Monday 4 July 2016

Battle of the falafel and houmous salads with Greggs

Greggs Balanced Choice Taste Test Battle of the Falafel Salads against M&S, Pret, Boots, Starbucks

I am a creature of habit when it comes to lunchtimes. In the winter, I buy soups. In the summer, I buy salads. I tend to find a couple that I like and fixate on them, eating them every day until I can’t bear to eat them any more. For someone who loves food and loves variety, I am surprisingly happy to eat the same thing day in, day out.

When Greggs emailed me to ask if I’d take part in a lunchtime taste test of their new salad range, I was really up for it. It can be tricky doing food reviews when you’re trying to lose weight, so here was something that wouldn’t derail my good intentions and would push me out of my lunchtime comfort zone. The test was simple – I had to pick one of Greggs’s new Balanced Choice salads (Falafel and Houmous, Teriyaki Chicken, Egg and Ham and Chargrilled Chicken) and compare it with a similar salad from four different competitors – Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Marks and Spencers and Boots. I chose the falafel salad for two reasons:

1. All the competitors sold falafel salads that I could compare it to
2. I bloody love falafel.

Greggs armed me with £5 gift cards for each store and off I went. Starting with...

Greggs Balanced Choice Taste Test Battle of the Falafel Salads against M&S, Pret, Boots, Starbucks

Day 1 – Pret a Manger Falafel Mezze Salad
£4.50 / 506 calories
The nearest eatery to work is Pret, so I go there often. Their Falafel Mezze is a large, colourful salad with mixed leaves topped with three falafels, a spoonful of roasted butternut squash and toasted almonds, along with a hearty dollop of red tapenade and houmous sprinkled with a seed mix. There’s a lot going on, and the lemon dressing that’s included in a little pot is totally unnecessary – I didn’t eat it, and its inclusion felt a little wasteful.

The mix of textures is lovely, and I liked how generous the portion of houmous was. Plenty to dip my falafels in and smear all over the rest of my salad. The tapenade and butternut squash add a nice twist on a classic, too, with the sweetness of the tapenade providing a nice contrast to the creamy houmous. The squash was perfectly nice, but for me what it added more than anything else was making the salad a little more filling, as unlike all the other salads on this list, it didn’t come with a couscous/bulgur/quinoa mix. I actually thought this wouldn’t fill me up, but was pleasantly surprised. The houmous was mild but fresh, and the falafels were strongly spiced (very herby) and a little dry when eaten alone, but they worked well alongside the houmous. I usually prefer my houmous with a bit of a stronger favour – I’m a big garlic fan – but for lunch, this was perfect. No one wants garlic breath in their 2pm meeting!

Taste - 4 | Value - 2 | Fresh - 5 | Calories - 1 | Aesthetic - 5

What time did I eat: 1.30
What time did I reach for an afternoon snack: 4pm (but an apple)
Would I buy again? Yes
Would I recommend to a friend? Yes
Any criticisms: For me the calorie count is too high for lunch.

Greggs Balanced Choice Taste Test Battle of the Falafel Salads against M&S, Pret, Boots, Starbucks

Day 2 – M&S Falafel & Bulgur Wheat salad
£3 / 375 calories
I am a big M&S fan. I buy my lunch there most days, because it’s convenient and they do a lot of lunchy deals – I often buy 4 days worth of soup or salad, then head to Pret for a treaty Friday lunch. That is my sad little routine and I love it. Like I said, creature of habit. The M&S Falafel & Bulgur Wheat salad comes in quite a small box, but it’s quickly apparent that this is a dense little salad. There’s tons of bulgar wheat at the bottom, and a few chunks of falafel sprinkled over rather than a couple of whole ones. There’s a good dollop of houmous, a few crumbs of feta, a smattering of shredded spinach and a couple of cherry tomatoes, plus the bulgur wheat has chunks of red pepper and red onion stirred through it to create texture – a little reminiscent of tabbouleh, minus the parsley.

The falafel is fairly simply flavoured, and the taste is a little lost with everything else going on in the salad, but the houmous has a nice spiciness. The bulgur wheat is pretty dry though – you can actually see it sticking together in the photo – and so it needed the houmous to be stirred through it. Doing that meant that the salad became a mishmash rather than a sum of its parts – you couldn’t really pick out the flavour of the falafel or the houmous, it was all just a blended flavour – and it was perfectly nice, but I guess it just felt a bit messy to eat. It was a tasty salad, and I’d eat it again, I just wish the bulgur wheat was a little less dry.

Taste – 4 | Value – 4 | Fresh – 4 | Calories – 3 | Aesthetic - 4

What time did I eat: 1.25
What time did I reach for an afternoon snack: 3.30 (and it was chocolate...)
Would I buy again? Yes
Would I recommend to a friend? Yes
Any criticisms: Bulgur wheat was too dry, bit messy.

Greggs Balanced Choice Taste Test Battle of the Falafel Salads against M&S, Pret, Boots, Starbucks

Day 3 – Boots Carrot & Coriander Falafel Salad
£2.75 / 260 calories
I have developed this weird snobbery against Boots for lunch, even though I used to buy my lunch from there every single day. I have no idea where it comes from. So I was convinced that this salad was going to be underwhelming. It looked a bit small, the falafels looked dry and there was no houmous – and I’ve become accustomed to houmous!

Actually though, it was really good. While it was quite small, it was also low in calories and quite filling. The mint dressing was flavoursome and made everything nice and moist, and worked really well with the falafels – I broke them up and ate everything altogether, and it was delicious. The falafels contained carrot and coriander, and while I couldn’t really taste the coriander, I definitely got some sweetness from the carrot. I actually really loved the overall taste of this, and would definitely buy it again – it’s also super low in calories and the cheapest one here. But it wasn’t that filling, and I got super snacky in the afternoon.

Taste – 4 | Value – 5 | Fresh – 4 | Calories – 5 | Aesthetic - 3

What time did I eat: 1.45
What time did I reach for a snack? 3.35 – crisps AND chocolate, which is a lot for me.
Would I buy again? Yes
Would I recommend to a friend? Yes
Any criticisms: Wasn’t that filling.

Greggs Balanced Choice Taste Test Battle of the Falafel Salads against M&S, Pret, Boots, Starbucks

Day 4 – Starbucks Falafel, Quinoa & Lentil Salad
£3.99 / 420 calories
I was actually hoping the get the Moreish Meze salad, which sounded delicious, but neither of the TWO Starbucks in Watford sold it. So I was a little unenthused about this one, as I’m not an enormous beetroot fan. The houmous was rather on the beetrooty side for me – not overpoweringly, but I wouldn’t choose to eat it, ordinarily. Actually though, mixed with everything else, it worked quite well and I forgot about it quickly.

The rest of the salad was really good though – the falafels were sweet and spicy (that’ll be the sweet potato in them), and you got loads – 4, I think. There was a generous tabbouleh-type salad with cucumber, pomegranate seeds, onions, chickpeas and parsley (lots of parsley – this is a ‘check your teeth’ salad). It tasted super fresh, and the falafels added a pleasant hit of heat to the salad too – you can definitely taste the chilli. The quinoa and lentil mix was a little bit bland, and I think it would have worked better with a dressing rather than the thick houmous, which didn’t actually go that far once mixed in to the dish. I also wish Starbucks had gone easy on the chopped onion, as the aftertaste was a killer.

Taste – 3 | Value – 3 | Fresh – 5 | Calories – 2 | Aesthetic - 4

What time did I eat: 1.35
What time did I reach for a snack? 3.15 – and it was chocolate, to get rid of that onion aftertaste!
Would I buy again? Maybe (just that beetroot!)
Would I recommend to a friend? Yes
Any criticisms: While the houmous and falafels were really flavoursome, the rest of the salad was a bit bland. Also Holy Onion Aftertaste, Batman!

Greggs Balanced Choice Taste Test Battle of the Falafel Salads against M&S, Pret, Boots, Starbucks

Day 5 – Greggs Falafel and Houmous Salad
£3 / 316 calories
I finished the week with the falafel and houmous salad from Greggs’ new balanced choices range. It’s an appealing box of food (a cardboard box does look nicer than a plastic one), with a generous portion of couscous, bulgur wheat and white quinoa topped with three falafels, a handful of rocket, peppers and cherry tomatoes, along with two pots of dressing – one of houmous, one of yoghurt and mint dressing. Both dressings are pretty thick – the houmous is to be expected, but I would have preferred something runnier in the other pot, as I found they didn’t necessarily go that far, and my last few mouthfuls suffered a little from lack of dressing (it’s worth mentioning though that if sauce is an option, I like things drowned in it. I can’t stand dry food, and I eat gravy by the vat.). The falafels had a nice, savoury flavour and held their structure really well – the same can’t be said for any of the other falafels I ate this week, which were all super crumbly without fail.

The couscous had a nice flavour which was boosted by the tang of the yoghurt dressing in particular, and although the pot of houmous looked small, it was more than enough to dip the falafels in. There was a small amount of rocket, tomatoes and peppers – I would have preferred a crunchier lettuce, but this was absolutely fine. Overall, everything went together really well and complemented the other components of the dish – for instance, the yoghurt dressing didn’t quite work by itself, but mixed with the couscous, really brought out the flavour. It all tasted super fresh, and I appreciated that it was fairly low in calories, too.

Taste – 4 | Value – 4 | Fresh – 5 | Calories – 4 | Aesthetic - 3

What time did I eat: 1.45
What time did I reach for a snack? 3.30pm – because it was Friday and I needed chocolate, just like I did on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday...)
Would I buy again? Yes
Would I recommend to a friend? Yes
Any criticisms: A runnier dressing would have worked better than the yoghurt one, which was really more of a dip.

So who won? Well, by a whisker – Greggs. I added a column on how filling each salad was, because although Boots scored highly on value and calories (as the only salad both under £3 and under 300 calories), it really wasn’t filling enough to keep me going all afternoon. Without this column, Greggs and Boots would have been neck and neck.

Greggs Balanced Choice Taste Test Battle of the Falafel Salads against M&S, Pret, Boots, Starbucks

What this has shown me though is that a higher price point or more calories really don’t have that much impact on taste. All the salads scored pretty much equally (apart from Starbucks, damn beetroot), and I think that’s quite telling. I would pretty much all of these again (sorry, beetroot) and that’s actually made me think more about my lunchtime habits – which, as I admitted earlier, involve frequenting the pricier end of these places – and seeing if I can spend a bit less on lunch each day. I may never become an organised person who makes their lunch and brings it in, but if I can avoid being someone who buys £5 salads every day, I’ll be ok with that.

NB: The prices above are based on the Watford branches of the stores mentioned. Price may differ between stores.

Greggs provided me with £5 giftcards for each shop featured to cover the cost of my lunches, but I was not compensated for my honest reviews above.


  1. I love this post! I am also a creature of habit when it comes to lunch as I don't seem to get bored of eating the same thing. I love a falafel salad - never realised that Greggs even sold salads but their falafel one sounds great. I love beetroot so the Starbucks one is on my list to try, too! x

  2. Such a good round-up, exactly the sort of foodie reviews that I find actually useful! I have the same snobbery about Boots, but also a skepticism about Greggs being any good at healthy food. Genuinely interested to try their salads now, if I can force myself past the sausage and bean bakes...
    Charlie, Distracted

  3. I really loved this post, super interesting! I rarely buy salads due to my tomato allergy, but I definitely love falafel! x

    NINEGRANDSTUDENT: A Lifestyle Blog

  4. I tried the new Greggs range recently and I loved it! Especially the new falafel flatbread wraps. There's a Greggs literally on every single corner where I live so I love that they're stocking new healthier options. I think the wraps have favoured out my beloved chicken bakes!

    Jen /


  5. I loved reading this post - I absolutely love falafel salads (I actually had the Boots one for lunch today - so tasty, totally agree with it not being that filling, though!)
    Leanne xx.

  6. I love falafel! I never even thought of Greggs for lunch but I will have to try if they have delicious salads like this!

    Maria xxx


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