When it comes to brands, you might say those of us at Bon Appétit are particular. We don’t bake brownies with just any chocolate, or sprinkle our eggs with just any salt. Rather, we choose the ingredients we use every day based on reliability, flavor, and value (and, sure, sometimes they come in gorgeous packaging).
They’re so important to the way we cook that we decided to make it official—with a seal of approval. Used correctly, these 12 items will upgrade every aspect of your culinary life, guaranteed.
A few notes about the seal:
1. This is just the beginning. In addition to the 12 products on the list you’re about to read, more will be approved each year.
2. That means you’ll be seeing the BA seal in future issues, on our Web site, even at the grocery store, affixed to the labels of our winners.
3. Whenever you spy the BA seal, you can be sure that our staff has tasted, vetted, and kicked the tires on every aspect of that product, including value, so you can feel confident that you’re getting your money’s worth and that it will make your cooking (and baking, and grilling) better.
4. We hope you’ll trust the BA seal as steadfastly as you trust the recipes that keep you coming back to Bon Appétit every month. And with that, let’s meet the winners (presented in no particular order):
Heinz Ketchup ($3.29/40 oz.)
When it comes to ketchup, homemade is not an improvement. This is what it should taste like. If you’ve ever dared to stray from the 1876 standard-bearer, you know why associate food editor Chris Morocco says of such a reckless move: “It’s not going to end well.”
Barilla Pasta (various shapes, prices)
Dried pasta is, of course, a cornerstone of any pantry—and a category on which we were eager to find consensus. There were plenty of predictions about which brand would win, but Barilla was a slam dunk. Its strands are smooth, the shapes have real definition, the flavor was spot-on, and the pasta holds al dente better than other brands.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese ($2.59/8 oz.)
There’s a reason why professional pastry chefs lean on Philly: reliability. Its perfect balance of fat means that whether you’re baking or whipping up a frosting, the cream cheese’s emulsification won’t break or curdle—which is especially key when cheesecake is on the line.
Domino Sugar ($2.49/2 lb.)
Because we use sugar (maybe too) often, we prefer ours as pure as possible (harvested from natural cane, not beets) and rich with history (Domino’s first refinery opened more than 200 years ago). West Coasters: Look for C&H.
(See also: Supermarket standoff: barbecue sauces)
Hellmann’s Mayonnaise ($4.79/30 oz.)
Truth: All good things can be traced back to New York delis. Exhibit 1A? This famously blue-ribboned jar was first sold in 1905 at a sandwich shop on the Upper West Side. Homemade mayo has its virtues, but we crave the comfort of knowing that our BLTs and coleslaw will taste exactly the way they tasted last year, last decade, last century. Look for Best Foods west of the Rockies.
San Marzano Canned Tomatoes ($3.99/28 oz.)
Grown in the U.S. from prized San Marzano seeds imported from Italy, these brightly flavored tomatoes are meaty, sweet, and tailor-made for a simple pomodoro sauce. (This brand also won for tomato concentrate.)
Organic Valley Butter ($5.69/1 lb.)
Since unsalted butter is often the No. 1 or No. 2 most prominent ingredient when baking—meaning you could go through a pound at a time—use the best you can afford. It significantly enhances the flavor of everything from pound cake to pie crust. We like Organic Valley’s list of ingredients, or lack thereof: sweet cultured milk, and a culture to help ripen the cream. For pure butter (with no artificial “butter flavor”) and good value, this is it.
Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt ($3.79/17.6 oz.)
You couldn’t get the Athens-made yogurt here until 1998. But Fage (FAH-yeh) quickly became an American dairy staple (it’s now made in the U.S.). We favor the 2% version, which is pleasantly thick and rich. Its sour tang makes it an excellent substitute for crème fraîche or sour cream.
Maldon Salt ($10.95/8.5 oz.)
Maldon is in a class of its own. These elegant, pyramid-like crystals are harvested around Essex, England, where low rainfall makes for extra-salty seawater. Sprinkle a few crunchy flakes on steak, eggs, salads, or fish crudo. Try some on a dish of chocolate sorbet. It’s a revelation on caramels.
Rancho Gordo Dried Beans ($5.50/1 lb.)
One of the main reasons that BA is obsessed with these heirloom beans is because of the Napa-based company’s high turnover rate: In other words, they’re some of the freshest dried legumes on the market, so they cook in less time. And also because, well, if Rancho Gordo is good enough for the French Laundry and Per Se ... turn it into dinner: A pot of beans is the start of bean salads, hearty soups, burritos, quick hummus, rice and beans, or, if you really want to go for it, a big, beautiful winter-is-officially-here cassoulet.
King Arthur Flour ($4.99/5 lb.)
The flour from this employee-owned company is the foundation—structurally sound and bromate-free— for all the baked-goods recipes we publish in our pages. We favor all-purpose for everything from chewy cookies to the brownies pictured above. In general, we stick with unbleached because, well, why add bleach to your baking when it’s completely unnecessary? Bonus: With this flour in the house, you’ve got what you need to make a roux or bread a cutlet.
Red Boat Fish Sauce ($10/500mL)
Thai cooking guru Andy Ricker says he couldn’t run his restaurants without fish sauce, a salty, pungent blend of fermented fish. We love how a few drops add depth to dipping sauces, marinades, stir-fries, curries, noodles, and rice dishes.
See all of the products that received the Bon Appétit Seal of Approval!
More from Bon Appétit:
Bon Appétit's Favorite Cake Recipes
Bon Appétit's Guide to Fast, Easy Meals
The Best Holiday Party Appetizers