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Louisiana (Cajun or Creole) Seasoning

Published February 2015

How we tested

Cajun and Creole are terms often used interchangeably to describe the flavorful dishes that Louisiana is famous for. Recipes for Louisiana spice blends vary in name, but whether called Cajun or Creole, most contain a mix of paprika, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and cayenne—ingredients typically found in the region’s gumbos, seafood boils, and meat rubs. To determine the best Louisiana spice mix, we tasted five seasonings labeled Creole or Cajun on white rice and in pork grillades.

Tasters wanted seasoning that packed a punch and preferred saltier and spicier products. We liked the “pungent” kick from products that list black pepper, cayenne, or chili powder high on their ingredient lists. Since salt is a flavor enhancer, tasters also thought that products with more sodium had “stronger,” “more complex” spice blends: Our favorite product contains 350 milligrams of sodium per 1/4-teaspoon serving and was deemed “punchy” and “vibrant.” Seasonings with less than 130 milligrams of sodium were “flat” and “bland,” and one salt-free product was “completely boring.” But lots of salt didn’t guarantee a great seasoning: One product contains as much sodium as our winner but also includes flavor-enhancing chemicals, like disodium inosinate and guanylate, which made it too salty for tasters.

Products that stuck to traditional paprika-heavy and garlic-forward notes also rated better with tasters. Two bottom-ranked products included marjoram, fennel, or cumin and were ranked lower for their “misplaced,” “confusing” flavors.

We were concerned that some products were “papery” or “dusty” when we tasted them sprinkled on rice, but texture differences disappeared when the seasonings were cooked in a stew like grillades. Still, we thought seasonings that had a slightly “grainy,” “consistent” texture worked equally well when cooked and when sprinkled as a garnish (like for seafood boils or as a table spice).

When we tested the products against our homemade recipe for Louisiana seasoning in pork grillades, the homemade blend won out for its “balanced” complexity, so we think it’s worth the extra time and effort. But in a pinch, we prefer our winner, a local Louisiana favorite, for its “punchy,” “vibrant” flavor featuring plenty of chili powder, pepper, and garlic. An added bonus: At $0.28 per ounce, it’s the cheapest seasoning of the bunch.

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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.)*