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Supermarket Cheese Ravioli

Published January 2012

How we tested

Ravioli is Italian for “little turnips,” but these squares or rounds typically encase a filling of meat or cheese. Homemade versions can take most of an afternoon to cut and press by hand. Store-bought cheese ravioli—machine-punched from sheets of pasta sandwiched around mounds of filling—offer convenience, but would any pass muster? We wanted a flavorful, cheesy filling and no structural issues: Ravioli need a thick enough pasta wrapping so they won’t burst in rapidly boiling water and a generous cheese-to-pasta ratio.

We rounded up five nationally available brands (four frozen and one refrigerated), and boiled them before tossing them with a small amount of neutral-tasting, plain olive oil. Then we called tasters to lunch.

The brands that we liked best had the most cheese per square (or round), with almost 1 gram of filling for every 2 grams of pasta. Our favorite provided “a burst of creamy cheese” with every bite and a “perfect dough-to-filling ratio”; the runner-up had enough “creamy, plush, rich” cheese for tasters to detect it melting as they ate. All of the brands we sampled remained intact in boiling water, but some had shells so thick and doughy, we were left searching for the filling. “Need more cheese!” tasters grumbled.

Cheese type also factored into our selection, with tasters preferring brands stuffed with enough nutty, glutamate-rich Parmesan and Romano to round out their use of ricotta. A ravioli that relied on cracker meal as a secondary ingredient got thoroughly panned—“Honestly, I can’t taste any flavor at all in the filling,” one taster put it. A light hand with herbs and spices was also key. “Taste herbs and pepper, not cheese,” some complained of the low-ranking brand. One ravioli with dehydrated onions drew complaints for a “pasty” texture and a flavor like “onion powder overload!” The right amount of seasoning was another predictor of success. Brands with less sodium per serving were “terribly bland,” tasting “like chewy plastic” or “more like pasta water than pasta or cheese.” 

The brand we liked best had everything we wanted: a “creamy, plush, rich” blend of three cheeses, enough salt to bring these flavors forth, and a “perfect dough-to-filling ratio.” Its uniform squares will never pass for homemade, but they got better than passing marks.

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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.)*