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Apricot Preserves

From Pork and Pears

How we tested

UPDATE: May 2015

We recently learned that Hero Premium Apricot Spread has been reformulated. It now contains slightly less sugar per serving and, although the sweeteners haven't changed, the label now lists wheat syrup instead of glucose syrup. After tasting the new version, we still recommend it.


We like the deep, sweet-tart flavor of apricot jam on toast, but it’s also a pantry staple for the bakers in the test kitchen. Like professional bakeshops, we use apricot jam to add a glossy sheen and delicate sweetness to fruit tarts. To find the best double-duty jam, we tasted five top-selling products plain and in our Cook's Illustrated French Apple Tart.

In our plain tasting, tasters wanted visible pieces of fruit suspended in a spreadable jam and docked two products for being too thick or too runny. We also preferred traditional preserves, which must have a 45:55 ratio of fruit to sweetener, to those that exceed the required amount of fruit and are labeled “fruit spreads” or “spreadable fruit.” Though this extra-fruity formula may sound appealing, two spreads replace sugar and syrups with a mix of fruit juice concentrates. The assertive flavors of fruits like grape, pineapple, and pear competed with the apricots. Only one spread, which sweetens with sugar and glucose syrup rather than competing fruits, earned our recommendation. Meanwhile, both preserves had especially “deep,” “authentic” apricot flavor that won them spots at the top. Even though the preserves’ fruit chunks—sometimes as large as an entire half-apricot—were occasionally difficult to spread, our tasters liked the presence of real fruit.

In our French Apple Tart, where we added a small amount of apricot preserves to the filling, we continued to notice flavor differences among products, but they were less pronounced and none were objectionable. A particularly “tropical” tasting spread even won praise from some tasters. All the products, even the most gelatinous, were also easy to strain and paint across the filling. And once glazed and broiled, the tarts came out evenly caramelized and golden brown. Though any of the products we tested will work for baking, we want apricot preserves to taste only of their namesake fruit when we spread them on toast. We’ll stick to products that don’t use any fruit other than apricots. In the end, our favorite was, surprisingly, not a fancy European import but the most classic American brand on store shelves.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*