We love a good biscuit in the UK, and no cup of tea would be complete without the humble biscuit. Biscuit consumption in the UK is at an all-time high following the lockdown, and the highest in the world, with 27 million households buying packs of biscuits every year.
For the majority of biscuit-loving Brits, our go-to brand is McVitie’s, who first created the Digestive we all know and love today. But, with news that the 100-year old McVitie’s factory in Glasgow could close in 2022, we have a look at the history and facts about the company that has been supplementing out elevenses since 1839.
McVitie’s through the ages
McVitie’s, the cornerstone of British biscuits began with a Scottish apprentice baker named Robert McVitie who established a very successful bakery, McVitie’s and Price, with his father, William, on Rose Street in Edinburgh in 1839.
In 1892, Sir Alexander Grant started working for McVitie and Price and created the original McVitie’s Digestive, and his secret recipe is still used today!
The original McVitie’s Digestives were, and still are made with baking soda, it was previously thought that they would help with digestion, hence the name. It takes seven minutes to perfectly bake an original McVitie’s Digestive biscuit.
First World War
During the First World War, McVitie’s was called on by the government to use its knowledge and production facilities to supply ‘iron ration’ plain biscuits and opened a new bakery in Manchester to satisfy demand.
Reduction in varieties
However, the war left its mark on the bakery business, and it was forced to reduce its 370 varieties of biscuits and cakes in 1939 down to 10 in 1945, but many of these can still be found on supermarket shelves today.
McVitie’s launched the iconic Hobnobs in 1985, and demand for them was so big that the bakery introduced the chocolate version in 1987.
The Jaffa Cake debate
One of the all-time debates, such as how to pronounce ‘scone’, is whether Jaffa Cakes are classified as a biscuit or a cake, and the discussion took McVitie’s to a VAT tribunal in 1991, which ruled in favour of the manufacture that Jaffa Cakes should be considered a cake, for tax purposes.
According to reports, the Queen loves a Rich Tea biscuit with a pot of freshly brewed Earl Grey, and her favourite tea cake is the chocolate biscuit cake, which includes eight ounces of Rich Tea biscuits.
In March 2011, it was announced that Prince William had chosen a groom's cake for his wedding reception, made from 1,700 McVitie's Rich Tea biscuits and 17 kg of chocolate.
Singer Dua Lipa claims that her mother packed her school lunchbox with her favourite biscuit, the Penguin bar.
In politics, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said his favourite biscuit is the Chocolate Hobnob, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson prefers a Chocolate Digestive.
TV presenter Davina McCall says she loves a Digestive topped with Camembert/
Davina McCall has been known to treat herself to original Digestives with Camembert.
There is even an exclusive Biscuit Club for celebrity fans, and members include Sex in the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker and Joey Essex. All members are lucky recipients of a rare golden Digestive biscuit!
Britain’s biscuit craze
On average, we buy 500 biscuits a year in the UK, and Chocolate Digestives are the reigning champions, with a third o0f Brits ranking it as their favourite. According to McVitie’s, the chocolate side of Milk Chocolate Digestives is actually on the bottom of the biscuit.
Biscuit dunking facts
Dr Stuart Farrimond, McVitie’s food scientist has done all the important biscuit dunking research for the good of the nation, to help avoid the nightmare of losing half your biscuit in your cup of tea, and provided his results in 2015:
- Rich Tea: Fourteen dunks
- Chocolate Digestives: Eight dunks
- Original McVitie’s Digestives: Two dunks
- Hobnobs: Two dunks
- Ginger Nut: Two dunks
He found letting a cuppa cool for three minutes before dunking gives each biscuit more chance of surviving the dip and doubled the dunking time before it collapsed, and 45º is the perfect dunking angle according to Dr Farrimond.
Hobnobs are only suitable for short dunks because it is an oat-based biscuit, so the larger oat particles provide less structural strength to the biscuit.
Research from McVitie’s revealed the dunking habits of Brits – showing a surge in popularity of dunking amongst younger generations, with nearly 20 per cent more young people dunking now than people aged over 55.
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