/ Food & Drink

Stop meddling with our favourite recipes!

HP sauce

From Twinings tea to KFC, Mars bars to HP Sauce, manufacturers keep changing their recipes, often destroying much-loved products. Would you fight for your favourite recipe, like many others have?

Breakfast on a sunny Saturday morning. A nice pot of tea and a full English breakfast, accompanied with my favourite sauce.

However is my breakfast truly what it seems? It appears the heritage brands we all know and love are changing under our very noses.

Tea Jim – but not as we know it

In April this year tea giant Twinings changed its recipe for Earl Grey adding ‘a dash of lemon and a touch more bergamot’ to the teabags. There was an instant backlash with devoted supporters claiming it to be ‘vile’, ‘dishwater’ and one commentator saying it made her feel ‘nauseous’.

Luckily, the public outcry has lead Twinings to rethink its decision and release the original recipe as “Classic Earl Grey”. I can just picture Patrick Stewart aboard the Starship Enterprise eyeing his cup of Earl Grey with unease.

I also can’t help but wonder what Harold Wilson, who popularised HP Sauce in the 1960s, would make of his favourite condiment now that maker Heinz has changed the recipe.

The recipe had remained true to the original for 116 years but now Heinz has more than halved the levels of salt without informing consumers. Here at Which? we’re all for healthier options, but the backlash shows that others may not be. Fans of ‘Wilson’s gravy’ say the sauce has lost its taste – Marco Pierre White described it as ‘dodgy’, but will Heinz rethink its decision as public pressure mounts?

Not so finger lickin’ good?

It seems that companies have always been tinkering with recipes. After selling his famous Kentucky Fried Chicken chain in 1964, Colonel Sanders criticised the new owners for ruining his gravy by turning it into ‘sludge’ with a ‘wallpaper taste’.

Famously in 2007 Mars had to back down after attempting to change the whey used to manufacture the bars, from a vegetarian source to one including traces of rennet, an enzyme from animals. Vegetarian groups protested and Mars made a spectacular u-turn stating that it had become ‘very clear, very quickly’ that it had made a mistake.

So, would you fight to keep the recipe of your favourite food true to the original? Will Heinz have to backtrack in the face of public pressure and return “Wilson’s Gravy” to its original recipe? For the sake of my Saturday fry up, I hope so!


My gripe is with Sharwoods and their chicken tikka masala. Another case of why fix what ain’t broke, they have brought out a “new recipe” which I find land and unappetising. The old version was really tasty. You could taste the herbs and compared well with the meal you will expect in a restaurant. I can only assume that this is a cost-cutting exercise on the ingredients used. In my case, it just means that they have lost a good customer. In many cases, these companies are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Recipe changes can be disastrous for people with severe allergies. We used to be able to shop, with confidence when we new that our particular favourite was “allergy free” now we need to always check – in case the recipe has altered. Classic example : Heinz beanz in 400g made in uk – gluten free, 200g made in Poland and not Gluten free.

I have looked at a bottle of HP Sauce. The label proclaims it at The Original HP Sauce, implying (at least to me) that the recipe is original. The small print indicates that HP Sauce is the original brown sauce and says nothing about the recipe.

I’m not sure Her Majesty the Queen, who has given a Royal Warrant to HP Foods Ltd., would approve.

Thanks Scott. Some E-numbers have been in food for many years (e.g. caramel (E150) and bicarbonate of soda (E500) and I don’t think the emulsifiers and stabillisers now in Hovis will do any harm, though the pesticide residues mentioned in the article might.

I am surprised that the new version of HP sauce does not come with an instruction to store it in the fridge after opening. That’s where I have put mine after learning that the salt content had been decreased.

Hmmm. It tastes as spicy as before and perhaps sweeter and more fruity, but without having both versions it difficult to be sure.

TUC or Tuc crackers/ biscuits used to be rather salty but of late has not been quite so…. I do not hesitate to make my views known and for all I know, my suggestion may well have been acted upon… my understanding is, increased salt content prolongs the shelf life of a product thereby directly or otherwise leading to increased profits for the manufacturer, but salt in any unacceptable amount is bad for health that we all are probably aware.

Many processed foods, however, contain too much E numbers, additives, salt. sugars AND whatever else…. and I generally try to avoid them as very much as possible. I do not, of course, knowingly use MSG.

Fresh Air Betty says:
13 April 2014

I agree I too am sick and tired of buying stuff I have always eaten only to find a recipe change. I now get crunching headaches if I eat HP Sauce and suspect that the ‘flavour’ in the ingredients is a form of MSG. Reducing the salt content and adding this? Crazy! It seems to me that corporates are taking over so many of the good food producing companies that all that we are getting is whatever if the cheapest to produce and easiest to market. So for example all ethnic preferences etc are being considered when products are re-born. I know that food has always been a tradeable commodity and a bargaining chip but it is a pity if that is the first consideration of food producers and retailers. We are what we eat and should demand quality nutrition which does not destroy the environment or our health, whilst still tasting good. At the moment we seem to be living in a blender where everything is turned to mush, ends up a nasty sludge, beige colour and is just bland. The Blender nation. I wonder if we will go full circle and all end up eating baby food? Just some thoughts. By the way another product which doesn’t taste the same is Colman’s Mustard (in the jars). We’ve stopped buying all this stuff now. Sick of the disappointments and pains.

If HP Sauce contained MSG, this would be shown on the label. What the manufacturers have done is to decrease the salt content in line with government advice.

What you could fairly complain about is the manufacturers have labelled HP Sauce as ‘original’, which is obviously nonsense.

The same thoughts were occurring to us the other day, Betty. We were enjoying some lovely home-made soup with chunky ingredients full of taste and flavour and hardly any additives and comparing it with the pappy mush that gets served up everywhere these days unless you spend a fortune – I even suggested that we eat tinned baby food if the manufacturers can’t stop adulterating everything else. I think you are right to lay the blame at the door of the multinational corporations that have acquired most of the food brands that used to have individuality and memorable flavours.

In general, I am in favour of the reduction in salt content in processed foodstuffs but obviously, storage requirements must be more stringent and adhered to. I think many of the chain restaurants that are incredibly popular with the public, and families in particular, use far too much salt: I have seen caseloads of salt being delivered into the back doorway of one of the well-known eating houses and I am sure that was not an isolated example or a year’s supply!

ad says:
16 June 2015

good blog

I don’t know if all that many people are aware, but the food industry allows MSG to be hidden legally inside products such as ‘yeast extract ‘, ‘spices’ and ‘flavouring’. Therefore it is in nearly all sauces, soups etc. and if you are sensitive to it, you may be well advised to avoid such foods, including HP sauce.