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Horseradish

From Stuffed Beef Tenderloin

How we tested

Buyer beware: “Prepared horseradish” can vary astonishingly from brand to brand, and much depends on where you buy it. Refrigerated products are simply grated horseradish, vinegar, and salt. Shelf-stable ones add a laundry list of other ingredients, including sugar, eggs, citric acid, high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, artificial flavorings, and preservatives. These filler-packed horseradishes are rife with chemical tastes. Equally problematic: Many have a slimy texture and are overwhelmingly hot. The refrigerated ones deliver more natural flavor with less mushiness and are hot without being overpowering. Our advice: Avoid shelf-stable brands with fillers and go straight to the refrigerator aisle, making sure the label reads simply “grated horseradish, vinegar, and salt.”

To choose our favorite, we narrowed our focus to four refrigerated brands, which we tasted both plain from the jar and in creamy horseradish sauce. Tasters disliked samples that were “vinegary,” “pickle-y,” and “sweet,” preferring a generous amount of heat and a finely grated texture that incorporated smoothly into cream sauce, unlike coarser, “chunkier” horseradish that came across as “pulpy” and “chewy.” Horseradish gets its distinctive taste and heat only when the hard white root is grated, which releases volatile oils. It will continue to get hotter as more oils are released, until vinegar is added to stop this reaction and stabilize the flavor.

Our favorite won by a landslide for its “intense,” “wasabi-like” heat and “great, lingering bite.” Finely grated, it left “no unpleasant shreds” or chewy bits when mixed into cream sauce. Its “peppery,” “complex,” “fresh” flavor put it beyond its rivals.

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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.)*