“ Brand: Sharwood's / Type: Sauces „
I've always liked hoi sin (yellow bean) sauces and I use five spice in cooking a fair bit, so when I saw this sauce I had to give it a try. It's a cook-in sauce rather than a stir-fry sauce, which as far as I can make out means that it comes in a bigger jar; it's supposed to be less of a glaze, I suppose, so it has more liquid in it. Other than yellow bean sauce and five spice, the main ingredients are ginger, garlic, red chilli, sesame oil and soy sauce, with allergy advice for soya, wheat, barley, gluten and sesame.
When I first added the sauce to the pan, the first thing I noticed was a rather sickly smell and I was afraid that it was going to be too sweet, as hoi sin can sometimes be. After a minute or two though, the cloying aroma was gone and the overriding flavour coming through was that of the star anise. I like aniseed, so I thought it smelled rather nice, but anyone who is not so keen might be a little put off by this as it didn't really subside much. The other spices were not detectable at all, even ginger which is also included as a separate ingredient. The sauce did taste sweet, but it was mild rather than sickly. There was still a hint of aniseed in the aroma - which I'd say would be strong enough to put you off if you weren't a fan - but it didn't particularly taste of any one spice. Incidentally, if you're not fond of spicy food, don't let the red chilli discourage you as this has no heat to it at all.
I've made this twice now, once with tofu, green beans, asparagus and tenderstem broccoli, and once with Quorn steak strips, courgette, onion and cherry tomatoes (not the most obvious combination, I know, but the steak strips are new and I wanted to try them out, plus I've just started to get an organic box delivered and you have to work with what you get).
I was pleased with the tofu combination; tofu has a sharp, beany taste which complemented the sweetness of the sauce very nicely. There are small pieces of very crunchy water chestnut in the sauce which I wasn't expecting, so there was a good range of textures as well since I managed not to overcook the vegetables and they still had some 'bite'.
The Quorn steak strips version was not so successful; I thought that the strips might work well since the jar recipe suggests using duck - I can't entirely remember what duck tastes like, but it seemed a likely substitute - but the flavours just didn't work together at all and, perversely since the Quorn strips have quite a strong savoury taste, the strips made the sauce taste more sickly. The courgette was competely overwhelmed by the sauce and tasted of nothing at all, and the cherry tomatoes were like lava (you'd think I'd have learned not to put these in sauces by now, but you'd be wrong). Belatedly I remembered that I had some fresh red chillies which would have livened things up considerably.
Nutritionally, this isn't too bad. It seems that Sharwood's think one-third of a jar is about right per person, since the jar is 425g and the 'per serving' figures are for 140g (this amused me slightly - what happened to the remaining 5g? Perhaps they've allocated that as the little bit of sauce left that you can't be bothered to scrape out of the wok once you've dished up). That one-third of a jar gives you 158 calories - this mostly appears to be sugar, which is second on the list of ingredients after water - and 2.4g of fat, of which 0.3g is saturated. On the other hand, it does also provide an eyebrow-raising 1.4g of salt, nearly a quarter of an adult's daily maximum. This is a little disappointing, as a sauce which contains spices shouldn't need to rely so heavily on salt for flavour. Still, there's no MSG so it could have been worse, I suppose.
A jar costs around £1.40, which is about standard for this type of product; we used one jar for two of us and there was waaaay too much sauce, so I should imagine this would serve four at a push. I will be using this again as I was pleased with it on the whole, although it will be more for a change than as a regular addition to the shopping list on account of the high salt content. For this reason and since 'Hoi Sin and Star Anise' would have been an equally accurate product name, I can only give it three stars, but it was tasty so I would recommend it all the same.