Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jaffa Cakes: The Hard Science

Specialty grocers in the US will sometimes have a section of British food items, usually filled with bad candy (Cadbury chocolate, Malteasers), curious looking cans of mystery items labeled "treacle sponge" and "mushy peas," strange sauces made by Heinz but never meant to be sold in the US, and a selection of shortbread, cookies (sorry, biscuits), and cake-like items. Within this last category you might be able to find Jaffa Cakes by McVitie's.

McVitie's Jaffa Cakes

A Jaffa Cake is essentially a small piece of sponge cake with a bit of orange jelly filling on top with the jelly side covered in chocolate. Don't call them biscuits - McVitie's sued to have them classified as cakes to get around having to pay taxes on chocolate covered biscuits. The word Jaffa comes from a city in Israel famed for its oranges, hence the slightly odd name. In the US, you can find Pim's made by the French brand LU which are the same concept in multiple flavors including orange, but they neglect to use the essential word "Jaffa".

The basic anatomy of the three major forms of Jaffa Cakes, showing the shape from above and detail in cross section.

McVitie's is by far the most popular Jaffa Cake in the UK, but there are numerous other options. So, to be completely informed, we naturally had to try out all of the commonly available Jaffa Cake options. We undertook this strenuous exercise purely out of scientific curiosity. And a desire to have something tasty with a cup of tea. For the interested or truly bored, here is a rundown of the results from best to worst:

1. Bahlsen "Messino" (Continental Jaffa Cakes): rectangular, thin, always fresh with an intense orange filling.
2. Marks & Spencer: also rectangular and thin, clearly a copy of the Messino type, but slightly less orangey if different at all.
3. LU "Pim's": circular, thick, easily removable chocolate, one of the best cakes but the chocolate is waxy and weakly flavored.
4. McVitie's: the standby, but always a bit stale and the orange filling is gummy and mild.
5. Waitrose: a copy of the McVitie's form, but even more stale and underwhelming.
6. Sainsbury's: another copy of the McVitie's form, very hard and stale, and tastes predominantly of sawdust.
7. Cadbury: this didn't get tasted because we could only find milk chocolate ones, which we couldn't bring ourselves to buy, even for science.

Shockingly, two non-UK brands, Bahlsen and LU, were in the top 3, and the one UK brand, Marks & Spencer, actually has theirs made in Germany (probably by Bahlsen). No matter what we think, McVitie's outsells all the other brands by a fair margin - to be fair, they are almost always on sale and they still taste pretty decent. I know we're supposed to be finding root beer, but we got distracted by Jaffa Cakes.

The winner of the much coveted Best Jaffa Cake According to Us Award


Angry Badger said...

You make milk chocolate very sad.

Hildegard von Bingen said...

I prefer the Waitrose. Underwhelming is my middle name. Well, actually, it's "von" or "of," depending on your nationality. Not much of a middle name if you ask me. I prefer "underwhelming." It makes me all hot and contrapuntal.

Cab said...

I agree Jaffa Cakes always taste stale and lacklustre. I haven't tried Messino's, but so far prefer Pims. And, for the record I think Cadbury's chocolate is abysmal and not anything the Aztec kings would have tolerated! Also, I find Chocolate Kimberlys unpalatable(they'll start poking their mediocrity around as we aproach X-mas). I do , however, adore KitKat Dark, which is sadly unavailable in the U.S.:(
Love you guys,
Cab(ever opinionated!)