UK Curry Scene Editor : David Smith 25 September 1999


The Curry House Tasting - Tikka Masala Sauces

If you live in the UK have you ever wondered which of the shop bought curry sauces is the best? Well, along with my wife and 12 brave curry-loving friends, I tested 7 of the most easily available cooking sauces. I have only just recovered. Believe me it was a trial in more ways than one!

I chose Tikka Masala as it is the Nation's favourite curry and all the leading brands have Tikka Masala in their range. The 7 brands we tested were from Homepride, Pataks, Sainsbury's, Sharwood's, Tesco, Tilda/Madhur Jaffrey and Uncle Ben's.

The sauces were all cooked according to the instructions. I must say that my lasting impression is of the sour smell in the kitchen as the sauces were cooking. Only one or 2 actually smelled pleasant while cooking.

The tasting was done blind. Apart from me no-one even knew which brands were being tested. They were tasted by dipping a piece of warm chappati in the sauce rather than eating the sauces as part of a meal.

some of the redoubtable band of tasters
tasting in progress

Our hardy band of tasters was asked to rank the sauces in order of preference. They were also asked to rate each sauce for taste (from "yummy", through "good", "OK" and "poor" to "yuk") and to say whether the sauces tasted anything like a restaurant curry. The tasters could make general comments about the smell, texture and colour of the sauces if they wished.

The tasting session was a revelation. There was a clear winner and a very unexpected and certain loser.


THE CURRY SAUCES - what's in them and how they fared with our panel



Ingredients : grape juice, water, onions, yogurt, tomato puree, lemon juice, modified starch, sugar, chilli sauce, double cream, garam masala, salt, soya oil, milk proteins, garlic, spices, rapeseed oil, soy protein, ginger, coriander, skimmed milk powder, citric acid, wheat flour, antioxidant - ascorbic acid, egg yolk powder, colour - beta carotene, stabiliser - xanthan gum

The contents list should tell you that this sauce is going to be sweet (grape juice in a curry!!!!) but it wasn't quite as bad as it threatened to be. Weird lumpy texture.

Comments include "very synthetic", "lumpy", "fruity" and "floury".

Taste test - 2 goods, 6 OKs, 2 poors and 4 yuks.





Ingredients : water, onions, vegetable oil, tomato puree, whey powder, onion powder, modified maize starch, wheat flour, salt, sugar, mixed spices, coriander, skimmed milk powder, garlic pulp, lemon juice, turmeric, acetic acid, milk protein, colour - paprika extract, parsley

Top ingredient = water and the sauce shows it. It is very runny and a brownish colour rather than the expected red hue of tikka masala. Smells unpleasant when cooking and tastes like spiced-up gravy when cooked.

Comments include "yuk, yuk, yuk", "gravy like", "horrible", "salty".

Taste test - 2 OKs, 3 poors and a resounding 9 yuks. A very surprising result.



Ingredients : water, yogurt, double cream, modified corn starch, sugar, tomato puree, creamed coconut, lemon juice, spices, salt, vegetable oil, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, almonds, coriander leaf, acidity regulator - lactic acid, wheatflour, onions, colour - paprika extract, pepper, caraway seeds, chilli puree, soya flour

Another "water first" sauce but it does have the expected ingredients of cream, coconut and ground nuts which is more than can be said of Pataks offering.

Comments include "cornflour taste", "sour", "not spicy enough".

Taste test - 2 yummys, 1 OK and 11 poors.





Ingredients : water, tomato, cream, natural yogurt, onion, lemon juice, sugar, desiccated coconut, vegetable oil, modified corn starch, salt, spices, garlic, coriander leaf, ginger, pepper, colour - paprika extract, lactic acid

Despite the main ingredient being water Sharwoods have managed to create a very passable sauce which certainly looks the part.

Comments include : "quite nice", "reasonable"

Taste test - 1 yummy, 8 goods, 4 OKs and 1 poor



Ingredients : double cream, concentrated tomato puree, fried onion, sugar solution, low fat yogurt, creamed coconut, vegetable oil, garlic powder, salt, coriander leaf, modified starch, lemon juice, curry powder, ground almonds, garam masala, red chilli puree, lactic acid, colour - capsanthin, ground ginger, caraway seeds, flavourings, chilli powder, spice extract

Ah, this is more like it. Cream as the top ingredient. No sign of water but presumably it's in the "sugar solution". A creditable effort by Tesco despite the ominous sounding "flavourings"

Comments include : "slightly fruity", "coconutty".

Taste test - 2 yummys, 8 goods, 4 OKs



Tilda/Madhur Jaffrey

Tilda/Madhur Jaffrey

Ingredients : tomatoes, onions, cream, vegetable oil, yogurt, butter, sugar, wheatflour, coriander, ginger, cumin, garlic, garam masala, lemon juice, salt, chilli powder, paprika, colour - carmine, fenugreek leaf, fruit pectin, turmeric, lactic acid

The ingredients list tells you this sauce is something different. No water to be seen and it includes plenty of traditional curry ingredients. It looks just right too - right colour and right consistency.

Comments include : "I like this", "like a good supermarket ready-meal sauce", "has a bit of a tang", "looks good",

Taste test - 2 yummys, 9 goods and 3 OKs


Uncle Ben's

Ingredients : tomatoes, water, onion, cream, vegetable oil, modified starch, sugar, skimmed milk yogurt powder, lemon juice, salt, spices, garam masala, ginger, garlic, coriander, lactic acid, spice extract, parsley

The promising list of ingredients helped Uncle Ben's not to embarrass itself in the taste department but it did let itself down in a big way with its gloopy texture.

Comments include : "glutinous", "tastes of cornflour", "nice taste, shame about the texture",

Taste test - 1 yummy, 4 goods, 7 OKs, 1 poor and 1 yuk

Uncle Ben's




here is the judgement of our redoubtable band of tasters :

  1. Tilda/Madhur Jaffrey - BEST BUY
  2. Tesco
  3. Sharwood's
  4. Uncle Ben's
  5. Homepride
  6. Sainsbury's
  7. Pataks
Tilda/Madhur Jaffrey



If you want a curry sauce that tastes like a restaurant curry then avoid all of these. Go and buy a takeaway from your nearest Indian restaurant. The sauces we tasted all contain food acids as preservatives and many taste as if the onions are still half raw. The end result is a distinctive and unwelcome "tang".

If you want to cook a quick and easy curry at home that ranks well up with supermarket ready meals then go for the Tilda/Madhur Jaffrey. It is the most expensive but you get what you pay for. I've used other sauces in the Tilda range and they are all good as long as you don't expect something that tastes as if it comes from your local curry house. The Sharwood's and, especially, the Tesco offerings didn't disgrace themselves either.

The biggest surprise of all was the Pataks sauce. If they are trying to replicate a restaurant-style curry (and their sales blurb says that they are) then they have got it all badly wrong - wrong flavour, wrong smell, wrong texture and wrong colour. The Pataks sauce was disliked by nearly all our tasters. The only saving grace in our tasting session was that everyone praised the chappatis that we used to taste the sauces. They were made by, you've guessed it, Pataks!


Copyright David W Smith, 1999
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