Condiment titan Heinz may be known for ketchup on this side of the pond, and indeed one of its favored marketing slogans is “There’s a sauce for that,” but in the U.K., it's a big name in soup ... literally. Its regular lineup comes in adorably British flavors like Oxtail and Carrot and Coriander, but today we’re talking about its Big Soup. Larger cans, larger pieces, larger room for error! Specifically, we’re gathered here today to try this year’s version of the soup that broke the internet in 2021: Christmas Dinner Big Soup.
Last year’s inaugural offering sold out online in just three hours, so this year, Heinz made a lot more, 20,000 cans’ worth. They’re available in select Asda grocery stores, only in the U.K. and only while supplies last, for about £2. In response to a surge in demand for plant-based alternatives, the company has even created a vegan version. I was beside myself with despair after hearing I’d missed out last year, and I’m so pleased Heinz assisted with a review.
Extra points for the striking label design and reference to Wham!’s "Last Christmas" on the festive insert:
Last Christmas, we gave you our soup, but the very next day, they’d all gone away. This year, to save everyone from tears, we’ll give it to someone special (you).
British Christmas table favorites have quite a bit of overlap with American winter holidays, so the main characters in original Heinz Christmas dinner soup will be familiar: turkey, pigs in blankets, Brussels sprouts, stuffing balls, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, cranberry sauce and gravy. In addition to plant-based sausages, the vegan version features gluten- and soy-based mini sausages, but otherwise the ingredients are similar. A common flavoring for stuffing in the U.K. is onion and sage, and that appears to be what they’ve gone for. There are several mentions of “rusk,” which I actually had to look up — it’s essentially dry breadcrumbs and is a common food additive there, especially in things like sausages.
It’s important to make a special note about the pigs in blankets here. The kind ubiquitous on U.K. holiday tables is different from the pastry-wrapped style we serve here in the U.S. — these are little cocktail sausages, but they’re wrapped only in a bacon blanket and typically pan-fried instead of baked into (let’s be honest) canned crescent rolls. In Scotland, they sometimes call them kilted soldiers. They may be served stacked on a platter or scattered around the turkey but seldom appear outside of Yuletide. One popular brand widely available in England and Scotland is Jolly Hog, and it's gone all-in with an outrageous recipe for a savory trifle of pigs in blankets, brioche, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Obviously, their importance to the holiday there cannot be overstated, so it’s to Heinz’s credit that it made the effort to figure out how to include them.
In the official photos, the soup looks pretty robust. I’m not sure what all the bits here are, but I’m surprised by the big green Brussels sprout.
Will the real thing live up to the expectations Heinz has set? Let’s take a look.
Candidly, it’s not quite as attractive as its portrait. Here it is after I read three different articles about how to photograph brown soup:
I’m going to try the ... gravy? broth? GROTH! ... and sides first, and then we’ll look at the main events.
I swear on my life, this smells exactly like SpaghettiOs. Turkey bits make a respectable if chewy showing. The carrots are obvious orange chunks of varying size. There’s a slight difference in texture between the large and small whitish bits — the smaller ones are parsnip and the larger are potato. Although Christmas dinner potatoes are typically “roasties,” there’s no hint of roasting here. All of it is soft as newly-fallen snow, and it all tastes exactly like the groth. There’s a sweet-ish tomato flavor, and indeed the ingredients list tomato powder in the gravy mix. I can’t taste any cranberry sauce at all, but I’m not sure whether that’s a disappointment. The overall impression is very similar to our American pantry staple, Campbell’s Chunky Vegetable.
Now that we’ve introduced the backup singers, here’s a lineup of the stars of the show:
If you have always felt like you wanted to try Brussels sprouts but were afraid you wouldn’t like the flavor or texture, this is the soup for you! The sprout is vaporously soft, ephemeral and tastes exactly like its gravy-laden surroundings. There’s nary a whisper of cruciferous crunch or green bitterness. After I stirred it a few times during heating, it disappeared entirely. You’re going to think that is an exaggeration, but I solemnly swear I could not find it despite thorough sifting.
The stuffing ball is utterly smooth throughout, with no sign of the fried onions listed on the label. It’s very, very moist. I do taste some sage, but the texture is like quicksand, and I’m sinking fast. It would be more properly termed a cylinder instead of a ball. Admittedly, “pulpy rusk cylinders” doesn’t look quite as nice on the label.
The pigs in blankets have a bologna-like texture, softer than a hot dog, with a boiled rather than fried texture. The bacon is very thin with just a hint of resistance, and thankfully not much fatty squidge.
Here’s the vegan one:
The taste is a pretty close approximation of the original flavor, except that the groth seems a bit sweeter. I prefer to go meatless most of the time myself, and I know a lot of consumers will appreciate this effort. The vegan sausages are not on par with the authentic meatiness of Beyond Meat, and they need a smidge more salt, but they are close in texture to the squishy pork-based pigs in blankets. To paraphrase Tim Gunn, it’s a good squish if that’s the squish you’re going for.
I wanted other input, though. My son gave it a sniff and said, “It smells like SpaghettiO’s.” (Told you.) He also said, upon reading the list of dishes included in bite sizes, “You know how when you mix all the colors of the rainbow you get brown?”
He gets his sense of metaphor from me.
In sum, this kind of soup is not my favorite. The high-heat, pressurized manufacturing processes needed to ensure safe canning results in uniform texture, and it homogenizes the flavors throughout the broth and pieces. Even home pressure cooking of soups and curries can yield a mushy bowl. However, sometimes that’s exactly what you want — a comfort food that harkens back to cozy dinners of your youth, with no need for cooking or cleanup. It’s not challenging to the palate — the Brussels sprouts aren’t duking it out with the cranberries because they’re both hiding like it’s the Loch Ness — but that means it’s credibly edible, and not just a novelty. It’s also hilarious, perfect for celebration and gifting.
And even though it smells like SpaghettiOs, I know for sure there’s a vegetable in it.
I saw it. I swear.