Applesauce is the Swiss Army knife of comfort foods. Often baby’s first food, it pairs well with pork chops and poultry, is a nutritious snack, and a simple taste that’s appealing when you’re under the weather. We tasted seven commercially prepared brands of unsweetened applesauce with 13 eager testers. Purees ranged from a rosy hue to a pale-yellow color. Apples, water, and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) are the three ingredients in most of the products.
Musselman’s outmuscled the competition, and garnered seven favorite votes, with high marks for its “natural yellow color,” and “excellence on the three T’s: tang, texture, and taste.” And texture is what was objectionable in the least favorite: New England McIntosh Applesauce (made only with McIntosh apples), called “baby food” and “gelatinous.” While no sauces were disagreeable, they prompted one taster to say, “Now I know why I make my own.”
Eden Organic Apple Sauce
$4.49 for a 25-ounce jar
At the top of the price chart, Eden applesauce contains only organic apples. When you open the jar there is a wine-y and apple-y scent, noticed by one who said: “Smells good!” Others found this to be “bland,” and “barely apple-flavored,” “tastes like school lunches.” Compliments included “more texture which was nice,” “the texture was a bit bumpy, almost grainy, but not unpleasant,” and “less bite than I like in applesauce.” Several noted it was “runny,” and one said, “I like seeing the liquid part build up on the sides, more like natural applesauce.” A favorite of one: “Lightly sweet. Smell is light. Apple texture. Would definitely buy.”
Essential Everyday Unsweetened Apple Sauce
$2.29 for a 23-ounce jar
This Shaw’s supermarket in-house brand got negative reviews for its color. “Almost too yellow,” “very bright,” and “very yellow, almost artificially so.” (There is no artificial color in any of the brands.) However, it attracted one: “It smells weak but the taste is enjoyable. I like the color. It is more yellow and I see bits of apple.” Another taster said, “Good but utterly unremarkable.” On texture and taste: “This applesauce has smell and body and perhaps a hint of tartness, but not much,” “distinct apple flavor,” “texture is good but sort of sour.”
Market Basket Apple Sauce (Unsweetened)
$1.69 for six 4-ounce cups (24 ounces)
The least expensive of the lot, several remarked on its lack of sweetness: “Not sweet , but fresh,” and “kids will notice that it is not sweet.” Although a few thought the texture had “great consistency,” they didn’t like the “weird mouthfeel,” and called it “gelatinous.” On taste: “Slightly bitter, but it’s not unpleasant, ” “odd aftertaste,” “flat,” and “too plain.” However two called the flavor “good” and “nice.”
Mott’s Applesauce Natural
$2.69 for six 3.9-ounce containers (23.4 ounces)
The well-known brand associated with applesauce and apple juice didn’t stand out, called down for being “plain,” “bland,” and “boring.” The flavor confounded a few: “Strange flavor. It doesn’t taste like applesauce. I can’t place it. Maybe pears?” “It has a funny taste I can’t put any words on.” “Who spiked the apple cider? This tasted slightly fermented. “ The consistency was lauded: “Good texture and it tastes like apples,” “chunky but not much smell, but strange.” One chose it as a favorite: “This one combined the texture and taste I am looking for,” and another waxed nostalgic: “Yum! Tastes like my grandmother’s fried apples.”
*WINNER* Musselman’s Natural Unsweetened Apple Sauce
$2.99 for a 23-ounce jar
Taste won out. “On tang, taste, and texture, this wins hands down.” “This is what applesauce should taste like: great texture, consistency, color, and taste.” “Tastes like fresh apples.” “This one tasted closer to homemade. The only thing that might improve this is cinnamon.” Kudos on color: “Great yellow-red color,” “more natural yellow color,” and “nice apple color.” One person reached the applesauce abyss: “Man, I can’t tell the difference anymore and everything looks the same.”
New England McIntosh Applesauce
$4.49 for a 24-ounce jar
Made from 100 percent McIntosh apples, this local product from Carlson Orchards in Harvard was doomed by its texture. “I appreciated the flavor, but it reminded me of tasting my son’s baby food. Pablum.” “Tastes like baby food, very blended and no texture.” “It has a baby food-like consistency with a tart aftertaste.” “Very smooth; too smooth.” Even two who chose it as a favorite noticed the “mild taste,” and “sweet flavor,” or called it “gooey,” and again, “baby food.”
Vermont Village Cannery Natural Unsweetened Applesauce
$3.49 for a 24-ounce jar
Another local product produced by our neighbor to the north, made with 100 percent Vermont-grown apples seems to be texturally challenged: “Texture is very strange and sticks to your tongue,” “too gloppy,” “too thick and creamy,” “baby food again, very sad.” On a positive but mysterious note several liked the “apple-y flavor, with a little bit of spice,” and “there were more spices in this.” But there aren’t any on the ingredient list. The “strong smell” and “strong flavor” were a plus for one tester.
Debra Samuels can be reached at email@example.com.