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Holiday guide: stuffing vs. dressing

We took some time to investigate some of the biggest holiday food debates

Canned Cranberry Sauce vs. Fresh Cranberry Sauce. Stock photo.

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In honor of the holidays being upon us we set out on a quest to better understand some of the common food debates often had around tables piled high with turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and more!

We start with one of the most frequent debates, what to call the bread and herb combination that some place inside the turkey and some choose to cook on the side. The good old, stuffing vs. dressing debate. It's important to note that we know this debate did not occur at the first Thanksgiving as there is no evidence to suggest the Pilgrims included stuffing in their meal. This dish was later introduced to the holiday table and today has taken on many different variations depending on preference. 

If you look at the dish in technical terms the difference between the two usually comes down to cooking style. Stuffing is considered being placed inside the cavity of the turkey, while dressing is usually cooked in a casserole dish outside of the bird. However, despite cooking methods the decision between using the word stuffing vs. dressing is usually split along regional lines. Pacific Northwesterners usually refer to the dish as stuffing, while the South and Midwest usually reference the dish as dressing. And then of course you have Pennsylvania which follows neither and calls the dish filling. However, the one thing that can be agreed upon around the table is no matter what you call the dish, it's one of the most delicious holiday offerings. 

In the spirit of controversial debates let's move on to canned cranberry sauce vs. real cranberry sauce. Nostalgia plays a huge role in this debate as many remember growing up with the solid lump with ribbed edges being dumped from a can and then placed on the table with ridges still intact. Canned cranberry sauce has been on supermarket shelves since 1941 and it appears the nostalgia the dish brings supersedes fresh cranberry sauce with 73% of Americans preferring canned cranberry over fresh cranberry sauce. 

Moving on to a much debated topic, marshmallows on sweet potatoes vs. not. It's important to note that this recipe originated from the makers of marshmallows themselves in 1917 when they hired a cookbook author to make and publish the recipe. Their main goal was to get more marshmallows into American households. And the marketing campaign seems to have worked with the dish becoming a staple on holiday tables. We will save the yams vs. sweet potatoes used in the casserole debate for another time.

In order to get further insight into some of these holiday debates we recently polled our national military subscribers, and here is where the 239 subscribers fell on the holiday food debate question. Fifty-four percent preferred canned cranberry sauce and 45% preferred fresh cranberry sauce. Only 22% preferred the stuffing inside the turkey with 77% opting for the stuffing on the side. Sixty-seven percent were all in on marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes with 32% preferring them without. Eighty-three percent were in agreement that the bread and herb dish was stuffing, leaving only 16% referring to the dish as dressing.

No matter where you fall on the debate scale we can all agree the holidays bring good food and plenty of family banter to go around. 

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