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Orange Marmalade

Published January 2007

How we tested

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 or bitter oranges.

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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.)*