Taste Test: Alcohol-free Christmas Puddings

Written by on December 19, 2012 in Seasonal - No comments
Xmas pudding

A Christmas pudding, yesterday (photo: Bas Van Uyen)

If you’re anything like me – that is a slightly food-obsessed person living in the UK (please, don’t call me a foodie, it sounds like some kind of human dumpling), you may well have read about the Which? Taste test results for Christmas puddings.

This year it made the headlines because of the surprise success of bargain brand Aldi over the renowned Fortnum and Mason. But the interesting thing about the results for me was that words such as ‘laced’ or ‘boozy’ were used in the top ranking puds.

Actually, Which? added a sentence at the end of the article to explain why no alcohol-free puddings had been tested; where there was more than one type available, they had tested the pudding that the brands themselves had put forward. For whatever reason, no-one had put forward an alcohol-free pudding.

With a slightly smaller budget and no one to send me free puddings to test (bah, humbug) I quite literally went to town, picking up all I could find for myself and my hardcore Christmas tasting panel.

The contenders

We tested seven puddings in all: six from supermarkets, plus one sneaky last-minute home-made microwave number that has received rave reviews on BBC Good Food website.

Here’s the list in full:

  • Sainsburys alcohol free Christmas pudding (454g) £2.50
  • Tesco Alcohol-free Christmas Pudding (454g) £2.00
  • Asda ‘Free From’ Christmas Pudding (454g) £2.89
  • Matthew Walker Nut & Alcohol Free Christmas Pudding (100g) £1.49
  • Morrisons NuMe Christmas Pudding 40% Reduced Fat (100g) 80p
  • Morrisons Nut & Alcohol Free Christmas Pudding (100g) 80p

…plus my microwave cheat pudding.

The panel

All testing was done blind i.e. the tasters didn’t know which one was which. The panel comprised of:

  • Allan, my husband, fellow former-Dry January participant and live-in guinea pig.
  • Ayesha, healthcare professional and non-drinker from birth.
  • Mykie, baker extraordinaire of The Wondercat Bakery.

My aim was to sniff and taste out something that we could all enjoy, as what is the season for, if not for sharing? Yes, I know: it’s for presents really (shhh!)

Initial impact

There was a real split here between the small, 100g puddings and the larger, 454g puddings. The visual impact of the small puddings (Morrisons NuMe, Morrisons Nut and Alcohol Free and Matthew Walker Nut and Alcohol Free) was a little on the poor side, with all the larger puddings (Sainsbury’s Alcohol Free, Tesco’s Alcohol-free and Asda’s Free From) just looking a lot less sorry for themselves.

This got us thinking: who wants to sit there with a single-serve pudding?

Non-alcoholic Xmas Puddings

Puddings! We didn’t try the Jamie Oliver one for reasons too boring to explain (photo: Janis Callister)

Appearance, aroma and taste

On the sensory side of things, it was essentially a two-pudding race, with Asda and Tesco battling it out.

Mykie loved the rounded shape of the Tesco pud, adding that it “had a good taste, just missing the traditional aftertaste”, while I loved the rich dark and slightly chewy centre.

Meanwhile Ayesha was firmly in Asda’s corner as she declared it the “clear winner” adding that it was moist, with “no single one flavour overpowering, and a nice texture”. Allan agreed: “This one is by far the best of the lot”.

The 100g puddings were unfortunately all pretty dense and forgettable. The Matthew Walker pudding was particularly disappointing, with Ayesha declaring it “Hard, tough and waxy”, whilst I thought it had a claggy texture.

The only small pudding that came close to challenging the big two was Morrisons Alcohol and Nut Free, largely because it was “nicely spiced and not quite as firm in texture as the others”. Pound for pound, it’s also the best value of the small puddings.

Home-made last minute pudding

As for the home-made effort, I’m ashamed to say it was hit-and-miss. If hit-and-miss means your own husband chooses to spit it out.

“Microwaves and Puddings were not made to go together”

The premise is good; you can make it last minute without much preparation. The result was something that certainly scored well for Christmassy aroma, but in fact was more like a sponge. Upon the reveal, Allan remarked “It was made in a microwave. Microwaves and Puddings were not made to go together”

I agree, it’s the long slow traditional cooking that achieves that lovely dark, almost malty flavour of a Christmas pudding. I have a sneaking suspicion Mykie and Ayesha sussed it out as home-made, and talked up its aroma out of a sense of pity. Don’t worry guys – I won’t be making it again!

Conclusions

Buy bigger

If you’re looking for a good Christmas pudding to buy, stick with the larger size, even if it’s just you eating it. It’s better value per gram, in the taste, texture and overall tests the larger puddings were ahead by a country mile, and if that weren’t enough just Google ‘christmas pudding truffles’ and adapt it to suit your own taste (many use alcohol, so just be creative with your substitution).

Don’t make it last minute

Forgo the quick-fix and either buy one ready-made or make it the traditional way (see my article from earlier this week for some ideas and recipe links.

As far as puddings go (look away now, purists!), I think you could make a ‘proper one’ as late as a day or two before. It’s the long slow cook which is by far the important part, and the double steaming.

Final Flourish

No alcohol to flame your pud with? We tried Sainsbury’s Ice Fountains (£1.50, pack of 3). The consensus was that they were far more exciting than flaming with alcohol, prettier, last longer, and have a lovely sparkle and fizz.

So while Sainsbury’s disappointed in the pudding, they get bonus points for pizzazz  Traditionalist Mykie was particularly impressed “Fantastic; I’m going to have to buy some of those for my pudding!”

Overall results – Best alcohol-free Christmas puddings 2012

Alcohol-free Christmas PuddingWINNER: Asda ‘Free From’ Christmas Pudding (454g) £2.89

HONORABLE MENTION: Tesco Alcohol-free Christmas Pudding (454g) £2.00

BEST OF THE SMALL PUDS: Morrisons Nut & Alcohol Free Christmas Pudding (100g) 80p

 

About the Author

is a scientist, skeptic and dedicated scrumptious-food enthusiast. She doesn't live the alcohol-free lifestyle full time, but has an interest in the subject and is a previous participant in Dry January. She could bake most people under the table.

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