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Taste test: Taco shells

Earlier this spring, our family hosted two lovely exchange students from France. Each night of the two-week visit, I prepared a special meal in hopes of convincing them Americans don't just eat fast food. One afternoon, I prepared an entire Thanksgiving meal, complete with marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. Toward the end of their stay, the teenage girls wanted to prepare a special French meal for me. With a little help from the translating app on my phone, I managed to get the ingredient list and I was shopping for groceries. Halfway through the supermarket, I realized the recipe was far too complicated to prepare that late in the day. So, I abandoned the veal stew for that night and went to my go-to dinner — tacos. I always have ingredients on hand for a hearty taco-making meal. If not, I can find everything on one shelf at the store. While I usually fry my own corn tortillas, I am glad to have the option of purchasing store-bought shells in a pinch. This week, our panelists tried six brands of hard taco shells from local grocery stores. After initially tasting the shells right from the box, we heated them in the oven and got much better results.

Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent


(out of 100)
Great Value 77Taco Bell 65Trader Joe's 59

Walmart's store brand of taco shells got high marks from judges for their light, crispy texture and the balance of corn and salt flavors. "This isn't just for tacos," said one judge. "I would use these as a top on chili." Another said she liked the authentic yellow color. "These have enough corn flavor to add to the tacos without overpowering the filling," she said. "And there's plenty of room for filling."The fast-food-maker's taco shell brand (actually made by Kraft Foods) was light and not heavy on salt or corn flavors. But judges appreciated the shell as a blank canvas for spicy tacos or dips. "It's really good overall," said one panelist. "It smells like a Mexican kitchen when it's warm," said another judge. "It's inviting and toasty."Judges picked the Trader Joe's shells for their consistent color, corn taste and crispness. "They are kind of basic," allowed one judge. "But I could serve these with no reservations." Another said he especially liked the flakiness and the "sparkly sheen of the shells when they come out of the oven."

they buy?
All four judges said yes.Three of the four judges said yes.Three of the four judges said yes.
Shopping information$1 for a 5.8-ounce box of 12 shells from Walmart.$1.28 for a 4.5-ounce box of 12 shells from Walmart.$1.99 for a 5.5-ounce box of 12 shells.

Also Sampled: Old El Paso ($1.38 for a 4.6-ounce box of 12 shells from Walmart, 55 points); Garden of Eatin' ($2.99 for a 5.5-ounce box of 12 shells from the Fresh Market, 36 points); and Ortega ($2.19 for a 5.8-ounce box of 12 shells from Winn-Dixie, 44 points).

Panelists: Jeff Jensen, public information officer for the city of Treasure Island; Wayne Conery, retired restaurant manager; Jill Dunn, realtor Yes-Homes, Keller Williams Realty; and Janet Keeler, assistant professor of journalism at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. All foods were tasted blind.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to

Serving sizeTwo shellsThree shellsTwo shells
Fat/Fiber6g / 2g7g / 1g7g / 1g
Sugars/Sodium0g / 160mg0g / 0mg0g / 0mg
Carbs/Protein16g / 2g21g / 2g14g / 2g

Taste test: Taco shells 03/28/16 [Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2016 10:57am]
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