Beanz means Heinz – right? We pit the nation’s favourite against the supermarket own-brands, to see if cheaper tins contain better beans
Pushed for an answer in a pub quiz, most of us would probably guess that Heinz beans first arrived in the UK in 1943, along with a boatload of GIs and DC Comics. Or was it in the late 50s, post-rationing? In fact, Heinz beans made their UK debut in 1886. Little wonder that, 130 years later, its baked beans remain the nation’s favourite.
The recipe has evolved over time (pork was dropped during WWII), but Heinz still sells 1.5m tins of beans a day in the UK, and dominates 65-70% of the British market.
The Heinz bean is the great immovable object in canned foods. In its ubiquity, it defines how we expect baked beans to taste, but without excelling in its field. Sweet and tomatoey, gently earthy, calculatedly bland, Heinz beans are an immediately familiar and comforting convenience food but, if you scrutinise their flavour, a steadfast 6/10 experience. We eat Heinz beans out of habit and sentimentality, rather than because they taste incredible. Surely, therefore, one of its supermarket own-brand rivals must surpass Heinz on flavour? Or at least do a good job of mimicking its beans for less than 75p a can? How hard can it be to stew some haricot, tomatoes, herbs and spices? Beanz means Heinz, they say – but is that true?
Tesco, baked beans, 32p
There is a real 1980s school dinners feel to Tesco’s beans. The sweet, bland sauce is fractionally thinner than you would normally expect and, frankly, barely distinguishable as tomato-based. It does not adhere meaningfully to the beans, either. They look pale and exposed, like bald English bathers in a Costa Brava hotel pool. The dominant flavour is of marginally overcooked, mushy haricot, which, while not actively unpleasant, definitely makes this taste like the cheap option it is. Heinz is a purring Jag next to this third-hand Honda Jazz.
Aldi, Corale baked beans, 27p
Like most food, good baked beans are about balance – a balance almost entirely absent in Aldi’s version. The tomato flavour you expect to find front and centre is meek to non-existent. Instead, rustic pulses rule the roost. The sauce is sweet and vague. Various spice extracts provide faint sharp, spiky murmurings at its edges. But both trail in the wake of those bullish beans. Certain adults may find this a refreshingly robust mouthful, but their kids (even before discovering a few hard, undercooked beans) will, almost certainly, be clamouring for Heinz.
Waitrose, Duchy Organic baked beans, 62p
In the pan, the beans appear to be swimming in a ludicrous amount of dark, rusty-brown liquid. It is an unpromising start … and something of an optical illusion, given there is a creditable 49% haricot in each can. That sauce, moreover, delivers an unusually juicy, bright and well-rounded tomato flavour, thanks to some very discreet chilli and garlic seasoning. In contrast to the more rugged examples in this test, the organic beans are also remarkably smooth and creamy. All in all, a marked improvement on Heinz, while costing 13p less. Impressive.
Co-op, Loved By Us baked beans, 52p
You know when you’re in a meeting and everyone starts talking at once? And you don’t know what’s going on? That is Co-op’s baked beans. The sauce is a bewildering muddle of peculiar flavours: something almost sweetly corny; a certain mustiness; gentle spiciness; tomatoes thrown off-kilter by interloping astringent notes. The beans themselves taste tired. They fulfil their iron-rich obligation, but with little of the vibrancy displayed in the Duchy Organic or Morrisons samples. A minority of those beans are a bit hard and chewy, too. Not great.
Morrisons, baked beans, 32p
The thick sauce packs a pronounced sweet tomato flavour and, in its back end, a quiet spicy flourish (the listed ingredients include everything from cinnamon to garlic oil). That warming tingle and the way the overall flavour profile is built on – but not dominated by – a solid foundation of fresh, tasty haricot, gives these beans a real wholesome, nourishing quality. A minority of the beans were a bit tough, but if you are looking for a baked bean that broadly sticks to the Heinz template, yet with greater depth and character, this is the one.
M&S, Simply baked beans, 34p
There is an unpleasant, off-key note to the sauce initially, created, at a guess, by the sugars and dried onion or paprika colliding inelegantly. As the beans cool, the sauce’s tomato base comes through, but (do we blame that famous flavour-muffler, cornflour?), overall it tastes flat. Similarly, the haricot deliver beany flavours in an unobtrusive way that is a bit ho and a bit hum. From the sauce’s lack of a glossy finish to its generally stunted flavours, the M&S option doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans.
Asda, Chosen by You baked beans, 31p
The thick sauce is an attractive, rich reddy-brown, thanks, presumably, to the listed paprika, which has dampened the sauce’s flavour down in a peculiar dank way. Despite that, these beans are no disaster. The haricot themselves are near-perfect: plump, dense little pods whose skins offer a brief, pleasing resistance before yielding to a smooth paste with a complex mineral tang. Adult-only beans, perhaps, but a hearty mouthful – and that sauce grows on you.
Sainsbury’s, baked beans, 35p
The sauce doesn’t cling to the haricot in an alluring way; they look a bit wan and worthy. The sauce does deliver the mainstream baked bean, sweet tomato flavour you expect, if not as effectively as Morrison or Duchy. However, due to the beans not being as thoroughly cooked through as they might be, you also get a lot of their assertive, earthy flavour (not to mention a few fibrous gritty bits) in the mix. Think: Heinz in the raw, haricot unleashed. You may like that more challenging edge, but it is different.
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