OMG: HP Sauce changes recipe after 116 years


With a bit of full disclosure up front, I will admit my only experience that allows me to talk about this subject is having attended a number of BBC Showcase meetings over the years in the UK whereby the answer to everything that dealt with food seemed to be “…just add a bit of brown sauce to it”.

While brown sauce doesn’t just roll off the tongue when one thinks of a condiment designed to make bland food appetizing, it did seem to have potential as it’s a combination of tomatoes, malt vinegar, molasses, dates, tamarind and spices. I will say that British food was quite different during my early days attending BBC Showcase, where this unfamiliar staple called ‘brown sauce’ could have actually done a world of good to British cuisine. Admittedly, today is a totally different story as some of the best culinary dining can be found across the UK without the need for brown sauce of any variety.

That said, it’s been around since the late 1800’s and has always been a hit with British diners so it, obviously, has a legion of loyal users. HP Sauce seems to be suffering the brunt of the recent Government crackdown when it changed it’s recipe to reduce the salt intake from 1.3g of salt per 100g from 2.1g. Imagine changing a recipe that has a 100+ year history and fanbase? Remember the infamous summer of 1985 and New Coke?

The Debate begins

Sauce aficionado, John Northey, from the Isle of Man, said: “Gone is the familiar tang. The sauce seems bland and sickly. They’ve spoiled it and added calories at a time when we’re being warned about obesity.” Heinz, the American company that bought the British staple, disagrees, saying that HP had “benefited” from the firm’s commitment to “reduce salt in line with health targets”.

As the story goes, HP Sauce, or brown sauce, was named after the Houses of Parliment when the original inventor heard it was being used in a restaurant in the Houses of Parliment. To settle the debate, the BBC solicited several MP’s to answer the burning political issue of the day: do they prefer the new or old HP Sauce recipe? Watch below or click here. Anyone want to weigh in on the debate? At least it’s still brown….

  • jt

    That is funny and serious because I *do* recall the summer that good ole Coke, which I grew up drinking in vast quantities, suddenly was replaced with the “New Coke.” It was AWFUL, and I recall being very angry that the beverage I reached for day in and day out for so many years was no longer available. I literally felt lost as to what I do for a soda break every day, and I still recall the relief I felt as “Classic Coke” returned to the shelves.

    It was indeed a HUGE marketing mistake to reformulate Coke. This one may prove just as big of a mistake. I have never had brown sauce before myself, though, so I would not be able to tell any difference in the “new brown sauce” from the classic variety. I recall that Chef Gareth Blackstock was not overly keen on it, though, either the traditional or the new variety. : )

  • Leif Grahamsson

    The difference with New Coke is that HP and Heinz Tomato Ketchup are both owned by Heinz – they are not competing with a Pepsi – they do not need to be rivals when the deified Heinz Ketchup is top dog. They bought it to kill it off by making the question of Ketchup or HP with breakfast a no-brainer: Heinz Ketchup. If Pepsi buy Coke or Coke buy Pepsi or Pepsi or Coke buy Irn Bru, expect the same thing. Simply a business standard, people lose out, Heinz Ketchup sell more and is the more profitable item anyway, even more so when you disable the (admittedly distant) competition.