The Best Deli Meat – Taste-Test Approved

A plethora of deli meat varieties cram the shelves of grocery stores today, all with different sodium contents, preservatives and processing ingredients. We taste-tested a few of the most popular turkey varieties and found one that wins in taste and nutrition.

Deli Meat Competitors

From left to right: Hillshire Farm Oven Roasted Turkey Breast, Sara Lee Oven Roasted Turkey Breast, Tofurkey Oven Roasted, Oscar Meyer Selects Slow Roasted Turkey Breast

Deli Meat Blind Tasting

Deli Meat Taste Results

Sara Lee came in first place in the taste competition. Oscar Meyer Selects was a close second in taste, but came in first place in terms of appearance. Hillshire Farms ranked lower in taste, while Tofurkey was a great substitute for the meat versions. Sara Lee had the lowest sodium content (390 mg per serving), while Oscar Meyer Selects had the most (500 mg per serving).

Check the Salt Yourself

When buying a deli lunch meat, the “Lower Sodium” variety might seem to be a healthier option. However, many lunch meat brands use a loophole when designing their packaging that allows them to use the “Lower Sodium” designation.

Under the Lower Sodium label on Hillshire Farm Turkey Breast, it says “25% less sodium than USDA data for turkey breast.” This is not incorrect, as Hillshire Farm does have 25% less sodium than the USDA reference standard for turkey breast.

However, it can be misinterpreted as meaning that the lower sodium version has 25% less salt than the full-sodium version. The full sodium version of Hillshire Farms has 490 mg of sodium per serving, and the lower sodium version has 420 mg of sodium per serving. This means there’s only a 70 mg difference between the two, far less than 25%.

We recommend looking at the sodium content yourself and choosing a deli meat brand that has less than 400 mg sodium per serving.

What to Watch Out for in Deli Meats: Nitrates, Nitrites, Carrageenan

There are a few processing ingredients to look out for when shopping for deli meats.

Sodium nitrates/nitrites are used to preserve the pinkish color of deli meat, thereby preventing them from turning gray. However, in our taste test, we found that there wasn’t a noticeable difference in color between the version with nitrates/nitrites (Hillshire Farm) and the one without (Sara Lee). These ingredients are also used to prevent the growth of bacteria in deli meats, most notably the bacteria that causes botulism. The use of sodium nitrates/nitrites has been controversial because recent research has indicated these preservatives have cancer-causing properties. That said, it may be best to avoid deli meat brands with sodium nitrates/nitrites altogether.

Carrageenan is a natural seaweed extract used in a variety of processed foods. It’s most used as a thickener and emulsifier. Although carrageenan is a natural food, research has linked it to inflammation, which causes a variety of diseases and disorders. Zipongo recommends avoiding deli meat brands with carrageenan. Many other foods also contain carrageenan.

Zipongo Recommendation

Sara Lee Oven Roasted Turkey Breast was the all-around best-tasting option. It was the lowest sodium variety tested (390 mg per serving), and we found it had a balanced, not too salty flavor. In addition, this variety has no nitrates, nitrites or carrageenan added so it’s generally free of the controversial processing ingredients.

Until the next blind-taste test, eat wiser.

Bobby is the community and social media manager at Zipongo. He has a degree in nutrition and dietetics and previously worked as a health educator.

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