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Blue Cheese Dressing

Published October 2013

How we tested

Nothing dresses up a wedge of iceberg or offsets the spicy heat of Buffalo wings quite like blue cheese dressing. There are dozens of supermarket options, but we narrowed the field to seven top-selling national products from a list compiled by Chicago-based market research firm IRi. (When a company made more than one version, we chose its best seller.) We sampled the dressings with celery sticks and with Buffalo wings.

What flavor did our tasters demand from blue cheese dressing? The unmistakable sharp, salty, sour, and pungent flavor of blue cheese, naturally. Some of the dressings had plenty of rich, creamy dairy flavor but barely tasted of this distinctive cheese; these dressings, we noticed, listed buttermilk ahead of blue cheese on the label, meaning that they contained more buttermilk than cheese. Blue cheese is veined with Penicillium roquefortii, a bluish-green mold that ferments over a period of months to produce methyl ketones and free fatty acids, the compounds that create typical blue cheese taste. All the dressings contained blue cheese, but our favorite had the most, listing it three times (in slightly different forms) on its ingredient list.

As for texture, the thicker the dressing the better—runny and thin isn’t for dipping. And we preferred sizable, creamy chunks of cheese to negligible flecks. What we didn’t expect was that a shelf-stable bottle would best refrigerated products, its distinct blue cheese flavor and thick texture making it the all-around favorite.

In fact, we liked most of the shelf-stable dressings, recommending all but one. It failed because it was too sweet. With 4 grams of sugar per serving, it had the highest sugar content of all the dressings in our lineup. The sugar was listed third on its ingredient list, ahead of even the blue cheese; the rest of the dressings had 1 gram of sugar or less. The other product we can’t recommend had almost no blue cheese flavor.

Since oil is listed first on the ingredient list in every one of these dressings, naturally the type of oil also affected our rankings. All the products we liked use soybean oil. The two products we didn’t like were made with canola oil. Canola is much more highly unsaturated than soybean oil and oxidizes more rapidly, potentially creating background rancid flavors in less than six months. It can turn bad especially quickly in a clear container, which is how all the dressings are packaged, even when the bottle is still sealed. Our favorite product also adds preservatives and partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which makes it even less likely to oxidize. It’s the only dressing in our lineup with nucleotides (disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate). Wondering what they are? They intensify our tastebuds’ perception of flavor. Our top choice was well engineered for maximum flavor and texture. It’s a convenient choice next time we watch a game with a platter of Buffalo wings.

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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.)*