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Dip It

Thursday 12 Jul 2007

Well its been a shockingly long time since our last BOTW. What's going on? Have we just rolled over and given up? No not at all. The next candidate biscuits where some genuine Havana Alfajors all the way from Argentina, which were very competently reviewed in our guest review section by Neville Reid. They were fine but I felt the weight of history upon me as they landed at NCOTAASD HQ about the time of the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict. After much soul searching I decided that enough had been said on both matters. OK what's next? Well Frazer who sent us the North Korean Ponghak butter biscuits said he had yet another interesting biscuit for us. Terrific. When two slightly shell shocked Turkish Oreo clones turned up rattling around in a jiffy bag my interest was peaked until I found out that they had unhelpfully chosen to call them Negro. After a three days racking my brains on how I could traverse this minefield I yet again threw the towel in. So in an unlikely twist of fate the Germans and Richard and Judy have come to the rescue, with the Bahlsen Dip It, a biscuit built from the ground up as mass market dunker.

Phew! Since we last cast our taste buds over a Bahlsen biscuit they have taken to sponsoring Parkies late night talk show now on ITV1. This seems very sensible indeed. The discomfort of Parkies unceasing prying into celebrities unpleasant childhood memories is enough to send anyone off into the kitchen for a late night cuppa and a biccy. If that doesn't do it the five minutes of jazz/swing music before the break should drive you out. Still I'm sure the demographic is spot on and good luck to Bahlsen with this. That said it was Richard and Judy who gave us the heads up on the Bahlsen Dip it after it had drawn a mild bit of press coverage due to its dunking claims.

Bahlsen have always comfortably moved in the luxury biscuit bracket with products such as the iconic Choco Liebniz. With Dip It they are looking to make inroads into the sub 1 a pack biscuit market, with a biscuit designed to be dunked, or dipped as the Germans would have it into coffee. Yes coffee, it is a continental biscuit after all. Shaped like an elongated coffee bean complete with the little fold detail its already stating its case. If there were any doubt even my minimal grasp of German tells me after inspecting the pack that they are ideal for dunking in coffee, hot chocolate and cappuccino. No mention of tea. Well we'll soon fix that.

At a whopping 103mm long the Dip It is possibly the longest unrobed biscuit we have seen, and it still manages a respectable 40mm it the waist. Available in two flavours Milk & Crispies and Chocolate & Choc chip, the biscuits travel in two big stacks laid on their sides in a plastic tray. This unfortunately doesn't keep them entirely out of trouble so expect a few demi-biscuits.

The biscuit is light and sweet tasting but not overly so. The milk and crispies variety had such a dairy taste that I was genuinely surprised not to find butter in the recipe. The vegetable oil gets its assistance in the form of a healthy 5.1% whole milk powder. The 3.7% mini crispies do their work and although I'm not sure what they are or which of the ingredients comprise them, they add a very acceptable crunch. When dunked the biscuits hold up very well indeed. So providing you started off with a fully intact specimen you shouldn't have breakage problems. Bahlsen have also worked on the crumb shedding issues so that the biscuits should keep bottom sludge to a minimum.

The chocolate and choc chip ones provide the bourbon to the milk and crispies custard cream, thereby keeping the universe in balance and the planets in place upon their celestial crystal spheres I expect. They also have orange peel listed as their final ingredient which made me regard them with much more respect than otherwise.

So right now 30 Asda's have taken on Dip It!, but alas I don't know which ones, so if you spot it let us know. Hopefully this interesting new biccy will soon get a wider uptake.

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Japanese McVities Digestives

Wednesday 28 Mar 2007

Turn away now if you are one of those deranged people that can't accept the theory of evolution, and thinks the Grand Canyon was knocked up geologically speaking a blink of an eye ago after a brief downpour. Right are we free to continue? Good because this week we we will be looking at what happens when you take a trusty stalwart of British tea time, the McVities Digestive and introduce it into a completely new biscuit eco-system, Japan. Given the unprecedented amount biscuits we've crammed into to our little accompanying graphic (big one here) you can see its a evolutionary explosion of shape, size, taste and even colour.

If this biscuit review gives rise to a new branch of science then frankly we'll be both amazed and quite proud. If it doesn't I wouldn't mind betting that somebody out there will at least come up with something similar by way of a research proposal. "The introduction of foreign biscuits into exotic markets, their adaptation and evolution" or maybe they've already done it.

Yes, ace Japanese biscuit correspondent Hiromi Miura, having worked us up into a biscuit curiosity frenzy after she told us about purple digestives took pity on NCOTAASD and sent a big box Japanese Digestives our way. Made in Japan under licence from United Biscuits by Meiji Seika Kaisha Ltd who picked up the ball and ran and ran and ran with it. Unless you can read Japanese you won't glean much from their website but if you have your speakers turned on then you can enjoy a bunch of people chanting an excellently tuneless jingle "Yum Ya! Yum (something or other) McVities" over and over (warning this may present a choking hazard to adults as well as small children).

So what exactly has happened to the poor little fellas since their arrival in Japan? Well for the get go the Japanese have made them a lot smaller, and in general this seems to the norm for most Japanese biscuits which are about 40% smaller than we would find normal. At a petite 52mm in diameter but a healthy 9mm in depth the reference standard unadulterated Japanese McVities Digestive doesn't appear overly strange. It tastes sufficiently similar that one would have a very tough time saying that this was anything other than a Digestive even if it isn't an exact 100% dead ringer for the UK one. Like most of the biscuits here it is packed into little mini sachets containing four biscuits each, and then four of these are popped into a cardboard box.

Moving to the Vanilla cream sandwich version we still seem to be in Kansas, or should that be Harlesden in Middlesex. The biscuits have dropped to 46mm by 5mm but the vanilla cream tastes just like it was borrowed from a Crawfords Custard Cream. When we get to the Milk Chocolate Digestive the illusion begins to crumble or maybe that should be melt, as its the chocolate that gives the game away. Its not bad, its not even wrong, its just not the same, in much the same way lots of other Chocolate Digestives made outside Europe's biggest biscuit factory aren't the same. The biscuit finally gives in and succumbs to some tinkering in the Cocoa Digestive whose cocoa flavoured biscuit waves bye bye to the shores of blighty. In the UK McVities have been mucking about with Digestives feverously for last few years since lifting their own self imposed non-proliferation treaty, but apart from the Lemon and Ginger digestive, their first unsuccessful foray they have left the biscuit well alone.

And now it all starts to get a bit squiffy as wandering in a dream where the familiar has collided with something random that entered your brain when you were watching on TV late at night an hour and and half after you really should have called it a day. The first one that happens along into view is the Kurogo digestive, so named because it has lots of Kurogo in it, which has turned it a sort bonfire ash colour. Kurogo is a mixture of 5 types of small black grain, black rice, black sesame, black bean, black quince and black pine nut ideal food for goths you might think, or in this case Japanese health food lovers. I've tasted Black Sesame in other Japanese biscuits and so could pick out that flavour, a distinctive hard baked crusty bread sort of taste, tucked into discrete pockets.

Then to the bizarre Purple Sweet Potato digestives that landed us here. We have strolled right up to the wizard of Oz and tapped him on the shoulder here. For in our hands we are holding a purple biscuit, made with powered sweet potato, more black sesame seeds and stamped with the word McVities. No it doesn't taste remotely like a Digestive biscuit.

Black Cheesecake Digestive Crackers don't even bother looking like a Digestives any longer and seem to be some experiment to cross an Oreo with Lu Prince biscuit and all in the name of McVities. Still the recipe does have cheese powder in it which is novel.

And finally the little bags of mini sandwich digestives confirm that it must have been the wizard of Oz we were watching as the ruby slipper red strawberry ones fight with the emerald cream filled green tea ones to see which can weird us out the most. The banana creme ones look on blinking, a little unsure on why they were brought into existance other than to remind us of those banana sweets that used to hang out with pink shrimps.

None of the biscuits here were beyond the pale, as we have found so often from other neighbours of Japan, but it is astounding to see what the Japanese can do given a simple Digestive as their building block. Imagine what they would get up to with a Jammie Dodger!

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Maryland Specials Raisin, Oat, Choc Chunk and Maple Syryp Cookies

Tuesday 20 Feb 2007

I've always thought it must be exciting to be in on the launch of a new product. You've had your best and most experienced back room boys and girls working away coming up with some terrific new ideas, something really special. So now it's up to you to come up with branding, product values, an advertising campaign and a new name. You block book the conference room and brainstorm new names all morning, and again for an hour after lunch although by now you're starting to flag. You might even bring in a consultant at extraordinary cost who specialises in coming up with names, who two weeks later in a sixty page document essentially tells you to go with the first one you thought of as unfortunately he hasn't got any good ideas this time. Then again you could probably save a lot of time and energy just calling it a 'special' and listing out half of what's in it.

So our biscuit eating this week has stumbled through the middle of a pack of Maryland Specials which hail from Burtons's Foods whose long established Maryland cookies are the most popular choc chip cookies in the UK. At first glance this would appear to a luxury version of the well loved standard Maryland. Bigger and softer, Burton's haven't taken any chances on the contents and have seemed to bung just about everything to hand in these. Raisins, Choc Chunks, Oats, Maple (flavoured) syrup there's even some Cinnamon as a parting shot on the ingredients. It could of course go one of two ways. You somehow cast your net wider and draw more interest or you increase the amount of things in it not to like. Personally I've got no problems with any of the above so dived in.

Now this could have been a simple open and shut case but the side of the pack appears to carry Burton's play for the now fashionable wholesome sector. Here we find the rather amusing spelling out of the brand values. The text talks of honest to goodness family values, the great outdoors, cookie lovers just like you, authentic and wholesome ingredients free from nasties. It finishes up by reassuring us that these have been baked in the traditional Maryland way. Well plainly they haven't as they are bigger and softer than traditional Maryland cookies we all know. So this 'way' must be more of a cultural orientation rather than an ISO 9001 certified industrial process, documented, signed by directors and deposited in a safe.

They could have left it at that but keen fill up the remaining space they tacked on a few tick boxes starting with that most traditional of baffling statements - made with real fruit. Immediately the mind races trying to think of times in the past when artificial raisins have found their into ones diet - or even just times when a raisin looked a bit shifty. Also what would be involved in trying to make an artificial raisin? Surely it would be tricky to get the taste, texture and skins just right. They would be bound to end up costing several times more than the real thing. It's just not worth the bother, so therefore the real fruit claim fails to win me over although I am semi-fondly reminded of some strange pie filling stuff from the pioneering 1970s that had lumps of not real fruit in it.

Next we are told no hydrogenated fats, good it is 2007 after all but as we are always quick to point out the phrase vegetable oil covers a great many things some lovelier than others. No preservatives, well actually its very rare that there are any. Finally non GM - well quite, that would be suicidal. It didn't go on to say no hidden exploding bolts or no man with a gun who stalks you from the shadows as you leave the shop but I was perfectly amenable to that by this stage.

Setting down the marketing spiel and picking up the biscuits I wasn't that moved either. Burton's have made some really terrific biscuits of late that have combined fruit and chocolate. The really tricky thing about a soft cookie is it can easily come across as more damp than oven fresh. So whist the fruit and choc chunks were interesting the overall effect was not as engaging. Still you may well like them like that. Personally I was left more bewildered than satisfied which I suppose counts as entertainment even if the biscuits passed me by somewhat.

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