In today’s English lesson we talk about British biscuits. As you probably know the UK is a nation of tea drinkers, it’s an important part of our national culture. So knowing the difference between a cookie and a scone or a biscuit is probably worth listening to while you improve your English-speaking part of your brain.
One of the first things I did when writing this lesson was look for a biscuit emoji, and I could not find one! The closest I could find was a cookie, so I guess the US has emoji dominance with biscuits. Still, as you might expect, biscuits in the UK are very popular we consume 35% more than the US (so we deserve an emoji!).
There are around 27.7 million households in the UK, with 27 million of them buying biscuits regularly. We consume over 6 billion of the sugary things every year! So nearly everyone in Britain has a favourite biscuit, a specific way of eating them, and today you will find out about mine and learn what goes on when we drink tea in the UK.
Money can't buy you love, but it can get you some really good chocolate ginger biscuits.
⭐ Dylan Moran
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Digest Custard Household Jammy Dunk
|In The UK||5|
|In The US||2|
|A Variety Of||2|
|The Most Popular||2|
|The Chocolate Digestive||2|
Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English helping you learn English online. This is your second English lesson for this week!
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So keeping our topics broad today, what about ‘biscuits’ as a topic? We have a variety of biscuits in the UK, which are known and eaten by most people. Are you familiar with the biscuits of the UK? Do you enjoy biscuits with a cup of tea? Do you indulge yourself in this way at all?
So I’m talking today about biscuits that you buy in a packet from the shop, from the supermarket, not ones that you bake yourself. So yes, this is a food topic, but it’s also a bit of British culture. Everyone in the UK knows these types of biscuit and has probably eaten them – once or twice!
So the word ‘biscuit’, BISCUIT comes from French and means ‘twice cooked’. The equivalent is probably what Americans call a ‘cookie’, so COOKIE – though we do have American style cookies as well, of course. In the US, a ‘biscuit’ is what we British would call a ‘scone’ or a ‘scone’, SCONE. The basis of a cream tea, if you add butter, jam, cream and a pot of tea.
But here we’re talking about British biscuits, so the hard, snappy ones that are sweet. There was a poll, a survey done a few years ago, about the most popular British biscuits. Top of the poll was the Chocolate Digestive. These are nice – McVities is the brand you usually associate with the Chocolate Digestive.
They’re an oaty biscuit, and they come as plain digestives or as here, the ones half covered in chocolate. And you can get plain chocolate or milk chocolate. So apparently the most popular biscuit in the UK. And digestives got their name because they were developed by a doctor in Scotland to help people digest their food, that’s DIGEST – hence ‘digestives’.
Interesting that the British have a biscuit to help them digest, whereas the French have a digestif – meaning an alcoholic drink! Aperitif before a meal, after a meal digestif. Anyway, the chocolate digestive biscuit has been around since 1892.
A biscuit that goes down very well in my house is the Jaffa Cake. If you’ve not had one of these, then the word ‘Jaffa’, JAFFA may give you a clue. Again, there’s a biscuity part, more ‘cakey’ than a digestive and again, there’s chocolate on one side, but the important bit is the orange-flavoured jelly part, which is sandwiched in the middle.
Jaffa cakes are worth it, just for the orange bit. And I know they’re called ‘Jaffa Cakes’, but they are more of a biscuit! Again, McVitie is the best make – and these biscuits have been sold since 1927.
How about a Custard Cream? Well, in the UK, if a type of biscuit is called a ‘cream’, CREAM, it means that really it’s two biscuits sandwiched together, with some sweet sugary stuff – buttercream, I suppose, a butter-sugar mixture, in the middle. It’s nothing like fresh cream. So in a Custard Cream – there are two biscuits sandwiched together with a custard flavoured cream in between.
Custard, CUSTARD, is a yellow, vanilla flavoured milky sauce which you have with your pudding – in France they call it ‘Creme Anglaise’ – literally ‘English cream’. So yes, Custard Creams are good too. This is turning into an ad for McVities, because they first were made in 1908 by McVities and they have the words ‘Custard Cream’ stamped on them amidst lots of curly patterns.
What about Bourbon Biscuits? These don’t have a coating of chocolate like Chocolate Digestives or Jaffa Cakes – they’re more chocolate flavoured biscuits. But like the Custard Cream, Bourbons are really two biscuits sandwiched together, this time with chocolate flavoured cream. Different manufacturer this time – Peek Freans first made Bourbon biscuits. And they’ve been manufactured since 1910 – so they’re quite old too.
They’re also stamped with the word ‘Bourbon’, BOURBON. But they’re nothing to do with bourbon whisky – notice the same spelling, different pronunciation. However, they are called after the French Bourbon Kings. I didn’t know that last bit! They’ve also got two rows of holes in them – apparently to ‘let the steam out while cooking’.
If you’ve ever been to Scotland, you will know that the biscuit that’s favoured there is shortbread, SHORTBREAD – that’s a compound word – ‘short’ and ‘bread’. Apparent it’s an old recipe, from when ‘shortening’, which means ‘fat’ FAT, was added to bread – and it became sweet in the 1600s with the arrival of sugar.
There are lots of different recipes for shortbread, but what I learned at school – 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter, 1 part sugar – seems good enough. You just knead it together with your hands – that’s ‘to knead’, KNEAD – which is what you also do with bread.
Next - Jammie Dodger. I do love a Jammie Dodger. Part of it is in the name – if something is ‘dodgy’ or ‘a bit dodge’ – this is UK slang, it means that it’s not necessarily legal, it’s not the right side the law. The verb ‘to dodge’, DODGE, means that you avoid doing something you should be doing. And ‘jammy’, the adjective, JAMMY obviously comes from the word ‘jam’, JAM – but if you’re ‘jammy’ it also means that you manage to achieve something in a slightly underhand way.
My mother for example, had a reputation for being ‘jammy’ at board games, at Scrabble or at cards. ‘Jammy’ meant that she usually won, though we weren’t quite sure always how that happened. So the name ‘Jammy Dodger’ conjures up a wonderful idea of a bit of naughtiness. Also the character perhaps of the ‘The Artful Dodger’ in the film or play ‘Oliver Twist’, comes to mind, but Jammy Dodgers were actually named after the character of ‘Roger the Dodger’ in the Beano comic – that’s BEANO.
A photograph various biscuits popular in the UK. Tea and biscuits are the theme of today's English lesson.
Anyway, the Jammy Dodger is another ‘sandwich’ or cream biscuit – so two biscuits sandwiched together, with white buttercream in the middle. But one of the biscuits has a hole in it – and in that hole – well some red jammy material. Hence that’s a Jammy Dodger. First made by Burton’s in the 1960s – so they’re relatively recent, compared to some of the others!
Next on my list - Fig Rolls. These are nice – they’re a sort of sandwich with fruit mixture in the middle – made of, yes, you’ve guessed it, figs. The ‘fig’, FIG is a seedy fruit which grows in the Mediterranean – and they’re delicious. There are many people in the UK who’ve never eaten a fresh fig, but they would know a fig roll. And Jacobs is the brand name that we usually associate with the fig roll in the UK, but they were invented in the US around 1891 by a company called Newtons.
The idea was that they were good for your digestive system – your stomach, where you process your food. And these biscuits have a distinctive shape – they turn down at the corners, like a sad mouth. As a child, I used to eat them upside down – so that they made you smile!
Ginger Nuts – again the brand name is McVities here. These are effectively gingerbread – and there are two types of gingerbread. There’s the hard, snappy stuff – and there’s the soft, bendy type of gingerbread. I like both – and if I’m making my own, then I like my gingerbread bendy. But the McVities Ginger Nut is a hard, crunchy biscuit – they make a noise when you snap them.
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Despite being called a Ginger ‘Nut’, NUT – there are no nuts here. The idea was that they’re ‘hard as a nut’. And one of the things that people in the UK like to do is ‘to dunk’ their biscuits in their cup of tea. Now I’m not a dunker – I don’t like wet biscuits, dunked biscuits. Why would you want to get your biscuit wet?! But people do like ‘to dunk’, that’s DUNK. And Ginger Nuts apparently are a good dunking biscuit. Ginger Nuts are popular in Australia and New Zealand.
And the last one I’m going to cover today – the Hobnob, that’s HOBNOB – they come plain or chocolate Hobnobs. And in the history of biscuits, Hobnobs are relatively recent – I remember them being introduced in 1985 - by McVities again. The chocolate hobnob? That is the really addictive version. Hobnobs are made from oats – so rather like something called ‘flapjack’, FLAPJACK that we home bake in the UK.
And the name ‘Hobnob’? Well, the verb ‘to hobnob’ means ‘to socialise’ – precisely what we can’t do at the moment – the pandemic prevents us from ‘hobnobbing’. And according to the British comedian Peter Kay, ‘Hobnobs are the marines of the biscuit world’ – if you dunk a Hobnob, they never fall apart or drop in your tea.
And to quote ‘they drink half your brew’ – meaning that they absorb your tea – it all gets sucked out of the cup into the biscuit. That Peter Kay idea is such a part of British culture – it’s a cliché!
They drink half your brew
⭐ Peter Kay
Anyway, I hope that this free English language lesson has given you a taste for biscuits, something that is woven into British culture. Ask anyone you know who’s lived in the UK – and I think they’ll know about these biscuits. Anyway, enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
UK's Favourite Biscuits
- Chocolate Digestives
- Chocolate Fingers
- Jaffa Cakes
- Chocolate Hob Nobs
- Custard Creams
- Jammie Dodgers
- Maryland Cookies
- Crunch Creams
- Viennese Whirls
- Rich Tea
- Ginger Nuts
- Hob Nobs
- Malted Milk
- Fig Rolls