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Oyster Crackers

Published January 2012
Update: July 2013
We have received somewhat cranky emails from readers who love OTC Crackers, which we did not recommend, because the big, hard, spherical crackers were difficult to eat. The method known to aficionados is to put one cracker in each hand and crush them together, before dropping them into soup. While we appreciate the tip about how to avoid breaking teeth, the crackers themselves struck our tasters as a bit stale and bland (even though they were well within their expiration date).

How we tested

How oyster crackers earned their name is long forgotten, but either their shell-like shape or traditional pairing with seafood chowders must have played a part. Today they’re available in various forms, from more archetypal versions resembling dense hardtack to light, flaky disks. Many people enjoy oyster crackers simply for snacking, but they were originally intended to accompany soup, and we wondered whether traditional or modern versions would perform both functions best.

We evaluated four nationally distributed brands for their taste and texture, both alone and in tomato soup. The crackers ranged from small and hexagonal to large and almost spherical, with some featuring the typical crimped edges. Our tasters panned the largest and most traditional cracker for being too “dense,’’ “bland,’’ and even “raw’’-tasting. The winning cracker, by contrast, was better suited for straight-from-the-box snacking, with its  “tender,” “flaky” texture and “wheaty” taste, yet it also held its crispness in soup. The more classic runner-up closely rivaled it in the rankings, also retaining its crunch after soaking in soup. This brand had a pleasantly “floury” flavor that was deemed “just what an oyster cracker should be.”

Bottom line: Tasters want an oyster cracker that not only stays crunchy in soup but also can be eaten on its own.

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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.)*