Celebrity food products are all over the shelves of supermarkets these days. Some bear labels with Hollywood names such as Paul Newman and Paul Sorvino; others derive from TV chefs like Lidia Bastianich, Emeril Lagasse, and Giada de Laurentiis. Certain restaurants with national allure sell signature items, like Original Bookbinder's in Philadelphia and Delmonico's in New York City. New York's specialty food store The Silver Palate also peddles comestibles nationwide, as does the diet guy Pritikin.
The October issue of Consumer Reports, on newsstands now, rates 26 food products linked to these and other famous persons or restaurants. The findings: Only three of the 26 earned a rating of Excellent; ten were deemed Very Good. Half of the products tested rated average, with some faring worse than mainstream brands such as Kraft, Campbell, and Progresso.
Consumer Reports notes that celebrity products generally cost two to three times as much as the garden-variety brands. The Original Soupman Tomato Basil soup, for instance, "costs 36 cents per ounce vs. 11 cents per ounce for Progresso." "...for two tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette dressing, Kraft cost 18 cents, Delmonico cost 39 cents. What's more, Delmonico ranked lowest among the dressings tested."
The three "excellent" celebrity products are:
Wolfgang Puck Tomato Basil Bisque: The "standout" among soups -- "creamy, thick, and fresh-tasting."
Giada de Laurentiis Tomato Basil pasta sauce: "Give first consideration to top-rated Giada de Laurentiis," states CR, calling it "a buttery rich sauce sold only at Target." Most consumers "would not expect that sauce to come from a jar," the testers concluded. It costs just $3, and as such is rated as a CR Best Buy.
Mario Batali Marinara sauce: Not the bargain that Giada's product is, but Batali's sauce was singled out for including noticeably high quality ingredients: "fresh tomatoes...fresh, not dehydrated carrots, garlic, Italian parsley, onions, and thyme; extra-virgin olive oil; and sea-salt." Emeril's and Newman's Own list tomato puree (water and tomato paste) as the first ingredient. So does Ragu, which isn't named after anyone. It's a matter of getting what you pay for: A jar of Batali's marinara cost about $8, a jar of Emeril's about $4 and Newman's Own less than $3.
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Other tips for choosing celebrity tomato sauce: Batali's "if you love garlic," Rao's "if you like it slightly spicy," and Paul Sorvino's "if you prefer a mild sauce that tastes mostly of tomatoes."
Rao's Homemade 8 Star Balsamic Vinaigrette was chosen the best salad dressing, but Cardini's was also judged to be very good -- and lower in fat than the rest.
For more details, you'll just have to buy the magazine.