Araceli's Guacablog

Mexican food, life etc

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Supermarket Guacamole Taste Test

Guacamole. Green, spicy and delicious. Or a least it should be. In Mexico this super-salsa is used not just as a dip for tortilla chips, but in Quesadillas, tasty Floatas (Tacos Dorados - deep fried rolled tortillas filled with shredded beef or chicken, potato and cheese), Alambres (aka Fajitas - chicken with ham or beef with bacon in cheese with onions and peppers wrapped in a soft flour tortilla) and as an accompaniment to any kind of taco.

But what makes a good guacamole? Perhaps it's simplicity. The basic recipe counts only six ingredients as necessary: Avocado (perfectly ripe), coriander, lemon or lime juice, garlic, green chilli for heat and a pinch of salt. Combine these ingredients, preferably in a pestle and mortar to preserve some texture and it's ready to serve. Easy, no?

Let us suppose for a second that for whatever reason instead of making some fresh guacamole, I want to purchase some ready-made from a UK supermarket. Where should I go? Are any of them up to scratch?

One day Guacablog woke up and decided to answer these questions.

Clockwise from Top: Homemade guacamole, the Old El Paso version, Tesco guacamole, Waitrose guacamole, and Sainsbury's Be Good to Yourself reduced fat guacamole.
So we went to Waitrose, Tescos, Sainsbury's Morrisons and Marks & Spencer and bought some of their guacamole offerings.
Here's what we found.

Waitrose offers 2 types of guacamole, both in a 200g pot, both priced at £1.89, one of which is sold as 'reduced fat'. We bought the normal full fat version. In addition to the basic recipe, they add tomato, and more surprisingly, double cream. The have also exchanged the traditional green chilli for red chilli and jalapeño pepper and there is no lemon or lime juice listed. This, along with the cream will result in a rather meek salsa. The other ingredients are all there however, and apart from some stabilisers and an antioxidant there are not too many additives.

The Taste Test: As predicted, there is next to no spice here but the result is not unpleasant and goes down well with our blind taste volunteers. The texture is rather smooth, no lumps of avocado and the flavours are all rather muted. We give this a 5/10.

The offering is identical to that of Waitrose. One full fat, one reduced fat guacamole, both in 200g plastic pots. The price is slightly lower at £1.84. When examining the ingredients we were surprised to note that they were identical to those listed on the Waitrose pot, including identical quantities of each ingredient. This makes us think that they are in fact the same product, just packaged (very slightly) differently.

The Taste Test: Despite our theory about the product being the same as that of Waitrose, when we tasted it, it actually seemed quite different. The texture in this one was a little more rustic, with large avocado lumps. The flavours came through a bit more here too in that you could taste the avocado more. Still, very creamy and no real hint of coriander or any heat to note. So we give this a slightly better 6/10.

As with the other two, Sainsbury's offer a full fat and reduced fat version of their own-brand guacamole product although they are both larger (230g) and cost £1.99. This time, we decided we would sample the reduced fat version. Hopefully with less cream, maybe we would be getting back to what guacamole should be about, a spicy salsa packed with flavour. Scrutinising the ingredients revealed a similar breakdown to Tescos and Waitrose but with no cream at all. And at least they didn't put in yoghurt or some other cream substitute as we have seen in some low fat versions. No chilli either though, all the heat must come from some processed jalapeños that seem to be beloved of this industry.

The Taste Test: Unfortunately the flavours don't quite live up to the promise of the simplified recipe. The avocado seems to have been a bit unripe as it has the rather soapy taste that avocados tend to give when they are not ready. The other flavours do not come through either, and there is still no spice. Are we in Britain so averse to a bit of heat? We gave this guacamole a 4/10.

The smallest (125g) out of all the guacamole pots costs £1.15 making it slightly cheaper per gram than the others. The ingredients list is looking pretty familiar to us now, all that double cream, and various puréed ingredients. Once again jalapeño peppers must provide all the spice along with some chilli purée. No lime or lemon juice here either, only citric acid.

The Taste Test: The overriding flavour is garlic, with cream and salt making this a moreish if slightly empty dip. However this salsa seems to suffer from the same problem that the Sainsbury's offering had, namely unripe avocados giving a soapy after-taste. Score: 5/10

Marks & Spencer
The promise on the front of the pack gives us a lot of hope as we crack open the Marks and Spencer Chunky Guacamole Dip. It talks of fresh avocados, vine-ripened tomatoes, lime juice and fresh coriander. Lime juice is a big improvement on citric acid. No pickled jalapeño this time; we've got red chillies- real ones! Of course you have to pay a bit more for all this vine-ripened freshness: £2.19 for 170g to be precise. The Guacablog spares no expense in the name of guacamole.

The Taste Test: Not bad really. For once we are spared the double cream -- although we still have to put up with soured cream dampening our red chilli spice. The lime juice delivers however, it cuts through the garlic as it should. Once again the avocados are not totally ripe although they are 'chunky' as promised. Overall this is not a bad dip and has to be the most authentic-tasting out of all of them even if it still has a way to go before is could pass muster on a Mexican table (drop the soured cream and tomato for instance). We give it a 7/10.

Old El Paso
An article on the availability of Mexican foods in UK supermarkets could hardly have done its job without mentioning the Old El Paso range of Tex-Mex style cooking kits and salsas. This guacamole was available in Tecos and Sainbury's and can be bought in most supermarket chains for around £1.35. The difference here is that unlike the others this product is not kept in the refrigerated deli section, but on the shelf near the other 'World' foods. The blurb on the side of the jar states that they've 'combined creamy avocado, juicy tomatoes, tangy onions and a hint of chilli'. This rather understates the case however as the ingredients list is encyclopaedic, containing among other things corn starch and peas. Peas! That's a new one! As for gluco-delta-lactone, well I'm sure that's absolutely necessary. Another notable additive is monosodium glutamate as a flavour enhancer.

The Taste Test: Finding volunteers to test this was not easy as it was not at all appetising in appearance. Doubtless the peas had a hand in giving this concoction a rather foreboding dark olive-green shade. Unfortunately it tasted as bad as it looked. The overriding rather chemical flavour was something we could not identify, even from the seemingly all-inclusive list of ingredients. Despite the (hydrated) jalpeños, there is no spice here, instead only sweetness. The texture is was completely different to the others and seemed to be strangely grainy. No-one who tasted this was prepared to give it any more than 0/10.

The best guacamole is always going to be home-made, that was never really in question. What we wanted to find out here is which of the nearby supermarkets offered the best shop-bought version. The prize here goes to Marks and Spencer mainly for trying hard to create a fresher product with more authenticity than the others. The one to avoid is the Old El Paso version which is desperately in need of a recipe-overhaul.
All in all when you look at what's on offer, the pickings are rather slim. Right, where did I put those nachos?

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