Mince pies have been around in the UK for a long time and became a Christmas speciality by the 16th Century. Oddly, in the 17th Century Oliver Cromwell ruled them illegal to be eaten at Christmas – a law which is still valid to this day! Minced meat was originally used to make the fillings for these pies but changed in the 19th century to something closer to today’s non meat variety. All of the pies on offer in the test are currant based with some premium brands adding Brandy to the mix.
I literally roamed the supermarkets of the UK to bring you a totally blind taste test of all the butter miniature mince pies I could find. There were a few rules, like the packaging had to state the ‘mini’ size and they had to be the all butter variety. There are many more pies on the market outside of these restrictions and notably there were no value or no frills pies on offer, only standard or premium offerings. If you haven’t watched the video above yet, I put the pies in individual punnets labelled ‘a’ through to ‘j’. This threw out any preconceptions of branding or pricing. The test scores went purely on flavour and texture. I have rearranged the list below to reflect the test ranking out of 10.
11th j) Sainsbury’s Mini Lattice Mince Pies (12) £1.99 (17p each) 0/10
Sainsbury’s was founded by John James Sainsbury in 1869 – starting life as an equivalent to a modern butcher store of today. Groceries were later introduced in 1903 and soon grew to become the UKs largest grocery retailer. They stayed top of the pile until they got overtaken by Tesco in 1996 and then knocked further down the pile by Asda in 2003. Sainsbury’s standard offering looked unique compared to the other pies on review with it’s lattice top exposing 4 holes into the filling below. With the first bite I took the crust was far too thick and chewy. The crust was overpowering and took away from the mincemeat inside. Taking a second bite to assess the mincemeat inside I was sadly disappointed to find a really liquid filling with no flavour whatsoever. This odd and poor combination led to the lowest score in my blind test.
10th d) Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Mini Mince Pies (12) £2.99 (25p each) 1/10
Sainsubry’s premium brand ‘Taste the difference’ come decorated with 3 holes in the sugar coated crust lid. When I took my first bite into the pie the first thing that came to mind was the thick hard crust followed by a sudden intense sour burst that was truly revolting. The only saving grace for these mini mince pies is that they are not rock bottom of the list – unfortunately, the bottom, is the other Sainsbury’s pie!
8th h) Marks & Spencer Classics for Christmas Mini Mince Pies (12) £3.29 (27p each) 2/10
Marks & Spencer started life way back in 1884 as a market stall in Leeds Kirkgate Market run by Michael Marks who was a Russian born Polish refugee. 10 years later Michael Mark’s business was failing and Thomas Spencer came to the rescue with an investment of £300 and exceptional organisational skills. Initially dealing mainly in textiles Marks & Spencer branched out into selling food and became one of the main suppliers of food during the second world war. These days Marks & Spencer are known as M&S and are the largest department store chain in the UK. Their food court is very popular taking in more than half of all their business. This mince pie was their standard offering and was really disappointing. The crust was so thick and dry and not at all buttery. The mincemeat was also really dry like congealed jam. M&S is well known for providing high quality foods but I was not at all impressed this time around.
8th i) Morrisons The Best Mini Mince Pies (9) £1.69 (19p each) 2/10
Morrisons was founded in 1899 by William Morrison as an egg and butter merchant in Bradford’s Rawson Market. They were based mainly in the North of England until they took control of Safeway in 2004. Now Morrisons are the 4th largest supermarket chain in the UK fitting out their stalls to look like an early 20th century street market. Morrisons did not have a standard pie to offer – only their ‘The Best’ premium brand. This mini mince pie was topped with a snowflake and sugar. The crust was very thin with little ‘bite’. The filling was nutty but there was very little else to offer in terms of flavour. As there was nothing good to say about this pie, Morrisons’ only entry scored poorly.
6th k) Waitrose All Butter Mini Mince Pies (12) £1.99 (17p each) 4/10
Waitrose started life as a joint venture by three men with surnames Waite, Rose and Taylor. Taylor left the other two and their stores became known as ‘Waitrose’. They were taken over by John Lewis in 1937 making all the staff in Wairose co-owners of the whole group – a bit like a coop. Based mainly in the south and concentrating on selling only high quality food, Waitrose has been aggressively expanding upwards through the UK. Waitrose offered the largest sized mini mince pie in this blind test coming up close to some supermarket offerings of standard size mince pies. The crust was really thick and the filling was both sweet and sour. I could taste the brandy but it added nothing to the overpowering flavour inside. At £1.99, Waitrose supplied a surprisingly competitively priced miniature mince pie against the main major supermarkets. Unfortunately the quality was sub standard – especially for Waitrose whose reputation suggests better than average food.
6th b) Tesco Finest Mini Mince Pies (12) £1.99 (17p each) 4/10
Tesco is the largest supermarket chain in the UK founded in 1919 in East London. With profits exceeding £2 billion they are the world’s 4th largest retailer. Tesco’s Finest brand is their premium brand so I would have expected more. The crust was thick & crumbly but soft enough that it melted in the mouth. Unfortunately the mince meat mixture inside was very poor. The flavour was far too sugary and tasted artificial. At £1.99, Tesco’s ‘Finest’ offering is priced competitively against it’s supermarket rival’s equivalents, being cheaper per pie than all the major 3 rivals Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s . Although cheap – these pies are average at best.
4th e) Selfridges & Co Traditional Mini Mince Pies (12) £6.99 (58p each) 5/10
Selfridges started life as a single mammoth department store in the heart of London on Oxford Street in 1909. Selfridges was and still is the 2nd largest store in the UK after Harrods and the innovations and marketing techniques that Mr Selfridge introduced transformed the way people shopped forever. The Selfridges food court offers fine foods from around the world as well as their own branded products. Selfridges offering was by far the smallest and easily the most expensive mini mince pies on review. They were so small that I wasn’t sure how they would be made up. Would the pie be thick with little mince or would the pie have a thin crust with lots of filling or somewhere in between? Well halfway through biting I had my answer. It was so thick that it was like biting down on shortbread. I like shortbread – don’t get me wrong, but it felt wrong for a mince pie. The mincemeat inside was like dehydrated jam without the flavour. I give this pie a 5 simply because the crust is nice on it’s own merit. More attention to the filling would have easily scored more points on taste.
4th c) Marks & Spencer Connoisseur All Butter Mini Mince Pies (12) £4.99 (42p each) 5/10
M&S’s premium brand ‘Connoisseur’ is rarely seen outside of the Christmas trading period and is usually exceptional in taste and quality. Taking the miniature mince pie in my hand it looked nice enough with it’s single star on it’s sugar topped crust. The crust was very thin and the filling was laden with nuts but what was missing from this year’s Connoisseur offering was the flavour! Where had the currants gone? Where was the brandy? It was like eating a thin crusted nut gel pie. It’s a real shame but the score is fair for M&S’s disappointing premium offering. In fact, for the price, it feels like a rip off!
3rd f) Tesco Christmas Mini Mince Pies (12) £1.49 (12p each) 6/10
Tesco’s standard mini mince pie was the cheapest in my review at just 12p a pie. The single star on top of the sugar coated crust didn’t prepare me for the delicious soft thick crust as I bit into the pie. At first the mincemeat flavour tasted of nothing but then the after taste kick came through and was remarkably delightful. The combination of a great crust alongside an understated filling was rewarded with an above average score.
2nd g) Asda Extra Special Rich Fruit Brandy Mini Mince Pies (9) £1.68 (19p each) 7/10
Asda started life in Leeds in 1949 and has had a turbulent time since, with mergers and acquisitions being passed around until the giant Wal-Mart bought the chain in 1999. Asda is now the 2nd Largest supermarket in the UK and accounts for half of all international sales for Wal-Mart. Asda had no standard mini mince pies on offer but the premium ones they had on offer looked great with a dusted topped snowflake on really great textured crust. The bite was thick and soft with the mincemeat consistency a compromised blend between sour and sweet. The taste was not too intense or rich making this a great choice. The pie could have scored a little better if the crust was a little more buttery in flavour.
1st a) Duchy Originals Miniature Mince Pies (12) £4.59 (38p each) 9/10
Duchy Originals Limited was established by HRH The Prince of Wales in 1990 to promote organic food and farming. Duchy also aimed to help protect and sustain the countryside and wildlife. Every time someone buys a Duchy product, all profits go to one of Prince Charles’ many charities. Duchy Products are available in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Budgens, Somerfield, Booths and Morrisons. Duchy’s offering in this blind test was average in size with 3 punched out holes at the top crust. As I bit through the all butter miniature mince pie I felt a wonderful sweet blend of currents and Brandy swash around my mouth as the very soft thick crust melted on my tongue. The only words that could come out of my mouth were ‘That is absolutely delicious!’ before I just had to take another bite. At £4.59, these pies are on the expensive side but with money going to charity , you can feel less guilty. Absolutely sublime flavour and texture make these mince pies far and away my top pick for the festive season.
With only 3 pies on test taking home a score of 6 out of 10 or more, the average all butter mini mince pie is generally poor. If I had not done the test blind I would probably not have gone near the supermarket offerings, sticking to the safety of M&S. Having tried an M&S pie during mid November though, I was bitterly disappointed with the drop in quality from which I usually expect and that was confirmed in this blind test. At less than half the price per pie, Asda’s premium brand tasted far better than Marks and Sparks premium offering.
Asda’s Extra Special mince pie was my biggest surprise followed by the revelation that the Tesco standard offering tasted far superior to their own premium brand. Sainsbury’s 2 different pies were bitterly disappointing and having contacted Sainsbury’s, their spokesman reassured me that they would be taking the blind taste test seriously and would pass on the results to their product managers to rectify future supplies.
Duchy’s pie was no surprise topping the list with their sensational mince pie. They’re expensive, but knowing that my money is not feeding a large corporate giant – but instead paying farmers a fair wage and all those deserving charities – gives me a comfortable feeling inside. The mince pie I definitely would not bother wasting my money on is the ridiculously priced Selfridge’s mince pies. I was shocked at the price and would have expected better. It was average at best but coming in at over 3 times the cost of Asda’s offering, it feels like an absolute rip off.
So I conclude that if you have a party of people to feed at a budget then go with Asda’s Extra Special mini mince pies, otherwise just go Duchy!
It's weird that I have let myself get hooked into this year's X factor competition.