The following is a list of the foods our judges liked the best from our tastings the past six months.
Some background on this column: We began publishing the list in 2004 after readers asked for a short list to carry with them on shopping runs. Our panelists meet monthly to taste and compare a series of different products, and our panelists share their opinions. They score each product on a scale of one to 100 points.
While these are completely nonscientific tastings, our judges hope to help shoppers navigate the often overwhelming shelves, refrigerators and freezers of local grocery stores. We shop primarily at Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walmart, Fresh Market, Trader Joeís, Target and Whole Foods. Sometimes, if we are looking for a specialty item, we hit smaller, neighborhood grocers. But our objective is to select products that are easy for readers to locate. Usually, we like to try some new foods on the market. We donít score those (so they arenít included here), but judges give you their analysis of the products.
We also tell you where we got the products, how much they cost and list some nutritional information. One of our judges is a registered dietician who helps decipher the nutritional landscape of various foods. Ideally, we would prefer to taste only "healthy" foods that would likely be part of a nutritional diet, but our samplings are guided by our observations at the grocery store. Shoppers still buy lots of quick and easy-to-prepare foods, and products from the center aisles of the grocery store rather than fresh foods or items from the produce aisles. Itís also often difficult to taste and rate foods from the produce department, for example, because we canít sample fresh fruits. The appearance, taste and texture of fruit can change daily and can be impacted by storage, light and other environmental factors.
Our goal is to taste as many varieties of the exact same food item. Our judges meet in the morning and sometimes have to taste five or more different types of products back-to-back. On a recent morning, they sampled 15 brands of pepper jack cheese, eight brands of thinly sliced salmon and seven varieties of crispy onions. Halfway through the morning, judges had to abandon the rest of the tasting out of sheer exhaustion from eating.
This year, we will continue to look at food trends. According to predictions from Whole Foods Market, those may include edible flowers, puffed and popped foods, and tacos in 2018. (See Page 6E for more.) We are always happy to take suggestions.
Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent