Monday 22 January 2018

Pricepoints: Fortune-telling tasty tradition

The Irish Hallowe'en tradition of eating barm brack is still going strong with every supermarket having at least a couple to choose from.

The word brack comes from the Irish "breac" meaning speckled, while barm (or bairin) is old English meaning frothy yeast (usually from ale).

Tea brack is usually loaf-shaped and made with baking powder, while a barm brack is made with yeast. Both should contain lots of dried fruit and some spices according to traditional recipes (and the one my mammy used to make).

All barm brack should also contain a wedding ring -- the tradition being that the person that got the ring would be married within the year.

I noticed on the Paul Rankin-branded brack that "Paul has selected only the finest ingredients" -- I wonder by what criteria he chose the 12 different E numbers this contained. To be fair, most of these were in the other bracks also. I am mystified why commercial bakeries need ingredients such as guar and xanthum gum, tapioca starch, di-glycerides of fatty acid emulsifier, sodium stearoyl-2- lactylate, beta carotene colouring and so on. They serve only to save a tiny bit of money and prolong shelf life.

The bracks were tasted blind and judged on taste; extra fruit did not always lead to higher marks. However, I deducted half a mark from those too mean to provide a ring.


The only brack in the test which contained the same ingredients you would expect to find in your mother’s kitchen and, of course, it tasted the best. There was a good ring and the fruit content was the highest at 42pc. Sadly, there were no spices. Still, a flavourful brack, moist, rich, lots of sweet fruits and tangy peel. Excellent. 8/10

DUNNES, €2.70 PER 630G

This contained 30pc sultanas and was the largest and densest brack in our test. The slightly weighty texture was still rich and moist with a distinctly spicy flavour of cinnamon and cloves. There was no added colouring, which gave the brack a darker appearance. 7.5/10


A large brack, expensive but also heavier than the others. Good mix of fruit — sultanas, raisins and peel. Nice background flavours of nutmeg and cinnamon. I got the ring in the very first slice. Baked fresh in each store every day. 7/10

GATEAUX, €3.45 PER 454G

The second most expensive had 35pc sultanas and currants and a ring, but no spices. A squat, dense brack with good fruit content and a sweet, moist flavour. This was one of the sweetest bracks and its rich, soft texture was very fruity — but we missed the spices. 7/10


This was a very light brack containing 30pc sultanas and a ring. The extra light, bread-like texture worked nicely with the fruit and there was a light cinnamon and ginger taste on the finish. I would have liked more fruit. 6.5/10


This brack comes from Northern Ireland and contained a high fruit content of 37pc, but no ring. The high fruit content sang out and this is a tasty moist brack with a back flavour of ginger (the only spice used). 6.5/10


The cheapest brack in the test. Reasonable quantity of fruit and peel, lots of dark sultanas (31pc), a fairly good flavour but no spices. The nicest ring of all, but only serviceable taste. 6/10


Also made by Irwins in Portadown but with a higher fruit content (39pc), but no ring. Lots of sultanas and peel visible. This is a moist, tasty brack but I found the orange peel bitter. 5.5/10


This brack contained whiskey, apple and glace cherries as well as sultanas and raisins. Despite claims of fine ingredients, they still felt it was necessary to use mass-catering ingredients. A little soggy but not bad flavour — the whiskey is only barely detectable and there was no ring. 5.5/10


A large light brack (with a ring) containing the same depressing array of diglycerides, flavourings and colourings as most of the others. Light taste, bread-like but without any spices or enough sultanas to make any impression. Very light flavour with hardly any spice taste, some hard bits of peel. Strictly average quality. 5/10

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