I hesitated, at first, to even write this. The Nations of the Commonwealth have, it must be admitted, suffered enough when it comes to culinary reputations. There is no need for a pile-on. And they have suffered, at times, unjustly: New Zealand has wonderful butter and lamb. I hold myself second to none in my devotion to sticky toffee pudding. Poutine is a remarkable dish and the Canadians are to be commended for it.
The names of your candies are absurd and glutinous, but I do not believe you ought to be shamed for it. Keep your Toffee Zig-Zags, your Hobbed Choco-Goblins, your Frumlescent Bandersnickets. They are all you have, and I will not ridicule you overmuch for them.
And yet. And yet. Residents of the Commonwealth, as well as numerous American visitors, all suffer from the same collective delusion that digestive biscuits are a good thing to eat. Ask nearly any American who has spent a significant amount of time in Australia or the UK or even Canada about the food, and he or she will invariably reply with some tepid comment, followed by “…but I loved having biscuits and tea. I wish we had them here in the States!”
After you have struck your friend manfully in the neck, regardless of their age of sex, for referring to this country as “the States,” consider this: what could possibly lead such a large and diverse group to believe that biscuits taste good? Let us not even consider the unappetizing names by which the biscuit has been called over the years: the digestive, the sweet-meal biscuit, the Wheaten. Consider the biscuit as it is: a compressed disc of malted wheat, a cookie-shaped circle of tepid sweetness and uniform dryness, a pod of chalk. More than anything else it resembles in both appearance and texture a dog biscuit. And this is offered to us — offered to people accustomed to eating human food — as a dessert! Oh, what a wild ride we are about to embark upon together! Let us eat biscuits until our tongues desiccate and wither into uselessness! There is never a good reason to eat a biscuit. It is better to eat a sugar packet, which at least melts sweetly on the tongue.
I am no extremist. I am willing to be persuaded to move from my position. Below you will find an ingredient list of the common biscuit. Kindly point out to me what is good in it. Go ahead. I will wait.
The typical digestive biscuit contains coarse brown wheat flour (which gives it its distinctive texture and flavour), sugar, malt extract, vegetable oil, wholemeal,raising agents (usually sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid and malic acid) and salt. Dried whey, oatmeal, cultured skimmed milk and/or emulsifiers such as DATEM may also be added in some varieties.
“Yes, but have you tried them…[voice drops to a husky sotto voce] dipped in chocolate?” Reader, I have. Dip a dog biscuit in a thin layer of forgettable milk chocolate and one has a slightly crustier dog biscuit, not something good to eat. Biting into a biscuit makes a person feel rather as if she has just nibbled on a fossilized owl bone: crumbly, and dry, and ancient, with only the memory of structural integrity.
“Have you tried dipping them in tea?” Do you mean have I tried ruining a perfectly good cup of tea by dissolving a cake of hulled bran into it? The biscuit disintegrates instantly upon contact with liquid (except for, infuriatingly, the natural liquid found in the human mouth, which merely turns it into a persistent, aggravating paste), littering the bottom of the mug with lukewarm, sodden biscuit lumps.
“But biscuits often have the name of their manufacturing company stamped onto their broad and featureless surface! Isn’t that sort of pleasant?” Any man who is willing to take credit for producing a biscuit is welcome to do so. I do not envy him; that is all I can say.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.