Sweet Pickle Relish

Published July 2004

How we tested

The main ingredients of sweet pickle relish are revealed upon tasting it: cucumbers, sugar, vinegar, and salt. Yet when we took a close look at the labels of commercially prepared relishes, we were surprised to find cauliflower, cabbage, "spice," and dehydrated peppers on some of the lists. Given the differences in manufacturers' recipes, we had to wonder whether the right (or wrong) brand of pickle relish could make or break our potato salad recipe.

To find out, we shopped local supermarkets and returned to the test kitchen with six samples. We then prepared six potato salads, using a different relish in each. The results were far from conclusive, with tasters finding only minor differences between the samples. Clearly, the other ingredients in the potato salad made it difficult to detect any nuance contributed by a few tablespoons of relish.

Contrarily, tasting relish straight from the jar produced decisive results. The only organic brand in the group, won first prize. This relish has a drab gray-green hue, surely because it lacks yellow dye #5, an ingredient in every other relish in the tasting. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in flavor, which tasters described as "piquant," "sweet," "fresh," and "natural". Our runner-up radiates a shocking glow-in-the-dark color and won tasters over with its "crunchy" texture and "mustardy" flavor.

The losing relishes had a number of problems, including mushy, soft cucumber bits, strange spices (tasters detected cinnamon and clove flavors in one relish), and an abundance of high fructose corn syrup.

Here's the lesson: If you are adding relish to a dish with many competing flavors, use whatever is already in your fridge. But if the relish is to be the star condiment for a perfectly grilled hot dog-—don't get yourself in a pickle by choosing a lousy relish-—choose carefully.

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The Results


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.)*

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.)*