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Exceptional H-E-B Store Brands

I banned store brands shortly after high school, after spending less money on a large jar of strawberry jam, and getting sparsely fruited corn-syrupy red sludge. I saved one dollar and tossed out three. But last year I observed, then participated in a blind taste test of five raspberry preserves at Central Market.

All of the tasters picked the Central Market Organics raspberry over the contenders, which included my previous favorite. The Howard E. Butt Grocery Company, which encompasses both Central Market and H-E-B, changed my opinion of packaged private label brands, and at least five of them are extraordinary. I thought that with the new Montrose H-E-B getting ready to open, now was a good time to share.

5. H-E-B Tortillas When I visited the Meyerland store, the shelves were stripped of all H-E-B Tortillas, while the national brands, such as Mission, languished on the shelves below. Fortunately, the H-E-B man arrived with a new crate of Yellow Corn tortillas. Not only are they tasty and cheap, but with such high turnover, the tortillas are remarkably fresh.

At Central Market, the flour versions are often still warm, and the bag arrives home with fewer tortillas.

4. Central Market Organics Pasta After I did a semi-puff piece on boiling DeCecco, ArchieLeach commented:

I swore by Barilla for a while and then I switched to H-E-B's pasta. I haven't looked back since.

Good call. It's made in Italy, yet it's competitively priced with American brands, and it's delicious. The pasta isn't as hard as DeCecco, so stick to the recommended boiling times on the package.

Commenter Megan and EOW blogger Christine Uticone also touted the whole-wheat H-E-B pasta, and I'll just trust them on that. Christine's from New York.

3. H-E-B Egg Nog I've sampled every eggnog in this market, including pricier brands like Borden's and Promised Land, but most of them have an overly creamy taste, with not enough, uh, nog. The last one I tried was H-E-B Egg Nog. The long search was worth it, as this eggnog has a rich, custardy taste, like liquid flan. Better yet, when I mix 1½ ounces of bourbon or rum into 6 ounces of eggnog, and dust lightly with freshly-grated nutmeg, I have the taste of Instant Holiday.

Mistakenly, I once bought H-E-B Light Eggnog. The "lightness" comes from extra high-fructose corn syrup, and as it poured out of the bottle in unnatural gloppy waves, a regret formed.

2. Central Market Organics Preserves and H-E-B More Fruit Spreads Besides the above taste test, commenter YumYum clued us in on what tastes good on Greek yogurt:

I buy a large container of Fage and a jar of H-E-B fruit spread (Raspberry Yumyum). The fruit spread is not as sweet as preserves. It's closer to what comes in the Fage side car.

And thanks to commenter sunny bogden for turning us on to Morello Cherry from Canada:

I agree with YumYum's idea of mixing the plain with spreads. H-E-B's "more fruit" spreads are really good. I like the Mango/Peach. Central Market also has a Morello Cherry preserves that's delicious.

All of the spreads and preserves are less than three dollars.

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1. Central Market Organics Extra Virgin Olive Oils Harold McGee is a premier food scientist, yet I was skeptical when he reported that olive oils all taste the same when heated. So, I tested several myself, and it's true--heated olive oils taste like popcorn. We use the cheaper CM Spanish oil for cooking, and the Italian for raw applications. Both of them are highly competitive with expensive oils when tasted unheated, and are available at all H-E-B stores.

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