You're in the tomato sauce aisle of your local ShopRite. You're in a rush, you still have 18 other things to buy, and you have to make it home by 4 to TiVo that episode of Most Eligible Dallas that you forgot to watch last week so you're all caught up in time for the new one tonight. You glance at the selection and are befuddled. (What's the difference between marinara and puttanesca again?) You're on the verge of a red sauce-induced nervous breakdown. But hope springs eternal. Bam! You see the trusted, smirking face of Emeril Lagasse on the third row from the top. You grab a jar of Emeril's Home Style Marinara ($3.88) and move on to the Greek yogurt section.
You have just made an understandable mistake.
That's because, according to a new Consumer Reports taste test of celebrity-branded food products, Emeril's Home Style Marinara is worse than Ragu's tomato sauce, but is significantly more expensive. It only rated "good" in the magazine's comprehensive survey of tomato sauces with celebrity imprimaturs. The magazine also tasted celebrity offerings of minestrone soups, tomato soups and salad dressings.
Emeril's tomato sauce wasn't alone in its underperformance: just three of the 26 products tested got the magazine's top rating, "excellent." 10 managed to squeak by with a "very good." But the other half all got rating comparable to much cheaper products from major companies like Kraft and Unilever.
The very worst rating, a "fair," went to minestrone soup from the Pritikin line of foodstuffs geared towards weight loss.
None of the minestrone soups or salad dressings were said to be "excellent." The highest rated in those categories were, respectively, Wolfgang Puck, which got just a "good," and Rao's, which was called "very good."
That said, a few products did taste as excellent as their pedigrees promised. Consumer Reports called Wolfgang Puck's Tomato Basil Soup, which costs $3.50 a can, "A soup to sip and savor." And two tomato sauces from Italian Food Network stars were apparently great. Giada De Laurentiis' tomato basil sauce (a relative bargain at $3 a jar, but available only at Target) was praised for its "buttery richness." And big-living Mario Batali put out a "garlicky tomato-basil sauce" that won the taster's approval despite its $8 price tag. The Batali sauce sounds like something of an anomaly among the celebrity-branded products: is ingredients align perfectly with the marinara sauce recipe in the cookbook for Babbo, Batali's flagship Manhattan restaurant.