Here is a cracking story for you all. From generations of restauranteurs in their family, Sweet Mandarin were the winners of Gordon Ramsay’s F Word Best Local Chinese Restaurant in the UK. These incredible women from such an inspirational family have really made a splash with their restaurant and sauces. Appearing on Dragon’s Den and receiving an incredible deal with Duncan Bannatyne and even publishing a book, these ladies have the drive to do anything they set their minds to!

In a whopping 300ml bottle, the label is mainly black with a bamboo style border. Beautiful images of the Sweet Mandarin family and information surround the nutritional value.

Opaque, almost strawberry jelly colour and with quite a thin consistency, it smells like a very vinegary tomato ketchup. I can’t really add anything else to that statement. It is smooth in the mouth and has a very pleasant medium tang to it. A lot of the time when you buy a sweet and sour sauce you will be overwhelmed by both flavours. This has an obvious sourness but it doesn’t hold the same bitterness as you would expect with such a mix of acids. The sweetness has a rather subtle approach in appearing after the sour has gone.  As far as sweet and sour sauces go, this one has an equal sweet to sour ratio.

Ingredients:

Water, Tomato Ketchup (Water, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Tomato Paste 12%, Spirit Vinegar, Sugar, Modified Maize Starch, Salt, Citric Acid, Preservative (Potassium Sorbate)), Sugar, White Vinegar (Water, Acetic Acid 4.5%), Potato Starch, Fresh Lemon Juice, Fresh Ginger, Natural Red colouring.
Suitable for Vegetarians, Gluten Free, No MSG, No Artificial Colours

Bottle kindly supplied by Sweet Mandarin

I think it would be a perfect addition to a stir fry, on any sorts of meats or quorn (as quorn just absorbs the flavours it would be fantastic).  As a dipping sauce for the obligatory prawn crackers, chips, spring rolls, prawns. anything you fancy really.

Sweet Mandarin’s range of sauces can be bought from their website and are also stocked in Sainsbury’s in the ‘Free From’ aisle priced at £2.59, and at Selfridges, but I couldn’t tell you the price there. It’s definitely a sauce for anyone; from the sweet & sour connoisseur to the taste enthusiasts alike!

Flavour
(5/10)
Heat
(0/10)
Packaging
(9/10)
Value (7/10)
Overall
(6/10)

 

 

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It is not very often we get a product for review which comes direct from the hills of Mexico but here I have just that, Gran Luchito Salsita de chiles ahumados or Smoked Chilli Paste comes from those Mexican hills and is handmade by the Mexican farmers. It’s about as authentic as it could be. Apparently in between a paste and an oil, made so the locals can just pour off and use the oil when they don’t want the texture of the paste.

So to look at the shallow jar, it certainly looks authentic with some great artwork around the circumference of the jar and a nice big label on the white lid.

This label shows a Mexican Wrestlers or ‘Luchadors mask which is a link to the favourite pastime of the farmers that make the paste. Looking through the glass I can see the very thick oily paste within.

Once open, the paste is a deep brown colour and is very thick. It reminds me of a very slow cooked onion relish but the main ingredient on the label is Chillies, and these are a combination of 5 very rare Oaxacan (Pronounced Wa-Ha-Can) Chillies, the most important of these is the Pasilla Oaxaca. The Chillies are harvested when very ripe and smoked in Handmade Clay ovens fired with Oak to help preserve them before being roughly ground by hand for the paste.

The smell of the paste does not jump out at me, I offer the jar to my nostrils and can immediately smell the smokiness, the oak comes through along with a sweetness which is not from refined sugar but from Dark Agave Nectar which is apparently sweeter than Honey.

I take a spoonful from the jar, there is plenty of sunflower oil in the paste which has turned a lovely dark brown. The first taste is a very deep smokey note, and this is where the review gets difficult, as usually I have something to compare the taste to, but I honestly haven’t tasted anything like this, it is unique because it is made in Mexico by Mexicans who really know their chillies. I’m sure they don’t have an exact time for smoking the Chillies or a specific texture to achieve. This is rustic artisan produce at it’s best, no horrible preservatives or additives here, just flavour and more flavour which comes in waves.

Ingredients:

Mexican Chillies (20%), Onions, Corn oil, Dark Agave Nectar, Balsamic Vinegar, Sunflower Oil, Garlic, Vinegar, Salt, Spices

Jar kindly supplied by Gran Luchito

I can detect onions but only a hint which is good as they are not allowed to over power the flavour of the Chillies. The heat comes soon after the full on smokey flavour and sweet hints, its a pleasant burn that never overpowers the complex flavours here but stays around and I can feel the burn on all parts of my mouth and throat, which I would imagine would be due to the mix of different Chillies and their differing burning effects.

The Gran Luchito website states “If you think you know chilli, think again, from the land that invented it. It’s a different kind of heat” I think that statement is spot on, there is such a complexity to the flavour of this paste, it isn’t something I have ever tasted, especially knowing where it has come from and the love that has gone into it.

You can buy direct from Gran Luchito website where a 110g jar costs £4.99

Flavour
(9/10)
Heat
(6/10)
Packaging
(8/10)
Value (8/10)
Overall
(9/10)

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Mad-Ass are new to the chilli scene, but that hasn’t stopped them from arriving with a bang. Sporting a range of sauces starting at mild and going through to extra hot, these all natural handmade sauces are definitely making an impressive initial impact. The sauce I have the delight of tasting today is Lip Tickler. On the Mad-Ass website this is described as a Thai sweet chili sauce style, but with bags more flavour and body, starts where the mass produced sauces finish, less sugar and way more flavour! Heat: 4-10. This isn’t quite accurate, but more on that shortly.

Mad-Ass Lip TicklerLip Tickler is a medium red-brown colour and is quite thin, more so than a ketchup. It sits on the spoon nicely with an aroma dominated by tomatoes alongside a touch of cider vinegar noticeable too; it definitely has a pleasant nose to the sauce.

Ingredients:

Soft Brown Sugar, Cider Vinegar, Red Chillies, Red Peppers, Red Onion, “The Garlic Farm” Garlic, Ginger, Citrus Juice and Zest, Tomato Purée, Salt, Cayenne  Pepper, Cracked Black Pepper, Rice Bran Oil.

Lip Ticker is without doubt a great tasting sauce with the initial taste fairly well dominated by tomatoes with a hint of onion; it’s sweet but the wide raging 4-10 heat rating doesn’t quite ring true. This sauce is mild, and while there’s a nice tingle on the tongue, any serious chilli head would be able to drink the sauce like water. It could just be that the “red chillies” were simply a little bit weaker, as can sometimes happen from batch-to-batch. That said, it’s such a fabulous tasting sauce that the lack of heat really doesn’t matter too much and some may even prefer it in this incarnation.

Mad-Ass sauces come in two different sizes, the unusual 30ml at £2 a pop and the larger 150ml at £5. The smaller jars work as a sampler giving you the chance to try everything in the collection, but the chances are you’ll get through one fairly rapidly – 30ml really isn’t a lot of sauce, particularly when they’re so tasty. The graphics on the front appear fiery, with a chilli character that’s either pleased as punch at being there or diabolically evil looking – I haven’t quite made up my mind which of these it is yet.

There are plenty of other sauces in Mad-Ass’s range, so if this is an example of things to come, I’m very much looking forward to trying the others. Don’t expect to feel the burn, but do enjoy that rich tomato and onion flavour; sweet with a mild touch of heat. This is a sauce you could happily use every day.

Flavour
(9/10)
Heat
(2/10)
Packaging
(6/10)
Value (7/10)
Overall
(8/10)

 

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Lovingly crafted in the Lake District, Adam delivers award winning sauces, pickles and chutneys all around the UK, whether at shows or markets. In the same Mr Vikki’s style, this hot aubergine pickle is squeezed into a 210g hexagonal jar with his bright yellow label. The label suggests medium heat. Dark red-purpley- brown and full of colourful pieces of aubergine flesh, spices and seeds it looks quite chunky.

The intense fresh smell of crisp aubergine with a subtle smokey tickle behind it opens up the tastebuds for the obvious hit of fenugreek and a slight dry salty scent. This pickle is very thick with a mix of finely chopped spices and ginger with more chunky aubergine, dates and chillies.

For want of a better comparison to the texture, it is similar to mincemeat (the fruity kind in seasonal mince pies). I took a big scoop on a teaspoon and tucked in. The softness of the fleshy fruits with the gritty feel of the spices and seeds make a great combination. The smokey flavour takes a while to come through but the juicy ginger and garlic parts are absorbed into every piece of aubergine you find. The celery and fenugreek takes some of the sweetness away from the dates, thus making this pickle relatively dry with only a slight sweetness.

Ingredients:

Aubergines 75%, Sugar, Vinegar, Vegetable oil, Fresh Ginger, Dates, Fenugreek, Chillis, Piquin Chillies, Chipotle Chilli, Garlic, Salt and Spices.

Allergy Advice:  Contains Mustard and Celery, May contain traces of nuts.

You forget about the fact you’re eating a medium heat product whilst you concentrate on all of the other senses with this product. It takes a good ten or so seconds before you notice any heat whatsoever. By the time you do, its a mild to medium heat that is a slow builder that sticks to the lips and all round the mouth. The burn is short lived around the mouth, and as many lip plumping products claim but fail with, this will leave yours truly ‘bee-stung’ without spending a fortune!

Another winner from the North West. If you prefer something slightly smokey with a good amount of heat and flavour pay off with your poppadoms, with cheese and crackers, or as the jar suggests ‘…mix with coconut milk for a Sri Lankan style curry’.

Available from Mr Vikkis for a great price of £3.50

Flavour
(7/10)
Heat
(6/10)
Packaging
(6/10)
Value (8/10)
Overall
(7/10)

 

 

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