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Who knew there was so much eggnog out there?
This week on a special holiday-themed edition of the Cooking Light Taste Test, the producers decided to inflict seven different eggnogs onto Jaime and me.
It turns out that there are a lot of varieties of nog out there. There are vegan nogs made with nut milks such as coconut or soy milk. There are classic calorie-bomb nogs. There are organic and low-fat nogs. There's even one that's made only with the milk of Jersey cows (it's billed as "richer, creamier," and "wholesome.")
We tried them all.
Now, I don't know about you, but for me, eggnog is one drink that I don't really lighten up. I don't drink it often—maybe once a year—and I generally just make it from scratch (basically like this though I occasionally make a hot version, which is called a Tom and Jerry). It's incredibly rich, and one is enough to last me for the rest of the year.
So it was interesting to try several store-bought brands, and to discover that I actually really liked some of the lighter versions! It was also a little humbling to find that I'm still pretty awful at guessing what's in a glass. One of the drinks that I was sure was made from almond milk turned out to be completely dairy-filled.
But the biggest surprise was when Jaime told me what she tastes whenever she drinks eggnog. I didn't believe her until I tried a sip—and it blew my mind. You'll have to watch the video above to see what it is—and then comment on our Facebook or Youtube pages and let us know whether you drink eggnog, what your favorite kind is, and if you taste the same thing when you drink it.
So goes an old proverb that one could adapt for other things that take time to reach maturity. Eggnog, for example. The best time to make your Christmas eggnog is before Thanksgiving. The second-best time is now.
At first glance, eggnog doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you’d want to age. Whiskey? Yes. Eggs and cream? Um, maybe not. But combine whiskey, cream and eggs together (along with sugar and a few other ingredients), and you have a concoction that can certainly withstand some aging and potentially improve in the process.
The reason eggnog can age despite its dairy content is twofold. One half is that contamination of American dairy products is, thankfully, quite rare. The other is that alcohol inhibits bacterial growth. In pre-pandemic times, you may have joked that “alcohol kills everything” while sharing cocktails in a crowded bar. While that’s not exactly true — a normal cocktail isn’t going to have much disinfectant power in the short time it’s in your glass — it is true that if you start with clean dairy, spike it with enough alcohol and let the whole mixture chill in your refrigerator for a while, you can be reasonably assured of its safety.
To test this, microbiologists in 2009 went so far as to intentionally dose eggnog with salmonella to see what happened over time. Within a few weeks, the bacteria had died off. While we strongly advise against making salmonella an ingredient in your own eggnog, you can take some comfort from this strange experiment.
(To be fair, officials at the Food and Drug Administration warn against using unpasteurized eggs in eggnog and would likely disapprove of aging it, but the FDA is also notoriously risk-averse. Have you ever felt like you’re missing out on the FDA’s epic holiday parties? I didn’t think so. Still, if you’re immunocompromised or particularly cautious, do use your best judgment before proceeding, and discard any nog that looks or smells in any way off.)
Just because you can age eggnog, does that mean you should? This is a more divisive question. Culinary superstars Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman are notable advocates of letting your nog rest. Kenji Lopez-Alt, on the other hand, concluded after a taste test of fresh and year-old eggnog that the fresh nog was superior. Scientifically speaking, we have to declare the question unsettled. Like so many things in the world of spirits and cocktails, this is a matter of personal taste.
“Aging smoooooooths out the blend between the spirits and the nog,” says Andrew Bohrer, an influential Seattle barman who now consults and works as a freelance illustrator. “I think you are choosing spirits to enhance favor, not hide them. But a spirit that has rested in nog for a month tastes integrated rather than just of liquor and dairy fat.”
For Andrew, batching up eggnog is an annual tradition, and he keeps it around in his refrigerator for up to a year. I’ve followed his lead on this, making up a new batch every winter and reserving a bottle to see how it evolves over time. I’ve gone as long as two years on mine and have tasted nogs as old as three. With proper care and storage, there’s no telling how long a batch might last and still taste wonderful.
“I love beverages and I tend to get obsessed with the ones that have a big delta between low and high quality,” says Bohrer of what inspired him to perfect his eggnog recipe. As with any mixed drink, there’s room for improvisation with eggnog, but technique matters. “Eggnog is a baking recipe and the techniques are even more important than the ingredients,” Andrew says. In other words, feel free to use whichever spirits strike your fancy, but be sure to put your eggnog together in the right way.
This mostly comes down to handling the yolks and whites of the eggs separately. Whisking the whites aerates the nog, giving it a soft, fluffy head. This will gradually dissipate if you’re aging your nog for, say, a year, but it will hold up surprisingly well — long enough to get you through the holidays. Taking this step ensures that your nog will be rich but not too thick.
Then there are the spirituous additions. This is where things get exciting, with options ranging from the simple and traditional to contemporary and unorthodox. An acclaimed option in the latter category is Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s añejo tequila and amontillado sherry recipe created for Portland bar Clyde Common. I’m also a fan of Seattle bartender Anu Apte’s “beer nog,” an aged version she composed with cognac and porter for a holiday menu at her bar Rob Roy.
For a more traditional take, we can look to founding father George Washington, a man who could teach us important lessons in 2020 about how to leave the office of the presidency with dignity and also how to make a tasty nog. Recipes for George Washington’s eggnog abound on the internet. Alas, according to representatives of his estate at Mount Vernon, their authenticity is hardly definitive. Nonetheless, the common recipe is certainly in the spirit of what Washington may have imbibed, calling for ingredients that were in popular use at the time.
The recipe attributed to Washington calls for a potent mix of whiskey, brandy, Jamaican rum and sherry. This is a really fantastic combination and proves that blending spirits brings depth and complexity to a nog. “If I have to choose just one [bottle], it’s older, higher proof bourbon,” says Bohrer. “But I really think that the blend is the best way to go.” This is where your flexibility and creativity come into play. You might try rye and cognac, or bourbon and armagnac, and see how the different combinations work out from year to year.
The choice of rum, however, is key. There’s a reason that recipes often specify Jamaican rum. The island is famous for its funky, aromatic pot-still rums of unmistakable character. Look for bottles such as Smith and Cross or Doctor Bird. They’ll stand out against the sweet vanilla notes of whiskey and brandy and play wonderfully with the spices. You could also try something like cachaça or rhum agricole. Just try to avoid a relatively neutral, sweet rum, which wouldn’t add much to the barrel notes already present in the whiskey and brandy.
As for the sherry? Because its nutty flavor can be overpowering, Andrew suggests leaving it out of the batch and optionally adding it to the glass when serving, just a small splash (¼ oz. or less) per glass. The same with nutmeg: it works best as an aromatic garnish, grated on fresh when you serve the eggnog rather than resting in the bottle.
You could stop at the classic combination of whiskey, brandy and rum, but in recent years I’ve started making a couple other minor additions. Inspired by a recipe from Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah, Georgia, which includes apricot and peach brandy, I now add an ounce or two of fruit liqueur to my nog. For spice and complexity, I also add a splash of an aromatic and spice-forward amaro, such as fernet. These aren’t there to take over the drink, rather to lurk interestingly in the background and bring a little added depth.
That brings us to the final question of eggnog: Do you want to strictly adhere to a recipe, making it the same way every time? Or do you want to experiment, letting each year’s batch go in a different direction?
I’ve become partial to the latter approach, enjoying the ritual of making a different nog every year with whatever spirits I happen to have on hand. This year that worked out to be a high-proof bourbon, a spicy rye, a brandy from California, my funky infinity bottle of rum, a splash of liqueur made from fruit of the coffee cherry, and an esoteric bitter digestif brought back from a vacation in Denmark. It’s different, delicious, and I’ll never be able to replicate it. It’s a one-time thing, made to be enjoyed over the holidays and throughout the year, until next year’s nog is batched and ready to drink.
With that out of the way, let’s finally make some nog. Here’s the basic outline to follow, as elucidated by Andrew Bohrer in a wonderful series of illustrations posted to Twitter.
Whisk the egg whites with 1/3 cup of sugar until approximately quadrupled in volume. Whisk the yolks with one cup sugar, then whisk in cream, milk and vanilla extract, if using. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.
Follow the steps above to make the base of your eggnog. All that’s left is to add your spirits. Conveniently, this should all fit into a one-gallon jug with room for about one bottle (750 ml or 25 oz.) of liquor. What to use is, of course, entirely up to you, ranging from the simplicity of a single bottle to your own personal booze mélange.
And with that, you have a year’s worth of nog, more or less. It’s ready to drink immediately — how could you resist? — and the remainder should be stored in your refrigerator. And remember, eggnog is meant to be shared. Although holiday cocktail parties are off the table this year, you can spread some cheer by bottling your eggnog and dropping it off to friends and family. It’s an affordable gift, and if you give your recipe a personal touch, it will be unlike any eggnog they’ve tried before.
Every holiday season, I find myself in an egg nog debate with a friend/coworker/stranger about who makes the best egg nog. My family and I are loyal fans of Stewart's egg nog (the premium one, not that "light" crap). I've always immediately dismissed anyone else's rebuttal. I have given a couple other egg nogs a try, and in my opinion, they were nowheres near as delish as Stewart's.
So you know what this means? Yeah, that's right: egg nog taste test!
We went shopping for egg nog in local supermarkets and picked up five of them: Stewart's Gold, Hannaford brand, Price Chopper brand, Hood, and Garelick. All were full-fat varieties -- and none were flavored.
We assembled a trio of judges -- all egg nog fans -- to help us score the nogs:
+ Frank Nissen -- IT guy by day, egg nog nut by night
+ Jessica Pasko, AOA contributor extraordinaire
The judges scored the nogs on three qualities: viscosity, bouquet and flavor. They also ranked the nogs overall.
Here are how things stacked up:
A few comments from the judges:
Two of the three judges scored the Hannaford nog as their favorite. "Creamy, smooth [and] vanilla beany," wrote one judge. "Well-rounded" with "good texture" wrote another. And from the third judge, who didn't rank Hannaford #1: "Flavor reminds [me] of rice pudding."
Meagan's favorite fared well, garnering one of the three number 1 overall votes. "Excellent," wrote the judge who scored it #1. "Tangy [and] slightly sour," wrote one of the other judges.
This was a bit of surprise -- no one really expected a lot from this brand coming into the test. "Creamy but not too heavy," noted one judge. "A little chalky, but nice and nutmeg-y," wrote another.
This brand just edged out Chopper brand for fourth place. "Horrid," exclaimed one judge of this nog. "Fake eggy" wrote another. "A little too mild," noted the third.
5. Price Chopper
This brand also got the "horrid" label from one of the judges. "Eh," wrote a second. "Pleh," wrote the third. On the bright side, Chopper brand did score the highest for bouquet. Unfortunately, most of us don't drink through our noses.
Our judges decided Hannaford had the best egg nog, with Stewart's a close second.
Meadowbrook Farms Dairy (clarksville) has, hands down, the best egg nog that i've ever tried. The downside is that it costs $8, but for something you buy just once a year, it's worth it. Really. No comparison.
. said n on Dec 16, 2008 at 5:23 PM | link
None of it can touch my homemade eggnog. Of course, the advantage of Stewarts eggnog is that you can still drive after two cups. :-)
. said Mike Jones on Dec 16, 2008 at 7:17 PM | link
. said sarah on Dec 16, 2008 at 8:09 PM | link
Excellent! Great work on this one. I will be quaffing Hannaford Nog this year. Question: Was there nutmeg sprinkled on top? That was always how I did it.
Hannaford consistently offers good store brand products at a reasonable price.
And yes, I know I've written about Hannaford before. Its not a love affair with Hannaford, but more of a loathing for all things Price Chopper.
. said Erik on Dec 17, 2008 at 9:26 AM | link
Anyone have any good homemade egg nog recipes they care to share?
. said James Cronen on Dec 17, 2008 at 9:32 AM | link
@Erik: The nogs were all served straight up -- no added nutmeg, cinnamon or -- alas -- alcohol.
. said Greg on Dec 17, 2008 at 10:41 AM | link
Too bad none of them actually taste like eggnog.
James, look for Alton Brown's nog recipe. It's a little involved, but totally worth it.
. said B on Dec 17, 2008 at 11:41 AM | link
Aw, I love the Stewart's Light Nog! Mostly because I find regular, full-fat nog much too thick and creamy.
. said Silvertongue on Dec 17, 2008 at 12:07 PM | link
I love this! Thanks for testing!
. said mark on Dec 17, 2008 at 1:16 PM | link
Thanks, I'll go track it down.
. said James Cronen on Dec 17, 2008 at 1:53 PM | link
Silk Nog soy egg nog is the way to go. It's delicious, and not as terrible for you as the "real" stuff.
. said jaime on Dec 17, 2008 at 2:07 PM | link
n is correct. the Meadowbrook farm egg nog is the best I have ever had as well. glass bottles!!
. said brian on Dec 17, 2008 at 9:34 PM | link
Borden's is the best egg nog ever! It is rich, creamy, flavorful and tastes like home made!
. said Carolyn on Dec 18, 2008 at 12:39 PM | link
1. Alcohol-free eggnog might as well be baby formula. I don't understand that viscous stuff that is sold under the name eggnog in convenience and grocery stores.
2. Real eggnog is easy to make at home--eggs, cream, sugar, booze (lots of possibilities), some other flavorings (vanilla, nutmeg if you like). If you have any kind of hand mixer you can make eggnog.
3. My family traditionally made the recipe featured in an older New York Times cookbook (Craig Claiborne, 1961). This recipe is good for parties or entertaining, but you can make a smaller amount (1/3 the recipe works fine). It's so thick because of the beaten egg white and cream that you can eat it with a spoon and we served it almost like a dessert. It's not hard to make (the electric mixer does the work), but it has more steps than popping open a carton. No comparison in terms of taste.
New York Times (Craig Claiborne) Eggnog
12 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup bourbon whiskey
1 cup cognac
1/2 tsp. salt
3 pints heavy cream
With an electric mixer beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and lemon colored. Slowly add the bourbon and cognac, while beating at slow speed. Chill several hours.
Add the salt to the egg whites and beat until almost stiff. Whip the cream until still. Fold the whipped cream into the yolk mixture, then fold in the beaten egg whites. Chill one hour.
When ready to serve, sprinkle the top with freshly grated nutmeg. Serve in punch cups with a spoon. If desired add one or two cups of milk to the yolk mixture for a thinner eggnog.
. said chrisck on Dec 19, 2008 at 9:16 AM | link
@n - Where can I purchase the Meadowbrook eggnog?
@chrisck - I agree with you on the alcohol, but it seemed it would be a bit unfair to use adulterated eggnog for the taste test. I think the hooch might have brought a certain bias to the operation.
. said jess on Dec 19, 2008 at 10:03 AM | link
Smith Traditional egg nog is super good! Creamy without being too thick, and a flavor sweeter/more vanilla-y than other brands I've had. I just forced it upon someone who hates egg nog, and even he conceded that it was tasty.
The only down side: it's got a completely horrifying picture of Santa on one side of the carton, and an even creepier Mrs. Claus on the other.
. said 23-Hour Alice Person on Dec 22, 2008 at 9:06 PM | link
Here is my father's recipe that he made famous in our little village of Valley Stream on Long Island. I have had Harley Bikers who would previously only drink Bud ask for seconds. In honor of my father who will be 91 this year I offer it perhaps so that it will be enjoyed into perpetuity. It's too good to lose:
1/2 GAL BREYERS Vanilla (with vanilla bean specks) Mashed with potato masher
1 C Seagram's VO
1/3 C Meyer's dark RUM add the VO and Rum to the mashed Breyer's
2 EGGS separated
ONE T SUGAR IN WHITES
BEAT WHITES STILL STIFF
BEAT YOLKS Fold Into WHITES
POUR OVER MASHED ICE CREAM, ADD 1/4 C MILK TO egg bowl to WASH OUT EGGS INTO NOG
DON'T FORGET THE NUTMEG (a sprinkle on each serving)
Try it you'll like it. I must agree, for "store bought" nothing compares to Meadowbrook. Kudos to Chuck Van Wie who has been delivering it along with our milk to our doorstep for decades. It's really like a fine wine, you have to let it sit on your tongue before swallowing. Pure heaven.
. said Tommy Holecek on Dec 27, 2008 at 11:15 AM | link
Here's how to get the eggnog:
Meadow Brook Farms Dairy
Clarksville, NY 12041
Phone: (518) 768-2451
Not sure if it's at Honest Weight, the milk can be purchased there. Chuck may only deliver the eggnog to his home delivery customers. You could always ask a friend who gets milk delivered to order you some. (Find a parent with lots of children who drink lots of milk who want BGH free milk -- and they may get their milk from Meadowbrook)
. said tommy Holecek on Dec 27, 2008 at 12:06 PM | link
You can purchase Meadowbrook Farms Eggnog & many of their FRESH products @ L&S Garden & Produce on Pawling ave in Troy NY.They carry their Eggnog Seasonally.
. said Stephen on Jan 12, 2009 at 10:12 AM | link
My favorite drink is egg nog. It is impossible to avoid the egg nog lover jokes and comments from friends and family every year and being a Rhode Islander my entire life doesn't help. I make my own 1 gal. vanilla, 1 doz. eggs. 1 cup cream 1/2 sugar, rum is optional. The key is fresh eggs right out of the chicken. The place I get the eggs it a Wrights Diary farm who has exceptional egg nog perhaps the best. Christine's and Monroes Dairy also have exceptional egg nog it would be extremely expensive and filling to have a taste test so I think it's pretty much a 3 way tie. The down side is the diary egg nog doesn't keep long and it isn't cheap. The highly available hands down is the Hood original golden egg nog. It stays 5x+ the length of the dairy's and is a little cheaper and drinks much easier. Stay away from all the flavored ones (trust me I've tried them all). I even contacted Hood and asked if they sold any Hood Golden Egg Nog apparel but no they don't so I might just make my own.
. said David on Nov 9, 2010 at 7:30 PM | link
I 2nd Bordens. we're talking the kind in a carton only sold seasonally. It's only sold as far north as Conroe, TX from what I found out. And that's a long was from Colorado so I settle for Royal Crest.
. said James on Dec 5, 2011 at 12:24 PM | link
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For the Martha Stewarts of the world, the only true eggnog is homemade, with frothy egg whites and custardy yolks. Even my East Texas Granny made her own nog, though she was decidedly not Martha Stewart. She'd bring it in gallon jugs, pour it into a punch bowl and add the whiskey. My granny however, grew up in the Depression, so refrigeration was an afterthought to her. She always thawed meat overnight on the counter. So, when she made her nog with raw eggs, it was a bit of a crap shoot health-wise. Fortunately, we never ended up shooting crap the next day, so the homemade deliciousness was worth the gamble.
For those unwilling to risk tummy troubles with homemade eggnog, the grocery stores offer a variety of nogs to suit tastes and diets. While low-fat eggnog is a travesty to most, many people are trying to moderate their holiday cheer intake. We tried some vegan options for those who still need some nog without the dairy. I drank seven different store-bought versions, so if you see me waddling around town, blame it on the nog. Or the booze. I had to draw the line somewhere and that line was pumpkin nog. I just couldn't do it.
These are the results of our grocery store eggnog tasting. You may disagree and that's okay. Some people prefer a thick, milky nog, others need some serious spice. In fact, why not have an eggnog tasting of your own? Bring out your vintage bar ware or your grandmother's Spode china Christmas mugs and make it a party. Since your friends and family may have different preferences when it comes to which liquor to add, have a few options available. I like brandy, my uncle prefers rum and my friends love bourbon. I usually purchase little 'airplane' bottles of different brands at the liquor store and put them out for my guests. There's just something festive about the miniature bottles. Plus, they are already pre-portioned, so it prevents the heavy-handed pours of some of your party peeps.
Here's a list of the ones we tried, from best to not-so-best:
Promised Land Old-Fashioned Eggnog: Anyone who loves milk loves Promised Land products. Its Midnight Chocolate milk made a convert out of me, even though I don't like chocolate milk. The creamy, yellow milk from Jersey cows is preferred by connoisseurs like my friend, Big-Haired Kim. That creaminess comes forth in its eggnog, slightly coating the tongue and giving a nice hint of nutmeg. This one is good on its own or spiked with liquor. It does have egg yolks in it, but the fat content isn't out of this world. Just remember: A serving is 1/2 cup when it comes to eggnog.
H-E-B Eggnog: This one surprised me. Personally, I think the Kroger brand egg nog is doable, but not great. The H-E-B store brand, as one taster said, "tastes like a cookie". Unfortunately, that flavor may be due to the high fructose corn syrup. However, the first three ingredients are milk, cream and skim milk, so it delivers on the creaminess. Points off for the artificial flavors.
365 Everyday Value Traditional Egg Nog: The smell of this Whole Foods brand threw me off. One sip and I knew why. Of all the nogs I tasted, this was the only one with ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. This one is probably closer to what the American colonists would have drunk. without the guar gum. The ginger really comes through, so some people may be turned off by that, others turned on. You nog your way.
Borden Premium Egg Nog: This one was the favorite of my late father-in-law. He was pretty set in his ways brand-wise. Charmin toilet paper, Blue Bell ice cream and Borden's egg nog. With all due respect to Big Bob, I found this was a bit on the thick side and it lists no spices, which makes it taste like melted ice cream rather than eggnog. Knowing how much Big Bob liked his ice cream, his fondness for this brand makes perfect sense. So, a toast to Big Bob with his Borden's and a whole lot of brandy to make it go down easier.
Horizon Organic Low Fat Egg Nog: I actually would put the taste of this a bit higher, but it lacked creaminess. With three grams of fat versus the nine or ten grams in the other ones, it's definitely less strain on the belt buckle. It also did not have guar gum like most manufactured egg nogs. It instead uses locust bean gum and gellan gum. Most of these gums are added as thickeners. The flavor of the nutmeg gives this low-fat version some zip.EXPAND
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Nog: For people who cannot or do not drink milk, the almond milk version isn't terrible, but it's also not that good. I found it way too sweet. This would need a liquor without any sweetness to balance the sugary taste of this nog. It does have some nice spice. It uses sunflower lecithin instead of soy.
MALK Pecan Malk Nog: I wanted to like this one because it is made locally by August Vega and her brother and cousin. Pecans are one of my most favorite things in the world and the taste of pecans is very strong in this beverage, but it is watery and bitter. It reminded me of coffee. In fact, I zapped it in the microwave and liked it better that way. The label says that the product is never heated, so I probably killed off some nutrition and good microbes by doing so. Many people drink nut-based milks due to allergies and other food issues and this is a healthy milk alternative. It is made with organic sprouted pecans, organic spices and smells delicious. This is not my kind of nog, but it's an option for vegans and people who are lactose-intolerant.EXPAND
So there's our list, which is certainly not exhaustive. There are plenty of other brands to try out there, but my elastic is fit to burst as it is. You can try your hand at making eggnog yourself or just buy a quart and doll it up with some whipped cream, grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick. Or experiment. Try making a white Russian eggnog with Kahlua and vodka. Put on some Andy Williams and curl up in front of the fire. Forget about the calories. Forget about the to-do list. Forget about Aunt Bertha's gift. It's time for egg noggin' and maybe a little snoggin'.
Look for our upcoming story on eggnog cocktails around town. Some of Houston's best restaurants and bars have created yummy eggnog beverages using family recipes and creative mixology. The photos will make you drool.
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In an ideal world, everyone would make their own Thanksgiving gravy from scratch, especially when it's so easy. But we don't live in an ideal world (have you seen Nic Cage in The Wicker Man?!), and in the interest of those less-than-Rockwellian moments, we decided to give a few of the powdered gravy versions a whirl (we tried the prepared, ready-to-serve stuff a few years ago).
All of the gravies we purchased are readily available nationwide or can be ordered online. Some of the gravies billed themselves as "turkey" flavor, while others were "brown," implying that they can be used with other meat dishes, too.
A good gravy should be rich and meaty with enough hints of vegetables and aromatics to support, but not overwhelm, the base flavor. It should be thick enough to form a satisfying layer of sauce on a piece of roasted meat, but shouldn't be gloppy or gelatinous. Above all, it should taste like it's made with real ingredients, not like fake chemical stuff.
The gravies were all prepared according to package directions (combining with water and simmering until thickened), and tasters were asked to taste them plain and with roast chicken. They ranked each gravy for overall impression on a scale from 1 to 10, and were asked for notes about texture (Thick and gloopy? Thin and runny?), saltiness, and overall flavor (Rich and meaty? Light and vegetal?).
Tasters could tell the difference between turkey and brown gravies, but in the end, the losers came from both categories. While no one truly loved any of the powdered gravies, there were a few clear favorites. The winners all had some amount of real poultry flavoring, while both brown gravies, which placed near the bottom, were flavored with beef. Most were thickened with wheat flour, while the two losers featured modified food starch and organic potato starch, respectively.
As far as salt is concerned, given that taster preference often correlates to the salt content of a particular product, we were surprised that in this case, salt level (either perceived or actual) seemed to have little impact on the final results. In fact, the far-and-away winner was deemed the least salty by our tasters. Our winner was also the only brand to include MSG in its ingredients, though all brands other than Simply Organic contained similar flavor enhancers that ranged from yeast extract to disodium inosinate. Texture-wise, the thicker, bordering-on-gloopy options were the least favorite—we like our gravies smooth and creamy.
A note on price: it turns out that the more expensive brands are worth it—the winner was the only that cost more than $2, while the two losers were about 30% cheaper than the winners (the total price range went from $1.15 on the low end to $2.19 for the top-of-the-line stuff).
At the end of the day, if you're looking to save time on Thanksgiving day by using a powdered gravy, we'd recommend any of our top three tasted brands, but skip the ones that ranked below that.
The definitive winner, Knorr was praised for its "mellow," "almost real chicken flavor" and "saucy smooth texture." One taster even said it "could almost pass for homemade." (A harsher critic declared it "the closest to an edible gravy that I tried.") Knorr's main thickener is wheat flour, with flavor coming from MSG, sugar, chicken fat, and turkey powder, which helps explain the "meaty"" flavor. It also, intriguingly, contains a small amount of cheddar cheese, plus, like all of the powdered gravies, a whole lot of preservatives and emulsifying agents.
The next two brands (French's and McCormick's) came in neck-and-neck for second place.
Several tasters picked up a slight celery flavor in addition to a vague "poultry thing" in the French's, and praised its "thick, but not pudding-thick" consistency. A few people commented that it was a touch too salty and might need some additional water to thin it out. Like Knorr, French's is wheat flour-thickened, and it relies on turkey fat and broth, salt, and onion powder for flavor.
McCormick's tasted like alternately "school lunch," "Thanksgiving," and "what you might get with fast food mashed potatoes." It had a mild, starchy flavor and a thin-bordering-on-runny texture. It too is thickened with wheat flour, and laced with the flavors of chicken fat, turkey meat, onion, and "extractives of paprika."
Tasters noticed off the bat that this had a beefier flavor than the turkey gravies, and praised its "umami-rich" "depth of flavor." However, multiple people found it too salty, comparing it to "licking a bouillon cube," "slightly burnt soy sauce," and "dog food." The "thin," "gluey" texture was also not well-received. Spartan is thickened with wheat flour starch, plus has salt, beef fat, onion, and garlic going on inside.
Nearly tied for last place, we don't recommend either of these gravies. Lawry's was on the business end of some serious gravy vitriol, described as "Just DISGUSTING. It tastes feral, like wet dog. Also has a repulsively thick texture closer to chocolate pudding," "YUCK, YUCK, EW," and, creatively, as exhibiting "the worst kind of generic meatiness, like hospital food for people who have had their tongues removed." Lawry's contains modified food starch, natural flavors involving beef and pork, and onion and garlic powder.
On Simply Organic, many tasters took issue with the "weird, grainy, gloopy" texture, comparing it to "meat jello" and "meaty applesauce." "Can't get past the texture. Not sure I want to," said one. Simply Organic is thickened with organic potato starch, and flavored with organic natural flavors including turkey, chicken, and sea salt, and also has sage and black pepper in it for good measure.
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Simply seasoned with Fair Trade nutmeg and vanilla, this one tastes the most natural and wholesome out of all the brands we tried, a bit like “when you have a party and let the ice cream sit out too long,” said one taster. It would be great as a base for French toast or stirred into coffee.
“Thick like a cashmere throw—as nog SHOULD BE,” said one taster. We were a little torn about how creamy a proper nog should be, but if that slightly melted milkshake texture is what you’re after, this is the nog for you.
I think last week’s raw Thanksgiving temporarily depleted my kitchen creativity. This week, I’ve been burnt out! I’ve had savory oats for either lunch or dinner most days, and pasta and veggies the others. Oh, and avocado toast. It never gets old.
I’ve also been hitting the egg nog hard. Sans alcohol, but still. It’s gotten slightly out of hand. And I’m not sure I’ve ever even tried real egg nog – it sounds gross to be honest – however, somewhere in the last couple of years, I discovered the vegan versions and now I appear to be seasonally-obsessed.
It all started out so innocently when I was at Whole Foods the other day shopping for food photography props (not groceries, that was the day before). I spotted the new Califia Farms Holiday Nog, and then the So Delicious coconut milk version. I’ve tried the latter and remembered liking it, but then I recalled a conversation I had with my brother where he said Califia Farms Nog tasted off and weirdly alcoholic in a bad way. Torn between trying something new and going with what I know I like (story of my life), I decided my best bet was to buy both. And then I passed the Rice Dream Nog and got that too. Taste test time!
I’m not going to lie, I was very excited for this taste test, and asked Aaron to take part too. He was, admittedly, less excited, but knew there would be cookies after (that post is coming soon!). We tried the Califia Farms Holiday Nog first because we’re both suckers for pretty packaging and almond milk. The verdict? A nice, creamy texture followed by a very bizarre quasi-alcoholic flavor and overpowering smell. Aaron didn’t get alcohol at all and instead proclaimed that it tasted like bubble gum. From there on out, that was all I could taste. Nutmeg-y bubblegum. Not good.
The Rice Dream Nog was up next, and the consistency was much more watery. Thankfully, the flavor did not include bubble gum, but instead was heavy on the cinnamon. Aaron enjoyed this brand the most, but I found it tasted like cinnamon rice milk, which I suppose it is.
And lastly, the So Delicious Nog, which I found to be thick and almost custard-like, with the most traditional egg nog flavor of the bunch. This was my favorite, and I also found the color to be the most appetizing and golden with flecks of what I hope were nutmeg and not “natural” something or other…which brings me to my final point. All three include carrageenan and those lovely “natural” flavors. So while it’s awesome that there are multiple options for dairy and egg-free nogs, the ingredients could be better.
Final verdict: So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog in a pinch, but homemade is probably best. I think I feel my kitchen creativity returning…
Our tequila-sherry egg nog at Clyde Common has been so overwhelmingly popular over the years that I figured I’d share the recipe. It was originally included in this post, but now I’ve moved it to its own page so you can print it out for your own use.
I’m honored to say that my eggnog recipe is featured in the New York Times Cookbook, one of the bibles of cooking out there. Amanda Hesser did a beautiful job of re-presenting Craig Claiborne’s original 1961 edition and updating it with some more current recipes and techniques. I’m proud to say that my recipe is featured alongside Craig’s, as a sort of modern interpretation of the older technique. Pick up a copy here, it’s indispensable in any kitchen.
The season of pumpkin spice has passed. Now, everywhere you look there's peppermint, gingerbread and cocoa.
Not that we're complaining.
Trader Joe's in particular has an overwhelming selection of holiday offerings. A Hostess snack disguised as a snowman? They've got it. Pasta shaped like snowflakes? Yup. German holiday treats with tricky pronunciations? You bet.
The SFGATE team took it upon ourselves to taste test some of Trader Joe's many seasonal offerings. While some snacks were festive and tasty, we found others to be sickeningly sweet. One item was best described as "grandma-esque."
We've done all the hard work for you and ranked the treats we tried from worst to best.
Click through the slideshow below to see which items you should grab for your next holiday party and which ones you might want to skip.
1 of 36 Trader Joe's has gone all in for the holidays. We taste tested just a few of its many seasonal offerings and ranked them from best to worst.
2 of 36 WORST: Fruit Fancies
4 of 36 WORST: Marzipanstollen
5 of 36 WORST: Soft-baked Drizzled Gingerbread Oat Bars
7 of 36 Chocolate Peppermint Almond Beverage
8 of 36 Light Egg Nog
10 of 36 Chocolate Mousse Snowman
11 of 36 Trader Joe's and the Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe-Joe's
13 of 36 BEST: Cheesy trees
14 of 36 BEST: Pfeffernusse
16 of 36 BEST: Peppermint "Hold the Cone!" Mini Ice Cream Cones
17 of 36 The SFGATE team taste tested some of Trader Joe's many pumpkin-flavored seasonal offerings.
19 of 36 BEST: Pumpkin Ginger "Hold the Cone!" Mini Ice Cream Cones
20 of 36 BEST: Pumpkin Kringle
22 of 36 BEST: Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps
23 of 36 Pumpkin Cream Cheese
25 of 36 Pumpkin Marble Mousse Bar
26 of 36 Fall Harvest Salsa
28 of 36 Pumpkin Tortilla Chips
29 of 36 Pumpkin Joe-Joe's
31 of 36 WORST: Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
32 of 36 WORST: Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramel
34 of 36 WORST: Pumpkin Spice Almond Beverage
SFGATE taste tests some of Trader Joe's holiday offerings.
If you see something you like, snap it up while you can. These products won't be on the shelves for very long.
What's your favorite seasonal item at Trader Joe's? Let us know in the comments.