We Tried It: Does Country Crock’s New Formula Actually Taste Like Garbage?

Image courtesy of SCOTT DEFILLIPPO/CONSUMERIST

Loyalty runs deep in the world of butter and butter-like spreads, so when Unilever changed the recipes of a few of its popular products (including Country Crock), die-hard customers accused the company of destroying the product.

“It is truly inedible, smells horrible, and ruins any food you put it in or on,” wrote one customer.

Was this true? Does the new Country Crock actually ruin waffles? If we made food using this revised spread, would a bite of it transport our taste buds to garbage town? To find out, we teamed up with our colleagues at the Consumer Reports sensory lab for an expertly-executed taste-test.

In response to the nationwide trend toward “simple” food options with recognizable ingredients, Unilever announced in 2014 that it would be reformulating its “portfolio” of spreads, including Country Crock, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and Brummel & Brown.

Judging by the response on social media and elsewhere, Country Crock customers didn’t know about, or approve of, the changes. They railed about the flavor of the spread, likening it to trash and spoiled dairy, and claimed the new version had ruined waffles. They also cited a “filmy” mouth coating and aftertaste.

“It is not good, in any way. The taste is awful, then there is a thick filmy after taste that is so bad my gag reflex took over,” wrote a former Country Crock fan.

That customers are unhappy is clear, but would science back up their claims?

Would Consumer Reports’ expert testers –with no knowledge of the complaints, in a blind taste-test — detect the “off” flavors described by consumers?

Methodology

Image courtesy of SCOTT DEFILLIPPO/CONSUMERIST

To evaluate Country Crock’s new formula, Consumer Reports’ experts tasted the spread on or in:

  • Frozen waffles
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Sugar cookies (using a recipe taken from the Country Crock website)

They also tasted the waffles, mashed potatoes, and scrambled eggs plain (without spread) for comparison. The expert tasters were unaware of the Country Crock controversy and were not told what they were eating or why they were eating it.

Additionally, Consumer Reports‘ taste panel sampled Unilever’s three reformulated spreads (Country Crock, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and Brummel & Brown) “straight up” in a blind tasting. Again, this means the tasters were given samples and asked to describe the quality and taste, but were not told what the sample was or why they were tasting it.

Preparing to take on the new Country Crock.

Preparing to take on the new Country Crock.

In addition to the official taste test, some brave (or foolhardy) Consumerist staff participated in an unscientific tasting, because as usual, if food is involved, we’re going to try it and you’re going to read about it.

Results

Image courtesy of Meg Marco/Consumerist

MASHED POTATOES

We used Idaho Mashed Potato Granules.

We used Idaho Mashed Potato Granules.

Adding in Country Crock spread.

Adding in Country Crock spread.

Preparing a tray of samples for the sensory panelists.

Preparing a tray of samples for the sensory panelists.

Sensory panelists said: “The mashed potatoes were described as being moderately salty, slightly sour, with a mild potato flavor and slight diacetyl note (fake butter flavor like on movie theatre popcorn).”

Making notes on potatoes.

Making notes on potatoes.

WAFFLES

Thanks, for the help, toaster.

Thanks, for the help, toaster.

Is this waffle in the act of being ruined?

Is this waffle in the process of being ruined?

Sensory panelists said: “On the waffles, it had a butter-like flavor with no off-flavors but gave the waffle a soggy texture.”

waffletaste

SCRAMBLED EGGS

You can't make scrambled eggs without um, scrambling some eggs.

You can’t make scrambled eggs without um, scrambling some eggs.

eggssampleplates

Sensory panelists said: “The panelists commented that the scrambled eggs had the look, taste, and texture of scrambled eggs but had some astringency and left a mouth coating.”

"I don't know eggsactly how to say this, but..."

“I don’t know eggactly how to say this, but…”

COOKIES

That is not a small amount of Country Crock.

That is not a small amount of Country Crock.

cookiesRecipe

cookiesfinished

Sensory panelists said: “The cookies were described as simple, plain, and low in flavor with a dry, soft texture and lacked the fullness you would get from cookies made from a high quality sugar cookie recipe made with real butter.”

Trying to figure this cookie out.

Trying to figure this cookie out.

But even dry, weird Country Crock cookies couldn’t prepare the team for what was next.

To really put Country Crock to the test, we had our obliging panelists do what most people likely aren’t prepared for, and stuck some spoons in samples of the three reformulated spreads to try them on their own, without any other food to muddle the flavor.

Though our panelists were brave in the face of tasting mystery spreads, one tester joked that she felt she deserved “hazard pay,” for this project. Another observed that the panelists may be consuming more palate-cleansing, unsalted crackers than ever before. Because again, tasting margarine spreads “straight up” is not a lot of fun.

So with many thanks to our intrepid experts, we present the results:

Country Crock Original 40% Vegetable Oil Spread
Sensory panelists said: “Soft, mild spread with some diacetyl and a non-specific off-note.”

C'mon, try it.

C’mon, try it.

Brummel & Brown 35% Oil Spread, 10% Nonfat Yogurt
Sensory panelists said: “Soft spread with diacetyl and slight cheesy flavors, slightly sour, and stale off notes. Texture is better than the flavor.” Of the three spreads, “Brummel & Brown had the most defects and may still be noticeable on foods,” the panel noted.

straightupsolosample

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Original 45% Vegetable Oil Spread
Sensory panelists said “Soft, decent butter substitute, moderate diacetyl, hint of dairy, and an oily mouthfeel.”

The Bottom Line

Though panelists didn’t find the vegetable oils spreads to be as objectionable as some customers had expressed, they did confirm “off flavors” and some texture issues with the new formulations, noting that they did taste different from the formulations they encountered in the last butter substitutes project (reported in the March 2012 issue of Consumer Reports). No off flavors were noted in the original spread formulations.

“Consumers who were used to a particular taste and expectation may be reacting strongly to any change in their coveted product,” the panelists note. The level of acceptance of the new spread with loyal customers may depend on which foods they put it on or in.

Another interesting finding: Of the three spreads tested, the testers found that Brummel and Brown had “the most defects.”

For now, we’ll leave you with this: Let’s all just be glad these creepy-handed Country Crock ads are a thing of the past: