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Nairns Stem Ginger Wheat Free Biscuits

Monday 4 Oct 2004

The other week we took a look at some organic chocolate biscuits. This week we are going to take a look at that much requested subject of wheat free biscuits. Now all things being equal I would normally leave the wheat free Bourbons and so forth that are available to those with special dietary requirements. However, when the oat engineers extraordinare Nairns get involved its time to investigate.

Nairns are the oat focused division of Simmers who are best known for their Abernethy biscuits. Nairns produce a range of oat cakes using Scottish oats which have been grown to conservation grade which although it can't be called organic farming does use many of the same traditional farming practices. Wildife assets such as hedges, ponds and woods are cared for as the creatures they support actively control crop pests. I've been enjoying their oatcakes since meeting up with them last year at the Good Food Show at Birmingham NEC. Up till then I had stayed away from oatcakes being somewhat confused by their name, however, now I'm quite keen on a rough oat cake and a nice bit of cheese, slice of apple, glass of red, you know the sort of thing.

The first thing to note about the stem ginger biscuits is that like their savoury cousins they are packaged within the box as four cellophane packs of five. I suppose we This is so handy, as it means your biscuits are always crisp and fresh and you can easily pop them into lunch boxes and the like. Five is a good number being a two whole biscuits more than a just sufficient three.

As with other Nairns products the flavour is very clean and un-cluttered. This lets the subtle interplay between the stem ginger and the powdered ginger sing through. The biscuits are fairly thin and crisp, and have a pleasing golden colour. They are not overly sweet, and this again allows for a fairly impressive tang on the tongue from the ginger.

I would have frankly been amazed if I didn't like these. I liked them a lot. Hopefully Nairns will continue to expand their range with other such interesting offerings.

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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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