Hello Fresh (or HelloFresh as they insist on styling it) is the market leader when it comes to delivering ingredients in boxes; it's among the best recipe box services. It’s big with families and time-poor young couples who have realised that ready meals and KFC are not a long-term solution to nutrition. What this Hello Fresh review seeks to answer is this: “why is it better than just buying some stuff and cooking it?”
Hello Fresh differs from just doing your supermarket shopping online in that what you get in the box is exactly enough for one meal (or several, individual meals, more accurately). The service sources the ingredients and puts exactly the right amounts of each in to make recipes, which it also provides.
In most cases this means you get some meat, fish or (for the veggie options) large vegetables. Then flavourings and additions, such as side salads, pasta, green veg, grated cheese, herbs, spices, sauces, breadcrumbs and so on are spooned in exactly the right portions into little, bio-degradeable containers.
All you have to do is (almost invariably) chop up an onion, heat a pan or two, cook the main ingredients and add the other stuff. Hello Fresh tells you the timings and techniques. The term 'Idiot proof' is over-used, but if you can't prepare a meal for two with Hello Fresh, you probably really are an idiot, or at least very poorly co-ordinated. It's easy to find out, anyway, as Hello Fresh practically always has deals on for newcomers to its service.
• Existing users: get 35% off your first 3 HelloFresh recipe boxes in January. Just use the code HELLOJAN35 in the 'apply promo code' box or at checkout.
The big question is, are the meals worth preparing? That is what we shall now find out. Aprons on and head to the next paragraph…
- For prep: Best chef's knives
- For frying and sautéeing: Best non-stick frying pans
- For pasta and more, best saucepan sets
Hello Fresh review: what do you get?
First up, I did not pay for this; Hello Fresh just sent it to me for review purposes. Just like that. Normal people such as you will be paying between £3.50 and £5.42 per meal, depending on whether you go for a cheaper 'Family box' or the standard 'Classic' or 'Rapid' boxes. On the Classic box you can choose vegetarian options. Vegans are not directly catered for.
Family and Classic recipes tend to take about 30-45 minutes, whereas Rapid aims to get you done and dusted in just 20.
I must admit my first thought on seeing that rather large box was, "Holy crap, are these Hello Fresh portion sizes generous or what?" However on closer investigation, there turned out to be three Hello Fresh Classic meals for two in there.
Split into individual bags and swaddled in icepacks made from recycled plastic, the meals were chicken paella, a kind of sausage casserole thing and a Thai curry.
One quite funny thing about this is that the paella is now sold as just 'chicken and chorizo rice'. I think that might be because enraged foodies and Spaniards bombarded Hello Fresh with sarcastic tweets about the authenticity of their take on the dish. Putting that kind of nit-picking aside for a moment, it was nonetheless very tasty.
Clearly, there is a certain amount of packaging waste involved, as the little plastic containers can't be recycled and nor can the ice packs. However they are made from recycled PET, so Hello Fresh is at least trying here. And while the individual sachets and packets and bottles may be large in number, the total amount of food packaging seems pretty small in the great scheme of things.
It's also worth noting that Hello Fresh's careful portion control should mean that food waste is practically zero, assuming you eat the meals. To my mind, packaging waste is not ideal but wasting food is outright obscene, so I'm all for this approach.
As this is not a ready meal, although it does share some of the convenience of ready meals, you will also need to provide your own knives, utensils and cooking equipment and do some actual work. But not a lot, to be honest.
Hello Fresh review: cooking up a storm
Although there are numerous dishes on offer at Hello Fresh, you can't access all of them at once. Instead, you order one or more at a time from a list that changes weekly.
Although the dishes on offer are diverse, Hello Fresh has managed to break down the recipes so the working method rapidly starts to feel familiar after cooking a few. Although a paella (sorry, 'chicken rice'), Thai curry and vaguely French-tasting sausage casserole would naturally tend to taste very different, they largely seem to start with chopping onions (into 'half moon shapes') and garlic, and heating a pan or two, then cooking your 'main ingredient', then adding the supplementals.
Because of the cleverly consistent way Hello Fresh breaks this down into recipes with broadly similar preparation times, its service also acts as a kind of cooking school. Anyone who is literally clueless about cooking will soon pick up the rudiments from Hello Freshing it for a few weeks. Anyone who already knows the rudiments will pick up a few new tricks.
I count myself as a pretty good cook, so I wouldn't say I picked up anything new as such, but I still appreciated how concise the recipes were. I deliberately stuck precisely to what was written down – resisting the urge to go off piste, particularly with flavourings, was pretty hard – so I could reach an at least reasonably fair conclusion on ease and taste.
In my opinion, pretty much anyone can cook with Hello Fresh, so long as they can chop a few onions (into half-moon shapes, remember) without amputating fingers. If you have a bit of experience of cooking, you can definitely definitely cook with Hello Fresh.
If you're an at least somewhat experienced chef, you might find yourself thinking, "Well, I wouldn't do it like that" about certain instructions, and obviously you will know that paella isn't meant to be made with arborio rice. However, if you follow Hello Fresh's instructions to the letter, beginners and experts alike will end up with something palatable, in between 20 minutes and an hour – I'm assuming complete beginners will consistently lag behind the 30-45 minutes Hello Fresh claims at first, as they learn how to half-moon onions and turn on their hob.
Hello Fresh: the results
All three meals – the paella/chicken rice, the Thai curry and the sausage casserole thing – were a cinch to make and very nice. None of them were mind-blowing to me, and I think that's for one simple reason: the British palate is pretty bland.
If I was doing the recipes from scratch I'd have had 50% to 100% more spice, and I'd have cooked the chicken in the paella and Thai curry for less time, and the sausages on a lower temp for longer. That, however, is just down to personal taste and experience. Clearly, Hello Fresh has to tell you to cook chicken so it can't possibly kill you. And of course, it can't tailor its recipes to people like me who prefer to use several megatons of chilli, garlic, herbs and spices in every meal.
You are, of course, at liberty to alter their recipes as you see fit, at your own risk, as you gain experience. In my opinion, the basic recipes are all tasty, but in a way that tip-toes very close to being bland.
As it stands, the only leeway Hello Fresh allows lovers of, as Gregg Wallace would say, BIG flavours that smack you on the lips, is with basic seasoning – no salt and pepper is included in the packs and you are advised to season, with your own, to suit your own taste.
Still, this is all part and parcel of learning to cook. By using Hello Fresh you can discover flavours you like, and also which flavours work together. From there, you can start to build up your store cupboard accordingly. Before you know it, you'll be Heston Blumenthal.
Hello Fresh: verdict
For those who are short of time, or who simply cannot cook, Hello Fresh – and its various rivals, who we'll be reviewing shortly – is a great alternative to ready meals, frozen chips and take-aways.
I would argue all day that the meals are too bland, but I know an awful lot of Brits prefer more subtle flavours than I do, and in my brief trial, Hello Fresh never delivered anything that wasn't tasty. The recipes are very easy to follow, too.
Portion size again is a very subjective area. I've seen several reviews that said there was plenty left over for the following day. For me and my other half, the portions were just enough to not leave us wanting another meal or very large helping of bread and cheese. In terms of good health, this is probably spot on. The meals all seemed nutritious, with a decent volume of veg. As with miracle food of the future Huel, I wouldn't try to live on nothing but Hello Fresh meals, but I certainly don't feel it would hinder maintaining a healthy diet. There are specific meals within each range that are tagged as being lower-calorie, too.
As I said, I fancy myself as a bit of a cook – well, I just fancy myself in general. But even though my store cupboard and fridge are always well stuffed with ingredients, I felt I would struggle to make each of the Hello Fresh meals I tried for less than they charge.
Yes, that's partly because with Hello Fresh you only get single-use portions of everything. That's very different to the usual food-shopping situation, where you buy a jar or packet of something and can come back and use it multiple times. However, that approach can also lead to waste, and suddenly discovering that you have a whole shelf stuffed with jars of cloves, all-spice berries, juniper, quince paste, truffle salt and all manner of other useless and ridiculous foodie crap.
That just can't occur with Hello Fresh.
With that in mind, and given the even cheaper opening offers that Hello Fresh does, I don't have any particular qualms about recommending it. For some it'll be a handy way to get a good meal, quickly, from time to time, for others it could become a way of life, and a doorway to greater food appreciation.