When it comes to stocking your pantry, tinned, canned, and boxed items are absolute powerhouses: They last a long time and are typically quite versatile, so you can buy them well in advance and use them to whip up a nourishing meal at a moment’s notice. But just because they are flexible doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Whether you’re looking for a can of fish that pairs wonderfully with rice or salad, a pasta that packs some extra protein, or a splash of something to liven up your morning coffee, the options for packaged goods these days are plentiful—and delicious.
They say good things come in small packages, and our inaugural Pantry Awards prove it. Below you’ll find items like rice and refried beans that will become staples in your kitchen (if they aren’t already), broths suitable for omnivores and vegetarians alike, and fresh options for folks who have fully embraced the tinned-fish craze. And if you’re overwhelmed by the ever-expanding market of milk alternatives, great news: We tried dozens of varieties and are excited to crown the best.
Be sure to check out the rest of SELF’s 2023 Pantry Award winners, including sauces, spreads, and oils that add mouth-watering flavor and the most snackable chips, crackers, bars, pretzels, and popcorn.
The Best Gluten-Free Pasta: ZENB Penne Pasta
Don’t be fooled by the gluten-free label: This pasta is damn delicious. The classic penne shape makes it perfect for lots of different pasta dishes, whether you’re layering on a traditional bolognese or creating an oil-based sauce with veggies. Testers enjoyed its chewy texture and the fact that, unlike many gluten free pasta alternatives, these noodles didn’t get mushy or weighed down once sauce was added. And with 11 grams of fiber and 17 grams of protein, you’re also getting a boost of your daily recommended dose.
The Best Quick Rice: A Dozen Cousins Sea Salt Bone-Broth Rice
Busy cooks know: Precooked quick rice can be a clutch time saver when you’re throwing together a weeknight meal. This bone broth rice is no exception. There’s already flavor baked in, and just 60 seconds in the microwave gets you a delicious side dish or base for your grain bowl.
The Best Black Beans: Siete Foods Vegan Refried Black Beans
There’s not much that refried black beans can’t do. You can use them on tostadas, enchiladas, or quesadillas, sure—but you can also serve them alongside eggs, smear them on burgers, or enjoy them as a standalone side dish. Our busy testers said these particular beans worked perfectly in a layer dip and also tasted superb after being heated in a microwave.
The Best Vegetable Broth: Bonafide Provisions Organic Vegetable Broth
This vegetable broth earned major points from our testers for having a smooth, vegetal taste—without a single flavor, like celery or mushroom, overpowering the whole thing. It was easy to integrate into soups and stews, and served as an excellent mild base for a variety of dishes. Easy to open and easy to store, this vegan broth is also gluten-free.
The Best Chicken Broth: Zoup! Good, Really Good Low Sodium Chicken Broth
Broth that’s packaged in a glass jar is not just aesthetically pleasing—it’s actually efficient. Testers loved that they could see how much was left through the clear glass. But that’s not the only reason why we’re awarding it here: It tastes good. “My best use of this was preparing (fancy!!!) instant ramen,” one tester said. “I swapped about half the water for this broth and it truly felt like A Meal. I also used it for risotto, where it worked exactly as needed, and even though it’s low sodium I didn’t feel like it was lacking in flavor or salinity.”
The Best Nut Milk: Táche Pistachio Milk
Step aside almond, there’s a new nut in town. Our testers loved every flavor of Táche’s Pistachio Milk, but especially raved over the vanilla—which frothed beautifully, like cow’s milk, when one tester used it in a cappuccino. This pistachio milk is nutty and a little sweet; while it’s designed specifically to pair with warm beverages, our testers also enjoyed it straight from the carton.
The Best Oat Milk: Planet Oat Shelf-Stable Oatmilk
Oat milk is known for its decadent texture, and this winning pick is no exception. Our testers raved about the creamy mouthfeel of this vegan milk, and loved that it doesn’t require refrigeration prior to being opened, saving space. “The carton is a perfect size to squeeze in a packed fridge,” one tester wrote. “I love that it’s shelf stable—something taken for granted often, but easily noticeable in a cramped kitchen, common amongst us New Yorkers.” Another tester waxed poetic about its range: “I had this oat milk in my coffee, in a smoothie, and even used it in my morning oatmeal. It’s so versatile and easy to use.”
The Best Tinned Salmon: Scout Smoked Wild Pink Salmon
There’s no question that tinned fish is having A Moment—and we’re here for it. Enjoyable straight from the can (no cooking required!) and a perfect partner for salad, crackers, bread, and pasta, this shelf-stable protein has long deserved a better rap. While Scout’s wild pink smoked salmon is pricier than similar products from other brands, our testers say it’s worth it. It tastes fancy and upscale, the packaging is kitschy and cute, and each can is packed with 27 grams of protein and healthy fats, so a little goes a long way.
The Best Tinned Tuna: Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna
This one’s for the tuna skeptics: Pleasantly mild and not overly fishy, Wild Planet’s tinned tuna might just change your mind about the white fish. “It’s not as unctuous and flavorful as oil-packed tuna, but it’s a great option if you want something with a more neutral taste,” one tester said. “That made it a better base for tuna salad mix-ins, like avocado, chili crisp, veggies, and mayo. It’s funny to say that something as fishy as tuna can taste clean, but there’s a real purity to Wild Planet’s tuna.”
The Best Meal Prep Protein: Freshé Meals
Think of Freshé as your classic tinned fish purveyor, but turned up a notch. Each can comes packed with a fish base, plus add-ins like beans, peppers, tomato, and corn. Flavors like Sicilian Caponata, Aztec Ensalada, and Thai Sriracha can quickly make a simple meal feel gourmet. You can eat these alone, but our testers recommend serving them atop baguettes, crackers, or on a bed of greens. •
We can’t talk about food without talking about food access, which is why we put together this guide to redistributing food to the people in your community who need it. As part of the 2023 Pantry Awards, SELF has made a $2,500 donation to God’s Love We Deliver, a New York–based non-sectarian organization that prepares and delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses. We also donated the unopened items from our photoshoot for this project to New York Common Pantry.