Taste test: Cranberry sauce

Cranberry Sauce Taste Test

Cranberry Sauce Taste Test (winning fresh berry recipe is in the rear)

I love cranberry sauce… on Thanksgiving Day turkey, and on the leftovers. But I’ve been pretty undiscriminating until this year. I’ve generally bought a couple of cans of Ocean Spray whole berry as soon as the price drops. As long as it’s tart and red, I’m good.

But last year the price stayed high, prompting me to want to try the bargain brand from my local store. Wondering if they were actually the same thing (I’ve heard Ocean Spray pretty much has a lock on the cranberry market) I looked at the ingredient lists. There were definite differences but both contained something that surprised me: High Fructose Corn Syrup. WTF!?

So it was time for a taste test comparing those two against a batch made from scratch, faithfully reproducing the no-brainer and HFCS-free recipe on the 12-ounce bag of Ocean Spray fresh berries. The fresh sauce was then pressed into a can so I could truthfully say all three came from a can, and they were put on the table at a neighborhood holiday dinner.

Results: a win by a landslide for the fresh berry sauce. It had a tartness and brightness of flavor that the others lacked. A typical comment: “Red [fresh] was most tart, but just right—tasted most natural”. And “tart + sweet together — full berry.” It didn’t stand up in the bowl like the canned varieties, but nobody dinged it for that.

Second place went to the house brand, from Price Chopper. Two of 9 tasters voted it tops. It had just a bit more flavor and less of a flat “canned” taste, possibly due to the inclusion of salt which was not in the Ocean Spray. The lone voter who preferred the canned Ocean Spray picked it for “texture and taste”.

At this year’s prices the house brand was a dollar, canned Ocean Spray $1.25 (price dropped from $2 the final couple of days) and the fresh preparation cost $2.50 for the berries plus maybe 15 cents worth of sugar. But it made at least 50% more than the cans’ volume, making the price difference fairly insignificant for something you prepare a couple of times a year. I’m going with fresh from now on.

P.S. As a bonus I made Cranberry Relish from the recipe Susan Stamberg reads on NPR, and I strongly recommend it. It really comes to life with a horseradish kick after you follow the odd directions to freeze it then barely defrost for serving. One diner pronounced it her favorite dish of the entire meal.

This post was originally published on November 23, 2012.

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