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Thursday 9 Sep 2004

So hands up who's ever had a Parle-G. Oh come on, its the biggest selling biscuit not just in its native India, but the world! You've never had one? Yep me neither. In fact I've never even heard of them, which is why I get decidedly uncomfortable when people refer to me as a biscuit 'expert'. Of course if you have had them then my apologies for lumping you in with all of us who've managed to get this far in our lives without running in to them.

You may, like me, be laboring under the illusion, no matter how painful it is, that the Oreo cookie was the biggest selling biscuit in the world. Well the Parle-G makes that claim for itself many many times on its very informative website. Perhaps its a bit like the oldest pub in Britain, virtually everybody in the land lives within a short distance of such an establishment. A very good way of telling if you are in the oldest pub in Britain, is if there is a bit of it where you bash your head on the ceiling as you find your way to the loos. Mind-you often it is the state of the decor in the loos' which actually confirms it.

So it turns out the the Parle-G is a bit of a legend. Originally called the Parle Gluco, it started life back in 1939 in Mumbai India as one of the first brands from Parle Products. The glucose biscuits success led to many me too competitors and so the brand changed its name to Parle-G. Today it enjoys enormous success and has its own superhero called G-Man who defeats evil on a regular basis, no doubt bolstered by the fact there is now a choco and cashew version of Parle-G. This is the stuff isn't it? Lets have some super heros for our UK biscuits. Nothing against Rocky Robin and the Penguins but maybe they want to get themselves tooled up and whump some bad guys.

"Anyhow Nicey what do they taste like?" as you like to ask round about this point in the review. Well the pack is a bit vague as to its exact contents, with such phrases as 'Edible vegetable oils', and 'Milk products' although it does have a good break down of its nutritional contents which makes me suspect that much of the vegetable oil has been hydrogenated. The pack is also at pains to point out that it contains Glucose, Milk, Iron and Calcium and is intended to picture itself as some kind of 'energy' food. Undaunted I tucked in and found that the glucose, which is derived from the invert sugar syrup had given rise to rich brown outer crust. The biscuits were very light and crispy and quite sweet. They seemed quite familiar like any number of simple plain biscuits, however, there was something loitering at the back of it all, a tricky and difficult to pin down aftertaste. Perhaps I can best liken it to the taste that toffee popcorn would have if you took away the toffee and most of the popcorn. I don't know, maybe its what Iron and Calcium taste of.

Our thanks to biscuit hunter Martin Payne for securing the review pack.

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Green and Blacks Organic Multireview

Tuesday 31 Aug 2004

From time to time we get asked about organic biscuits. So when Green and Blacks got in contact to let us know that they were launching a range of entirely chocolate covered biscuits we thought we'd better investigate.

Of course organically grown food is widely available now and whilst its generally more expensive most people who buy it seem to do so with out much quibbling. The fact that it's been produced without the use of agrochemicals and all their effects, not only on us the consumer, but also on the environment, seems to be a price worth paying. In-particular, organic farming methods encourage an increased biodiversiy compared to conventional farming. Green & Blacks certainly make this claim for their cocoa bean crop which is grown in Belize by an old fella called Saul Garcia. A variety of cocoa bean types and their cultivation amongst other tree species helps make the crop less susceptible to pests and diseases. Very good. However, I'm often disappointed that organically grown produce doesn't seem to taste any different to its conventionally farmed alternatives. Certainly with vegetables its got much more to do with the variety and where its grown rather than what has or hasn't been sprayed on it. If you want to know what a carrot or tomato really tastes like then you still better off growing your own.

So never having pushed the boat out and spent 1.50 on a big bar of their chocolate, but having heard very good things about it I was more than a little curious to try their biscuits. We got our hands on the entire range Dark, Milk, Ginger and Hazelnut each consisting of ten thin but elegant biscuits. As you would expect the box bears the mark of the Soil Association, especially given that Craig Sams, President of Green and Blacks is chairman of the aforementioned. Inside wrapped tightly in clear cellophane bearing gold Green and Blacks logos is a large molded plastic tray holding its precious cargo. Now obviously these are posh thorough bred biscuits, not a bunch of old dobbins, and so expect to travel in the lap of luxury if they are to turn up looking at their best. Still it does slightly undermine their saving the planet credentials.

So cellophane seal compromised there was little left to do except start scoffing. The chocolate immediately lived up to expectations, and exuded those refined and rich flavours one would normally associate with an expensive Belgian confection. With such a substantial flavour, and at 42.5% by weight, the chocolate could easily overwhelm the biscuit turning it merely to a structural component. Well certainly for the three non ginger biscuits it almost succeeds. Some butter and vanilla flavours just about hold out, and the Hazelnut only really makes its presence felt if the odd piece of it clings to your teeth after the biscuit has met its end. However, where they do succeed is in their texture which is crunchy with little grains which work as little islands of biscuity interest in a sea of posh chocolate. The ginger version is covered in dark chocolate which works very well and the hazelnut in milk. Green and Blacks describe this as 'perfect balance between biscuit and chocolate', which I suppose it is if you are wanting to taste mostly chocolate, and you probably are if you bought these.

It comes as little surprise to find out the biscuits are made in France. They feel very continental and no doubt the French in common with the other Euro chocolate axis countries have the necessary experience in working with such premium grade biscuits. At two pounds a pop you're not going to be giving your spares to the dog, children or visiting royalty for that matter. Keep a look out for them in Waitrose, Sainsburys, Tescos and Asda amongst others.


Iced VoVo

Monday 23 Aug 2004

This really wasn't meant to be a the Iced VoVo but rather the Griffin's Toffeepop, so that we could do a clever compare and contrast to the previous biscuit of the week the Burton's Toffypop. However, through no fault of their own the entirely chocolate covered biccys from NZ had managed to melt themselves together and so were not looking at their best. So swiftly I moved to next in reserve the Iced VoVo a biscuit I have been meaning to grapple with for quite some time. Lets be realistic, yet again its got a silly name which is basically a red rag to a bull when it comes to biscuit reviewing.

So here we are with another Australian classic from Arnott's, and its one of those that the Aussies like refer to when ever the subject turns to jam and marshmallow. As you see from the pack it is doing sterling work keeping alive the 'My little pony' school of design in the sphere of biscuits, with strong use of vivid pink, gold and fairy dust sprinkles. If you have just spent the morning breaking rocks in the sun with an enormous hammer then the Iced VoVo is not going to be near the top of your biscuit list. Mind you if on the other hand you have been busy simulating a gymkhana in your bedroom some where in the Great Southern land then its a no brainer.

So how does the biscuit stand up to scrutiny? Well first of all they are not the same sort of thing as our Jacob's Mallows/Mikados which is more than evident when the pack is opened as they are tightly packed into a single plastic tray, resting on their sides. This speaks volumes about the biscuit base and its topping. The biscuit is something like a richly golden Marie in texture and appearance, and 45mm by 60mm is about 18% wider than the Jacob's. The frilly detailing and edging mean that this is quite a precise bit of baking. It also means that it can take a certain amount of abuse which would see the soft based Jacob's crumbling.

The topping is comprised of two outer lines of pale pink icing, an inner line of raspberry-ish jam (there is some raspberry content). The outer icing stuff is evidently an transitionary form between icing and marshmallow, and is perhaps closest to the stuff that pink shrimp sweets are made from. Now I can't be entirely sure about this as the Iced VoVos shared a ride with the afore mentioned Toffeepops so simply they may be a bit worse for wear. Then again this might be a true and accurate representation, and there is that silly name to take account of. If these are indeed Iced Vovos then the stuff on top must be icing and as such not as fluffy as marshmallow.

So to the all too obvious final point, what is a VoVo. Obviously there is one in here as they had to ice it to make these. My Aunty Shelia, a Londoner, always finds exotic foreign sounding names tricky to pronounce and so would usually string a few extra sylables in or subtitute the end of the word for an 'AH'. I remember it was somewhat embarresing and confusing when her friend June got a new Volvo. It took a few seconds to establish that she hadn't had a very delicate operation but had bought a car.

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