Arnott’s Ginger Nut – the ultimate taste-off

June 20, 2016 at 14:19 | Posted in biscuits | 4 Comments
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Arnott's ginger nut full set packsYes folks, this is it. The one you have been waiting for. Buckle yourselves in, because we’re going deep into the heart of a great Australian controversy. Just who has the best Ginger Nuts?

To refresh your memory, Arnott’s make a slightly different kind of Ginger Nut for each state. In fact they make four different types, to cater for the different sensibilities of Australians. They were forced to do this after riots broke out when, after consolidating all their baking operations into NSW, they tried to foist the NSW Ginger Nut on the whole country. This is all familiar history, of course; we all know the story of how the GG had to step in, parliament was dissolved, elections were held and Arnott’s were forced, by deed of legislation, to recreate each type of Ginger Nut as used to be baked by its regional bakeries. (And you thought the Dismissal was a CIA plot…)

So let’s get into this. We’ve looked at the NSW Ginger Nut before in some detail, but to help me with this important quest I trawled through my little black book of biscuit fanatics to pull together a small team to help with the tasting – including representatives of each state to ensure a balanced panel.

First, some key stats.

ginger nut basic stats

All the packs are a uniform 250g, but as you can see the number of biscuits you get varies very widely. Queenslanders have a wide diameter but are lightweight, and the biscuits Arnott’s bake for them are large and thin. Heaviest are the New South Welsh, who are also amongst the thickest, and the biscuit Arnott’s bakes for them is of average diameter. (Hmm, I sense this line of humour is going to get stale rather quickly. Unlike Arnott’s biscuits, which have quite a satisfactory shelf life. (Please stop now. Just stop. Ed.))

ginger nut biscuits 2They do actually look quite different – the QLD one is darker, for example, and has sugar glistening on the top. Interestingly they all have exactly the same list of ingredients – but the order of the ingredients is different on each pack. So the recipes are a bit different, it’s not just how long they are baked.  They also have slightly different energy ratings – with the QLD variety having a few more calories than the others. Those on the diet should stick the the NSW ones, which are 5% less calorific than the QLD variety.

Yes yes yes, I hear you cry impatiently, that’s all very interesting, but what do they taste like?

Wginger nut biscuitsell, they do actually all taste different. The Victorian ones, for example, are more gingery than the others, whilst the QLD ones have more of a gingerbread taste, rather than a ginger biscuit flavour. Less hot, more mellow.

And of course, the texture varies quite a lot. The extraordinary hardness of the NSW variety is utterly unmatched by it’s brethren, with the SA/WA version seeming very chewable by comparison. The QLD version is much crumblier, which coupled with the thin biscuit makes them very easy to eat fast. The Victorian version has a nice crunch to it, and texture-wise is probably the closest to the Ginger Nut archetype.

Interested in some more statistics? Here’s the biscuit density, in grammes per millimetre cubed, along with the tensile strength:

ginger nut strength

Of course, there is another aspect to the Ginger Nut which is very important – that that is its dunkability. The NSW Ginger Nut, it has been oft observed, meets hot tea like a <insert inappropriate metaphor here>, yielding into soft, chewy goodness (but never crumbling into the tea, heaven forbid!).

How do the others stack up? Well, the QLD is a complete failure in this department. It goes soggy very fast, the structural integrity is gone, and the texture quickly goes to mush. Not good at all. The Victorian version is a little better, but only a little, with the exterior of the biscuit going squishy too quickly – also the stronger ginger flavour kind of fights against the tea. The SA/WA biscuits are really not bad at all in hot tea – they hold up well, and soften nicely delivering an enhanced taste. However, it comes as no surprise that the NSW Ginger Nut holds up as dunker supreme. Indeed, whilst we were doing the tasting, the SA taster (who up until then had been deeply suspicious of the NSW variety) went into raptures over his dunked NSW biscuit. ‘Oh yes,’ he moaned. ‘Oh yes, this is sensational…’

And so, we come to the final tally. For, in biscuits as in life, there can be only one winner. Only one state can stand tall. There is only one best Ginger Nut. And with that, let us reveal the final scores:

NSW:  8 out of 10

VIC:   7.8 out of 10

SA/WA:   7.6 out of 10

QLD:   5 out of 10

 

Let the riots begin…

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NSW Ginger Nut – revisited

September 22, 2015 at 19:09 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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ginger nut packBack in 2011, I looked at the NSW Ginger Nut. A truly remarkable piece of biscuit engineering, capable of withstanding the most extraordinary forces – eating it requires an almost karate-like skill. That review remains one of the most read on my blog (which is to say viewing figures are close to double figures), and certainly the most commented.

However, in recent times the comments have taken on a worrying edge. Commenters spoke darkly of the ‘influence of the Americans’, and hinted that the oh-so-uncompromising NSW Ginger Nut had ‘gone soft’.

Is this really the case? Could it be that Arnott’s lost their way, and dared to change the recipe? And after what happened last time?

This was something that needed urgent investigation. And given the trove of scientific data I amassed last time I looked at them, I thought it shouldn’t be too hard to find out if things had indeed changed for the worst.

First of all, though, I did some anecdotal trials with some randomly selected work colleagues. Did they think the Ginger Nut had gone soft? I procured a pack, and offered them around. The overwhelming consensus was that they were just as hard and unyielding as ever. Encouraging, but I wanted to know for sure.

A visual inspection yielded few clues:

ginger nut biscuitarnotts ginger nut biscuit

 

 

 

 

The 2011 picture is on the left, the 2015 on the right. What we can clearly see is that I have got better at photography in the last four years. But otherwise, they look pretty similar.

So it was time for the three-point-flexural test. I used the same board, the same weights and even the same cocktail stick, carefully retrieved from the Chillikebab archives:

arnotts ginger nut flexural test

So, how is it going to fare? Is this going to reveal that the NSW Ginger Nut is but a weak shadow of it’s former self, or is it going to stand tall, living up to it’s fine history?

Well, I started to pile the weights on top. More and more. And then, with a loud snap, it cracked.

arnotts ginger nut failure point

So what was the final tally? Well, as you can see by the high-precision weights piled on the top, it fractured when I reached 52.2 Newtons, or a little over 5kg. This result, as you will remember, is pretty much exactly the same as last time.

So you can rest easy in your beds, dear readers. It seems the NSW Ginger Nut is as strong and unyielding as it ever was. All I can suggest is perhaps those readers who had such painfully soft experiences had somehow got hold of one of the inferior Queensland varieties. So if there is a problem, perhaps it is in the logistics. Change your shopping location, seek out the NSW variety, and enjoy…

I’ll have a Kevin Rudd with that

February 26, 2012 at 13:45 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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On reflection, it sounds like a slightly dodgy euphemism.

‘Ohh, give me a Kevin Rudd. Nice and strong!’

Yet this is the cry to be heard at the moment around Chez Chillikebab. The reason, of course, has nothing to do with the Prime Ministerial shenanigans, but everything to do with the latest blend of tea launched by Twinings – Australian Afternoon Tea. We rather like it – rich and robust, and a perfect match with a biscuit in the afternoon. Apparently this is the blend of tea created by non other than Kevin himself – I picture him in a white coat, owlishly measuring out tea leaves whilst kettles steam around him, working to create the perfect Australian tea.

I quite liked Kevin back in 07 when he was campaigning, but I have to say I did have my doubts when he declared that his biscuit of choice was the Iced Vovo. This really isn’t a great biscuit – rather prissy and fussy, and lacking in substance. Some would say this is also an apt description of the former (and perhaps soon-to-be again) Prime Minister.

As far as I know, Julia Gillard hasn’t declared what her favourite biscuit is. However, I imagine something more workmanlike. I’m tempted to suggest the Ginger Nut, as I think it’s hard, unyielding and slightly spicy aspects might be appropriate, but I’m worried about being accused of simply making a cheap ginger gag. So perhaps the Orange Slice is a better suggestion – actually much better than its reputation would suggest, but forever struggling in the popularity stakes.

I think I’d better leave the murky waters of political satire before I get in above my head. However, I do recommend a cup of Kevin Rudd to everyone, whatever your political persuasion.

Ginger Nut (NSW)

May 15, 2011 at 13:05 | Posted in biscuits | 15 Comments
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Well, here it is. The review that many have been waiting for – the legendary New South Wales Ginger Nut.

New South Wales? That’s right. Arnott’s actually bake four different varieties of Ginger Nut that are available in different states. This is because Arnott’s used to have bakeries all over the place, and each bakery produced a slightly different product. Arnott’s subsequently consolidated all its manufacturing into one plant in NSW, and hence started shipping the NSW Ginger Nut all across Australia. The result?

Uproar. Outside of NSW people took to the streets with placards, there was looting, civil unrest – for a while it really did look as if the veneer of civilisation was slipping away from Australian society. Australians were simply not happy that someone could mess with their ginger nut. The Governor-General intervened and called for a truce, and Arnott’s agreed to continue to bake the different varieties that people were used to. And so, to this day, Arnott’s bake four different versions of the Ginger Nut and ship them to different states according to local tastes.

In a future review we shall return to this theme, and do a comparison of each of the different types. However, this review focuses on the NSW variety; and in so doing perhaps gives an inkling as to why there was such consternation when the NSW Ginger Nut hit the shelves and palates of people unused to them.

On the surface, the biscuit looks fairly ordinary; quite thin and round. It smells appropriately gingery, and all looks fairly normal.

However, when you come to take a bite, you laugh. You see, someone has switched your packet of biscuits with a joke pack, and in fact these are fake ones made of wood. You put them down, still chortling, and check carefully; ask around as to who the trickster was and so on.

Then realisation dawns. These are no joke. Gingerly you try taking another bite; you hold the biscuit between your teeth and pull down in an attempt to break off a mouthful. Amazingly, despite gripping with the full extent of your jaw muscles and heaving with all your might, you are unable to get the NSW Ginger Nut to yield. You take if from your mouth and it looks completely unharmed, without so much as a scratch or an indentation from your teeth.

They really are quite extraordinary. Being of a sometimes scientific bent, your intrepid correspondent has put the NSW Ginger Nut to the test to discover just what the Ultimate Tensile Strength of Ginger Nut material is. This is done with the Three Point Flexural test. Unfortunately the the industrial flexural test rig I keep in the garage for just such occasions wasn’t working on this day, so instead I had to improvise using cocktail sticks and some heavy weights.

I rested the NSW Ginger Nut on a cocktail stick, and held it down on one side, like a see-saw with only one person on it. I then piled weights on the other side, starting with a heavy board and then adding more weight on top. By keeping the first side down, I was able to measure how much force had to be applied before the biscuit suffered brittle ultimate failure.

Amazingly, the biscuit was able to withstand forces of over 50 Newtons (represented by over 5kg of weights piled on the top). This is I think a testament to the bakers at Arnott’s; clearly this is a material that has few manufacturing flaws.

These data can then be used to calculate the strength of the material; it is given by this formula:

where x is the strength, k the cross-section area, e the force applied and lambda the coefficient of gingeryness.

The test shows that the NSW Ginger Nut has a strength of 34 MPa; below is a table comparing this to other common materials:

As you can see, this places the NSW Ginger Nut ahead of both glass and concrete, but still less strong than wood – so it seems the comparison to a wooden disc is an unfair one. Still, with a greater strength than both glass and concrete it does occur to me that rather than building skyscrapers in the conventional way, Arnott’s could simply bake them instead. Much more environmentally friendly, and who wouldn’t enjoy working in an office imbued with a lovely gingery aroma?

I do like the NSW Ginger Nut. It is a unique product that requires a sort of karate-like skill to bite into. It also dunks beautifully; there is very little danger of getting crumbs in your tea with the NSW Ginger Nut as it can withstand the hot tea almost indefinitely without affecting its structural integrity. Indeed, many people contend that this is the only way to truly enjoy them; the hot tea softening the biscuit and enhancing the flavour ‘not unlike a fine red which releases its best when decanted’ (as one of my correspondents put it). I’m going to give these an eight out of ten, plus a bonus point for being so marvellously uncompromising. No wonder the non-NSW residents of Australia rebelled when faced with such a tough opponent!

Honey Jumbles

January 14, 2011 at 20:24 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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Honey Jumbles come in a rather unprepossessing pack. They are decked out in the blue packaging that Arnott’s use for ‘novelty’ biscuits, and the lurid pink icing tends to reinforce this notion. The cartoon bees also don’t do much to promote these as a grown-up biscuit worthy of serious consideration.

The biscuits themselves are quite thick (a full 12mm at the thickest point), and are variously topped with white or pink icing that is splodged on fairly roughly. There are twelve biscuits in a pack, and in the review pack there were only three white ones. The other nine were pink.

So what do you expect when you eat a Honey Jumble? I for one was expecting a very sweet biscuit, probably crunchy perhaps with honeycomb or hokey pokey pieces ‘jumbled’ inside.

If you’ve never tried a Honey Jumble, perhaps you should stop reading now, as eating your first Honey Jumble is an interesting experience if you come at it from that perspective. I took a bite, and the first thing I thought was ‘it’s soft‘. They are very soft – more cake-like than biscuit. All very strange. And then the flavour. It’s not honey, no no, something else. Ginger. Yes, definitely ginger. Actually quite strong; goodness these are really quite hot and gingery!

Then it suddenly hits you. They are gingerbread. Actually rather nice gingerbread; soft texture, light and open, with a good ginger kick. It just takes rather a long time to get to that realisation, because you expect something so different. It’s a bit like eating a piece of parsnip that you mistake for potato when you put it on your fork. It just tastes wrong for a few seconds until you work out what it really is.

Why on earth Arnott’s call these things ‘Honey Jumbles’ I have no idea. They certainly have honey in them, but it’s far from the dominant flavour. And the whole ‘jumble’ thing is just a bit odd. They should call them ‘Ginger fancies’, or perhaps even more to the point, ‘Gingerbread fingers’. Ditch the pink icing (which tastes the same as the white, by the way), put them in more sophisticated packaging and present them as upmarket continental treats, and I’m sure they would sell better. They could even go the whole hog and call them ‘Pain d’épices‘ (although this might cause confusion, looking to Australians more like some sort of orthopaedic complaint than a sweatmeat).

I rather like Honey Jumbles. They are a sophisticated treat. Don’t be put off by the packaging and the name; when you fancy some gingerbread they are just the ticket. I’m going to give these eight out of ten, but deduct a mark for having a silly name.

 

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