How we tested
Each year, Americans spend almost $300 million on supermarket stuffings. We figured that these products, much like frozen pie crusts, are purchased for the sake of convenience (just add water and butter and serve), shoppers knowing all the while that they're sacrificing taste and texture. But $300 million is a serious vote of consumer confidence, so we decided to hold a blind tasting to fairly judge the quality of store-bought stuffings.
We purchased eight popular brands of herb-flavored stuffing, and it was immediately clear from the ingredient list that fresh, natural flavors had been discarded for the usual suspects: MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, yeast, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oils, caramel color, BHT, propyl gallate, and the like. Chicken stock appeared in just three brands, and flavorful herbs were few and far between. Only one contained herbs other than parsley (rosemary, thyme, sage, and basil), but they came in at the bottom of the ingredients list. Although the labeling on another bag promised that its contents were seasoned with "five savory herbs," only "spices" were listed as an ingredient.
So how did they taste? Well, every brand was a far cry from the real thing. In addition to poor flavor (from bland and murky to strongly objectionable), the stuffings suffered from textural extremes—all were panned as either "pasty" and "gummy" or "dry" and "chewy." Why not buy a packaged stuffing and doctor it up with fresh, high-quality ingredients? A nice idea in theory, but why try to fix something that is so obviously broken? With just a little extra work, you can a make stuffing from scratch that will turn out a lot better.
In the end, the stuffings that made it to the top of our list were put there not because of their great flavor or texture but because they were "not objectionable." As one taster wrote, "The best, but so what?"