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CANNED MANDARIN ORANGES

Fall always seems like the time of year when our panelists start talking about comfort foods and adding orange colors to their weekly menus. It's also the season they like to stock up on canned goods for soups, stews or casseroles. Cans of mandarin oranges are among those in all of our pantries. The small oranges, sometimes Clementines, are grown in tropical areas, including China and Vietnam. Besides the splash of color they add, the tiny orange bits can liven up all kinds of dishes from salads to steaks. Judges tasted 11 brands of oranges packed in light syrup and found some pleasing differences.

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Product/Score (out of 100) Publix/77 Del Monte/69 Dole/60
How'd it look? Larger than the others. Like orange slices on steroids. Brilliant orange. Brightly colored and plump.
Judges' comments These juicy oranges would be great for decorating a salad or even a cake or other dessert, judges said. They described them as sweet, refreshing and tender. One said they reminded him of Napa Valley in early autumn or a "very good Saturday afternoon after all the errands are done!" Flavor and color were bold in the Del Monte oranges, but judges described the taste as "gentle." One compared the sweet taste to a visit from a favorite aunt. "These taste like very happy, happy grapes," he said. While the Del Monte oranges tasted like grapes to some judges, the Dole brand had grapelike texture. These orange slices had a lot of flavors, including a hint of nuts, according to one judge. The deep color of the Dole oranges also would make them especially beautiful on a party platter, judges agreed.
Would they buy? All four judges said yes. Three of the four judges said yes. Three of the four judges said yes.
Shopping information 83 cents for an 11-ounce can. $1.89 for a 15-ounce can from Sweetbay. $1.29 for a 6.1-ounce can from Sweetbay.

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Also Sampled: Hokan ($1.15 for an 11-ounce can from Publix, 46 points); Great Value (56 cents for an 11-ounce can from Wal-Mart, 43 points); GFS ($7.79 for a 1-gallon can from GFS Marketplace, 40 points); Geisha (81 cents for an 11-ounce can from Sweetbay, 37 points); Native Forest Organic ($2.89 for a 10.75-ounce can from Nature's Finest Foods in St. Petersburg, 29 points); Polar (99 cents for a 10-ounce can from Sweetbay, 27 points); Ace of Diamonds (89 cents for a 10-5-ounce can from Sweetbay, 23 points); and Hannaford ($2 for four, 4-ounce packs from Sweetbay, 21 points).

Panelists:Nan Jensen, registered dietician with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; Jim Yockey, aesthetician at Anu You Institute; and Julie Overton, consumer and mother of four. All foods were tasted blind.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, 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 Taster's Choice columns, go to food.tampabay.com.

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