Serious Eats: Drinks
Taste Test: Ready-to-Drink Lemonade
#1: Simply Lemonade
#2 (tie): Minute Maid
#2 (tie): Natalie's Hand Crafted
#3: Newman's Own
Whether you're gardening in the summer sun or lounging by the pool, this is the time of year when a tall, cool glass of lemonade is essential. Yes, you can work up a sweat squeezing a dozen lemons, but it's easier to grab a carton from the grocery store. So we gathered a tasting team and 18 brands of ready-to-drink lemonade in an effort to find the best sweet-sour refreshment a few bucks can buy.
We tasted all 18 brands blind and evaluated them on the following criteria.
- Fresh lemon flavor: Lemonade should taste like freshly squeezed lemons, not like lemon oil or lemon extract, or anything chemical.
- Tartness: Bright sour acidity is essential to make lemonade refreshing.
- Sweetness: A good lemonade should have just enough sweetness to balance the sour lemon flavor.
We gathered 18 nationally available bottles and cartons of lemonade:
- Arizona Vitamin C Fortified
- Harney & Sons
- Italian Volcano
- Minute Maid
- Nantucket Nectars
- Natalie's Hand Crafted
- Newman's Own
- Purity Organic
- Santa Cruz Organic
- Simply Lemonade
- Sweet Leaf
- Trader Joe's Original with Pulp (refrigerated)
- Trader Joe's Organic
- Turkey Hill
- Whole Foods 365 Organic
We didn't include powdered mixes or frozen concentrate this time around; don't worry, we'll get to those down the line.
We sipped and sipped, lip-puckered and sugar-buzzed. But for the most part, these lemonades left a lot to be desired. Too many of them were sweet and artificial tasting...Even the highest scoring brand only scored 5.5/10.
#1. Simply Lemonade (5.5/10)
This lemonade was the favorite of several tasters, but the group wasn't unanimous. Our tasters appreciated this lemonade's tartness, though some noted that it tasted a bit more like lime than lemon. "This works in a nostalgic way," noted one taster, "but it's still a bit artificial and sweet."
#2. (Tie) Minute Maid (5/10)
Tasters found this lemonade well balanced and nicely tart, if a little on the bland side. "It actually tastes like lemon!" noted several tasters, but some found it a little oversweet.
#2. (Tie) Natalie's Hand-Crafted (5/10)
This brand was sweet but likeable. "It doesn't scream fresh," noted one taster, though several rated it at the top of the heap.
#3. Newman's Own (4.67/10)
Though some tasters found this lemonade a bit bland, others appreciated its balance of sweet and tart. "Very refreshing," commented one taster, though others thought the flavors were a bit limey and lemon-oily.
#4. Trader Joe's Original Lemonade with Pulp (4.43/10)
Several tasters liked this, but some complained that it was too sweet and perfumey tasting—"What is that? Lychee? Moisturizer?"
#5. Nantucket Nectars (4.29/10)
"Not too bad," noted some tasters, but several found this lemonade a bit too artificial tasting, especially toward the end of each sip.
#6. Trader Joe's Organic Lemonade (4.14/10)
Though one taster picked this brand as a favorite, and others appreciated its tartness, several criticized it for tasting artificial: "Tastes more like 'lemon flavor' than actual lemons," wrote one taster.
#7. Odwalla (4/10)
Some thought it was "the best tasted so far," but this super-sweet lemonade didn't appeal to all. Most found it a little too lemon-oily and overpoweringly sugary.
#8. Italian Volcano Lemonade (3.6/10)
This brand was quite tart, but some felt it wasn't fresh-tasting enough. "It smells weirder than it tastes," noted one taster, but this lemonade didn't have many fans.
#9. Tropicana (3.5/10)
"This has virtually no fresh lemon flavor," wrote one taster. Most found it far too sweet, and detected a hint of grapefruit and pear but very little lemon.
#10. (tie) Purity Organic (3.3/10)
This brand reminded some tasters of a melted Italian ice. Too much sweetness was the number one complaint, and most felt it tasted too much like lemon oil and zest and not enough like freshly squeezed lemons.
#10 (tie. Whole Foods 365 Organic (3.3/10)
Though one taster wrote that this lemonade would be perfect for an afternoon Arnold Palmer, others found it overly sweet and a bit artificial. "Tastes like a popsicle," noted one taster.
#10. (tie) Harney & Sons (3.3/10)
Tasters found this lemonade a bit too diluted. "It's refreshing," wrote one taster, "But not in a real lemon way."
#11. Arizona Vitamin C Fortified (3.2/10)
The sweetness of this lemonade was the primary flavor; tasters complained there just wasn't much going on except for sugar and artificial flavor.
#12. Sweet Leaf (3/10)
This just wasn't pungent enough for our tasters; most found it bland and more lemon-oil flavored than fresh lemon flavored.
#13. Turkey Hill (2.7/10)
There was nothing exciting about this lemonade; tasters complained that it was a bit bland and syrupy, without enough lemon complexity or tartness.
#14. Santa Cruz Organic (2.1/10)
We had high hopes for this lemonade, but that's why we do these tastings blind! Our tasters unanimously panned this one—too sweet, too artificial, not enough fresh lemon flavor. Next!
#15. Snapple (2/10)
Some found this a bit insipid, and several wrote that orange and lime flavors dominated, not lemon.
Maybe we will get out the ol' juicer after all. Unless you have a favorite bottle or carton of lemonade to recommend—when you're craving lemonade, what brand do you buy?