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When it comes to eating baked beans, what would your most sluttish confession be? The Gourmet Celeb (GC) used to spoon them cold, straight from can to mouth, when a student. The Gluttonous Pig (GP) still does. The Discerning Litigator (DL) used to serve beans on toast to her children but then devour them all herself, much to the distress of her young ones. But the Carnivorous Graduate (CG) capped all this: he once survived for four days at a festival eating three cold cans a day, scooping out the beans with the refashioned shard of a plastic beer glass. All four were, then, admirably qualified to sample baked beans for Taste Test.
We tried 10 products that followed the Heinz model: haricot beans in a mildly spiced tomato sauce. But we also tasted three “gigantes” beans in tomato sauce – a Greek meze dish. These use what I think we’d call butter beans, or lima beans (technically phaseolus lunatus but do correct me if I’m wrong). Of three brands – Sainsbury’s, Karyatis and Odysea – the last did the best, while still dividing the panel: “smoky aftertaste”(DL); “weird orange flavour”(GP); “big bean winner”(CG); “splendid – chunky with olive oil” (GC).
Geo Organics Baked Beans use white kidney beans grown by farmers in Inner Mongolia. I hope their co-operative will forgive us for observing that these beans are less robust than the haricot or the lima: “disintegrating a bit . . . slushy or what?” (GP). Also in the eco-fetish category were Whole Earth Organic Baked Beans. These guys use apple juice as a sweetener, which gives the product an unusual vinegary quality: “red wine?” (GC). But it did also have a more enterprising spice mix, with nutmeg, cloves and dill.
We didn’t taste reduced-sugar and reduced-salt varieties, but the level of sugar was still a deciding factor. The classic Heinz products – Heinz Beanz and Heinz Beanz Organic – came sixth and seventh in the final result and relied on 5 per cent sugar, which I’d guess makes them more appealing to children.
Our winners, by contrast, offered a more adult taste at 4 per cent sugar or below. Heinz Beanz Curry had a whopping 8.8 per cent sugar and did not fare well. Other offerings that had been heavily flavoured did not go down well either. Tesco BBQ were very chewy: “frankly irredeemable” (CG). And although On The Pulse Thai Curry Beans came in a very attractive plastic sachet, they earned some rather extreme reactions from the panel, the most printable of which is: “a good idea but I’m afraid this is almost emetic for me.” (Despite this, a judicious spoonful of curry powder fried in a knob of butter can still turn a humble tin of beans into something rather more interesting.)
So to our winners. On this occasion they came out on top overall but there was a sparky lack of consensus. The runner-up was Simply M&S Baked Beans with 3.7 per cent sugar: “classic baked beans” (CG); “harmonious haricots”(GP); “not too sweet – a happy medium”(GC); “OK but a bit bland”(DL).
And the winner comes from the Essential Waitrose range, with 4 per cent sugar and more interesting spices, including paprika and cloves: “superior, satisfying and familiar”(GC); “good comfort food”(DL); “just the job – now where’s the fry-up?”(GP); “inoffensive” (CG).
As is our custom, we conducted our tasting test blind. After completing our labours we looked at each other and agreed that we were all craving a classic baked-bean platter. So we heated up the remnants of the M&S and Waitrose beans together (apologies to both but it worked quite well), spooned them on to four very hot plates, slapped a fried egg on top of each portion and nestled a sausage alongside. Perfect.
1. Essential Waitrose Baked Beans
2. Simply M&S Baked Beans