RALEIGH, N.C. — We are in the thick of Girl Scout cookie season, with Thin Mint and Trefoil temptations on nearly every corner.
And whether you pick up a box or two from the barkers set up outside Harris Teeter or you purchase by the case to stock the freezer for year-round cookie access, you have your favorites. Your ride-or-die go-to cookies.
But did you know that there are different versions of Girl Scout cookies out there, and the version you get is determined by geography?
There are two U.S. bakeries that make Girl Scout cookies for troops across the country: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers.
- ABC Bakers, located in South Dakota, has been making Girl Scout cookies since 1937. Their cookies include: Thin Mints, Lemonades, Caramel deLites, Trefoils, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwich, Caramel Chocolate Chip, Adventurefuls, Toast-Yay and Raspberry Rally.
- Little Brownie Bakers, located in Kentucky, is a relative newcomer on the Girl Scout scene, baking cookies for 35 years. Their cookies include: Thin Mints, Lemon-Ups, Samoas, Trefoils, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos, Girl Scout S’Mores, Toffee-tastic, Adventurefuls and Raspberry Rally.
Which Girl Scout bakery makes the best cookies?
We always want what we can’t have, and the idea that someone in another state is munching on a Samoa while we’re eating Caramel deLites was just too much. So we did some finagling, and through newsroom sources (a colleague with a daughter selling cookies in Raleigh, N.C., and a colleague with a friend’s daughter selling cookies in Mississippi) we devised a plan for a taste test — a Girl Scout cookie bakery showdown, if you will.
We got all of the cookies in hand this week and set up a blind(ish) taste test in our newsroom kitchen.
We tested six cookies that we felt were the most classic or most popular cookies.
Here’s the lineup:
- Peanut Butter Sandwiches (ABC) vs. Do-Si-Dos (Little Brownie Bakers)
- Thin Mints (ABC) vs. Thin Mints (Little Brownie Bakers)
- Lemonades (ABC) vs. Lemon-Ups (Little Brownie Bakers)
- Peanut Butter Patties (ABC) vs. Tagalongs (Little Brownie Bakers)
- Trefoils (ABC) vs. Trefoils (Little Brownie Bakers)
- Caramel deLites (ABC) vs. Samoas(Little Brownie Bakers)
We put the cookies on plates labeled 1A & 1B, 2A & 2B, etc. The names of the cookies were on the bottom of the plate, not visible to the testers. They each got a card to write their votes and corresponding thoughts. (Note: Not every participant sampled every single cookie. Some of us — ahem — despise peanut butter, for example.)
- Peanut Butter Sandwiches (ABC) vs. Do-Si-Dos (Little Brownie Bakers): Despite the snazzy name, more than twice as many tasters preferred the Peanut Butter Sandwich by ABC Bakers, but two tasters couldn’t tell the difference. They also looked exactly alike. Comments included “peanut butter flavor more pronounced,” “saltier” and “tastes like a Nutter Butter.” Winning Bakery: ABC Bakers wins Round 1.
- Thin Mints (ABC) vs. Thin Mints (Little Brownie Bakers): These cookies were visibly different. The ABC Thin Mints were lighter in color with a lighter brown center. LBB Thin Mints had darker chocolate with a darker cookie center. Our testers preferred the lighter chocolate (one taster couldn’t tell the difference) with comments mostly saying that the ABC cookie was “mintier” and one taster saying the LBB cookie’s chocolate was “too overpowering.” Winning Bakery: ABC Bakers takes Round 2.
- Lemonades (ABC) vs. Lemon-Ups (Little Brownie Bakers): These cookies also look very different. The Lemonade has a “lemon” design on top and thicker icing on the bottom. Lemon-Up had inspirational sayings on the front (e.g. “I am Strong,” “I am Bold”) and much less icing. This cookie also elicited the most passionate responses from tasters. All but three of our tasters preferred the Lemonades, and those who preferred the Lemon-Ups were looked at like they were aliens. The Lemonade cookies were considered more “tart and tangy” and the icing on the bottom was a hit. The Lemon-Up comments were brutal: “waxy with bad mouth feel,” “weird aftertaste” and “3B is gross” summed up the majority. Winning Bakery: ABC Bakers, once again.
- Peanut Butter Patties (ABC) vs. Tagalongs (Little Brownie Bakers): This one was a little closer, with the Patties winning over the cleverly named Tagalongs by a margin of three votes. Two of the tasters, voting for different cookies, gave their favorite only a “slight edge” over the other. The cookies looked really similar, too. Looks like you can’t go wrong with either cookie. Winning Bakery:ABC is on a streak.
- Trefoils (ABC) vs. Trefoils (Little Brownie Bakers): Three different tasters commented “a tie” or “about the same” when judging this classic shortbread cookie. The cookies had the same design on top — dual silhouettes of Girl Scouts — but the ABC version was a little darker in color. It also had a “richer, more buttery taste,” while the LBB version had a “more vanilla flavor.” Winning Bakery: ABC is going for a sweep. Will they do it?
- Caramel deLites (ABC) vs. Samoas (Little Brownie Bakers): These cookies were visibly different, but very similar in taste. The Caramel deLite had a lighter milk chocolate and less coconut, while the Samoa went for dark chocolate and more coconut, plus the coconut seemed to be toasted, giving the overall cookie a darker color. In the tasting, the Samoa had a more pronounced chocolate taste and was crunchier. Voting was close, with the winning cookie just three votes ahead of second place (really, there are no losers when it comes to this delicious creation). Winning Bakery: Little Brownie Bakers stops the ABC sweep with its dark chocolate and toasted coconut Samoa.
We admit to some possible ABC bias
When the cookie dust settled, some of us admitted to an ABC bias.
Even though the cookies weren’t labeled, tasters recognized the cookies they were used to eating, and what you’re used to eating is often what you prefer.
One taster wrote “I can tell (I think) that ‘A’ bakery is the bakery I grew up with. Names aren’t as cute but the recipes are better.”
Also working against fairness was a failed randomization. When we labeled the cookies 1A & 1B, 2A & 2B, they were randomly assigned their As and Bs. But when voting ended and the plates were turned over, it worked out that all of the A cookies were ABC Bakery and all of the B cookies were Little Brownie Bakers — which is what many tasters had assumed, even though we told them it was random.
None of us are applying to run medical drug trials any time soon, don’t worry.
In any case, we think it’s hard to go wrong with any of these cookies. With the possible exception of the Lemon-Up.