I tried 18 of Aldi's fan-favorite foods, and would buy more than half of them again
Aldishoppers have picked their favorite items for three years, and I tried the ones I could find.
- Happy Farms' string cheese and Stonemill's everything-bagel seasoning were both worth the hype.
- I wasn't impressed by Mama Cozzi's take-and-bake pizza or Earth Grown's veggie burgers.
In 2019, budget grocery store Aldi launched its first fan-favorites list, the white-label items 40,000 surveyed customers loved most.
More recently year, the pool grew to over 360,000 shoppers, who deemed items like Mama Cozzi's take-and-bake pizza and Happy Farms' string cheese Aldi must-buys.
Mama Cozzi's take-and-bake pizza looked better than it tasted
Mama Cozzi's pizza has won multiple awards over the years - like best overall, easy meal, and "mama knows best" - so it seemed like the perfect way to start off this
The sight of this 16-inch pizza made my heart race. I bought the plain, five-cheese option and the supreme one to try out the toppings, and they both looked fantastic.
Made with 100% real cheese, the first pizza looked like it was drowning under a pile of shredded mozzarella, provolone, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, and Romano and was generously sprinkled with dried herbs and seasonings.
Unfortunately, it was better in theory than in practice. The cheese melted but had no pull, the crust ended up solid like a brick, and the sauce was too mild and uneven.
It quickly acquired a burnt taste but otherwise had a flat flavor that reminded me of a subpar frozen pizza, even though this option was from the refrigerated case.
The supreme pizza was a bit better. The toppings were plentiful, but mostly in the center of the pie, closer to the box's display window.
It took a little longer to cook since the wet toppings kept the middle soft, but the toasted pepperoni, sausage, peppers, and onions smelled great.
These tasty ingredients immediately packed a flavorful punch. The sausage was really good, though the pepperoni was average. But this pizza ran into the same overall problems as the first one.
Since pizza is sometimes better as leftovers, I reheated a couple of slices the next day, but the crust was floppy and flaky and the cheese was dry.
VERDICT: The supreme is OK, and $6 is a good deal for the toppings, but not if you buy a jar of sauce and a bag of mozzarella to add to it.
For the cheese option, it'd be more satisfying to get a smaller frozen pizza for the same price.
Appleton Farms' brown-sugar ham blew me away
I had to scour several Aldis to find this seasonal favorite. I'm glad I did because this ham was outstanding.
Straight from the package, it was clear this juicy ham had already been pre-glazed in brown sugar, so be sure to open it into your roasting pan.
After minutes in the oven, the meat made my kitchen smell sugary and savory all at once.
I was worried the sauce - made with cinnamon and cloves - would be too sweet with the ham, but I still followed the directions and poured the glaze over the whole thing 30 minutes before it was done.
Consequently, I also spent half an hour salivating over the reminiscent aroma of candied bacon.
The slices were juicy, tender, and not too fatty. The entire ham was rich with a flavor only a bone-in piece of slow-cooked meat could have, which was enhanced by the glaze dripping down the folds.
It wasn't stringy or veiny, nor opalescent. The fat caps melted down just enough, and the outsides of them crisped up with the sugary glaze.
The spiral cut reached all the way to the bone, which thankfully eliminated any awkward slicing or pulling to serve.
VERDICT: This ham was an absolute treat to eat, and I immediately regretted getting the smallest one in the case.
The leftovers remained flavorful and moist when I repurposed them in omelets, fried rice, egg sandwiches, and hashes. I ended up making split-pea soup out of the bone and trimmings, and the baked-in sugars made it my best batch yet.
L'oven Fresh's Hawaiian sweet rolls weren't very tasty
I broke open the 2020 "better than the brand" winner, L'oven Fresh's sweet Hawaiian rolls, to go with the ham.
I liked that these rolls had no corn syrup or trans fat. Plus they smelled sweet and felt fluffy - the perfect pairing with a sugary ham, or so I thought.
These were cloud-like and delightful to bite into, but then immediately felt wet and didn't taste sweet or buttery, leading to a somewhat sour aftertaste.
Worried that my taste buds had been influenced by the ham, I tried this bread twice on its own, fresh and rebaked. Although toasting it drew out a little more sweetness, it still didn't taste like much.
VERDICT: With a lackluster flavor and sour finish, this bread is not worth buying again. There are better rolls to bring to the table.
Specially Selected's brioche buns were impressive
Imported from France, made with real butter and eggs, and tantalizingly golden with an irresistible shine, these slider-sized buns are the perfect hearty, flavorful bread to go with dinner.
In addition to sliders, this two-time bread/baked-good winner comes in three more variations - hot dog, six-pack, and sesame-topped - and I tasted the last two in other meals.
These buns were fluffy and soft with a solid crust to withstand juicy fillings, like burgers.
They fit flat around the patty but didn't tear apart or break. The absolute Goldilocks of bread, they were sturdy yet pliable, soft yet strong, and flavorful yet versatile.
They dried out rather quickly but beautifully reconstituted in the toaster oven.
VERDICT: These buns are all-purpose, delicious vehicles that resist sogginess, don't overpower fillings, and stay neat to eat.
At their price point, I would come to Aldi just to buy them.
Earth Grown's veggie burgers varied by flavor
This line of veggie burgers won the vegetarian/vegan category in 2019 and 2020, but it almost seems unfair to lump them all as one product.
Crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, the black-bean Chipotle burger was pretty bland and felt very carb-y, yet not filling or hearty. The interior was powdery and starchy - I could definitely see and feel the rice filler.
I also tried the original veggie burger, which is vegan and has no cholesterol. But with whole peas, corn kernels, and chunks of carrots bound together with starch, it was much more like a vegetable-medley fritter than a burger.
Some pieces were kind of dry and crumbly, and the onions, edamame, zucchini, string beans, and broccoli were not apparent whatsoever. It was tasty, but not a filling main.
I also picked up the flame-grilled soy-protein burgers, which aren't vegan since they contain real cheddar.
These high-protein patties sounded promising, but they smelled like dog treats. I still tasted them in the name of science - a decision I came to regret.
These burgers were floppy, mushy in the middle, and overly salty, yet still bland. There was no discernible cheese flavor but the dog-treat scent remained.
VERDICT: These felt pointless since neither two vegan patties provided much satiation. They might be OK as a salad topping or side, but I wouldn't go out of my way to purchase them again.
That said, I'd go out of my way to avoid the protein patty.
Emporium Selection's cheese crumbles were hit or miss
Emporium Selection's crumbles won best cheese in 2020, but Aldi once again lumped related items that really can't be compared in one category.
The reduced-fat feta tasted decent on the black-bean burger, but it was dry, sour, and salty on its own and kind of smelled like spoiled milk.
But the stinky blue cheese was awesome. It was moist, creamy, flavorful, and rich and had a lingering funky finish that made it taste more expensive and closer to Gorgonzola than a young blue.
VERDICT: This option was another mixed bag. I'd skip the feta but go for the blue cheese, which would make the perfect salad topping.
Simply Nature's organic spring mix was affordable and delicious
These greens were really crisp and fresh and the package says there aren't any GMOs or chemical pesticides.
Thoroughly washed and ready to eat, this pack comes with a good variety of lettuces sans romaine.
VERDICT: I'd go out of my way to get this from Aldi.
You'd pay just as much for a fraction of what's in one of these tubs at any conventional grocery store and have that pack go bad in half the time.
The avocados from Aldi were nothing special
Aldi's avocados won best produce in 2020 and come in several varieties, from regular Hass ones to minis in a mesh pack.
The minis are a great size and perfect for smaller households or people who don't need that much avocado at a time.
They're also a great price and ready to go in a couple of days if not yet ripe.
VERDICT: I'd buy these again since they're cheap and conveniently portioned, but they're still just plain, conventional avocados.
Savoritz's parmesan crisps were crunchy but too salty
Baked and made of aged cheese, this snack won the gluten-free category in 2020.
It was cheesy and salty, offering a high concentration of flavor in small, crunchy bites.
It's important to note that it includes parmesan, not Parmigiano, a distinction that made it taste less finished and a little more like cardboard.
VERDICT: These were nice but didn't leave me craving more. I'd maybe snack on them at a party if they were out but wouldn't buy them myself.
Clancy's kettle chips weren't a hit for me
Potato chips are my Kryptonite - I can knock out half a pound of them in one mindless sitting and still want more, so I expected to be wowed by these chips, which won best snack in 2020 and 2021.
But I was surprised that after a couple of bites, I was over these kettle chips.
They started with a hard crunch that belied a thicker cut, but left behind a strong oil taste that the salt couldn't mask. Plus the grease was more visible than with other kettle chips.
The ingredients list says the chips are fried in cottonseed or corn oil, but I detected a hint of pea oil after the initial flavor dissipated. They almost reminded me of Munchos.
VERDICT: At a dollar and change per bag, I really wanted to like these. My mouth could've acquired a taste for them, but my stomach begged to differ.
Happy Farms' string cheese was great on its own and as a topping
This may have been the kids' pick three years in a row, but this adult is happy to have this snack in her fridge.
This is really great string cheese that's easy to open and not slimy, wet, or dry. Its flavor is milder than most block mozzarella, plus the texture is generally smooth - each piece pulls thin, long, and clean and melts even better.
I used some of this to give the reheated take-and-bake cheese pizza new life, and it worked.
VERDICT: I'd snag these again, especially since they're cheaper than the name-brand options.
Fremont Fish Market's medium raw shrimp shrunk a lot
Whenever I see packaged or frozen ingredients in odd weights, like 12 ounces, my bargain hunter's antennae go up.
This was the case with the 2020 seafood pick, as the price per pound was actually more than it would be at a mainstream grocery store. It may seem like a deal to pay $5 for a bag of shrimp, but it's an illusion.
That said, they're acceptable shrimp but were extra salty, so make sure to reduce the amount of salt you're cooking with.
Unlike the 2019 pick, which was the jumbo size, these little guys shrunk quite a bit, so I could easily eat half a bag on my own.
Otherwise, they're light-colored, cleanly deveined, not very leggy, quick to thaw, and easy to peel.
VERDICT: If I were in a pinch for a dish where this protein wouldn't be the star, I'd maybe get these out of sheer convenience.
But for the price and quality, budget shoppers are better off waiting for supermarket sales and paying the same amount for 4 ounces more.
I didn't love how Appleton Farms' center-cut bacon cooked
This center-cut bacon won best deli option in 2020, but Appleton Farms' other varieties also earned titles in 2019 and 2021.
Opening up the plastic wrap, I was greeted by a smoky aroma, so it was a letdown that the hickory flavor didn't stick around once cooked.
The slices were inconsistently cut thin, so the strips broke as I pulled them out of the pack sideways. This also called for some creative pan placement to avoid uneven cooking.
They fried up quickly but also shrunk. The tiny slices were chewy rather than crispy and salted well in some bites but not others.
VERDICT: Aldi's option isn't much cheaper than the national brands, which are much more consistent, so I'd pass on this one.
I'm so happy I found Stonemill's everything-bagel seasoning
Winning best pantry staple is no small feat, and this seasoning deserves the title.
You might think that all everything-bagel seasoning is the same, but Stonemill nailed the proportions.
There was a lot of garlic and dark-toasted onions, which offered a stronger flavor than the other competitors. Although the mix was lighter on the poppy, the supply of black and white sesame seeds opened up nicely when cooked.
The whole thing was pleasantly warm with a uniquely crunchy boldness.
Additionally, Stonemill opted for salt flakes instead of coarse-grain Kosher, which added to the great texture even if there wasn't quite enough.
VERDICT: Move over Trader Joe's, because Aldi is where I'm getting my everything-bagel seasoning from here on out.
The toastiness of this blend smokes all of the other competitors, and I've tried options from several store-brand and high-end manufacturers.
Friendly Farms' almond milk might be a new staple of mine
Almond milk has become quite mainstream, and this three-time winner proved that you don't need to pay specialty prices for quality.
Aldi's version was pleasantly nutty with a subtle hint of vanilla. It had a nice texture that was neither thin nor watery, but not full-bodied like that of real milk.
Plus it was quite thick, making it feel creamy and more like a treat.
VERDICT: There's no reason to pay more for essentially the same thing elsewhere. Friendly Farms' version is smooth and mild, which makes it great in the supporting role almond milk usually plays.
This would be something I'd regularly pick up from Aldi.
Specially Selected's 100% pure maple syrup was underwhelming
If you're hunting for a robust syrup to kick off your morning, look elsewhere. This 2020 breakfast winner was light but not very full-bodied, pronounced, or complex.
It was caramelly and sweet, edging into cloyingly so, with a long, lingering finish. It also wasn't particularly rich or deep, and didn't have a strong maple presence.
Texturally, it's thinner than some other pure maple syrups, so it's a good thing it's such a great price since you're guaranteed to go through it fast.
To help with over-pouring, it comes with a flip-top -not screw-top - cap, which also keeps it cleaner and makes it easier to use.
VERDICT: It didn't have as much distinction and character as I'd like, so I wouldn't buy this again but am totally saving the cap for my next bottle.
Benton's cookies were another mixed bag
Benton's cookies were an odd sweet-treat winner since there's such a huge variety, but I tried as many as I could get my hands on.
A Girl Scouts-esque option, the peanut-butter cookies sport a chocolate base and are topped with creamy nut butter, all of which is enrobed in cocoa fudge. Even though the cookie was nice, crunchy, and creamy, the flavor was unremarkable.
The fudge-striped shortbread cookies were also just fine. Their chocolaty coating was quite sugary, with a modest hint of cocoa. Plus the crunchy shortbread wasn't buttery and tasted somewhat artificial.
The iced lemon shortbread cookies were similarly sweet, yet not buttery, relying on palm oil for richness but not really succeeding. And even though I appreciated that the frosting was light, it was not as tart as promised.
The chocolate-chip cookie thins were actually quite delicious. Both the milk-chocolate and vanilla flavors came through, and there was an added richness due to the inclusion of brown butter.
And the chocolate-chip dunkers were the perfect size and shape to do what its name suggests. But even though they were crunchy and strong enough to dip into almond milk, these cookies tasted more like coconut than chocolate.
The Danish butter cookies tasted very similar to the Royal Dansk blue-tin variety. The swirl cookie was the best of the bunch, with a more pronounced vanilla flavor stepping up to the plate.
I also enjoyed the round shortbread cookies, which had a more buttery finish than the others. Typically, the sugared square would've trumped this plain option, but the sweet crystals were so small and subtle that they didn't add much at all. The worst cookie in the tin was the dry coconut one.
Finally, I tried the thin and crispy oatmeal-raisin cookies, which were just OK. They had a nice cinnamon and allspice flavor but weren't very crunchy. Plus butter was listed as the first ingredient, but I couldn't taste it.
VERDICT: These cookies were pretty hit or miss. They were quite sugary but still lackluster.
Though I might get the Danish butter cookies again, and I love that they're available year-round.
I appreciated the cheat sheet on Winking Owl's wines
Wine Enthusiast named Aldi one of America's top value wine retailers of 2020, so I was prepared to open my mind to the Winking Owl line.
Each bottle sported a cheat sheet of tasting points and pairing tips on the label, an easily removable, perforated foil top, and a rubber cork that won't break and drop into your bottle if you twist too far.
But the taste of the Sauvignon blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon made it clear that these bottles are for newbies.
Both of them were just a little deeper than slightly fermented grape juice and had long, sweet finishes like dessert wine.
The white was sweeter than the label suggested. And the red was immensely fruity, plummy, and jammy - less like grape juice than the blanc, but not by much.
Neither wine was harsh, but both were syrupy and lacked body, depth, and complexity.
VERDICT: At $3 a bottle, I'd buy this again, but not to drink straight.
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