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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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