fruity, more interesting. Marzipan flavored?" "Almond taste . . . a little unusual." "Not much flavor, chemical lime taste. Red tastes like cough drops."

Starburst Original Jellybeans
$2.19 for 14 ounces
Another candy company puts its stamp on the jelly bean - literally. Each one says "Starburst." "These stick to your teeth." "Better than average bean." "Sticks to teeth but great size and shine." "Sort of Life Savers flavors. I don't like Life Saver flavors." "Mm, delicious. Sharp, strong, very fruity and distinct."

Surf Sweets Organic
$1.69 for 2.7 ounces
The most expensive of the lot. We found these organic, vegetarian beans at Whole Foods Market. They also contain Vitamin C. "Wrinkly, unappetizing, and excessively sweet." "Transparent looking, matte finish. Organic flavor - very tasty." "Limited flavors, grainy feeling with sugar. Nice appearance." "Good flavor. Look like gems with dull-ish finish. Itty bitty and cute." "Kind of perfume-y. Lemon ones are yummy." "Rather anemic looking with a sugary texture." "Natural flavor, more subtle. An adult bean - good stuff."

SunRidge Farms Organic Jolly Beans
$6.99 for 1 poundFound in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods, these "jolly beans" come in muted colors and juicy flavors. "Nice texture, don't like the flavors. Too grapefruit-y but nice - if you like grapefruit." "Pretty colors, but grimy sugary feeling." "Awkward perfume-y flavor and grainy." "Great colors, more natural flavor, like juice." "Uuuu-gly! Barely congealed sugar cubes."