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I Tried 6 Store-Bought Clam Chowders & the Winner Was Creamy and Clammy in the Best Way

The ultimate cold-weather comfort food gets put to the test in this taste-off.
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When visiting the Northeast, hunting down a creamy bowl of clam chowder is a must. It's one of the region's defining dishes, alongside lobster rolls and crab cakes, and is the ultimate comfort food. Of course, enjoying it on the coast with the ocean in the background is the best way to savor it. But, when you can't make the trip or want all that rich, clammy goodness at home, store-bought chowdah (cue the New England accent) is a trusty fallback.

Big-name brands like Campbell's and Progresso make the soup, and you'll find store brands and soup from smaller, local companies, too. You can find it in several forms, including Manhattan, Rhode Island, and New England clam chowder. This final option is the creamy white variety you're likely most familiar with, and this is the kind I decided to focus on as I set out to find the best off-the-shelf version of the soup.

I had six options to test and heated them all in my microwave before digging in. Let's find out which brands are a little fishy while others will make you happy as a clam.

Kroger New England Style Clam Chowder

kroger clam chowder
Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition PER 1 CUP: 180 calories, 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 890 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (1 g fiber,14 g sugar), 5 g protein

Kroger's soup aisle is filled to the brim. You'll find familiar name brands and house brands under the Simple Truth Organic, Private Selection, and generic Kroger lines. The latter sticks out with the chain's blue emblem and appealing striped cans of various colors. Within this collection, you'll find the obligatory classics like Chicken Noodle, Tomato, Hearty Vegetable, and Bean soup next to a few more intriguing options like the New England Style Clam Chowder. One 18.8-ounce can of the chowder costs $1.89 and comes with all the usual ingredients like clam stock, meat, potatoes, celery, and onions.

The look: The coloring is white and opaque. But, it is so thin and watery that it resolves into more of a drinkable broth. Only a few potato chunks stick out in the middle of the bowl.

The taste: As soon as a spoonful hit my tongue, I detected a strange sour taste, like the soup was a day or two past its expiration. It was more in your face than the seafood flavor itself, and I immediately started shaking my head in distaste. More potatoes or other vegetables were needed to mask this unexpected tang. Clams were hardly noticeable, only present in tiny beige-ish pink-colored slivers. But, when you fish one out, you wish you hadn't because of its chewy texture. Sorry, Kroger, but this one is a resounding "no" for me.

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Great Value Clam Chowder Soup

great value clam chowder
Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition PER 1 CUP: 190 calories, 10 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 780 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (1 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 5 g protein

Just like Kroger, Walmart is also something of a potager, and it sells a motley of broths and soup favorites under its Great Value brand. All ring up at wonderfully low prices, including the Clam Chowder Soup, which I picked up for $1.68 for an 18.8-ounce can—the most affordable soup in the running. It's also the only soup in the taste test not specified as a "New England" chowder. But, it follows the same basic ingredient list as its competitors.

The look: Strikingly similar in look to Kroger's Clam Chowder. It's milky and cloudy, and it also became somewhat bubbly on top after it was microwaved. Ingredients seem to be in short supply.

The taste: I will reference Kroger's chowder concoction. The two are almost identical in taste and consistency. I wouldn't be surprised if the two retail giants use the same soup supplier. Great Value's version also possesses an off-putting taste that isn't fishy but something worse. Beyond that, though, it's on the bland side.

Like with Kroger's soup, I wouldn't add this clam chowder to my cupboard again. But, it does get a slight advantage because it has a few extra potatoes, and its clam pieces are easier to stomach.

Bar Harbor New England Style Clam Chowder Condensed

bar harbor clam chowder
Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition PER ½ CUP: 80 calories, 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 410 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 3 g protein

Bar Harbor Foods prides itself on offering natural and sustainably sourced seafood products. Its lineup of offerings all contain a blue Marine Stewardship Council label, so you know your fish is coming from a responsible fishery. None of the other clam chowders I picked up sport this certification, so I was excited to try it.

Unfortunately, at my local Fresh Thyme Market, only the company's condensed New England Style Clam Chowder was stocked instead of the ready-to-serve cans. This means the soup is boiled down into a dense stock-like substance, and typically, something like water, milk, or cream needs to be mixed in at home to thin it out. This isn't ideal, but I decided to make the most of it and bought a 15-ounce can for $3.49.

The look: I added a couple of splashes of 1% milk into the chowder as suggested. But, before doing so, it took some time to wiggle out the can's viscous contents. The bottom section came out still in the shape of the container, like jellied cranberry sauce would. It initially looked similar to thick chicken noodle soup, but after adding the milk, it became a classic, albeit runny, clam chowder look.

The taste: I'll admit, I was scared to try this one after the preparation fiasco. The flavor ended up being more disappointing than alarming. I think milk was the wrong choice because while it did help with the consistency, it diluted the salty and seafood notes. Cream would have been a better choice, but I had none in my kitchen. As for the remainder of the soup, the potatoes disintegrated in their broth bath but still gave the entire chowder more body. Small morsels of clam also appeared in nearly every spoonful, elevating the dish with a mild salty, umami flavor.

Given its accolades, I had high hopes for this chowder, and it let me down. But, I want to give one of the brand's ready-to-serve clam chowders a chance in the future.

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Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder

campbells chunky clam chowder
Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition PER 1 CUP: 180 calories, 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 790 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (2 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 6 g protein

I knew Campbell's would have a dog in the fight, but I never imagined the soup company would have so many forms of the classic seafood soup. You have a standard recipe in one of Campbell's old-school red and white cans. There's a Homestyle version, a Slow-Kettle Style, a Well Yes! veggie-packed option, and multiple Chunky chowders. I grabbed the first one I happened to lock eyes on, which happened to be Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder. It comes in 18.8-ounce cans, just like the Great Value and Kroger's soups. I got it on sale for $1.98 at Walmart—not too shabby for a soup that "eats like a meal."

The Look: Chunky is an understatement. This soup is jam-packed with diced potatoes. There are other hard-to-identify ingredients also floating around. It takes on more of a yellow hue than white.

The Taste: A distinct ocean-like aroma filled the air as this one whirled in the microwave. But, when it comes down to the taste, the seafood essence all but disappears. It's plenty creamy, and there's an abundance of clam bits hiding in the soup. Without a more pronounced flavor and with all of its tender spuds, it is closer to a potato soup than clam chowder. It is filling, and I wouldn't mind eating it again when a clam chowder craving strikes.

Progresso New England Clam Chowder

progresso clam chowder
Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition PER 1 CUP: 170 calories, 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 760 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (2 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 5 g protein

Like Campbell's, General Mills Progresso line also focuses on soup. The brand produces so much of it that it separates it into eight individual categories: Traditional, Light, Protein, Vegetable Classics, Reduced Sodium Diet, Soup Mix, Spice It Up, and Rich & Hearty. Not surprisingly, Progresso's New England Clam Chowder falls into this final Rich & Hearty grouping. You can find Progresso at most large retailers. I picked up an 18.5-ounce can at Walmart for $2.18.

The look: What you see is what you get, as the picture on the can is almost exactly what came pouring out. It's as clumpy and thick as Campbell's—so much so that it jiggled instead of sloshed as I transferred the bowl from the microwave to my table. Once again, there is a generous portion of potatoes. Its shade is a subtle ivory.

The taste: Certainly rich and hearty. I think I would have been full after finishing just half of the can. The base is exceptionally velvety, and it's the first that tasted a little bit buttery with a nice dash of salt for taste. What impressed me, though, was the sizeable and meatier nuggets of clam. They almost tasted fresh, and they weren't too tough to chew. The recipe is simple. Progresso doesn't bother throwing in onions or celery. But the chowder still turns out flavorful and well-rounded.

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Blount Clam Shack New England Clam Chowder

blount clam chowder
Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition PER 1 CUP: 310 calories, 23 g fat (14 g saturated fat), 980 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (1 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 8 g protein

Blount makes homestyle foods like pot pies, mac and cheese, and other comfort meals under its Family Kitchen line. The company also produces a lineup of clam shack-inspired soups that are conscientiously sourced and kettle-cooked. They come in larger 24- or 30-ounce family-sized containers and can be bought online or through select retailers. I reeled in a 30-ounce New England Clam Chowder container at my local Fresh Thyme Market for $12.99.

The look: Not quite as chunky as Campbell's or Progresso, but close. The color is in between white and yellow, and both potatoes and small orange-ish clam pieces float to the top.

The taste: So smooth and buttery it reminds me of a French bisque. A touch of sweetness—both from the creamy broth and the clams themselves—elevates the entire bowl. The pieces of meat are bigger than other soup options, and there are enough potatoes for it to be a substantial meal, but not too many that it distracts from the soup. I didn't want to stop eating this one. Like many of Blount's products, this one is labeled "award-winning," and I can see why. I'm glad this one was a bigger size so I can continue to enjoy it. I will pick up the brand's other seafood soups, like the Lobster Bisque or Shrimp & Corn Chowder, the next time I get the chance.

Megan Hageman
Megan is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Megan