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Taste test: Best of 2008

It's time for the annual standing ovation for the Taster's Choice panel.

Think of all the things the brave judges have eaten in 2008 so you don't have to. Like 11 brands of sliced cheddar cheese. Seven kinds of maple syrup. Plus oodles of chicken noodle soup, taco shells, canned asparagus and sweet relish.

Because some of you have asked via e-mail and phone, here's how it works:

Times correspondent Kathy Saunders organizes the tastings. Each month, she gathers the panel and they sample four or five different foods. The tasting is blind, which means they don't know the brand. The results are published in the paper, one food at a time.

It all sounds like fun — and actually it usually is — until you realize that on one day, they might be sampling cheddar cheese, fudge cookies, cocktail sauce and graham cracker crusts. There are lots of stories of stomachaches in the hours after.

This year, as in past years, store brands have done well and still surprise us when they fare better than the big-name brands we associate with certain foods. For instance, store brands took the top three spots in the light brown sugar tasting.

For Taster's Choice, we shop at Publix, Sweetbay, Wal-Mart and, occasionally, Sam's Club, Target and Gordon Food Service Marketplace, a discount bulk food store with locations in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, and health food stores. Because GFS is a source for lots of restaurants, the food is packaged in larger quantities. Nevertheless, their products fare well with judges.

As you go through the list, remember that most major brands are available at multiple grocery stores. Store brands that do not have the same name as the store are noted. Also, we note where we bought some of the lesser-known brands.

We appreciate tips to improve the column and also suggestions about grocery store foods to try. If you have suggestions, please e-mail them to Kathy Saunders at subkat@aol.com. Put SUGGESTIONS in the subject line.

Suggestions also may be mailed to Taster's Choice, Newsfeatures, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Pancake mixes

1. GFS (Gordon Food Service) Marketplace

2. Betty Crocker

3. Pioneer (Albertsons)

Pancake syrup

1. Shady Maple Farms Organic

2. Essensia (Albertsons)

3. Cary's maple syrup

Cocktail sauce

1. Crosse & Blackwell

2. Albertsons

3. Bookbinder's

Canned asparagus

1. Hannaford (Sweetbay)

2. Albertsons

3. Libby's

Pound cake

1. Sara Lee

2. Wal-Mart

3. Buttery Baker

Almonds

1. Emerald

2. Blue Diamond

3. GreenWise (Publix)

Graham cracker crusts

1. Nabisco

2. Keebler

3. Albertsons

Frozen key lime pies

1. Edwards

2. GFS Marketplace

3. Marie Callender

Chicken noodle soup

1. Albertsons

2. Great Value (Wal-Mart)

3. Hannaford (Sweetbay)

Polish sausage

1. Healthy Ones Skinless Kielbasa

2. Eckrich Polish Kielbasa

3. Hillshire Farm Polska Kielbasa

Powdered water flavoring, lemon

1. Sturm Foods

2. Replenish Free

3. True Lemon

Taco shells

1. Ortega

2. Great Value, Old El Paso (tie)

3. Albertsons

Onion dip

1. Market Pantry (Target)

2. Albertsons

3. Great Value (Wal-Mart)

Cola

1. Sam's Club

2. Albertsons

3. Publix

Cupcakes

1. Publix

2. Super Target

3. Sweetbay

Eggs

1. Egg Innovations

2. Hillandale Farms

3. Sweetbay

Sugar cones

1. Joy

2. Keebler

3. Comet

Frozen chicken nuggets

1. Market Pantry (Target)

2. Milford Valley Farms

3. Tyson

Pomegranate juice

1. POM

2. Albertsons

3. Apple & Eve Organics

Ginger ale

1. Albertsons

2. Hannaford (Sweetbay)

3. Seagram's

Vanilla extract

1. Great Value (Wal-Mart)

2. Albertsons

3. McCormick Gourmet Collection Organic

Crescent rolls

1. Hannaford (Sweetbay)

2. Publix

3. Great Value (Wal-Mart)

Spreadable cheese

1. Kaukauna

2. Rondele Pub Cheese

3. Owl's News Vermont White Cheddar

Cheese puffs

1. Herr's

2. Cheetos Puffs

3. Cheetos Naturals

Instant white rice

1. Hannaford (Sweetbay)

2. Albertsons

3. Great Value (Wal-Mart)

Pesto

1. Sauces n' Love (Sam's Club)

2. Buitoni

3. Classico

Tiramisu

1. GFS Marketplace

2. Publix

3. Mazzarro Italian Market (St. Petersburg), Albertsons (tie)

Frozen pepperoni pizza

1. Healthy Choice

2. DiGorno/thin crust

3. Red Baron/singles

Strawberry yogurt

1. Publix Just 4 Kidz

2. Yoplait strawberry-vanilla

3. Yoplait Trix Kids strawberry-banana

Sweet relish

1. Publix

2. GFS Marketplace

3. Hannaford (Sweetbay)

Frozen French toast

1. Aunt Jemima Homestyle

2. Murry's

3. Eggo

Cheddar cheese slices

1. Kraft Cracker Barrel

2. Market Pantry (Target)

3. Sargento

Ranch dressing

1. Hidden Valley

2. Naturally Fresh

3. Heinz

Chocolate-covered pretzels

1. Nestle Pretzel Flipz

2. Godiva

3. Nabisco Mister Salty

Frozen spinach

1. Market Pantry (Target)

2. GFS Marketplace

3. Hannaford (Sweetbay)

Canned tomatoes

1. Hunt's Organic

2. Hunt's

3. Contadina

Guacamole

1. Yucatan Authentic

2. Markon (GFS Markeplace)

3. Glaser Farms Vegan (Nature's Finest)

Fudge cookies

1. Oreo

2. Archway

3. Dare

Creme brulee

1. Archer Farms (Target)

2. Dhul (Wal-Mart)

3. On-the-Go Bistro (Sweetbay)

Light brown sugar

1. Great Value (Wal-Mart)

2. Market Pantry (Target)

3. Publix

Smoked bacon

1. Publix

2. Sunnyland

3. Smithfield

Frozen dinner rolls

1. Sister Schubert's

2. Pillsbury

3. Publix

Pork sausage

1. Jimmy Dean

2. Publix

3. Gwaltney

Chocolate chip cookie dough

1. Pillsbury

2. Nestle

3. Tom's (Target)

Canned pears

1. GFS Marketplace

2. DelMonte

3. Great Value (Walmart)

Lobster bisque

1. Rockport

2. Publix

3. Sam's Club

Taste test: Best of 2008 12/27/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 27, 2008 3:31am]

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