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Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, December 8, 1999

The Crust Also Rises

The hottest frozen food is the pizza
with the crust that bakes up in the
oven—but which is best?
Our judges pick DiGiorno

By Betty Shimabukuro


PIZZA, we love ya. We love your gooey cheese, your tangy sauce, your meaty toppings, your chewy crust. But your chewy crust ... that's where you sometimes let us down. Especially when you come to us from the freezer.

Technology is on the move, though, and has caught up to our pressing need for a pizza we can heat up at home that'll taste like it came from a pizza parlor. The key is the live yeast that lies dormant in the frozen dough until exposed to heat. Not only does the cheese melt and the sauce heat up, but the crust puffs up and softens, too. It really works.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

The rising-crust pizza has claimed its place in our convenience-food world.

Sales of frozen pizza are up to $2.4 billion a year, the National Frozen Food Association says, with one-third of those sales credited to rising-crust pizzas. And half the people buying those pizzas are believed to be converts from pizza carryout and delivery services.

Bottom line: In the middle of the holiday rush, you can feed your family at home quickly and easily with a pretty good pizza fresh out of the oven.

But which one?

Here we turn to a panel of judges, precisely qualified for this task. All five are students who eat a lot of pizza -- one said she eats it almost every day, most of it frozen. All, male and female alike, said they could eat four to six pieces at a sitting, maybe even the whole pie. They are also culinary students and have made pizza from scratch, so they understand the process. One judge even works at California Pizza Kitchen.

Before them: Six brand-name rising-crust pizzas and one ringer from Pizza Hut, included as a basis of comparison. They were prepared and served in one of the training kitchens at Kapiolani Community College, the judges' home turf, where all the pies could be baked at one time.

Comments were mixed on all the pizzas, but the clear winner was DiGiorno, with 79 points out of a possible 100, beating out even Pizza Hut. "Sauce tasted like it was made with fresh tomatoes ... excellent crust," Charles Arista said.

The DiGiorno also looked the best straight out of the box, with the toppings in place and evenly distributed -- with some of the others, the toppings seemed to have slid around.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Pizza judge Tiffany Naughton could pick out the ringer Pizza Hut
slice from the slew of frozen pizzas baked for our taste test at KCC.

Next up was Tombstone (made by Kraft, which also makes DiGiorno, interestingly enough) with 74.5 points, then Pizza Hut with an even 74. Scores fell off steeply from there. Worst of the batch were the Tony's and Mama Celeste pizzas, which never did brown properly, despite nearly an hour in the oven. "Dough had a taffy texture," Ryan Santos said of the Tony's pie. "Had to spit it out."

Special mention should be made of the Freschetta pizza, which didn't score well overall, but was singled out by several judges for the crust, which was soft and well-flavored. Randall Francisco, the KCC instructor who organized the judging panel, said it was remarkable.

This was a blind tasting, by the way, with none of the samples identified until the judging was over. But this panel could not be fooled. Several identified the Pizza Hut sample right away, based on single slice, and a few were able to pick out DiGiorno as well.

Pizza, we love ya, but love is a subjective thing. (Some people don't even like thick crusts, after all this). So before you put your money down on our judges' word, consider their criteria for a great pizza:

Bullet Crust: Crunchy on the outside, moist inside. Soft, but not gooey or oily. The exception was one judge who prefers thin-crust pizzas.

Bullet Sauce: Must have personality. Should not be bland, but not overpowering either. Not too salty or sweet or herby.

Bullet Toppings: Fresh and uniform from piece to piece. Not dried out.

Bullet Cheese: Soft and generous, with "stretchability." If it can also be crunchy on top, that's a plus.


Bullet Pizzas: Supreme rising-crust pizzas by DiGiorno, Freschetta, Mama Celeste, Red Baron, Tombstone and Tony's.

Bullet Ringer: A medium-sized Pizza Hut pan pizza.

Bullet Prices: Frozen pizzas were $7-$8 at Safeway. The Pizza Hut pie was twice that price, but the restaurant offers frequent specials and 2-for-1 deals.

Bullet Preparation: The pizzas were baked together and removed one-by-one once the cheese melted and the crust turned brown (except for two pizzas that wouldn't brown well).

Bullet Judges: KCC culinary students Charles Arista, Shawn Hanakawa, Tiffany Naughton, Ryan Santos and Amber Smith.

Bullet Scoring: In a blind tasting, the judges evaluated crust, toppings, sauce and overall taste, scoring up to 5 points in each category. A total of 20 points was possible for each pizza. Highest possible combined score for all judges was 100.

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