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In times of trouble, many turn to religion. Others resort to psychotherapy. But some of us know a better answer: chocolate digestives. At their best, they are the finest comfort food. It’s argued that they only yield all their restorative properties when dunked in hot tea but the danger of disintegration meant that we conducted this tasting of 14 brands au naturel. We were looking for high-quality chocolate, a fresh-tasting wholemeal crumb and not too much sweetness. In other words, we wanted an adult taste.
A panel that knows its chocolate was required and so we recruited a high-tech venture capitalist of some renown, who has now taken to investing in lower-tech food companies. He is the Cereal Investor (CI). One of his companies actually imports chocolate, about which he has strong views. He was joined by the Gourmet Celeb (GC), the Discerning Litigator (DL) and the Gluttonous Pig (GP).
Unlike the labelling on a bar of chocolate, these biscuits don’t reveal their level of cocoa solids, so only the palate can assess the quality. But the Cereal Investor did show us one trick: a chocolate high in cocoa solids, when rubbed between the thumb and forefinger, will gradually be absorbed into the skin and disappear. A low-quality chocolate, of which there was plenty in this tasting, will just linger on the surface as a nasty brown stain. Our winning biscuit’s cocoa covering passed this skin test.
Unsurprisingly, the supermarket economy ranges did not do so well. Neither did the milk chocolate digestives, where the quality was disappointing compared to the dark. Tesco Everyday Value Milk Chocolate Digestive Biscuits had a “slightly burnt” flavour (GP) while Simply M&S Milk Chocolate Digestives were simply a bit disappointing: “cheap chocolate and not that much of it”(GC). However, one economy biscuit did very well, as we shall see later.
The brand leader, McVitie’s, offered milk chocolate digestives which were only slightly better: “disappointing chocolate, OKish biscuit”(CI). Essential Waitrose Chocolate Chip Digestive Biscuits came bottom by some way and (with apologies to Waitrose, which does better later on) exercised our panel mightily: “hints of cardboard with plasticky aftertaste”(GC); “might be useful for landfill”(CI).
If plain chocolate is too red in tooth and claw for you, there were two milk chocolate digestives that did better. M&S Milk Chocolate Coated Digestive Biscuits (in individual foil wraps) were more generous: “more chocolate than most”(DL). And the top milk chocolate biscuit for us was Tesco’s Milk Chocolate Digestive: “the actual biscuit is seriously good”(GC); “thin chocolate but fresh-baked biscuit taste”(GP).
Now we move on to the plain chocolate category, which provided our two winners. It’s all the more laudable, given our earlier disappointments, that our runner- up comes from an economy line. Essential Waitrose Plain Chocolate Digestive Biscuits had the earliest “best before” date of all the products, which may explain why their biscuitology found favour: “not bad”(DL); “nice biscuit – crunch and not too sweet”(GC); “good fresh biscuit let down by chocolate”(CI); “come on, John Lewis, give us a bit more choccy!”(GP).
And our top digestive allowed another company, McVitie’s, to redeem itself. Its Dark Chocolate Digestive was unanimously in pole position; “ bittersweet”(DL); “first proper chocolate”(CI); “seriously grown-up digestive” (GC); “slightly dull biscuit but this feels like high cocoa solids at last – hooray!”(GP). The Gluttonous Pig looked a bit contemplative and when asked what preoccupied him, he replied that he’d like to merge McVitie’s dark chocolate with Waitrose’s biscuit. That, he said, would be the perfect digestive.
So you heard it here first ... a nil premium merger between United Biscuits and the John Lewis Partnership. And who better than the Cereal Investor to pilot the deal through, all in the name of gastronomy?
1. McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Digestives
£1.49 for 332g; sainsburys.co.uk
2. Essential Waitrose Plain Chocolate Digestives
£1.15 for 400g; waitrose.com