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We found three brands to recommend—choose the one that matches your preference for sourness.
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What You Need To Know
Marmalade is commonly defined as a fruit preserve that includes pieces of rind in the jelly base. Although historically made from quinces ("marmalade" comes from the Portuguese word marmalada, meaning “quince jam”), most marmalade today is made from citrus fruits, especially oranges. Because of the sour tang derived from both the rind and the flesh of the Seville oranges customarily used as the base fruit, good orange marmalade should have a complexity and depth not associated with sweeter jams and jellies.
We bought eight readily available orange marmalades and gathered 20 tasters to see if we could find that favorable complexity in marmalade sold at supermarket prices. Tasters sampled each marmalade straight and with pieces of dry toast. When the results were tallied, we found both consensus and division. The rankings correlated perfectly with orange flavor intensity—those earning a "recommended" rating had the strongest natural orange flavor, those given a "recommended with reservations" rating had some, and those ranked "not recommended" had only a chemical orange taste.
But within our recommended group, our tasters disagreed about the level of sourness that defined the best marmalade. Some celebrated a strong, sour bite, finding this tartness accented the orange flavor and created "a nice dance of bitter and sweet flavor." Others, however, found that the same sourness overwhelmed the orange flavor—one taster called the tang an "anesthetic" and wanted a much sweeter profile. Another segment wanted a balance between these two elements. In the end, we found three brands to recommend—one for each flavor profile.
Our top-rated brand uses Seville orange rind, but its first ingredient is sugar, earning it a middle-of-the-road sweet/tart profile—it was consistently described as "grapefruit-tart." Our second-rated brand had the highest degree of bitterness—it was the only brand that listed oranges rather than sugar as its first ingredient. Those who loved it claimed its "true orange flavor" made their "taste buds jump"; those who didn't like it complained of a "bitter, pithy aftertaste." Our third recommended brand was favored by those who wanted a "good floral/orange element" without any pithy/bitter distraction—its critics likened it to orange candy.
Our suggestion? If you like an orange marmalade with intense orange flavor and significant tartness, we suggest you look for one that lists oranges as its first ingredient (before any sugar component). For a more balanced tart/sugar taste in a marmalade that also features good orange flavor, sugar may be listed first as an ingredient, but the label should at least specify Seville ...
Everything We Tested
Trappist Seville Orange Marmalade earned strong points for its natural orange flavor and was also the favorite of our testers who liked a solid level of sweetness as well as a moderate amount of tartness, which our tasters defined as grapefruit-level. Tasters also liked the balance of rind to jelly as well as the marmalade’s consistency—it was praised as an excellent spreading marmalade.
The "truest" and strongest orange flavor of our samples. Many testers also relished the Hero's bracing bitterness, praising it for being straightforward in flavor. The rind was appreciated for its nice chew and zesty flavor. Some tasters did complain that the jelly was a little runny, making it a bit problematic to spread.
Tasters who like sweet marmalade enjoyed Smuckers's floral orange flavor and noted that the rind wasn't bitter at all, tasting like candied orange (Smucker's does not use Seville oranges). Others, however, thought the sweetness was cloying. Its relish-like texture was perfect for spreading on toast.
Recommended with reservations
Tasters liked the texture and flavor of the rind (this brand specified Seville oranges), but many were not complimentary of the jelly component, which was considered too clear and light, "like apple jelly with orange peels in it."
Both Chivers and Dundee were distinguishable from the other samples due to dark color and large, chewy pieces of rind. Some tasters liked the caramelized flavor and found the rind very tasty, with full citrus flavor, but many others thought the spread tasted burnt, with an alcohol residue that masked the orange flavor. Its thickness also made the marmalade difficult to spread.
The Dundee earned comments similar to the Chivers. Tasters were split as to whether the caramel flavor prevented the spread from being too candy-like (a good thing) or gave it a sour taste. Tasters also picked up an alcohol flavor; those who liked it compared the flavor to brandy. It was also difficult to spread on toast.
Smucker's uses Splenda for its sugar-free marmalade, but it didn't fool the tasters. The spread was criticized for tasting fake, being overly sweet, and having a texture reminiscent of Jell-o—tasters compared it to an orange Creamsicle or chewy orange soda.
Tasters gave the Bonne Maman poor ratings because of minimal orange flavor, uninteresting texture (runny consistency), and a flat overall taste. Tasters also found a strange, chemical aftertaste, with one comparing it to an "orange-scented house cleaner."
Reviews you can trust
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