Wednesday, November 11, 2009

sharwood's product sample

As I mentioned last week, I was contacted by a PR company looking for someone to taste and review a few products. Being new at this, I wasn't exactly sure what would be expected of me, so before learning any more about the offer, I wanted to take care of any concerns I had. Mostly, would anything specific be required of me in the final post? With all my questions answered to a comfortable level, it was time to learn about the offer. With so many products in the food world, I've decided it's one thing to be on the receiving end of a promotional offer, but it's even better if the product is something that actually interests you. The items I would be receiving are from a line of Indian products produced by Sharwood's; so combined with my love of Indian food and the recent holiday, Diwali (more on that at the bottom of this post), this was starting to look like a great opportunity.

It only took a few days for my package to arrive, and when it did, I discovered 4 sauces and a bottle of chutney tucked neatly inside. I decided to wait and visit the Sharwood's website until after my package arrived and discovered, not only do they offer a line of Indian products, they dabble in Thai and Chinese as well. Within each product range, you may find; sauces, curry pastes, curry powders, chutneys, as well as noodles, crackers, and naan. I also learned that besides being a British company, Sharwood's has a history of selling products all the way back to 1889. This rich history may be the reason they hold the largest market share for these products in Britain.

Knowing I could test the sauces with various proteins, I decided to make the experience a little easier on my field of tasters and use chicken through out. Now, most of my experiences in cooking Indian dishes at home have required a fairly involved list of ingredients and a time commitment. These sauces, if you have cooked meat, only take 20 minutes on the stove to prepare. Too good to be true? Let's find out.

First up to bat, Tikka Masala. This sauce is described as bursting with flavours of coriander and lemon juice. Straight from the bottle the taste seemed muted, however, once mixed into the cooked chicken and warmed up it was totally different; not to mention the house came alive with some very lovely scents. One taster, who walked into the homestead while I was preparing the dish, mentioned crossing through the front door was very much like entering a local Indian restaurant. It's nice that the aroma didn't let us down. In fact, the tikka was a hit with everyone. The jasmine rice was used to soak, wipe, and absorb every last molecule of sauce. I think some plates could have been put back into the cupboard and you wouldn't even know they were used. High praise for any dish if you ask me. I should say, my father (who finds black pepper spicy) found the dish to have enough heat for his delicate palate to pick up. Nothing that hampered his enjoyment or sent him running for water, but in his words - a good heat.

Final taste verdict - 4 out of 5.

The jar of Korma, which fought to go first, won the coin toss for round two. Described as an Indian style aromatic, creamy cooking sauce with coconut and cardamom. It was completely different from our first sauce. Where the tikka needed a bit of heat to really bring out it's flavours, I found the korma showed the same face straight from the jar as it did after some time on the stove. I found the korma dish mild, both in flavour and in heat if that makes sense. The creaminess of this sauce hit us right away, but faded fairly quickly. A totally different experience compared with the tikka which left the back of your throat with a shot of flavour, and heat. Definitely not bad in any way, this dish gave me the take-it-or-leave-it vibe. The interesting comment came again from my father who compared the dish to his favorite Indian buffet plate, butter chicken. Even going as far to say he would easily go back for seconds or thirds of this dish. With my father being the only taster to be completely won over by the Korma, we couldn't rate it as high as the tikka. We did however, decided this is a perfect dish to introduce hesitant, or non-adventurous eaters. The lack of heat, and good initial flavours would provide a 'safe' meal any night of the week.

Final taste verdict - 3 out of 5.

Initially I was going to use the Butter Chicken sauce last, but with my father bringing it up in the korma test, I bumped this sauce to dish 3. My only hope was that it would be good, I mean this is one of the most popular Indian offerings in the world for a reason, right. Described as a warm, buttery Indian cooking sauce, bursting with flavours of cream and cardamom. I should say that I've found plenty of butter chicken offerings in my time to be lacking. By all means, I haven't sampled every offering in the city, but combined, the panel of tasters has a pretty good base to compare too. What ever it was I've found missing in many local offerings is definitely not missing in this dish. It has a great flavour profile with a nice bit of heat. How much heat? Enough to make my father pass on the dish, and from a man who loves butter chicken this means a lot. A hit with the rest of the taste panel, this may just be the first time I've found a bottle of sauce that could easily replace many restaurant offerings.

Final taste verdict - 5 out of 5.

Pulling up in fourth, by my default move of butter chicken to the third spot, Balti was ready to go. Definitely a lighter sauce (the lowest calories of the bunch), balti is described as a rich, tomato based Indian style cooking sauce seasoned with coriander & fenugreek leaves. I've always had a sweet spot for tomato based sauces, which may be why this sauce ranked highest in my pre-cooked taste sampling. Served up, this dish had mixed results. From below average to home run success, this dish was all over the map. Even after some time to contemplate the sauce, I'm still not sure why it showed so many faces. I, for one, enjoyed the sauce so much that I went back to the pan to tackle any extras that might not have been dished out. With it's range of personalities, we decided that the balti is good, having the potential to be a hit with the right crowd, but not safe enough to guarantee a success.

Final taste verdict - 3 out of 5.

Finally the last bottle from the package was this mango chutney. With chutneys falling into two main categories in my experience, hot or sweet, this falls into the latter category. A addition to all the meals, it provided a nice amount of sweetness. The mango chutney worked together with the rice, to cool some of the panels palates . Besides working with the main dishes, it did a decent job on toast one day.

The product sampling was a really good experience. As someone who rarely, if ever, uses pre-packaged sauces, I would have easily passed by the jars for years to come. It's almost a shame, because these sauces did a great job of showing how far packaged sauces have come when a company cares about the final product. The flavours and spices that Sharwood's lists are not just describing what you might taste, but what you will. It also seemed to us after this experience that Sharwood's has approached each sauce from an appropriate place, giving each sauce it's due course if you will. In a world where everyone's mom has their own version, I think Sharwood's does a great job of offering these delicious sauces. If you want to change up the regular dinner routine, I suggest giving one of these sauces an opportunity to win you over.

*October 17th was the start of Diwali this year, a significant five-day religious festival that is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhist all over the world. Diwali, which means ‘rows of lighted lamps,’ signifies the victory of good over evil and the banishment of darkness. During Diwali, families decorate their homes and gardens with candles and coloured lights. Diwali encourages people to gather together with family and friends to enjoy scrumptious meals, sweets and savories. In addition, many people exchange gifts and wear new clothes.


Tiran said...

Interesting post. I normally pass the Sharwood in favour of Patak's, which was recommended to me some brits. The one time I did try the Sharwood I found it oddly gritty, although I don't remember which sauce it was.
I really liked your review, particularly your fathers input lol, since my boyfriend also does not like spicey food and often doesn't care for Indian. Even though you said the butter chicken was too spicey I may have to try since that is the one thing I never make since I have yet to find a cream sauce I didn't burn (I need more forgiving sauces and milk/cream just isn't forgiving).

Chris said...

Hey Tiran, I didn't notice any grittiness with the sauces, although looking at the grocery, some bottles definitely separate a bit form their time sitting on the shelf. I quite enjoyed the butter chicken (and it's heat), but it did have enough heat that my butter chicken loving father was not enjoying it like he thought. Worth a shot, just have some rice and yogurt handy to help cool the heat a bit.

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