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Whole Kosher Dill Pickles

By Cook's Illustrated Published June 2010

How we tested

Supermarkets carry a dizzying array of kosher dill pickles, putting us in a pretty pickle every time we stroll the condiments aisle: how to choose the best one? We decided to hold a blind tasting of five national brands to find out.

Before we sat down at the table to taste them, we did some homework. It surprised us to learn that despite the name, kosher dill pickles needn’t be produced according to Jewish kosher law. Applied to dill pickles, the designation “kosher” merely indicates the presence of garlic and this style’s otherwise sour, salty profile. We also learned that kosher dills come either “processed” or “fresh.” Processed are made by brining whole cucumbers in large tanks, where they ferment for weeks or months. During the last stage of fermentation, dill weed is added. The pickles are then rinsed and sealed in shelf-stable jars with vinegar and additional seasonings. Fresh pickles are produced by placing cucumbers directly into jars, filling the jars with seasoned brine, and refrigerating them. Once the pickles have absorbed the seasonings—usually a matter of just a few weeks—they are ready to sell. These pickles, which are sold refrigerated, have a shorter shelf life than processed pickles.

We tasted five national brands, both processed and fresh, looking for the perfect combination of salty, sour, garlicky, and crunchy. With the right snappy crunch and authentic garlicky dill-pickle flavor, the two fresh pickle brands in our lineup trounced the competition. By contrast, the processed pickles were limp and had not a whiff of garlic. When we read the ingredient lists, we saw why: There was neither hide nor hair of it. We did, however, find yellow #5, a synthetic food dye not found in fresh pickles.

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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.)*