Taste Test: Ready-to-Drink Lemonade

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[Photos: Shell Tu]

Our Favorites

#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.

The Criteria

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.

The Contenders

We gathered 18 nationally available bottles and cartons of lemonade:

  1. Arizona Vitamin C Fortified
  2. Harney & Sons
  3. Italian Volcano
  4. Minute Maid
  5. Nantucket Nectars
  6. Natalie's Hand Crafted
  7. Newman's Own
  8. Odwalla
  9. Purity Organic
  10. Santa Cruz Organic
  11. Simply Lemonade
  12. Snapple
  13. Sweet Leaf
  14. Trader Joe's Original with Pulp (refrigerated)
  15. Trader Joe's Organic
  16. Tropicana
  17. Turkey Hill
  18. 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.

The Results

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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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?

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