With truckloads of basic food products on the shelves, knowing when to choose a supermarket own-label over a branded item usually boils down to ‘the price is right’.
But when you look at the ingredients, which are better for your health and your kitchen cupboard?
Of course it’s all a matter of taste, and trial and error. Some ingredients are definitely worth spending that little bit extra on, even if it’s for the clever packaging, advertising campaign, or because it’s a family favourite that’s always been in the pantry.
In the first series of Food Detectives, airing tonight on BBC Two, celebrity chef Tom Kerridge and journalist Sean Fletcher identify the ingredients in own-label products across different price ranges.
Here are some of my favourite own-label goods, and some to forsake:
1. Spill the beans
They may be slightly more watery than the big-name brand, but if you’re cooking a full English, cheaper baked beans such as Asda’s Chosen By You or Simply M&S will do the job nicely.
2. Tinned tomatoes
Italian labels with ‘pomodoro’ on them may channel some Italian flair, but let’s face it, would you really know if the chef had cheated with a tin of Tesco Everyday Value chopped tomatoes?
Fresh spaghetti always looks inviting and for convenience, cooks in half the time as dried. But when the main ingredient is wheat, by the time you’ve laced it with olive oil, salt and pepper and a sauce, it’s certainly not worth spending the extra money.
4. Frozen frites
No competition here, Sainsbury’s Basics chips are just as good as McCain’s.
5.Hold the mayo
America’s number one mayonnaise, nothing beats the rich, creamy, delicious taste of Hellmann’s and the magic mix of eggs, oil and vinegar is worth every penny.
6. Breakfast cereal
Some budget brands taste like sweet cardboard, but Essential Waitrose Honey Nut Corn Flakes do a jolly good job of imitating Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut, Britain’s second most popular cereal after Special K.
7. No copycat for ketchup
When it comes to tomato ketchup, it has to be Heinz. No one has managed to dupe us into thinking theirs is as good as the real thing: Heinz Tomato Ketchup.
8. Love it or hate it
They may call it yeast extract or vegemite, but nothing comes close to the salty tang of this inky black spread that’s far too distinctive to recreate… rich in vitamins, Marmite is simply the best.
9. A grey area
When it’s time for tea, there are some very good alternatives to Twinings Earl Grey, such as M&S Earl Grey teabags (a personal favourite) and Aldi’s Diplomat Earl Grey Tea Bags. If in doubt, try two tea bags for optimum flavour, but that rather defeats the purpose.
10. Jammy on the inside
French apricot jam such as Bonne Maman may sound like the bees knees with ‘handpicked apricots’, but Sainsbury’s Apricot Jam tastes just as delectable with warm croissants.
Could you trade in Marmite for yeast extract? Let us know in the Comments section below.