When I asked people what Christmas food (and drink) they most love and hate, Christmas pudding topped the list of hates.

Luckily, enough people love Christmas pudding for me to easily find a band of volunteers to taste test a random selection of 2010 Christmas puddings. When Sarah of Spoon PR kindly volunteered Spoon HQ as the venue, we were all set!

A couple of the puddings were sent to me for review. Some, I bought from supermarkets. My fellow tasters obtained a few more.

In the end, we tried only 8 of 13 puddings assembled – we just couldn’t manage any more – but we did work our way through all those I had most wanted to review. One of those tested was a home-made pudding, which I’m not including in the main listing, as the test was intended to be shop-bought puddings only.

I can’t claim that the test is scientifically very rigorous – we steamed three of the puddings for their allotted number of hours but the rest were microwave heated. And there are many, many, many puddings out there that we didn’t include. But we had a great evening and, with ten of us judging, we got a decent and varied response to each pudding.

Here are the panel’s scores (out of 10) and feedback, in reverse order:-

7th Place: Sainsbury’s Basics

XmasPuddings-5319 XmasPuddings-5332-sainsbasic

Price: £1.09
Size: 454 grams
Container: plastic

Heated: in microwave

Average score: 2.3
Lowest score: 0
Highest score: 4
My own score: 2

Comments: Held it’s shape well, a paler colour than others, glossy, not much smell, stodgy and dense texture, very bland, tasteless, lacking in flavour or richness, lacking in spices, no booziness, a cheap, burnt sugar taste… some felt it had a lot of fruit, others that it didn’t have enough, there were comments that there were lots of sultanas but not much of any other fruit, an orangey taste but flavouring not real fruit, it was “like a school pudd”, it was “not much like the ghost of Christmas puddings past”.

Despite the universally negative comments, all were impressed when the identity and very low price were revealed, especially as the pudding would likely be improved by being flambéed and served with brandy butter, cream or a good custard.

6th Place Pudding: Petersham Nurseries

XmasPuddings-5312 XmasPuddings-5313 XmasPuddings-5330-petersham

Price: £28.50
Size: Listed as 1.4 kilos but not sure this is correct, as didn’t seem that large
Container: real pudding bowl

Heated: steamed

Average score: 3.7
Lowest score: 0
Highest score: 6
My own score: 3

Ingredients: This was a very natural pudding with an ingredients list of suet, raisins, currants, sultanas, breadcrumbs, muscovado sugar, candied peel, Armagnac, lemon, orange, nutmeg, cinnamon plus flour, milk, free range eggs and salt.

Comments: Pale colour, lots of spice in the smell, smells of nutmeg, an odd medicinal tang, spongy texture, dry and cakey, no obvious taste of booze, plenty of fruit, fruity but not cohesive, rather bland, flavour too subtle, tasteless, strange flavour, meatiness!, distinctly unrich, coats the inside of the mouth, strange aftertaste.

Virtually everyone’s comments included the word “bland” and when the identity and price were revealed, opinions went down further given the high price and the provenance.

5th Place Pudding: Forman & Field Vintage

XmasPuddings-5308 XmasPuddings-5310 XmasPuddings-5334-formanfield

Price: £14.95
Size: 454 grams
Container: real pudding bowl

Heated: steamed

Average score: 3.9
Lowest score: 2
Highest score: 6.5
My own score: 6

Ingredients: Another appealingly natural ingredients list including soft brown sugar, free range eggs, apricots, raisins, sultanas, currants, beef suet, natural breadcrumbs, apples, carrots, flour, mixed peel, almonds, hazelnuts, brown ale, navy rum, scotch whisky, orange, lemon, mixed spices, nutmeg, ginger, salt.

Comments: Very difficult to get out of the bowl without breaking, not very glossy, a reddish colour, looks good, seville orange marmalade smell, smells oranges and apples, smells of citrus, sticky, stodgy, gooey, the booziness tastes orangey, not very rich or complex in flavour, too much orange, tastes like marmalade, very sickly, too sweet, fruit doesn’t come through well (apart from orange), not much booze, a bit heavy on sultanas, too orangey.

More than one person commented on the apples and oranges smell and several mentioned marmalade when trying to pin down the taste. Most of the panel liked the smell but were not keen on the taste.

Note: With the Forman & Field pudding came a huge jar of brandy cream. Flecked with vanilla and generous with the brandy this was (almost) universally appreciated and got a huge thumb’s up. The only criticism of the cream was that it was a touch too thin and runny.

4th Place Pudding: Tesco Finest

XmasPuddings-5320 XmasPuddings-5337-tesco

Price: £12.00
Size: 907 grams
Container: plastic

Heated: microwaved

Average score: 5.2
Lowest score: 3
Highest score: 8
My own score: 6.5

Ingredients: The ingredients list is enormous, far too long to give you all of it, but includes vine fruits, sugar, glacé fruit topping, Courvoisier cognac, apricot, nut topping, brandy, vegetable oil, cherries, cider, almonds, free range eggs, pecans, sugar, glucose-fructose syrup, orange peel, humectant, molasses, yeast, vintage Port, single cream, lemon peel, mixed spice, vinegar, lemon oil, orange oil, plus colouring, emulsifier, preservatives, acidity regulator, flour treatment agent.

Comments: This pudding resulted in lots of oohs and aahs on sight.

Citrus perfume, sticky in places, in others quite dry, lots of fruits and nuts but they don’t seem to blend very harmoniously, the candied orange is nice, gooey and gluey, squidgy, boozy, sticky on top but bland on bottom, more fruity than spicy, lots of fruit including cherries, big chunks of cherries and candied orange, too much on top and not enough in the pudding, “this is what Christmas pudding should be like” (taste), nice at first but soapy aftertaste, dressed up, bejewelled, “show stopping looks”, “the next top model of puddings”.

It’s definitely a “wow factor” pudding with it’s glacé fruit, nut and candied peel topping. That said, most didn’t feel this was a “proper” Christmas pudding, despite how good it looked.

3rd Place Pudding: Lidl Deluxe

XmasPuddings-5317 XmasPuddings-5333-lidl

Price: £2.99
Size: 454 grams
Container: plastic

Heated: microwaved

Average score: 5.6
Lowest score: 3
Highest score: 8
My own score: 5.5

Ingredients: The ingredients list is oddly presented with the most appealing ingredients highlighted in bold through the full list which includes various vine fruits, almonds, demerara sugar, breadcrumbs, vegetable oil, glacé cherries, candied citrus peel, lemon peel, cream, flour, egg, pecans, cider, brandy, sherry, Cognac, rum, barley malt extract, salt and spices.

Comments: I was keen to include this pudding in our review after hearing that it came top in the Which? consumer review of Christmas puddings.

Good round shape, slightly broken, dark colour, fruit and nuts showing, glossy, a metallic smell, liking the texture, crumbly and cakey, grainy, too sticky, mealy, generous fruit content, whole cherries and whole nuts, lots of full uncut fruit, feels quite luxurious with the chunks of cherries and almonds, taste caramel, rich and boozy, tastes boring, quite rich, slightly sickly, cheap nuts, sweet and rich, sweetness comes from sugar not from fruit, the nuts give a nice crunch but no flavour at all, not enough spice, coats the roof of the mouth, lacking something – maybe citrus?

With the exception of one panel member who gave it a 3 this pudding scored 5 or above from every other taster. When the identity and price was revealed, people were even more impressed with it’s great value.

2nd Place Pudding: Marks & Spencer The Collection

XmasPuddings-5323 XmasPuddings-5324 XmasPuddings-5335-m-scollection

Price: £6.99
Size: 454 grams
Container: plastic

Heated: microwaved

Average score: 7.6
Lowest score: 5
Highest score: 9
My own score: 8

Ingredients: A long list including dried vine fruits, demerara sugar, brandy, breadcrumbs, pecan nuts, brandy soaked cherries, cognac, ruby port, stout, Chilean flame raisins, vegetable suet, wheat flour, free range eggs, dried sweetened cranberries, humectant, almonds, orange and lemon peel, molasses, single cream, candied orange peel, ground spices.

Comments: Nicely rounded, lovely shape, looks chunky, pale, fruit and nuts clearly visible, not a strong smell but pleasant, smells of brandy, smells boozy, good texture – not too heavy, firm and dense, slightly dry, can taste brandy booze, can taste the almonds, pecans and cranberries, not enough fruit, lots of fruit, really chunky, huge chunks of nuts, nuts too whole, plenty of nuts, too much orange, too rich, not too sweet, not very complex in flavour, not very boozy, a good balance of flavours, not too rich but rich enough.

This pudding smelled boozier than it tasted. The flavours of the various ingredients melded together better than most of the other puddings and it got the balance right in terms of richness of texture too. By weight, priced similarly to the first place pudding, everyone felt it was a good price for a good pudding. This was a great all rounder and a close second.

1st Place Pudding: Heston from Waitrose Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding

XmasPuddings-5316 XmasPuddings-5327-heston XmasPuddings-5328-heston

Price: £13.99
Size: 1.2 kilos
Container: plastic

Heated: steamed

Average score: 8.1
Lowest score: 6
Highest score: 10
My own score: 9

Ingredients: The candied orange in the centre contains an orange (obviously!), sucrose, wheat glucose syrup and preservatives. The pudding contains vine fruits, demerara sugar, cider, breadcrumbs, palm oil, glacé cherries, single cream, whisky, wheat flour, concentrated orange juice, brandy, candied mixed peel, rum, walnuts, molasses, pecan nuts, mixed spice, salt and orange oil.

Comments: This pudding couldn’t really be tasted anonymously, since everyone and his dog knows about the hidden orange at its centre!

Slipped out of bowl very easily, shiny, rounded, texture is very very soft, falls apart, loose, hard to cut neatly as so soft, as you cut into the orange, lots of thick orange syrup escapes, gooey, beautiful candied orange, feared orange would be too sweet but isn’t, very fruity, gorgeous orange pieces, superbly moist, crunchy and moist, appears simple then is fabulous, plenty of fruit, an even spread of fruit, chunky nuts, not very boozy, not too heavy, lovely depth of flavours, stunning, rich, light but flavourful, love orange and nutty taste.

I think the panel unanimously loved the orange inside, not only for the spectacle but also for it’s flavour and for the moistness its syrup added to the pudding.

With all the media coverage about this pudding – stores running out and crazy bids on ebay – I wasn’t alone in wondering whether the pudding could possibly live up to the hype. It did!

Generous though I may have been to share my precious Heston pudding with the tasters, I did selfishly save the leftovers with which I shall be making some Christmas pudding ice-cream. So I will get to enjoy some of it on Christmas day too!

Honourable Mention: Andy’s Home-made Nigel Slater Pudd

XmasPuddings-5331-andy

Many thanks to Andy for sending one of his home-made puddings for us to taste. It scored a very respectable 6.6 putting it behind only Waitrose/Heston and M & S.

Thanks again to my tasting panel: Becca, Chloe, Helen, Jen, Matt, May, Sarah C, Sarah M and Sue.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini Christmas pudding review. And yes, I know, fat lot of good the results are to you given that the first place pudding is no longer available! But I hope the second and third place puddings will give you food for thought!

  29 Responses to “The Great Christmas Pudding Taste Test!”

  1. Interesting to read that M&S came high on scores, I usually buy from them it's only father in law that eats it but he enjoys it…I eat a teaspoon's worth with lashing of rum custard!

    I would have bought Heston just for wanting to taste this orange idea in the middle but wasn't clever enough to get in early..will have to wait til next year. I'm surprised it was such a hit with everyone. Were you surprised by the results?

  2. Looks awesome – glad I left the tasting to the experts though as I'm quite sure that much pudding would have killed me. :)

  3. Azelia
    Yes, very surprised… there were some I thought would do better, others I didn't think would be so popular but were…
    And we did have people with different tastes, one who doesn't like large chunks of nuts, others who do, some who like orangey flavours, others who didn't as much…

    Dom, heh, I think it nearly killed us too!

  4. OOH! We tried the Hidden Orange Pudding from Heston from Waitrose while at Jeanne's place when I visited her in London. Awesome stuff! It amazingly full of flavor on the heavy side but so good with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

  5. Dom – that much pudding almost did! We were all groaning with pudding hangovers the next day.

    I've given my Riverford pudding to a friend. I hope she knows I expect a full review!

  6. Wow, go Lidl! :)

  7. I'm getting better at eating Xmas pud, I quite like it with a huge dollop of Baileys ice cream.
    I would have been waddling home after trying all these, I never did get to try a Heston pud…. *sigh*!

  8. soooo excited about getting home to try mine… don't care if it came in 5th… I came in 1st! woo hoo!

  9. Excellent review and hurrah! I have a Heston pud squirreled away for Christmas.

  10. Who would have thought that Heston's is worth the hype! This is such a lovely review for xmas….such a fantastic idea…only wish I could have participated!! =)
    Very surprised with LIDL Deluxe too…now I know where to go for some xmas puddings!

  11. Meeta, yes it really was good. We did have some freshly made custard on hand but the Heston pudd didn't need anything IMO!

    Sarah, glad the Riverford went to a good home – as it was a pudding that only had instructions for steaming and not microwave, it just wasn't possible for us to include it in our test, which is a shame!

    Ben, yeah Lidl was very impressive, especially for that price!

    Nicisme, aaw, I'm hoping Waitrose do it again next year, it was very good.

    Dom, with that HUGE jar of brandy cream, am sure it'll be appreciated.

    Pete and I had some hot Gu chocolate puds last night with some of that brandy cream… yum!

    Fran, thank you and oooh LUCKY YOU! WISH I HAD ANOTHER ONE!

    Kay, you could have done, it was open invite on twitter up to maximum number we had space for! Yes, the Lidl one did do well, so Which? knew of what they spoke! ;)

  12. That was a serious Xmas pudding overdose. Good thing we didn't attempt the other 4. Overall, was quite surprised at the diversity of the flavours and ingredients and almost all of them benefitted from Jen's homemade Creme Anglais and the Brandy cream.

  13. Thought I'd posted successfully earlier, but obviously not.

    I'm glad you thought the Waitrose/Heston pudding was worth the hype. They were available on our local Waitrose shelves long after the rest of the country was reporting a sell-out. However, no-one else in the family likes Christmas pudding and it seemed a bit too decadent to eat it by myself!

  14. Very interesting, the most expensive wasn't worth the money then!
    Some things from LIDL and Aldi are pretty good, I am glad they scored okay.
    I am still not making it though!

  15. Great read, Kavey! Even though we're not in a position to buy any of these puds, it's nice to know that a good pudding can be bought (as opposed to having to be made at home!).

  16. What a fun test. Isn't science cool? LOL
    *kisses* HH

  17. Great idea Kavey and very helpful – interesting to hear that Heston's pudding lives up to the hype!

  18. Kavey, I greatly enjoyed the review of Christmas puddings, and you may be tickled to know some years they've been served in the Kelly household “this side” of the pond! Reading in your intro that so many list “Christmas pudding” as their least favourite certainly brings to mind the American POV on fruitcakes, which I, personally, abhor!

    Happy Christmas, dear friend!

  19. May, yes they really were very distinct from each other, I was surprised too!

    Suelle, I don't know that I'd have bought one had I seen them in the store, as I had no idea whether the orange inside would work and also it's huge for just two people, especially if one of those 2 people doesn't like Christmas pudding!!!

    Mum, no it wasn't and thank Pop for getting hold of the Lidl one for me!

    Celia, yes it's good to know that some are fabulous but such a variety so without reviews, hard to know which to plump for!

    HH, yes was so much fun and I collated all the scores on a spreadsheet and everything! Heh!

    Gourmet Chick, thanks and yes, it really did!

    Kathleen, excellent, good to know the British institution is enjoyed over on your side of the pond too!

  20. Great read. Interesting to see how well the Lidl pud did. I have a Sainsbury's basics pud to experiment making Nigella Puddini Bonbons with tomorrow.

  21. Hope they go well, Jules!

  22. I frequently fly the flag for Lidl so I'm not surprised that it scored so well. I imagine Waitrose are very relieved that The Heston stood up to such scrutiny. I only wish I'd bought one when I had the opportunity… I seem to be the only blogger in London who didn't get one!

    Brilliant idea for a post, will you be doing it again with Easter Eggs?

  23. Sarah, we don't have a Lidl nearby but do pop into our local Aldi regularly, it's very close indeed, though not quite as close as the Waitrose!

    Yes, exactly what we're planning, to get the panel together again for Easter Eggs!

  24. Wow – very embarrassing for some of the specialist puds to be beaten by tesco and the like. Not an overly fair test on Sainsburys though – its not much of a surprise their basics range didn't stack up against the Tesco finest!

  25. Stuart, none of the puddings were really equivalent in style / price and it was not a large enough range to be a proper Which? depth test! We did have the Sainsbury's Taste The Difference but we just could NOT handle eating any more so it was left out!

  26. Very interesting review Kav, I could never eat that much in one day!!! I will go and get one from LIDL and eat it little by LIDL. I am the only one who eats a Christmas pudding/cake around here, so this will do me. LIDL are getting better with a lot of their food, I love their luxury Muesli. We have had a new branch opened here recently, it is very impressive.

  27. I had a 'Lidl Deluxe' before and was very impressed especially at the low cost.
    Afraid I will be giving Heston a miss – for me the orange thingy in the middle would have been a most unwelcome surprise!

  28. [...] a Christmas Pudding Naan.    That is if I ever eat Christmas Pudding again after Kavey’s epic tasting last week. Why not visit the Fuss Free Flavours Giveaways Page for a chance to win some amazing [...]

  29. […] Heston seems to be quite into this, drying out the zest of a citrus fruit touse as a garnish. We first encountered this in his recipe for Cointreau butter to go alongside his infamous Waitrose Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding. […]

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