Best garlic and cheese croutons? We rank the house brands

Summer's the perfect season to enjoy nature's goodness by tossing up a fresh salad. Sure beats the campus food, if it tastes anything like the stuff I ate, so take advantage while you can. But, as much as I'd like to think it's the greens that make a salad great, for me the croutons are the best part. So crunchy. So salty. So good. Just as nature (or the nearest food processing plant) intended. %Poll-49702%

Proportionately speaking, croutons represent a small part of the salad experience. But a really good batch of, say, the garlic and cheese variety can lend lettuce and dressing gourmet-like refinement. The branded ones won't set you back too much, but when it comes to the store brand variety, you can go one of two ways. You can spend less, but risk getting crummier croutons. Or you can pick up a bag of big fat buggers at Trader Joe's, but pay about twice as much over the store brands for the privilege.

Which croutons should you toss in your salad and which ones should you just toss out? Store Brand Scorecard compared a national brand to three private-label varieties, including Trader Joe's, to see which croutons are worth their cash in seasoning. Typically Store Brand Scorecard seeks out a brand from a big-box store, a grocery store and a mini market, respectively, but neither Target nor Walmart makes garlic and cheese croutons. (Missed opportunity, guys.) Therefore, this bout features two brands from grocery store retailers instead of just one.
All products were purchased the July 9th weekend in the Chicago area. Prices are subject to change.