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Dill Pickle Spears
To see if the quality of supermarket pickles had improved in recent years, we put five kosher dill pickle spears to the test.
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What You Need To Know
With chefs and home cooks pickling everything in sight these days, we wondered if the quality of supermarket pickles had improved in recent years. Most supermarket pickles are what the industry calls “fresh packed,” meaning they’re made by soaking fresh cucumbers in vinegar and salt. The pickles are then either pasteurized, making them shelf-stable, or immediately packed in jars and refrigerated.
We tried three shelf-stable and two refrigerated products, all marketed as “kosher dill.” Kosher, in this case, has nothing to do with Jewish dietary restrictions but denotes the presence of garlic, a common seasoning in Jewish deli pickles. We served all the spears, lightly chilled, to 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers.
Tasters could easily identify the shelf-stable spears, which were “atomic green,” thanks to food coloring. They’re gently cooked before packaging and thus have a “wilted” texture. The two refrigerated products took home top honors for their “fresher” taste and “more crisp” texture. Refrigerated pickles have a shorter shelf life, so they don’t sit in their liquid as long and are much crunchier than the oversaturated shelf-stable pickles. Tasters also thought that most of the shelf-stable pickles had “off,” “chemical” aftertastes.
Garlic was also important—these are kosher pickles, after all—and many bottom-ranked products use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Our winning product is one of only two to use real chopped garlic, and it was praised for its “peppery” spiciness and “bold” garlic flavor. (The other product with fresh garlic uses whole cloves, which didn’t saturate the pickling liquid enough to be detected by tasters.)
Tasters deemed our winning product the crispest and freshest spears of the bunch. Found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, these “crunchy,” “tart” spears are minimally processed and our top pick.
Everything We Tested
Tasters thought that this refrigerated product was “pleasantly crisp,” with “great snap” and a ”clean,” bright green color. These pickles were “slightly spicy,” “very garlicky,” and had the “homemade pickle flavor” that tasters loved.
“Sweet,” “salty,” and “a little spicy,” this refrigerated product had the “familiar,” “classic” pickle profile. Tasters thought that these slender spears had “perfect crunch,” “crispy” skin, and “clean,” “fresh” flavor.
These thick wedges were “sweet and sour,” with a “slight kick of pepper” and “supersalty” flavor. Though a few tasters thought that these shelf-stable, “juicy” spears were “mushy,” most enjoyed their “crispy” skin and “smooth,” “soft” core.
Recommended with reservations
While accents of carrots, red peppers, and whole garlic cloves lent this shelf-stable pickle an attractive appearance, tasters thought that the pickles were “too seedy,” “wilted,” and “slightly mushy.” “Feels like these cucumbers have been sitting around too long.”
This shelf-stable pickle was the “least fresh of the bunch,” with an “atomic green” color and “slimy,” “oversaturated” interior. Most tasters also noted a “chemical,” “soapy” aftertaste and a “cloyingly sweet” flavor.
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