Fishing for Flavor: A Gefilte Fish Taste Test

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The eight kinds of gefilte fish we fearlessly sampled (Photos by Selah Maya Zighelboim)

Is there another Jewish food as controversial as the jarred gefilte fish?

Its mushy texture, that jellied broth, the fishy aroma that drifts through the kitchen… It’s a staple appetizer at seders, but it’s, shall we say, unique enough to traumatize non-Jewish guests and even causes some Jews hesitation.

The Jewish Exponent’s Passover-themed matzah taste test last year was a surprising success, so we decided to once again dive into the holiday with a fork in hand. We approached the activity with an air of unearned optimism, as our taste-testing team gazed upon the spread of eight jars.

All of the participants had chosen to be there, so we self-selected for people who generally enjoy gefilte fish. That didn’t stop us from groaning in disgust and spitting into trash cans.

But we pushed forward, in the name of Jewish journalism.

Manischewitz Gefilte Fish in Liquid Broth

We decided to start with the most traditional option.

What we saw upon opening this jar — with its familiar pop — should’ve given us some pause. This gefilte fish was in a liquid broth, rather than a jellied one, and that broth had an unusual dark color. As we cut up a piece into bite-sized bits, we wondered how the broth would impact the flavor.

Not well, we would come to find out.

But where the unpleasantness of this jarred fish would really shined was in the texture. While we had grown to expect a slimy texture from jarred gefilte fish, this version was sandy.

Slapping on some prepared horseradish didn’t do much to improve the flavor, unless you used enough so it to completely tasted like horseradish instead.

Thumbs down.

Mrs. Adler’s Gefilte Fish

Mrs. Adler’s is distributed by Manischewitz, but with the Yiddishe mama in the logo, it was clearly going for a more haymish vibe, like many a jar of tomato sauce at the grocery store.

Perhaps that’s why it tasted like Manischewitz with a twist, and that twist is pepper. Again, it had that sandy texture, though it wasn’t as severe as the texture of the Manischewitz.

Overall, it wasn’t bad, and it received a solid OK from the taste-testing team.

Yehuda Original Gefilte Fish

This one had a little special something in the broth — slices of carrot.

Close inspection of the fish itself revealed what seemed to be tiny flecks of orange. Could it be? Carrot bits inside the gefilte fish? To improve the flavor?

Whatever it was, Yehuda pulled this one off. The carroty flavor gave it both a sweetness and a depth. It also had that slimy texture we’ve all come to know and love from our gefilte fish.

The team approved of this one. It even got an exuberant thumbs-up from Editor-in-Chief Liz Spikol.

Mrs. Adler’s Fish Bits

We expected this one to taste like our previous jar of Mrs. Adler’s, but oh boy, were we wrong.

Gone was the peppery flavor some of us didn’t hate, but perhaps it was still there, just overshadowed by the unpleasant fishiness of the flavor. Either way, we didn’t like it.

“Mrs. Adler, you need to go back to the kitchen,” Director of Sales Sharon Schmuckler said.

Manischewitz Whitefish & Pike in Jelled Broth

As soon as this next gefilte fish plopped out of the jar, trepidation filled our hearts. When we cut it up into pieces, we grew even more fearful.

Straight away, we noticed a weird consistency. It fell apart like a meatball.

Before everyone on the taste-testing team had managed to get a sample, Schmuckler had already downed hers and promptly spat it back out. Our fear level rapidly approached terror.

It had a horrendous fishy flavor. It was so bad Schmuckler checked the expiration date to make sure it hadn’t actually gone bad. Nope, good until 2023, but that wasn’t exactly reassuring.

Mrs. Adler’s Pike ‘n Whitefish

With our previous experiences with Mrs. Adler’s and with the pike and whitefish gefilte fish combination haunting our memories (and our palates), we trembled before this next jar.

Taking the gefilte fish out of the jar provided a little reassurance. It didn’t have that same meatball look as the previous one.

Then, we tasted it, and it was OK, though it did have a strange metallic aftertaste.

For those looking for a pike and whitefish fish combo in their gefilte fish, go with this brand. You’re welcome.

Manischewitz Sweet Gefilte Fish

This jar came with a stellar reputation. Some of us on the taste-testing team noted that we had a preference for this particular gefilte fish.

Again, Schmuckler dove into it and spat something out. This time it was a small, white, hard piece in the fish. Was it a piece of bone? We’re still not sure.

Those of us who were fans of this sweet fish were disappointed by the flavor. It simply wasn’t as good as we remembered. Perhaps our tongues were tired of gefilte fish. Or perhaps the problem lay in the temperature. We were tasting these at room temperature, but as the jars instructed, we really should be eating these chilled.

 

The Kedem Gefilte Fish Made With Tilapia jar won on beauty. Flavor? Not so much.

Kedem Gefilte Fish Made With Tilapia

We were most excited for this jar, so we saved it for last.

For several days before the taste test, as this jar sat on a shelf in the office, it drew awe from passerby. With its mosaic-like illustration of a fish on its label, it was a beautiful jar. It looked like it had come from a small, locally owned grocery store that makes its own pickles. It even had those special carrot slices in the broth.

On looks alone, this jar blew the competition out of the water.

But when we actually got to tasting it, this one was weirdly sweet. It had an almost syrupy fish flavor. It got an eh from the taste-testing team, with Schmuckler giving it a “disgusting.”

Looks can be deceiving.

Results:

Best: Yehuda Original Gefilte Fish

Worst: Manischewitz Whitefish & Pike in Jelled Broth

We had gone into this experiment expecting to rank the top three gefilte fishes, but with this having been a far more unpleasant experience than we imagined, we determined it was simply not possible to call even three of these good.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Please note that Manischewitz closed its USA manufacturing plant in Newark, New Jersey two years ago, and all its various product lines, including Rokeach, are now only distributed by it, but made by outside vendors in countries including Israel, where all matzohs are baked, and all gefilte fish brands which it controls, including Mothers, are now made in Morocco.

  2. That is shocking news. But I think Streit’s still makes its matzah in the USA. I enjoy Mrs. Adler’s gefilte fish, getting the Old Jerusalem recipe. But it is so simple to make homemade with a blender. Just put the ingredients in, grind it up, and boil the balls.

  3. Completely agree with your assessment of the “traditional” Manischewitz gefilte fish. We were appalled at the taste and I was embarrassed when my guests said “there’s something wrong with the gefilte fish” at our seder this year. I also checked the expiration date, but it was 2022, so I had to assume it was not spoiled. Unless things improve we will be discarding the gefilte fish tradition and trying something different next year… there’s nothing in the haggadah about eating gefilte fish.

  4. We have always loved Mrs. Adlers Old Jerusalem Gefilte fish, but couldn’t find it anywhere this year. So I went with just plain, no salt added regular Mrs. Adlers. When I opened it, I didn’t like the smell; I thought it was just because I wasn’t used to it, then tasted a small piece just before our seder. I knew it was not very good and warned all our guests upon serving it. Every one of them turned up their nose, and we all agreed it had gone bad somehow, even though the jar popped when opened, and the date was 2022. I threw it all out, and will return jars to Stop and Shop where I bought them. Tried to find customer service number or site, but no luck. Lot # BN 213WA. No good … do not eat.

  5. Manischewitz is a total disgrace. It now is merely a private-label distributor, just warehousing inferior product, marketed under a once-proud quality brand, which the original Rabbi Manischewitz family would be ashamed.

    • Jeff, it is owned by Bain Capital, a typical investment house that usually “milks” a great brand. Incidentally, Bain was founded by a “good friend” of our current president; his name is Mitt Romney.

  6. I eat gefilte fish all year round. My favorite used to be Manischewitz Premium Gold, which had carrots in the jar, and carrots mixed into the fish. It was my favorite until Manischewitz moved production to Morocco. I have nothing against Morocco, but the gefilte fish they are buying there is terrible. Every piece has a sandy texture and bits of hard crunchy bits of unknown origin. The jell is extremely thick and horrid. The fish has a sliminess it did not have when made in America. There are also pieces of fish skin very visible in most pieces. They turned a good product into crap.

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