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Taster's Choice: Year in review

Like many shoppers, our taste panelists plead guilty when it comes to picking certain brands at the grocery store out of habit or familiarity. That's one reason we spent several weeks this year sampling products we tend to take for granted. We stirred nine packets of taco seasoning mix into sizzling ground beef, we prepared several boxes of stuffing, and we finished the year tasting canned black-eyed peas.

Since the Taster's Choice column made its debut 11 years ago, judges have always been pleasantly surprised to discover how well store brands often do among the competition. Our years of gastronomical research have made it clear that grocery shoppers do not have to pay more to get good quality staples.

Each week, we shop at all of the local grocery stores, including Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walmart, Fresh Market and Trader Joe's. Sometimes we check for products at GFS Marketplace. Our goal is to help shoppers make informed choices.

Our panelists taste as many brands of each product as we can find. We look for foods with enough choices for a proper comparison. Each season, we also try look for healthy options, although that quest becomes increasingly challenging as food manufacturers roll out snack foods as fast as we can devour a bag of chips.

Twice a year, we publish a list of the foods our judges favored in the tastings of the past six months. We love to get suggestions from readers, so feel free to send those to Remember, though, we are comparing the same foods. Readers often ask us to sample fresh fruit, for example. But an apple purchased at a store one day would not taste the same as an apple purchased at another store. It depends on when it was picked, how it was shipped and the ripeness of the fruit.

Our judges rank the foods on a scale of 1 to 100. We try to taste at least five of every food. If we have more than 12 of one item, we sometimes split the tasting into two sessions to make it easier on our palates. If we taste only four items, we list all four scoring results. Below is a list of the top three picks from our samplings for the last six months of 2015.

Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent

Flavored MayonnaiseProductScore
Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonnaise81
McCormick Mayonnaise With Lime Juice76
Just Mayo Chipotle71

Vanilla Ice Cream ConesProductScore
Market Pantry60

Frozen or Refrigerated Macaroni & CheeseProductScore
Momma B's84
Joe's Diner78
Marie Callender's 66

Black Forest Ham (from area delis)ProductScore
Boar's Head (purchased at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg)52
The Fresh Market48

Chocolate CroissantsProductScore
Trader Joe's65
Maison du Croissant 46
7 Days43

Dark Chocolate BarsProductScore


Bread Mixes
Pillsbury Quick Bread72
Simple Mills42

Gia Russa65
Flora Fine Foods58

Kalamata OlivesProductScore

Refrigerated Mashed PotatoesProductScore
Bob Evans82
Reser's Main Street Bistro63

Boxed Stuffing MixesProductScore
Betty Crocker 86
Great Value67
Kraft Stove Top54

Chicken Noodle

My Goodness Soup Chicken and Orzo70
Campbell's Homestyle Chicken Noodle54
Campbell's Slow Kettle Style Roasted Chicken Noodle52


Hot Cocoa Mixes
Starbucks Double Chocolate63
Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate

Land O'Lakes Chocolate Supreme53


Black-Eyed Peas
Great Value46

Taster's Choice: Year in review 01/04/16 [Last modified: Monday, January 4, 2016 4:49pm]
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