Which Heinz Sauce is best: red or brown?

Rhodri Marsden wonders which is best, red sauce or brown? And does it really matter, in a world where there are more condiments than ever? Plus: eight great recipes that use ketchup to try at home.

‘People around the country are settling the greatest debate of all,’ say Heinz, the sauce people. This isn’t a reference to the forthcoming General Election, or whether Kanye West should be allowed to perform at Glastonbury. No, the current hot topic, according to Heinz, is whether we prefer red sauce or brown sauce. (Although they would say that.) ‘Vote now,’ says the website at redvsbrown.co.uk, ‘and you could win a year’s supply!’ That sounds great! But hang on – for me that’s about two bottles of each. Approximately eight quid. Now I’m trying to work out whether handing over my email address to Heinz for marketing purposes is worth eight quid. I’ll get back to you on that.


In reality, there’s no debate. I hate to sit on the fence like one of those people who stubbornly refuses to argue on the internet, but there is no ‘best’. Unlike the Conservatives and Labour, these two sauces are not in direct competition with one another. You can have both, if you like. Indeed, Daddies Sauce openly advocate mixing red sauce and brown sauce together and putting it in a shepherds pie filling. (Although they would say that.) 

This burning question, if you can call it that, has been raised regularly over the past few years (mainly by sauce manufacturers) but that’s largely down to Danny Baker’s show on Radio 5 Live. There’s a segment in said show where he asks members of the public to predict whether his celebrity guest prefers “red sauce, brown sauce or no sauce at all” on their sausage sandwich. The celeb confirms one way or the other. Points are duly awarded. It makes for good radio.

This specific question is a coin-flip scenario; in a YouGov poll from 2011, the nation was split in a three-way-tie on the sausage sandwich question: 33% / 33% / 33%. But overall, brown sauce is falling out of favour. A poll for Ask Jeeves in 2012 had red sauce pegged at 50%, with brown sauce trailing at 34%. And it’s getting worse. The younger generation are overwhelmingly red. Red is the future. And when you look at the sales figures, you wonder why we’re even talking about this: the British spent £173m on tomato sauce last year, but only £39m on brown. It’s even reflected in olive’s content. Look at the number of recipes featuring ketchup…

Yaki udon noodles

Ultimate grilled reuben sandwich

Haggis with swede (yes, really)

Steak haché and pokey salad

Double shroom burger

Classic meatloaf

Barbecue-style pork ribs

Fall-apart bourbon ribs

One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! And how many for brown? One – gazpacho

Not that red sauce should be complacent. Oh goodness me, no. All table sauces suffered a 5% decline in sales volume last year. ‘Mayonnaise,’ reported market research firm Mintel, ‘also struggled.’ Their senior food analyst Richard Ford said: “Value and volume declines of tomato ketchup and brown sauce reflect changing eating habits, something that is not easily ‘fixed’.” And that’s the real issue, here! We’re no longer in a two-party system! Other sauces are available! The analogy with British politics is perfect! You can cast your vote for piri piri! Hot garlic! Smoky barbecue! Sweet chilli! They all have something to offer the electorate – I mean, diner! I wonder which one we can trust with the future of our NHS – I mean, our bacon sandwiches?


Like this? Then try more of Rhodri’s features…

We’re with @WeWantPlates: let’s put an end to food served on wooden boards

World Nutella Day and Maltesers Teasers: we’ve all gone crazy for chocolate spread!

National Chip Week: we’re a nation obsessed with chips!

The most ridiculous Valentine’s Day ideas

Jammie Bakes: we want to be excited about you!


The Great British Pie Quiz