Whole Cranberry Sauce

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In the shopping bag or back to the bog?

As one taster put it, “I was born and raised in New England – I have to like cranberry sauce!” Indeed, the cranberry should be our state emblem. Last year, more than 14,000 acres of cranberry bogs, mostly in the southeastern part of the state, produced around 1.4 million barrels of the sour, native berry (one barrel is 100 pounds). Cranberries love our acid, peaty soil.

Cranberry sauce, whole or jellied, is the Thanksgiving condiment of choice to tart up turkey’s low-key and mild flavor. But don’t just consign it to the feast day; cranberry sauce is just as good with roast pork, duck, chicken, even rich fish.

Nine tasters sampled six brands of whole cranberry sauce with a chaser of sliced turkey and bread. Several were surprised to find the tartness missing and an overwhelming sweetness in most brands. One self-proclaimed connoisseur only makes his own. “It’s so easy,” he said emphatically. Another claimed “I’ve yet to meet a cranberry sauce I didn’t like – until now.” One woman was so disheartened, she announced, “Well I guess I will be making my own this year.”

The winner was Stop & Shop’s house brand, but not by much. Its whole berries were plentiful and had a “nice balance of tart and sweet.” Trader Joe’s Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce was a close second, but was judged more preserve-like than a whole berry condiment.

One taster, a Jamaica native, tasted cranberry sauce for the first time. Her family in New York eats goat curry and plantains for Thanksgiving. This year, she’s decided to bring the cranberry sauce. But it may be homemade. She was seen taking down the recipe from the cranberry sauce expert. – DEBRA SAMUELS

Market Basket Whole Cranberry Sauce
99 cents for 16-ounce can

Although this didn’t get thrown back into the bog, it might well have. “Tastes like cardboard,” said one. Another: “Awful, strange.” And these, too: “Totally tasteless,” “Ew! Like Grandma used to serve.” Sorry Grandma – this isn’t a compliment. There were a few faint praises, as in “just like a berry jam,” “a bit sweet, actual berries were not soft enough,” and “not enough jelly, too much berry.”

Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
$1.59 for 16-ounce can

You’re instructed to open this can from the bottom, which will make you think you have jellied sauce. But there are plenty of berries. “Sweet, great flavor,” was one comment, then “pretty good but a little sweet,” then, “very sweet tasting, creamy; almost like a jelly.” The overly sweet reaction continued; a taster used the word “jammy.” The one person who chose this as his winner said it was “moist, tasty, mighty fine.” And he was gleeful to discover this is the brand he uses. “I know that taste,” he said.

Roche Bros. Whole Cranberry Sauce
99 cents for 16-ounce can

“This has a taste of its own – awful,” said one taster, who added: “not sweet, no berries, not tart.” Comments on flavor went from “mild” and “tastes like artificial sweetener” to “poor flavor.” As for consistency: “chewy skins, but not much else.” We decided to send this brand back to the bog.

Stop & Shop Cranberry Sauce Whole Berry Winner
$1.29 for 16-ounce can

First thing you see are a whole lot of berries. “Very large, crunchy berries, and good flavor,” was one reaction. “It tastes like real cranberries.” Also: “Some good flavor and chewy berries.” As for taste: “Very subtly sour – good mix of the sweet and sour flavors” and “Good balance of sweet and tart.” Those who didn’t choose this one called it “bland,” and “not too tasty.” The ultimate criticism: “Tastes like it came from a can.”

Shaw’s Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
$1 for 16-ounce can

A sniff fails to yield any fruity odor. Bad sign. One person who voted this the least favorite said, “Tastes a little like the can.” Another: “Nasty. Can I have pecan pie instead?” This is the brand that had at least three participants picking skins from their teeth. As for texture: “This is like a Jell-O mold with chunks of cranberries.”

Trader Joe’s Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
$2.99 for 18-ounce jar

This sauce won second place. It was the most expensive of the lot and came in a nice glass jar. It was also the least gelatinous. Most compared it to jam. Some comments: “Gloopy – doesn’t hold a candle to homemade,” “Sweet and plummy,” “Are there strawberries in the mix?,” “Good, but too sweet for a traditional sauce,” “Mushy.”

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