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Best heat-and-eat appetizers

Taste tests of spinach pies, mozzarella sticks, and mini tacos

Consumer Reports magazine: December 2012

Photo: James Worrell

Warm hors d’oeuvres seem like an upgrade from the usual cheese and crackers, but are products from a supermarket freezer case worth serving your guests? Yes, if you choose right.

Our trained tasters tried six spanakopites (aka spinach pies or triangles), six mozzarella sticks, and six mini tacos or taquitos (their tortilla is rolled like a cigar). Half of the 18—all six spanakopites plus one mozzarella stick and two mini tacos—are very good. The rest are just decent.

When it comes to nutrition, all earned a score of Good, based on calories per gram of food, fats, sodium, sugars, iron, calcium, and fiber. Per piece, however, their nutrition numbers differ. For example, sodium ranges from 55 milligrams to 255 milligrams per piece. As a group, the mozzarella sticks tend to have more calories, fat, and sodium than the other types. Sizes range from about ½ to 1 ounce per piece for the spanakopites and mozzarella sticks and ¾ to 1½ ounces for the tacos and taquitos. The cheapest products per piece tend to be in the biggest packages.

Most of these Greek snacks have fresh-tasting spinach that blends well with feta cheese in browned, crispy phyllo. The best of all, Cuisine Adventures spanakopita (Costco) and The Fillo Factory, cost about one-fifth as much as Dufour per piece. Cuisine Adventures tastes freshly prepared; Athens has a hint of dill; Trader Joe’s has more feta than most and tastes a bit saltier.

Farm Rich are big, made of cheese with just the right amount of stretch, and have a lightly seasoned, browned, crispy coating. They cost just 27 cents each. Drawbacks in the other five products include dehydrated seasonings, uneven texture, and off-tastes. Appetitos sticks, for example, have an overused-oil flavor; Alexia sticks have slightly rubbery cheese; T.G.I. Friday’s sticks had more breading than cheese after most of the cheese leaked out. Appetitos, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Nice come with dipping sauces, which didn’t help their flavor.

Don Miguel and Trader Joe’s combine tasty chicken and flavorful, spicy sauce in a tasty corn tortilla. Trader Joe’s sauce has less of a kick and has a tomatillo flavor. Those two cost less than the rest per piece but are also about half the size of most. Lowest-rated Delimex has a tasty corn tortilla, but that’s about it. The filling’s ground chicken reminded testers of chicken liver.

Bottom line. Eat your spinach. The spanakopita appetizers are the tastiest and have 75 calories or fewer per piece. Pop a few appetizers, though, and the calories, fat, and sodium can reach dinner-size levels. Eating a light snack before a party might stop you from overdoing it and ending up with hors d’oeuvre remorse.

   

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