In 2021, our CHOICE kitchen experts and taste testers reviewed and compared over 450 food products to help you make better choices while supermarket shopping. We looked at everything from cheddar cheese to dried spaghetti, olive oil, hummus and more, assessing products across a range of factors such as taste and nutrition.
As we often find in our CHOICE reviews, the most expensive products don't always come out on top in our testing, and this year's round up of best and worst food products is no different. Some own-label supermarket buys from Aldi, Coles and Woolies outranked pricier branded products, so it pays to shop around to get the best and not buy on brand alone.
Some of the highlights from our results are listed below, so you can easily sort the duds from the dazzlers when you're next perusing products in the supermarket aisles.
- Best: Aldi Deli Originals Hommus (78%) and Black Swan Hommus 76%
- Worst: The Olive Branch Israeli Hommus (36%)
Nothing heralds the beginning of a relaxed gathering like peeling the foil off a good dip. And, as far as dips go, the mandatory favourite tossed into the shopping trolley ahead of a party is invariably hummus. This healthy Middle Eastern snack is essentially a simple harmony of tahini (that's sesame seed paste) and chickpeas with acceptable additions of garlic, lemon juice and oil. This year, CHOICE experts tested 27 traditional-style hummus dips from brands such as Aldi, Obela and Black Swan.
The quality of hummus varies as wildly as its spelling, but there were some good contenders to make a solid contribution to your next barbecue.
The quality of hummus varies as wildly as its spelling
At the top was Aldi's Deli Originals version, which, with an overall CHOICE score of 78% packs a punch for just $1.99. For flavour and texture it received a score of 80%, making this the dip you want to stick your chip into. A solid second choice is Black Swan's iteration. It achieved a respectable 74% for taste and texture, and even topped Aldi's nutrition score with 80%.
Interestingly, the poorest performer in our tests was also the most expensive. The Olive Branch Israeli Hommus, with an overall score of 36% and a disappointing flavour score of just 26%, is proof that price doesn't prove quality. Check out all our hummus reviews.
- Best: Coles Hot Chocolate (78%) and Nestle Aero Hot Chocolate (74%)
- Worst: Woolworths Instant Drinking Chocolate Powder (45%)
A hug in a mug, hot chocolate is as much a kids' treat as it is a 3pm pick-me-up, particularly for non-coffee drinkers (although hot chocolate does contain a small amount of caffeine).
Our CHOICE experts recruited 114 Voice Your Choice members with hot choc credentials to blind taste 19 supermarket-brand versions. Each product was sampled at least 37 times with a focus on overall taste and the intensity of the chocolate flavour. The surprise winner was a $3 tin by Coles with a score of 78%. Then came Nestle's Aero Hot Chocolate with 74%. Sadly, Woolworths' home brand version was not even in the ballpark of its competitor's version, scoring just 45%. Read our detailed hot chocolate reviews.
- Best: King Island Dairy Surprise Bay Cheddar (73%) and Barber's 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar (72%)
- Worst: Dairyworks Extra Sharp Cheddar Natural Block (55%)
What makes a good cheddar cheese may be a personal affair, but typically, it will be creamy, sweet, milky and slightly salty with a subtle crumbliness. To help you decide where your cheddar budget is best spent, CHOICE assembled a panel of expert judges to interrogate the cheesy characteristics of 27 aged supermarket cheddars. They looked at taste, aroma, texture, body and appearance, as well as nutritional value. Learn more about how we tested cheddar cheeses.
There wasn't much between the top two performers in our tests. King Island Dairy Surprise Bay Cheddar and Barber's 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar were just a slice apart at 73 and 72 per cent. They were comparable on price, but the overall winner, King Island cheddar, was 20% more nutritious. However, the Barber cheddar did better in the taste category. The least cracker-worthy cheddar was Dairyworks Extra Sharp Cheddar Natural Block with a paltry 40% score for nutrition, which was sadly not offset by its low taste score of 61%. But at almost half the price of the winning duo, its affordability may sway your dollar.
Read our detailed cheddar cheese reviews.
- Best: Barilla Wholewheat Spaghetti N.5 (100%) and Coles Organic Wholemeal Spaghetti (100%)
- Worst: (or least-best): San Remo Organic Spaghetti No.220 (74%)
You might think that, by-and-large, there isn't a great deal of difference between pasta brands other than label design. In part, you're right. With just two ingredients, dry durum wheat pasta doesn't vary hugely in terms of flavour so rather than taste we scored them on performance. In our test of 24 supermarket spaghetti brands all scored relatively well, with the lowest coming in at a not-dishonourable 74%.
So, if your spaghetti turns out to be mediocre, you might be to blame. "When it comes to shelf-stable durum wheat pasta, the cooking process is at least as important as the product itself, which is why it's so important that the instructions on the pack are accurate, and we follow those instructions to the letter," explains CHOICE food expert Rachel Clemons.
The cooking process is at least as important as the product itself, which is why it's so important that the instructions on the pack are accurate, and we follow those instructions to the letterCHOICE good expert Rachel Clemons
Hence, our tests consider not only nutrition, but how well the packet instructions lead to desirably al dente pasta.
Sound the party horns because we have some perfect scorers in this category! Three brands managed 100% in our nutrition and performance tests, they were Barilla Wholewheat Spaghetti N.5, Coles Organic Wholemeal Spaghetti and La Molisano Pastifico Extra di Lusso Wholewheat Spaghetti No.15.
And while there were no bad performers, the lowest score was awarded to San Remo Organic Spaghetti No.220 for imperfect pasta at the end of the instructed cooking time. Find out more about buying dried spaghetti.
- Best: Cockatoo Grove Organic Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (87%) and Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Organic Fruity (83%)
- Worst: Woolworths 100% Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil (52%)
Good, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, and delicious, not to mention endlessly versatile, it enriches everything from salads to cakes and cracked lips. At CHOICE we reviewed 25 widely available extra virgin olive oils at a special laboratory. It's all very high-tech, you can read here about what's involved.
In a nutshell, though, when we compare extra virgin olive oils, we do a chemical test to verify the oil meets the international standard for extra virgin. We also do blind sensory tests to ensure the oils are free from defects and have the required fruity attributes.
We do a chemical test to verify the oil meets the international standard for extra virgin
But the next time you're scratching your head in the olive oil aisle, you need only remember our top two performers, Cockatoo Grove Organic Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil with an overall score of 87% and Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Organic Fruity, sliding into second place with 83%.
Both had green, cut-grass notes and smooth mouthfeel and, of course, passed the authenticity tests. However, Woolworths 100% Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil managed only a score of 52% for its overripe fruit and pineapple notes. One to avoid when sloshing a salad.
Fruit boxes or poppers are a convenient on-the-go treat for kids. But while they seem an angelic solution to a soft drink, they're still a 'sometimes food'. Don't forget to pay attention to the packaging – just because there's an apple on it doesn't necessarily mean it's 100 per cent juice. Beverages labelled 'fruit drink' can have as little as 20% fruit juice.
"One-hundred percent fruit juice is OK as an occasional drink, but avoid fruit drinks as they're usually no more than 35% juice with added sugar and water. Plain water is still the best drink," says Rachel.
CHOICE compared and reviewed 30 apple and orange fruit boxes based on the categories of nutrition, label claims and ingredients. While there was no stand-out bad performer, a few were better than others for not containing any added sugar, making them a better choice for kids.
They were Golden Circle No Added Sugar Orange Juice; Just Juice Orange Juice; Nudie Nothing But 2 Oranges; and Just Juice Apple Juice. And while Prima Apple No Added Sugar held true to its claims, it did have other added sweeteners, such as stevia.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.