A couple of weeks ago, I read an article that has to be a pretty strong candidate for ‘most first world middle class problem ever‘. Customers at Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco complained of strange-tasting houmous, and many products had to be withdrawn. The company that supplied all three supermarkets, Bakkavor, warned the supermarkets that there had been an issue with the manufacturing process.

I am a fairly loyal Sainsbury’s shopper, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is a large Sainsbury’s five minutes away from where I live. Secondly, when I was growing up in London there was a large Sainsbury’s five minutes away from where I lived, so that’s what I have always been used to. Thirdly, it always seems like the mummy-bear moderate choice, in terms of supermarkets: not the cheapest; not the most expensive – about right. Sure, I’ll go to Aldi or Waitrose occasionally, and sometimes to the fishmonger for fish and the butcher for meat if I am looking for something special, and I shop quite a bit at small independent stores on Cowley Road for obscure fresh exotic ingredients, but basically, I’m a Sainsbury’s girl.

But how much difference is there really between the own-brand products of the various big supermarkets? Of course, a KitKat you buy from Tesco will taste the same as a KitKat you buy from Waitrose, but what about Marks & Spencer own brand houmous vs. Tesco own brand houmous? Do they actually taste different? And, if so, is the more expensive brand any better? If several products for different supermarkets are coming from the same suppliers, are different ingredients of varying quality used?

This series is not going to be particularly scientific and, of course, it is necessarily subjective. But, out of personal curiosity as much as anything, I’m going to have a look at some supermarket own-brand products and taste them comparatively. I admit, I would assume that an expensive houmous from Waitrose would be tastier and of better quality than a budget version from Lidl. But is that simply years of being exposed to supermarket marketing and in-built prejudice working their magic on me? I’d like to challenge my own assumptions and break down my associations between fancy brands and superior quality.

I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of houmous or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money? So I’ve tried to buy roughly comparative products from each shop.

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, or E.

So, since I’ve been going on about it so much, I will start with houmous.

The Blind Taste Test: HoumousDSC_0010-2-1024x683

Houmous
per 100g
£*
kcal
fat (g)
carb (g)
fibre (g)
protein (g)
salt (g)
Aldi
0.28
346
29
12
3.3
7.7
0.64
Lidl
0.28
351
30
12
3.1
6.6
0.58
Sainsbury’s
0.57
278
22
10.6
5.3
6.7
0.63
Tesco
0.55
306
24.6
11.4
4.9
7.2
0.8
Waitrose
0.46
284
22.7
11.6
4.1
6.3
0.80

A – Aldi – 5/10

  • Notably loose texture, smooth. Taste-wise, very sharp with an almost vinegary aftertaste, but can taste the chickpeas, and I wouldn’t say there’s no flavour. Not ‘sealed for freshness’ with the extra plastic collar seal around the edge of the tub.

B – Sainsburys – 6/10

  • Firmest and driest texture of the group, held its shape on the spoon. Also roughest in texture so tasted less processed. Not too sharp, quite mild, pleasant enough but not very flavoursome – can’t really pick out much in terms of lemon, garlic etc. The lowest in calories of the group – seems likely it has less oil than some of the others, hence firmness.

C – Tesco – 7/10

  • Moderate in texture, smooth and creamy. Mellow, not too sharp, and easy to eat straight off a spoon unadorned (which can’t be said for all houmous, I have learned). Can taste tahini, but not much in the way of chickpea flavour.

D – Waitrose – 8/10 

  • Fairly firm texture – the next firmest after Sainsburys, and the next lowest in calories. Again, probably a lower proportion of oil. A good balance of richness and creaminess, with a hint of sharpness and a good chickpea flavour. My favourite.

E – Lidl – 3/10

  • Also a loose texture, sliding around on the tasting spoon. Didn’t taste very fresh, and actually had quite an unpleasant aftertaste – it tasted notably different from all the other examples. Also not ‘sealed for freshness’, as with Aldi.

Conclusion

This time, it seems, no surprises: I found the budget branded products less enjoyable than the premium products. However, worth noting that the Waitrose houmous was actually not the most expensive of the lot, gram for gram, though I think most people would expect to pay more at Waitrose than at other supermarkets. If you’re buying the Essential Waitrose brand, it’s actually cheaper in this case than the mid-range options from Sainsbury’s and Tesco. A tasty product that I will buy again.

Next week: chocolate…

*Prices correct at time of writing.