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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

The Winners!

#1: Trader Joe's
#2: Jell-O
#3: Swiss Miss

Whether it was a Jell-O or a Snack Pack tub we toted to school in our lunch boxes growing up, a lot of us have a soft spot in our hearts for chocolate pudding. But which pudding is the tastiest? We set out this week to find out.

In a blind taste test, we pitted nine widely available brands of pre-made chocolate pudding against each other, ranking them on sweetness, chocolate flavor, and overall preference.

The Contenders

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  1. Jell-O
  2. Kozy Shack
  3. Kozy Shack All-Natural CowRageous!
  4. Shop-Rite
  5. Snack Pack
  6. SoyJoy
  7. Swiss Miss
  8. Trader Joe's
  9. White Rose

The Results

We found that, for most of our panel, "overall preference" closely tracked "chocolatey flavor"; the more pronounced the chocolate flavor, the more the majority of our tasters liked a given pudding. Our top two scorers were also ranked the most chocolatey, by a long shot. Sweetness didn't seem to factor into most people's opinions in the same way; our winner was ranked as the least sweet, whereas the second-place scorer was called the most sweet. What seemed to matter was whether that sweetness was balanced by a genuine chocolate flavor.

But that's just perceived sweetness: what our panel felt tasted like sugar. Interestingly, Trader Joe's, with a whopping 29 grams of sugar per 1/2 cup, was the lowest scorer on the sweetness scale—most people didn't think it tasted sweet at all—while Jell-O and Kozy Shack only had 19 grams of sugar per 1/2 cup, but were called the sweetest. What's going on here? That's quite a discrepancy. A look at the ingredients list gave us the answer. The puddings we generally perceived as overly sweet were mostly flavored with cocoa powder, whereas the Trader Joe's pudding was made with real chocolate, cocoa butter and all. Our guess? The bitterness and richness of real chocolate helped balance out the sweetness of the extra sugar.

As for texture? The puddings varied widely, ranging from so thin you could pour them smoothly from the tub, to so thick they'd stay stuck to a spoon if you turned it upside-down. Tasters tended not to like the puddings they perceived as "runny," and most gave a higher overall score to the ones they perceived as "rich," which for most tasters, meant thicker and denser. That said, except in extreme cases—one was called "mucus-like," one "lumpy"—flavor seemed to trump texture.

Why The Losers Lost

Of the nine puddings we tried, there were three that we wouldn't recommend. Tasters faulted them for various off flavors ("weird aftertastes," "reminds me of soy sauce," "grape-y," "tastes like liquor") or textures ("thin and runny," "mucus-like," "grainy," "waxy").

What Would We Eat Again?

Six of the puddings ranked favorably enough that we'd try them again; at least one taster genuinely enjoyed each one.

#1. Trader Joe's (7.56/10)

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Our winner, Trader Joe's, was also ranked the most chocolatey of the bunch; as mentioned above, overall scores tracked "chocolatey" rankings very closely. It's the only one with "chocolate" in the ingredients, rather than cocoa powder; in comments, it was called "the richest," "the most like dark chocolate," "bittersweet in a good way," with "deep" or "actual chocolate flavor"; every single taster noted how pronounced that flavor was. The majority of tasters also liked the thick texture, called "creamy," "rich," "full," and "thick in a good way."

A vocal minority strongly disliked this pudding for its texture, thinking it grainy, pasty, and too thick—closer to frosting than pudding. However, it had the highest "overall preference" score by nearly two full points, making it the decisive winner.

#2. Jell-O (5.78/10)

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Jell-O certainly triggered childhood memories in a few tasters; one wrote, "Tastes like after-school!" But it won points for other reasons as well, for its "smooth consistency," "real chocolate flavor," and "sweetness, in a good way." Those who didn't like it faulted a "runny" texture ("This is too liquid!") or a "plastic-y" taste. ("I have no doubt that this came from a little plastic tub," wrote one taster.)

#3. Swiss Miss (5/10)

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"This tastes like Swiss Miss!" one astute taster wrote; several recognized that hot chocolate mix flavor. "Sweet in an okay, nostalgic way" was the consensus. ("This tastes more like chocolate milk than chocolate, but I'm okay with that.") Those who didn't like this one felt it "a little too sweet" or "lacking real chocolate flavor," but no tasters had any real complaints.

#4. Shop-Rite (4.78/10)

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Hot chocolate powder strikes again. "This tastes like gelatinous instant hot chocolate," was one comment; "though I kind of like that." (In fact, almost half the tasters mentioned hot chocolate mix!) While some found it too sweet, others called it "sweet and comforting," and several affirmed that they'd happily eat it again.

#5. Kozy Shack (4.625/10)

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Several Serious Eats staffers mentioned Kozy Shack as an initial favorite; in the taste test itself, it ended up ranking right in the middle of the pack. "It's milky with vanilla and dairy flavors," wrote one taster; "classic." ("A fake dairy aftertaste kind of lingers," was another opinion on that.) While some found it "smooth and shiny," others called that "gloppy." Again, plenty of goodwill toward this pudding, but no real positive consensus.

#6. Snack Pack (4.56/10)

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Those who liked Snack Pack appreciated the "thick and creamy" texture; those who didn't thought it "bland" (a comment echoed several times) or "milky, rather than chocolatey." It didn't win any raves, but plenty of tasters would happily eat it again.

Do you eat store-bought chocolate pudding? And what brands do you like?

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