Thank dunk for that!: The nation’s love affair with the biscuit

SOMEONE ONCE HAD the cruelty to ask me what my favourite biscuit was. I stood there, wasting several moments of our time, before not arriving at a conclusion. ‘I like custard creams,’ I said unconvincingly, ‘but I don’t know – I like cookies and Garibaldis, too…’

I’m afraid to say that my stance has still not changed, and I am still as indecisive as I was then. If I asked you the same question, though, you’ll probably have your undying favourite.  But let’s be honest here. When you’ve been presented with a plate of biscuits – or even worse, one of those special tins – and you’re staring embarrassed into the face of the host, can you decide straightaway? You’re filled with that horrendous ‘do I/don’t I linger?’ moment before debating whether to choose the most extravagant one of them all (and deprive the others of the choice) or humbly except the self-effacing shortbread. Either way, you struggle to choose as well, don’t you?

‘Biscuit’ comes from the French (ironically) and means ‘twice-cooked’, referring to the sorts of biscuits they used to eat which were more like crackers or babies’ rusks than the things we eat today. It’s safe to say biscuits have come a long way since: each person eats on average just under 12kg of biscuits a year! It doesn’t sound an awful amount (to me, anyway, but I’m useless at estimations), but it’s the highest in Europe, and in malted milk terms that’s around 1700 of them – which is quite a bit of biscuit.  And I don’t know anybody that will just take one biscuit, but rather two. Or three. Or four if you’ve had a hard day. And maybe that’s it – if we were just after a sugar rush, we could get that through spooning caster sugar into our mouths, but we don’t. Perhaps it’s not just the sweetness of a biscuit that we’re after, but something else. Perhaps it’s because of the way they make us feel that we love them so much.

My grandmother is an unofficially-titled biscuit junkie and I can still remember her allowing me a biscuit from the biscuit jar in the evenings when we would stay. I remember the scent of biscuit-dunked-in-tea even today. It’s a good smell, unquestionably, and still transports me back to those childhood evenings. But enough of nostalgia, because I think my point is fairly clear. For me, biscuits can be a portal to a brief moment of happiness as well as tasting good. I’m sure you’ve got your own attachment to biscuits, for whatever reason, and I don’t know whether it’s a conscious or subconscious thing when we reach for a bourbon cream, but I think it’s definitely more than just sugar.

Other than ‘football’ or ‘weather’ (and other things, admittedly), I don’t think there are many other two-syllable words that can get Brits talking so passionately. Ask yourself: what would a cup of tea be without a biscuit? You’re right in thinking it would just be a cup of tea, because it would, but in fact, a cup of tea without a biscuit can be likened to a bath without bubbles or a present without a bow and ribbon or – and I will go there – chips without the salt and vinegar. You don’t need the biscuit but it just makes it a bit more special. Without it, it is just a cup of tea. It’s just a bath. It’s just a present (which I’m still grateful for without the decorations, by the way).  Biscuits are actually things to behold, and in a world of stress and struggle, if we can glean just a little bit of self-indulgence from a matchbox-sized rectangle of 44 calories, then I think we’re doing all right.


20 thoughts on “Thank dunk for that!: The nation’s love affair with the biscuit

  1. Oh yes, biscuit joy. Definitely of more significance than pure sugar rush. For me, a biscuit is emblematic of a break from doing things that are more boring than eating biscuits, like filling in forms. And sharing. I like the sharingness of biscuits. Like a party in a packet.

  2. The Spouse and I lost 16 kilos each (over about a year, maybe more) when we gave up starchy things. Sadly biscuits went under the mallet; but we stepped forth with a spring in the heart into Chocolate Land. Choc has an undeserved bad press, we now indulge to our hearts’ contents—so, favourites? Lindt’s Lindor is hers, I prefer the indigenous (NZ) Whittackers ‘Creamy Milk’; and open season on choc beats limited bikkies any day.

    • Like biscuits, I accept any form of chocolate, and would probably go for chocolate over a biscuit. Will do a piece about chocolate at some stage; thanks for reading!

  3. Entertaining read on biscuits. To be honest, I never thought about them too much as I cram them in my mouth at snack time. This post is making my mouth water…

  4. Thanks for checking out my blog! The importance of biscuits (and tea) is the best thing I’ve picked up on during my time in England – a lesson far more important than anything pertaining to my degree, of course…

  5. I cannot eat biscuits in quantities less than a packet… it is tragic!
    If the ‘original’ biscuit is more a dried, not-so-sweet concoction, does that make the American biscuit, which is more like a scone, closer to the original idea? Also, why do Americans call them cookies instead? Mysteries!

    • Hmmm… good question. I’m not 100% sure about that, but I did some research and the Americans started to use the word ‘biscuit’ to describe a sort of baked cake thing and it stuck with what they call biscuits today. And as for us Commonwealthers, it’s hard to imagine that a ‘cookie’ in America is an all-encompassing term – very confusing!

  6. As an English ex-pat (now in Australia) I absolutely agree with the mother nation’s biscuit obsession. I love nothing more than a good hot cup of tea (solves any problem) with a Hob Nob or chocolate Digestive. Or… have you tried a Tim Tam? On most occasions I’m pretty loyal to goods from Britain (eg. Branston pickle. Nothing compares) but this biscuit is absolute chocolate perfection. Especially when eaten in “Tim Tam slam” form; completely uncouth but absolutely delicious. Great post!

      • Yeah Australian. They’re made by the Arnotts company (which was originally Australian, but it’s now been bought by an American company. I’ll reserve comment!). Definitely come visit. Australia is an awesome place. It’s winter here at the moment and sunny most days 🙂

  7. Tim Tams are very similar to Penguins, but with more chocolate and less crispiness. THey go soggy if you dip them in your tea for too long. I would like someone to come up a Tim Tam Penguin Oz-Brit Fusion Biscuit. That would be most delicious.

  8. I am a real Anglofile & went on many Holidays with my parents to the Uk, Wales & Scotland! I even like to dunk my biscuits in tea! 🙂

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