Monday, January 18, 2016

The World's Ultimate Ginger Ale/Beer Taste Test

The Preface:

Ginger Ale Taste Testing

Ginger Ale. A beverage that most people probably don't think much of until the flight attendant lists it off as one of your drink options as you fly over the country (this comic by The Oatmeal sums it up well). What most people don't realize, though, is that there are more ginger ales/beers done by more soda companies than any other flavor of soda (for those who are unaware, ginger beer generally has a stronger ginger flavor and is usually more spicy than its ale counterpart). In fact, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, ginger ale was the most popular soft drink in the U.S.

Brian and I love ginger ale and ginger beer. Our feelings toward this golden nectar echo those spoken in 1893 by WB Keller, the editor of the National Bottlers Gazette:
"It should be the aim of every bottler to bring its brand of ginger ale to the highest possible perfection, since a bottler's products are judged for better or worse by the merit or lack of merit possessed by its ginger ale."
Before doing this taste test, we had each tried several different brands, some of which we liked, and others that we didn't. We even attempted to make our own ginger ale, using champagne yeast (it did not go well). But which is the best? We had to know. Therefore, we decided that the world's ultimate, most in-depth and complete taste test would be needed to determine once and for all:

WHICH IS THE BEST GINGER ALE/BEER?

The Competitors:
(Click on the names to see pictures of each drink. Many come in great bottles with nicely designed labels.)


Ales
365 (Whole Foods)Hosmer Pale Dry
Ale 8-1Izze
Ale 8-1 DietJohnnie Ryan
Ale 8-1 Diet Caffeine FreeJoia Blackberry, Pomegranate & Ginger
Americana Honey LimeJoia Ginger, Apricot & Allspice
Australian Style Hot (Rocket Fizz)Kimura Wasabi
Avery's GoldenKrisda Natural Soda
Bai "Jambi"
Langers Gourmet
Barons GinsengLimonitz Ginger Lemonade
Bedford'sMrs.
Begley's And Bill'sNatural Brew
Big KNaturfrisk
Big K DietOld Faithful
Black BearOlde Brooklyn
Blenheim DietOpalin
Blenheim HotOoGave
Blenheim Not As HotPangleheimers
Blue Sky JamaicanPhillips Soda Works Sparkmouth
Blue Sky Jamaican - with SteviaPok Pok Som Sipping Ginger Soda
Blue Sky OrganicQ Ginger
BoylanR.W. Knudsen Spritzer
Bruce CostRed Rock
Bruce Cost 66Reed's Cherry
Bruce Cost Blood Orange and Meyer LemonReed's Natural Energy Elixir
Bruce Cost Jasmine TeaReed's Original
Bruce Cost Passion Fruit & TurmericReed's Premium
Bruce Cost Pomegranate & HibiscusReed's Raspberry
Caamaño Bros HawaiianReed's Spiced Apple Cider
Canada DryRefreshe (Safeway)
Canada Dry 10Refreshhh!
Canada Dry BlackberryRey
Canada Dry CranberryRieme Spicy
Canada Dry Cranberry DietRio
Canada Dry DietRock Creek Pale Dry
Canada Dry Ginger Ale and LemonadeRoyal Bliss
Canada Dry Rich BrownRoyal Club
Canada Dry with Green TeaSanta Cruz Organic
CaribooSchweppes
CelsiusSchweppes Premium Mixer
Communal Restaurant (house made)
Crooked OakSeagrams
Dr. Brown's Extra DrySeagrams Diet
Dream Lode GoldenShasta
DrySilk Road Ginger with Mint
Empire Bottling WorksSipp
EngiferdrykkurSmart Sense (K-Mart)
EvervessSodaStream
Excel GoldenSodaStream Diet
FentimansSprecher
Fest Blaze Golden PeachSquamscot Golden
Fever TreeSquamscot Pale Dry
Filbert'sStarbuck's Golden Ginger Ale Fizzio
Fitch & LeedesSwamp Pop
Fizz Probiotic Ginger LemonadeThomas Henry
Foxon ParkThomas Kemper
Gents African RootsThomas Kemper Spiced
Giant (Giant Food Store)Thorncroft Pink Ginger
Ginseng UpVeri
Great Value (Walmart)Vernors (Cane Sugar)
Great Value Cranberry (Walmart)Vernors (HFCS)
Great Value Diet (Walmart)Vernors Diet
Great Value Raspberry (Walmart)Western Family
GusWhite Rock
Hansen'sWhole Earth Organic
Hansen's DietWild Poppy Grapefruit Ginger
Harris TeeterWilkinson
Harris Teeter CranberryZevia
Harris Teeter DietZuberfizz
Hi✩BallZuberfizz Raspberry


Beers
AJ Stephans Jamaican StyleGingerona
AllganicsGoose Island Spicy
AmericanaGosling's
Anchor Ginger Root BeerGoya Jamaican Style
Archer Farms (Target)Grace
Avery's GoldenHerbal Moscow
Barritt's Bermuda StoneHosmer Dangerous
Barritt's Bermuda Stone DietIdris Fiery
Barr's OriginalJackson
Bedford'sJamaica's Finest
Bedford's DietJamaica's Finest Hot! Hot! Hot!
BelvoirJCS Reggae Style
Bickford's
Big Ben'sJed's Barbershop Strong Ginger Lime
Big Island Organics Gingerade MatéKroger
Big Island Organics Hawaiian GingeradeKutztown
BoylanLive Kombucha Spark Soda
Boylan HeritageLlanllyr SOURCE Fiery
Brooklyn Crafted Extra SpicyMac's
Bruce Cost Original SpicyMaine Root
Buderim Ausie StyleMaine Root Ginger Lemongrass Lemonade
Buderim Yank StyleMatilda's (Wallaby's)
BundabergMisty Wither's
Bundaberg DietP.F. Chang's (house made)
Bundaberg SpicedPimento
Capone Family SecretPortland
Capt'n Eli'sPresident's Choice Jamaican-Style
CaribiaQ Ginger

Rachel's
Cawston PressReading Draft
Cock 'n BullReed's Extra Ginger Brew
Cock 'n Bull DietReed's Extra Ginger Brew Light
Cock 'n Bull CherryRegatta
Craft (Chef's Line) SpicyRegatta Diet
D&G Old Jamaican - brown bottleRiver City
D&G Old Jamaican - green bottleRocket Fizz Gingerbread
D&G SpicyRockstar Ginger Brew
DrizzleRocky Mountain Soda
East ImperialRoyalty
Empire Bottling WorksSaxbys Original Stone
Fée d'OrSchweppes
FentimansSchweppes Spicy
Fentimans Ginger Beer and Muddled LimeSioux City
Fever TreeSpindrift
Fever Tree Naturally LightSquamscot
Filbert'sSt. John Virgin Islands
Fitz'sStoli
FizzgardStoli Fire and Spice
Frank Damn TastyStoney
FrostieTaylor's Tonics Gingerbread House
Garwood'sTiger
Garwood's SpicyTrader Joe's
Gladstone'sTrader Joe's Triple Ginger Brew
Ginger PeopleWBC Spicy Ginger
Ginger People EnergizerWild Spur
Ginger People SootherZevia Ginger Root Beer

247! That's a lot of ginger!

Some of these can be found at any local supermarket/grocery store. Others we found at specialty stores like Good Earth Natural FoodsWhole Foods, Pop 'n SweetsTrader Joe'sSproutsPirate O'sWorld Market, and others. And others are not sold at all in Utah, and required trips to Colorado, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland Oregon, California, Ohio and Washington DC. Some had to be shipped to us through Amazon and the Old 52 General Store. I got several bottles when traveling to Iceland and Canada, and we have great family and friends who purchased for us as they traveled to other places in the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Japan and Russia!

You'll notice we decided to include a few drinks that don't quite technically qualify as an ale or beer, but are close enough, so we felt they should be included in the testing. These include a few non-carbonated drinks that are more like a juice, and a few beverages that, while they include ginger as a main ingredient, have other flavors that are more prominent so they don't feel like an actual ginger ale. On the spreadsheet linked below we highlighted these in green text.

The Participants:
Andrew
Brian


The Methodology:
Canada Dry (henceforth known as CD) is bottled by the Dr. Pepper/Seven Up company and, therefore, seems to have the biggest market share of any ginger ale out there. Most people have tasted CD, and anybody who has ever had any ginger ale has likely had CD. Therefore, it seemed like the best brand for us to judge other ales/beers to, hopefully allowing non-ginger ale lovers to understand the baseline for our scores. 

We bought a 12 pack of CD and gave it a score. Then, each day we'd pour a glass of  CD along with a glass of another ale or beer, and decided whether the competing ales/beers were better or worse than CD, and gave it a score accordingly. (NOTE: After downing 24 cans and one 1-liter bottle of Canada Dry, we decided we'd had enough CD to be able to accurately judge and compare new brands to the CD without having to actually drink another can of the stuff, so we stopped.)

When testing each one, we took note of smell and color, however the only thing that we based our decision on was taste. Unlike other ginger ale/beer taste tests that we've seen on the web, we were trying to determine the best ale/beer to drink on its own, NOT which one is best to add to a Moscow Mule or a Dark n' Stormy.

The Results:
There are too many to list the results individually like we do for all of our other taste tests, however you should checkout this spreadsheet that shows all of the scores and tasting notes for every single drink. Overall, we found that we preferred beers to ales (average score of 7.3 vs 5), even though many of our very favorites (Blenheim, Bruce Cost) are ales. I think it's because there were so many terrible ales, which brought the overall score down.


The Stand-Outs (scored a 9 or 10 from both of us):

Bruce Cost Fresh Ginger Ales are amazing. The drink is unfiltered, leaving a thick amount of ginger sediment at the bottom of the bottle, which requires inverting the bottle before opening, to mix up the ginger bits. The bits are very soft, though, and you don't even really notice them as you swallow. There are several flavors, including limited time offerings (like the Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon). Overall these are simply outstanding beverages, and I think they're probably about the best introductory ginger beverage there is because it's a lot of ginger with some burn, but also very sweet. And fortunately, the distribution seems to be improving as the years have gone by, as when we first started we could only find this in California, but now it's available at many places all throughout Utah.

Blenheim is a South Carolina brand. Brian lived in S.C. for a while, and for years he's been telling me how amazing Blenheim is, how hot it is and how delicious it is. Once we found it for sale at Pirate O's, we had to try it out. Brian was a bit nervous that perhaps he had talked it up too much and that maybe it wouldn't live up to his memory. He was wrong. Blenheim is really, really good, and very hot. As in, "make-your-nose-burn-and-have-to-cough hot". We both preferred the "Not As Hot" (Gold Cap), and it's not because the "Hot" (Red Cap) was too spicy for us, it just tasted better. We were actually expecting it to be hotter than it was, and maybe that's why we dropped it a point.

Q Ginger is a very unique and self-described "superior" ginger ale & beer. We'd have to agree. Both the ale and beer are wonderful. The ale is very dry, not too sweet, but sweet enough (and it's sweetened with agave, so it's low calorie). What makes it special is that it has layers of additional flavors, including coriander, cardamom, rose oil and orange peel that you only notice if you take your time and think and pause after each sip. The beer is sweeter, but has a much stronger ginger bite. Q Ginger is what the GUS brand (which stands for "Grown-Up Soda") should have been. You can purchase these in 8 oz bottles, 12 oz cans, or in a large 750ml bottle. The smaller bottle shape is really unique, and the artwork on all of them are beautiful.

Maine Root: strong burn with a strong "dirty ginger" smell, very gingery. Almost like you're sucking on a piece of dirty ginger. It's fairly easy to find at Good Earth and probably other natural/organic-type grocers.

Sioux City: nice burn, good creamy flavor along with the ginger. This would be another good introductory ginger beer because it's tasty, easy to find and not too expensive.

AJ Stephens: strong "dirty ginger" smell, nicely sweet with a long-lasting burn. It's a New England brand that you'll probably have to special order. Reminded us a lot of Maine Root.

Hosmer Dangerous: this was a complete surprise to us. It comes in a very non-distinct, boring bottle with a boring label, but it's flavor was fantastic. It's got a cloudy light color, amazing carbonation that gave it a nice head, great dirty ginger smell, very yummy and familiar flavor, great burn, very spicy and is an excellent sipping beer. It's a small-label Connecticut brand that has been around for 100 years, but difficult to find outside of that state, so good luck finding it, but if you live on the East coast, it's worth hunting down.

Grace: this is a Canadian brand. It has a nice ginger and lemon scent, little carbonation, strong ginger flavor, nice fruity flavor that's not too overwhelming, and it gives a very strong burn in the back of the throat. It burns like a Blenheim but has a more sophisticated taste. This one is amazing, and we both gave it a perfect 10.


The must avoids (scored a 1 or 2 from both of us):

Zevia: Not very sweet, not much of a smell, terrible after-taste. We found we were not fans of drinks that used stevia as a sweetener.

Big K and Diet Big K (Kroger brand): All of the generic store brands were pretty bad, but Kroger was the worst of all of them. Absolutely no ginger flavor or smell, only a slight creamy flavor.

Blenheim Diet: Disappointingly, the Blenheim Diet is absolutely terrible. No sweetness, no smell, only a blast of nasty diet flavor upfront with a weak burn afterward. If you ever have the option, no matter how much you're trying to watch your weight, ignore the Diet and go for the real stuff.

WBC Spicy Ginger: This stuff was the worst we tasted. It smelled terrible and stale and mildewy, and it tasted just like it smelled. There was no ginger flavor and no spiciness. The weird thing is that this is the exact same labeling and bottling as Goose Island (which was pretty good). Perhaps we should have known, because we bought it at T.J. Maxx. Don't get soda at T.J. Maxx.


The surprises:

Goya: This stuff is probably the hottest of them all. It's insanely hot. Too hot. It has a great flavor that gets covered up by the heat. We both gave this an 8.

Canada Dry Diet: The surprise here was that the diet version is better than the non-diet (I gave the original a 4, Brian a 3). It actually has a ginger flavor that was non-existent in the non-diet version. I gave this a 5, Brian a 6.

Archer Farms: This is the Target brand and for a store brand it's really delicious. It's brewed in small batches, it has a great ginger flavor and is very sweet (maybe just a little too sweet). I gave this an 8, Brian a 9. I'm a little worried, though, because I think it may have been discontinued, as I haven't seen it in over two years. If it was discontinued, this was a major mistake on Target's part.

Rocky Mountain Soda: This was a difficult beer to purchase, but it was worth trying to track it down. It comes from a small bottler in Colorado, and is sweetened with beet sugar! This gives is a very unique flavor, and it has a nice burn. I absolutely love the labels on the bottle and will definitely be picking up a 4-pack any time I visit Colorado. Brian and I both gave it an 8.

Vernors: What surprised us about this is how many reviews we read about the amazingness of this soda, how incredible of a burn it has, how delicious it is, etc. when we wouldn't even qualify it as a ginger ale. It's a cream soda. There is no ginger to it. We even tried three different versions of it, the one sweetened with cane sugar, another with high fructose corn syrup and a diet, but none of them had any ginger. The people that love this are people from Michigan who grew up with it, and drank it when they were little and had no idea what good ginger ale is. Fools! (Or it's also possible that the recipe changed when the brand was purchased and distributed by the Dr Pepper company, in which case, I redact my "fools!" designation.)

Joia: This brand makes fantastic, all-natural sodas. They come in really unique flavors with spices you wouldn't expect in a soda, like allspice, nutmeg, clove and cardamom. We first found the Ginger, Apricot and Allspice flavor and after trying it, we had to get the five other flavors they offer. Initially, when we saw the Blackberry, Pomegranate and Ginger flavor, we weren't planning on including it in the taste test, because we assumed that the ginger wouldn't be prominent enough, but we were wrong. It's there, and it's strong, and it's a great soda. My favorite, however is the Lime, Hibiscus and Clove. If you ever see this brand, you gotta check it out.

President's Choice Jamaican-Style: This one is frustrating. It's one that I got in Canada. Brian gave it a 9, I gave it an 8. What's so frustrating is that it's not a "specialty" brand. It's the equivalent of the Wal-Mart Great Value brand that we have here in the US, but instead of being terrible like Great Value is, it's actually really good! When you consider this one, along with the amazingly delicious and easy-to-find Grace brand, Canadians are really lucky with their ginger beverage options. I really wish the US had such great brands at our big chain grocery stores. That way Americans could better understand the joy that is a great ginger beer.

This is, by far, our most time-consuming and expensive taste test ever. It took over four and a half years, and cost us over $300. What was a pleasant surprise was that over the time that it took to find and drink all of these beverages, many of these became easier to find. There seems to be (at least in Utah, possibly nationally) a resurgence in specialty sodas. Brands that we initially had to travel out of state to find are now readily available here. Hopefully this means that smaller bottlers will be able to produce and distribute their sodas on a national scale, and people will be able to get their hands on them easier. There are, however, still a lot of other brands out there (we know of 165 more!), but we haven't been found any reasonable way of getting them to us. (Soliciting help from anyone willing!)

Celebrating our 200th Ginger ale/beer!
Finally, this list wouldn't be as long as it is if it weren't for the help of good friends who were willing to go out of their way and stop at stores for us while they were traveling. So a very special thank you to Jenny, Wen-Di, J B, Danielle, Katherine, Collin, Trevor, Quinette, Kris, Trina, Sheri and Morgan.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Probiotic Dairy Beverages


The Preface
And now, for the taste test you've all been waiting for; the product you've been seeing in the stores and have been interested in trying, if only you knew which brand was best. The time has come, dear readers, for me to finally answer the question you've all been dying to know:

WHICH IS THE BEST PROBIOTIC DAIRY BEVERAGE?

Ok, so maybe you've never wondered about this at all. In fact, most people have probably never seen or noticed these little plastic bottles in your grocery store. Sometimes they're with the yogurt, other times they're in the meat case with the Latin food. I know about them because of the time I spent living in Taiwan. These little drinks are very popular outside of the United States, particularly in Asia, but also in Central and South America. In Taiwan they can be sold in big, liter sized bottles, and were even available as a flavor of 冰沙 (bīng shā) - an icy smoothie fruit drink, similar to a slurpee. I loved this stuff and when I saw three different brands of it being sold at my local grocery store, I had to get them all and find out which was best.



The Competitors
Sabor Cool
Yakult
Bio Salud


The Participants
Andrew


The Methodology
Drink 'em. I actually did the test twice, with a few weeks in-between, then compared the notes from each test afterward, to see if I got a different opinion one time versus the next. I didn't.


The Results
Sabor Cool - This one had the strongest smell and was quite tart compared to the others. It uses high fructose corn syrup and sugar. 40 calories in a 2.1 fluid ounce bottle. $.99 for 5 bottles.

Yakult - This one was not as overly sweet as the other two, and the flavor was a bit more mild and more natural. It was sweetened with only sugar and has 50 calories in a 2.7 fluid ounce bottle. $1.99 for 5 bottles.

Bio Salud - Extremely sweet. Too sweet. HFCS and sugar used. 35 calories in a 2.1 fluid ounce bottle. One positive thing about this one is that they have a few different flavors, including original (which is the one I tested), pineapple, peach and strawberry. $.89 for 5 bottles.

And the winner is:

The most natural flavor, the biggest bottle, the one that doesn't use high fructose corn syrup. Yakult wins. I suppose it's only appropriate, seeing as how this was the first probiotic dairy beverage, created in Japan in 1935. This is also the most popular in Taiwan, and is the one I drank most, though we called it "Yak milk". So if you see this in your grocery store, try it out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vanilla Wafers

The Preface
It seems I can't go much longer than a couple of weeks at work without seeing a box of Vanilla Wafers sitting on either Katherine or Jessica's desk. They love the little yellow cookies, and whenever they offer me some, I realize that I, too, quite like them. But despite the fact that there are a lot of brands out there, Katherine and Jess always got the same one, never knowing whether what they were eating was truly the best. To help them, and you, set their minds at ease, we decided to do a test test to determine:


WHICH IS THE BEST VANILLA WAFER?


The Competitors
Keebler ($3)
Western Family ($2)
Nilla (Nabisco brand) ($4)
Market Pantry (Target brand) ($3)
Kroger ($2)
Trader Joe's ($4)
Great Value (Wal-Mart brand) ($2)
Bud's Best (found at Dollar Tree) ($1)

The Participants
Andrew
Katherine
Jessica
Brian
Jared
Suzanne
Jeff
Becki
Collin

(ran out of bowls...)
The Methodology
To make it a blind test, I assigned a number to each cookie, and placed them in bowls. As each person tried each cookie, they scored each one on a scale from 1 to 10, judging solely on which one tasted best. If there was anything specific or unique about a particular cookie, we made note of it as well.




The Results
After each person submitted their scores, we averaged them and examined the results. Our nine person panel of testers determined that the best Vanilla Wafer is:

The scores were:
1. Nilla - 7.44
2. Market Pantry - 6.11
3. Great Value - 5.56
4. Keebler - 4.78
5. Trader Joe's - 4.44
6(t). Bud's Best - 3.78
6(t). Kroger - 3.78
8. Western Family - 2.44

So it turns out Katherine and Jessica have been eating the best all along. Nilla Wafers have been their wafer of choice, and for good reason. They were soft but not too soft, and were just very yummy. I think everyone's probably had Nilla Wafers before, so they don't need much describing, because they're just good. Or as it says on the box "simple goodness" which is actually very appropriate.

The Market Pantry was quite good, as well, and some said it had an almost fruity flavor to it (perhaps the sweetness of it reminded them of the sweetness of fruit). To me, when I tasted it, I was immediately reminded of vanilla ice cream, the only one that really came out and tasted like actual vanilla.

The Trader Joe's brand was interesting. It was a much darker color than the others, some said they seemed a little burnt, but I didn't really taste that. Three people gave it a 1, while most others thought they were either ok (7s and 8s) or amazing (10).

The Wal-Mart and Kroger were stale, which led to a lot of broken cookies. Surprisingly dissapointing were the Keebler, which had a very strange after taste.

Lastly, the Western Family were super hard, super crunchy, and not very good at all. However, one person actually said they were the second best, giving it a 6! Weirdo! Someone else commented that he'd rather eat the box they came in than have another cookie. And speaking of the box, it was terribly designed with terribly ugly pictures of the cookies, only adding to the absolute disaster that is the Western Family Vanilla Wafer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fresh Mex Sweet Pork Burritos

The Preface
Several years ago a new craze hit Utah. It started in St. George with a restaurant called Cafe Rio that served Mexican food made with fresh ingredients that wasn't very spicy and wasn't very greasy. Especially popular were their Sweet Pork Burritos and Sweet Pork Salad. They soon expanded and opened new restaurants and along with that came competition. New companies wanted to join in on this new style of Mexican food, dubbed "Fresh Mex", and soon new franchises started popping up all over Utah. Today, there are four Fresh Mex establishments within one mile of our house. Three of these offer Sweet Pork Burritos (Rubio's being the only one that doesn't), making it imperative to find out: 

WHO HAS THE BEST SWEET PORK BURRITO?

(from left to right) Bajio, Costa Vida, Cafe Rio
The Competitors

The Participants
Andrew
Jen
Kris






The Methodology
We got one burrito from each restaurant, each with sweet rice and black beans (at Bajio you can choose between Sweet or Mexican rice and between Black, Pinto or Refried beans. The other two only allow you to choose which beans you want, Black or Pinto). We cut each burrito into three pieces and ate them one at a time. As we ate, we discussed and graded each on its pork, tortilla, toppings/sauce, and overall. 

The Results
Cafe Rio - Pork: 7.76; Tortilla: 7.33; Toppings/Sauce: 5.33; Overall: 7.33; Cost: $6.95 + $.95 for smothered (they call it "enchilada style").


As mentioned, it's Cafe Rio's sweet pork that made them famous. It was quite tasty, and very sweet, but one thing that we noticed is that it tastes more like "sweet" than it does "pork". The sweetness just overwhelmed any actual pork taste. Kris said he could even specifically taste the coke that they marinate the pork in. 

This was everyone's favorite tortilla. The sauce was quite overwhelming and detracted from the rest of the burrito, but it did help to mellow out the sweetness of the pork, which was good. The lettuce seemed a bit dry, and the pico didn't add any flavor at all. The beans were also dry and tasted very "beany", like they hadn't been cooked enough, or something. But overall, this was a good burrito. 

Bajio - Pork: 4.33; Tortilla: 5; Toppings/Sauce: 6; Overall: 5.67; Cost: $6.50 

Bajio's burrito comes with a sad story. They used to be great, even being voted "Best Mexican Restaurant in Utah Valley" in 2009. They had the biggest variety of dishes, the best ingredients, and a deep fryer that made the tastiest Chimichangas you've ever had. In late 2009, however, the owners were bought out, and everything went downhill. They jacked up their prices, dropped several of their dishes, went skimpy on the ingredients and took away their loyalty card. This taste test just helped accentuate their fall even further.

The pork seemed ok.... if you actually got any. There was almost no pork in the burrito at all, making it difficult to even grade it. Instead of pork, they packed it full of rice and beans, which were actually very, very good. In fact, their rice and beans were the best out of the three, but we ordered a Sweet PORK Burrito, and don't feel we actually got that. 

The tortilla was good, though a tad chewy. This may have been because it was the first burrito we ordered, and therefore had time to absorb the sauce that was added. Speaking of the sauce, it was good, but perhaps a bit too much, as its flavor overpowered some of the others. They have really great sour cream, but no lettuce and the pico was just so-so (but better than Cafe Rio's). One positive is that this was basically smothered with the extra sauce and cheese, but they didn't charge extra for it! So this ended up being the cheapest of the three. They could probably afford this as they didn't include much meat, and they normally also offer rice and beans on the side and charge extra for that (but most people don't know that you don't have to get the rice and beans and it makes it cheaper). 

In the end, the lack of pork doomed the burrito, because despite having great beans and rice and pretty good toppings, we just couldn't give it a very good overall score.

Costa Vida - Pork: 8; Tortilla: 5; Toppings/Sauce:8.33; Overall: 7; Cost: $6.79 + $.99 for smothered.

The Costa Vida burrito was very, very good. It had a lot of pork, which was very sweet and very juicy, and unlike the Cafe Rio, still maintained a nice pork flavor to it. It had the best overall pork score, with Jen even giving it a 9.

The tortilla was a bit too thick and a bit chewy. Also, the rice was not good. The kernels were very big, and not tasty. 

What sets Costa Vida apart, though, is how well they do the smothered style. Unlike both Bajio and Cafe Rio, their sauce didn't have an overwhelming flavor, but just made the burrito better. It also had the most, and tastiest cheese of the three. After adding the sauce and cheese, they send it through a little conveyor belt heater thingy to melt the cheese. This also seemed to help the sauce (which was very runny at first) to thicken up a bit, ensuring that it wasn't too watery. The pico was also very good and tasted very fresh and it didn't get lost in the rest of the flavors, but enhanced them instead. 

So, the winner is:


It was a close race, but with the best tortilla and good pork, Cafe Rio just edges out Costa Vida. In fact, if Costa had better rice they could have taken it, as the average overall scores were only a third of a point apart. 

With only 12 cents separating the cost of the Costa Vida and the Cafe Rio, one deciding factor may be crowds. The Cafe Rio in Provo is near BYU campus is almost always packed and it can take quite a while to get through a line and get your food. It's also noisy and hard to find a seat in the restaurant, and can be annoying when you look around and realize 90% of the people in there are kids on dates. If you really want their food I recommend ordering online ahead of time and then just going in to pick it up (you can do the same at Costa Vida, but their lines aren't normally as bad and it's usually not as big a deal). 

Regardless of where you go, you'll leave happy. Despite knowing what we now know, I think Jen and I will keep doing what we've been doing for years: When we want a burrito, we'll go to Costa Vida. When we want a salad, we'll go to Cafe Rio, and when we want a Chimichanga or Mexican Pizza, we'll go to Bajio (nobody else has a deep fryer, giving them a unique advantage and different menu options that the other two joints can't match). 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mulligatawny Soup

The Preface
(This taste test was performed on April 17, 2010)
Mulligatawny is an Indian curry soup that actually means "pepper water". Legend has it Mulligatawny came about when the Brits controlled India and asked that their Indian cooks prepare them soup -- something that isn't traditionally a part of Indian cuisine. The cooks kind of watered down one of their traditional dishes, threw some other random ingredients into a pot and called it Mulligatawny. Just as the  history is unprecise, the recipe is as well. There are as many variations of the soup as there are restaurants that serve it. This makes doing a taste test difficult, but perhaps even that much more important. We need to know:

WHERE IN UTAH COUNTY CAN WE GET THE BEST MULLIGATAWNY?

The Competitors

The Participants
Andrew
Jen

The Methodology
When it came to doing the test, we were really just looking for one thing: which one did we like best? This wasn't a blind test, we just tried to figure out which soup tasted the best and why. In fact, we were too involved in trying to figure it out to even take a picture!

The Results
Zupas - Main ingredients: potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, white (or maybe yellow) onion, brown sugar. Overall, this was a good soup, quite sweet, but they went a little too heavy on the peanuts. There are a couple of other problems with Zupas, though: first, they don't always have Mulligatawny. It's a seasonal thing that comes and goes. Second: each time they bring back, it's a little bit different. This was the second time I've had their Mulligatawny and it wasn't as good as the first time I had it (I had it again a couple months ago, and again it was different, and not as good as either of the other two times I'd had it). The fact that I can't go get a bowl whenever the mood strikes me is a negative, and the fact that I don't know what I'll be getting even if they do have it makes it hard to recommend Zupas. 

Guru's - Main ingredients: chicken, carrot, rice, red onion, apple, celery. This soup actually had the most curry flavor of the three. It was also sweet, though, and the apples added some sweet tartness to it that made it perfect. The rice added some nice substance but at the same time, it wasn't too heavy. 

Bombay House - Main ingredients: potatoes, lentils, celery, cilantro, white (or maybe yellow) onion. This soup, appropriately enough, was the most "Indian" tasting. It was actually quite spicy and reminded us a bit of a minestrone. It was a good soup, but was very different from the other two. 

In the end, we decided the best Mulligatawny soup in Utah County is:


This was just an amazing soup, blending a lot of different flavors, a nice consistency, amazing smell and nice color. It was also nice to get some meat, and the chicken is yummy. Now we have to get it every time we go to Guru's. 

There have been a few new Indian restaurants that have opened up in Utah County since we did this test, and for as delicious and varied as this soup can be, we just might have to revisit this test sometime...