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JUDGES WON'T BE STALKING CANNED ASPARAGUS

With the height of asparagus season still a couple of months away, shoppers may be tempted to buy canned varieties.

Fortunately, most local grocery stores import the vegetables year-round, because Taster's Choice panelists won't buy the canned vegetables sincea recent sampling of six brands of asparagus pieces and tips. All were heated on the stove, according to directions on the cans.

"In the greatest country in the world, we have this?" asked one panelist after his first couple of bites. "There's no excuse for anything tasting this bad."

Judges allowed that canned asparagus could be an acquired taste. I have a friend who eats the vegetable right out of the can for an afternoon snack.

One panelist said he grew up eating olive-colored asparagus because his British mother cooked the color out of it.

Most of the canned stuff is discolored. It's a dim, almost gray color. The texture of all the brands could be summed up in a single word: mushy.

Judges gave the asparagus from Hannaford ($1.49 for a 14.5-ounce can at Sweetbay) a whopping 41 of 100 possible points. But none would buy it.

In general, the Hannaford brand was as squishy and slimy as the others. Its pieces scored a few points for holding their shape a bit better than the competitions'.

The store brand from Albertsons ($2.39 for a 14.5-ounce can) got 23 points. The pieces of asparagus in the Albertsons can cooked up a bit plumper than the others. Judges said, "It has a mild taste - not quite as bad as the others."

Libby's ($1.27 for a 14.5-ounce can from Wal-Mart) got 17 points from judges. It was saltier than the others.

"It has that just-out-of-the-can taste," said one panelist.

Also sampled were the following brands: Great Value (98 cents for a 14.5-ounce can from Wal-Mart); Green Giant ($1.33 for a 14.5-ounce can from Wal-Mart); and Del Monte ($1.39 for a 12-ounce can from Publix).

Panelists were: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; Jim Yockey, aesthetician at Anu You Institute; and personal chef and caterer Kay Studer. All foods were tasted blind.

Send suggestions for product tastings to Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or e-mail them to jkeeler@sptimes.com. Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past columns, go to www.sptimes.com/food.

Canned asparagus rankings:

1. Hannaford

2. Albertsons

3. Libby's

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