Chocolate digestive takes the biscuit in hunt for best treat of all time
The digestive biscuit was originally marketed as a health food-with the inventor unaware that the baking process cancelled out any of the benefits offered by using bicarbonate of soda as a rising agent Picture: TSPL
Date: 14 June 2008
By CLAIRE SMITH
IT WAS developed 150 years ago by a Scot and marketed to the Victorians as a health food. Now a survey has named the McVities chocolate digestive the nation's favourite biscuit.
It was closely followed by the chocolate HobNob and another Scottish classic treat – Walkers shortbread.
The history of the digestive began in 1892 in Queensferry Street in Edinburgh, when young Alexander Grant, who worked alongside Robert McVitie in his biscuit emporium hit on the idea of using bicarbonate of soda as a raising agent.
He mistakenly believed the use of the ingredient would aid digestion – not realising that bicarbonate of soda loses its stomach soothing properties when baked.
The new type of biscuit was a huge success – and Mr Grant closely guarded his secret recipe. Chocolate was eventually added in 1925.
According to industry legend Mr Grant insisted on mixing the ingredients himself and when he went on business trips the mixing machines had to wait for him to get off the train from London to Edinburgh.
Later Mr Grant passed the recipe to his daughter Elizabeth, who continued to work in the McVitie's St Andrew's biscuit factory in Edinburgh.
Today Britons munches their way through 60 million digestives a year and the market for digestives and Hobnobs is worth £250m a year.
Chocolate varieties dominate the top ten with Chocolate Chip Cookies, Bourbon Creams and Chocolate Fingers all scoring highly.
Old-fashioned recipes are also popular, with Custard Creams coming in at No 5 and Jammie Dodgers taking eighth place.
Stuart Payne, founder of nicecupofteaandasitdown.com and author of a book on tea and biscuits, said people still believe the digestive is a 'healthier option.' He said: "It has always outsold all the other biscuits by a mile.
" It has got a lot going for it. People tend to think it is quite a healthy biscuit because it has that nice crumbly texture.
"In fact it is very high in fat – people just like to kid themselves that some biscuits are healthier than others."
Mr Payne said the notion that the digestive was invented by a Scottish doctor as an aid to digestion was a recurring myth.
"There were a lot of Victorian doctors who had a sideline inventing biscuits. The Abernethy biscuit was invented by a Scottish doctor and the Bath Oliver was invented by a doctor from Bath to be eaten when people were taking the waters.
"The idea that the chocolate digestive was invented by a doctor is a myth."
Mr Payne, who has spent years researching the subject, has also discovered a rival Scottish inventor – who also claims to have invented the digestive. Rumours persist that the true inventor was Robert Middlemass, who had his own bakery on Causewayside in the south of the city.
The OnePoll survey revealed 60 per cent of people enjoy dipping their biscuits into tea or coffee, with Rich Tea the preferred dunking biscuit.
The survey proved that once we have chosen our favourites we tend to stick with them – over 16 per cent have been buying the same biscuits for 20 years.
A third of people enjoy biscuits as a mid morning snack but 39 per cent say their favourite moment to eat biscuits is in the evening when watching the television.
John Sewell, of OnePoll.com, said: "When it comes to the crunch the chocolate digestive is the clear favourite. The biscuit has been filling the nation's biscuit barrels for 83 years now.
1. CHOCOLATE DIGESTIVE: Britain's favourite biscuit and top of the charts since 1925.
2. CHOCOLATE HOBNOB: An instant crumbly classic first seen in 1985.
3. SHORTBREAD: The classiest choice – all-butter shortbread is seen on the finest tables.
4. CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE: An American usurper – but one which has many fans.
5. CUSTARD CREAM: A touch of luxury which you can buy for pennies.
6. BOURBON CREAM: A hint of sophistication with a name which evokes the lost French monarchy.
7. HOBNOB: Crunchy, crumbly, nobbly and delicious.
8. JAMMIE DODGER: A silly biscuit with a silly name. Nonetheless these jammie treats are a favourite.
9. PLAIN DIGESTIVES: The supposed health-giving properties were a myth – but the wholesome image lives on.
10. CHOCOLATE FINGERS: Melting chocolate fingers are a nostalgic choice – whisking you back to childhood parties.
The full article contains 729 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.