For many years, I wasn’t so obsessed with beans.
They were never a staple in our shopping cart – and then we had a toddler. And the beans became the saviour. A quick and easy meal that you don’t feel guilty about (it’s one of their five meals a day after all) and if you buy low-salt or low-sugar dishes, any lingering guilt is firmly evaporated. They can be eaten hot or cold, and frankly, they’re an absolute must on our shopping list most weeks.
In short: hooray for the beans.
And since parents of toddlers know they never finish a serving or, in this case, a can of beans, there are always some left over. This means I started having them too – as a quick breakfast with scrambled eggs – on toast and became great at using them in a quick chili (as I have now I have six open boxes in the kitchen).
So overall, we now consider ourselves bean experts in our house.
There are some things though that I firmly believe are better if you buy the branded version. Ketchup and HP sauce should always be labeled. Heinz Tomato Soup is always better. But Weetabix, rice and flour? I’m a clean label girl.
So this bean challenge would actually be quite interesting – do brand name beans make a difference? Can I save money buying own brand products? I tried individual 415g cans from Aldi, Lidl and Asda as well as the Heinz and HP varieties.
Heinz is the original I learned about while writing this article In 1886 Heinz baked beans were first sold in the posh Fortnum & Mason department store in London and between 1941 and 1948 , the Ministry of Food has classified Heinz Baked Beans as an “essential food”. as part of rationing. To date, the Heinz factory in Kitt Green is one of the largest food factories in Europe and produces more than a billion cans of food each year.
So they must be the best, right? Wrong.
Aldi Corale Premium Beans – 32p
These contain 0.83g of salt per half can, the lowest of any tested, but 12g of sugar, which is high. A good red colored sauce but overall just a bit lacking that nice silky flavor that a good can of beans should have. They were fine – somewhere in the middle in terms of rankings.
HP Beans – 55p from Asda
Unscientific movement of the tin shows that it is quite a watery sauce. Per half can, the salt is 1.3g and 7g of sugar and the sauce looks a little less red than its competitors. In the ingredients, it explicitly lists the colors of “plain caramel and paprika” as well as spice and herb extracts rather than the real thing. It is also low in tomatoes – barely 20% when Heinz has 36%. It’s also a noticeable sweetener when you taste the sauce on its own – it has that false pungent taste that comes with such an ingredient.
Heinz Beans – 90p at Asda
Heinz boasts on its box that it has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and the ingredients list spice extracts and herbal extracts, while discount supermarket brands themselves list a variety of actual herbs. Price wise they are the most expensive and I’m sorry Heinz – you might be the or the original but I’m not sure you’re the best.
They claim to be one of your five a day which is fine and have 1.3g of salt but 8.9g of sugar per half can.
Asda Beans – 32p
A good bean-to-sauce ratio in this box. These contain 0.96g of salt and 8.6g of sugar per half can, which is the second lowest in salt of all those tested. They are significantly less sweet than some others and although the ingredients contain paprika and paprika extract and onion (as well as generic “flavorings”) there is less punch in the sauce.
Lidl Simply Beans – 22p
First impressions of these – the cheapest on the list is a box packed with more beans than juice. However, reading the white bean content of all six cans, they actually have the second lowest amount (44% compared to the highest pair of the other variety from Lidl and Aldi). The beans themselves are noticeably smaller and the sauce is noticeably sweet. Too sweet for me.
Lidl Beans – 32p
An immediate note here. as soon as I opened them because the ring broke in my hand and frankly that’s a faff no one needs in their life.
A high percentage of beans and a high content of tomato puree too. There’s a lot of flavor to the ingredients – who knew a baked bean recipe could include chili, cinnamon, bell pepper, cloves, paprika and cloves? However, the initial harumph of having to get the can opener is forgotten as all those flavors are really noticeable. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed if my boss hadn’t instructed me to taste six boxes simultaneously, but he did, and I did, and I can honestly tell you that you can taste one great flavor in this box.
And the winner?
It’s Lidl for me. The sauce has an appropriate flavor and without claiming to be a world class baked bean expert, when you look at the ingredient list you can actually taste the things listed which for a convenience food really surprised me.
They only cost a little over a third of the price of the Heinz variety and from now on I’m going to switch to Lidl and save a big chunk of change for those lazy days when there’s a toddler to feed and not enough hours in the day.
For the sake of completeness, I must say that said toddler came to join me when these boxes were all open.
When they were all spread out next to each other, the spoon was quickly stuck in the Heinz box first and unprompted. After a few bites of this variety from Aldi was next. There wasn’t quite the same level of tasting discernment, but both were deliciously chewy. Maybe just a reminder that you should never buy a brand name for toddlers – they don’t care.
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