Whether or not you vouch for Sinigang as the Philippine national dish, its deceptively simple combination of meat or seafood and veggies in a sour broth is always comforting. Though traditionally lent sourness and complexity from fruits like tamarind or guava—thus entailing not only their availability, a significant amount of time to coax out their flavors—a number of brands have come out with instant mixes that assure consistency, convenience, and ease of preparation. How do they compare?
We narrowed down the selection to include only the most basic mixes soured with tamarind and held two rounds of tasting for each contender: one where we prepared just the soup itself (note that all packets used are good for one liter of water); and one where we included equal amounts of common sinigang ingredients—string beans, water spinach, okra, tomatoes, red onions, and a small amount of pork shoulder—following the directions on the packet and refraining from using any additional seasonings in both cases.
Note: Acknowledging the possible variations in results due to factors in cooking that are hard to control (e.g., the amount of water absorbed or that evaporates), we focused on the general characteristics present in both rounds and the general balance of flavors rather than their overall intensity.
Knorr teases the nostrils with a strong shrimpy aroma from the moment you open the packet. Though a touch more salty than sour, there’s ample sourness to brighten, underlined with a welcome shrimp-y sweetness and notes of white onion. It can feel a tad weak with pork, but it’s your best bet when making a classic sinigang with shrimp.
Sourness: 3.5/5 | Saltiness: 3.5/5
Maggi’s mix makes for a darker-hued soup. The saltiness comes just right, balanced with a sourness that isn’t too strong but is distinctively zesty and somewhat fruity; it may be the calamansi powder in the ingredient list at play. The flavors take on a sensation we can’t pinpoint exactly, but we’d describe as fuller and deeper, with rich shrimpy notes and a welcome fish-y aftertaste—without being too saline.
Sourness: 3.5/5 | Saltiness: 4/5
McCormick’s is only available as 40-gram sachets that the package claims is good for a liter or water (versus the roughly 20 grams of mix per liter of water in the other brands). We took their word for it and weren’t surprised to find it extremely salty, requiring dilution to be even remotely tolerable. Doing so reveals a flavor balance ratio that still leans toward being salt-dominant, with but a whisper sourness and even milder hints of onion and garlic. With its straightforward propulsion and lesser depth at the finish (likely due to the lack of MSG), we’d describe the result as somewhat ‘clean-tasting’ at best but overly simplistic at worst. Still, this does not pose as much of a problem when used to make sinigang with pork, beef, or other mediums that naturally provide the fat and meaty flavor to give depth and balance out the salt.
Sourness: 3/5 | Saltiness: 5/5
UFC’s version carries an aroma that’s notably more peppery than the others, with the distinct grassiness of kinchay. This carries over to the taste, adding a zestiness that perks up its great balance of both mid-level salty and sour. This brand lacks the shrimpy note the others have, instead going for a slightly sweet, meaty finish more akin to pork broth that lingers long in the mouth.
Sourness: 3.5/5 | Saltiness: 3/5
The Verdict: Maggi
On one hand, McCormick’s salty but clean tasting-especially-when-diluted version that strikes us as the most natural-tasting of the lot. Still, it’s Maggi to whom we bestow the grand prize—thanks to how it delivers linamnam without being too salty, brightness without being too sour, and a great seafood-y, umami depth. Should you prefer a more minimal take, Knorr’s is great; for a richer and fuller-flavored mix use UFC.