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Asda Fruit Shrewsbury with Lemon Drizzle

Friday 17 Sep 2004

Once in a while we get asked where you can get hold of a fruit Shrewsbury, to which the stock answer is 'possibly on GNER mainline services from London to Edinburgh, although I can't personally confirm that'. We think they are made by Patterson-Arran who supply biscuits to the catering and hospitality trade under the brand of Bronté biscuits. So when I saw a pack of Asda own label Fruit Shrewsburys I felt compelled to act decisively and bunged them in the trolley.

I tried to ignore the lemon drizzle stuff, pushing it to the back of my mind and hoping that when it re emerged it would take the form of a lovely surprise. However, drizzle is a type of weather and really has no place on top of a biscuit. In fact its one of those words that has migrated from everyday parlance to the restaurant in order to help us better understand why we are expected to pay lots of money for something that looks like its been dropped on the floor. Its not quite as annoying as those 'Marmalades' that have been made from Red Onions and Balsamic Vinegar (hello that's what we call pickle). I think the term swarf (which is the curly bits of metal that collect under lathes, and that we weren't allowed to touch in metal work at school in case it cut us to shreds) is ripe for appropriation by the restaurant trade. Yep, I can quite imagine at some point hence tucking into a small traffic island of flash fried sea bass with a courgette and beetroot swarf, on a rocket and watercress decking drenched by an unexpected downpour of raspberry and walnut dressing.

Anyhow back to the biscuits, what is going on there? Well not much really. The lemon drizzle is fairly closely aligned to the sort of stuff that appears on top of supermarket lemon sponge cakes. Being a mixture of sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil and flavouring its not the sort of gear that you really want to seeing large quantities of, so perhaps this explains the drizzle rather than torrential lemon. The biscuit contains a sprinkling of fairly dried up currents. As to if this is really a genuine Shrewsbury, it didn't ring particularly true. Sure its some sort brittle shortcake biscuit with a good clean snap, but it doesn't seem to have the density I would have expected. As for the flavour I would mostly say sugar.

So all in all I feel that I'm going to keep looking on trains for more representative members of the genre.

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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.