Friday, September 21st, 2012

Six British Candies: Which Tastes Best?

Willy Wonka was British, you know. It makes sense: we Brits have a sweet tooth, but it's been refined over the years. Not for us the sugary punch in the mouth of a Three Musketeers. Oh no. British snacks of the sweet kind are much more sedate. We’re all about texture. If American candy and cookies are like a Corvette roaring down a freeway at 100 miles per hour, British sweets are like a wonderful and infinitely varied fleet of bicycles. It's a complicated and convoluted world, British candy and cookies, but let's approach it in the form of a good old-fashioned taste test so you know, when you next get the chance, which to covet. Here are six to consider.


Perhaps the king of British chocolate snacks. It’s two thin chocolate biscuits, sandwiched with chocolate cream, and coated in a thin (cheap tasting) chocolate cover. For years it’s been advertised with the slogan “p-p-pick up a Penguin”, and children have in droves. They’re also wooed by the perennial presence of a joke on the bar’s wrapper. They’re never good, and invariably involve penguins (the animals). Such as this doozy:

Why do penguins carry fish in their beaks?
Because they haven’t got any pockets. (I know! I know!)

Sometimes they’re not actually jokes, but trivia. But there’s an unwritten rule, passed down through generations: if you’re in the presence of others while eating your Penguin, you must offer up the feeder line for the joke, and see if anyone knows the punchline. It’s as British as the royal family, bad teeth and good comedy.

Taste factor: 6/10
Nostalgia: 10/10
Combined: 16


Launched in 1937, the Blue Riband is a quintessentially British snack. It's almost like a souped-up KitKat. But instead of two dense wafers wrapped in chocolate, you have a single chunky, airy and ganache-filled finger coated in chocolate. It’s the bar you’ll be served when you visit your grandparents, presented neatly on a tea plate with a selection of other options.

Boasting just 99 calories per bar (“hey look! Chocolate can be sorta healthy!”), the Blue Riband is named after an unofficial prize given to the fastest cruise liner to cross the Atlantic. That’s meant to associate it with high-class luxury travel—the bar’s heyday was the 1950s—but like many products, the association is mostly aspirational. The Blue Riband is and always has been a bar enjoyed by those on a tight budget. Sadly, the British obsession with class means that the Nestle-produced bar has always been put down in comparison to its peers, but it’s delicious (if a little dry).

Taste factor: 8/10
Nostalgia: 8/10
Combined: 16


For all that the Wagon Wheel is a British biscuit, it was originally invented in the 1940s to answer the mania then enveloping our country for all things American. It was a time where school kids played Cowboys and Indians on the playground, and western miniseries were broadcast over wireless radio every night.

When they first came out, Wagon Wheels were known for their heft. At 36g per biscuit, they were enormous at a time when wartime rationing was still looming large over UK households. They’ve shrunk a bit, and they're great in concept (like a chocolate-covered s'more, they couch marshmallow between two chocolate cookies), but they taste synthetic as hell. They’re a guilty pleasure for a day when you want to taste artificiality more than something that actually tastes good.

Taste factor: 3/10
Nostalgia: 9/10
Combined: 12


Simply one of the best candy bars available in the UK. It does pretty much what it says on the label. It’s delicious milk chocolate with a taste of orange that melts in your mouth and generally perks up your day. Chocolate and orange go together like coffee and cigarettes, or cookies and cream. They were born to be together, and most people who buy a Terry’s chocolate orange bar snarf it down within seconds. It’s that good.

Taste factor: 10/10
Nostalgia: 6/10
Combined: 16


Chef Ainsley Harriott is one of those uniquely British characters: In his 50s, campy, makes frequent reference to his friends Suzie Salt and Percy Pepper. You guys have Emeril and Guy Fieri: we have Ainsley, who you may know from his forays across the Atlantic. The guy’s so cool that he’s even referenced in an Obie Trice song (“I cook up the hot shit like Ainsley Harriott/That's why I'm so miraculous").

But despite being a national treasure, Ainsley’s career was on the wane after the cancellation of his TV show "Ready Steady Cook" in 2010. But never fear! Ainsley had a fallback. He had signed a deal with Rivington Foods Limited and released the Ainsley Harriott Chocolate Heaven Bar in the mid-2000s.

And let me tell you, this is no false advertising. Wafers generously filled with a hazelnutty ganache and covered in a super thick layer of luxury chocolate make this bar well worth its name. It may be a young pretender, but it’s getting close to holding the mantle of best chocolate bar in Britain.

Taste factor: 10/10
Nostalgia: 4/10
Combined: 14


There’s not a lot that most British people will credit the Scots for, but Tunnock’s is one of them. This company has been rolling out biscuits and snacks since 1890, and they're gold-and-red-wrapped products (and there are plenty of them) are considered the Rolls Royce of snacking.

One of the best is the Caramel Wafer. More than 5 million wafers are made and sold every week by Tunnock’s, which shows just how popular they are. Imagine five layers of wafer, each brought together in harmony with a layer of caramel. Then encase the whole thing in chocolate made from sweet, sticky condensed milk. Now you’re realising why these things are so beloved. The bar has even had an appreciation society formed in its honour at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

Taste factor: 9/10
Nostalgia: 10/10
Combined: 19

So if you are ever in England, or have British relatives with voluminous suitcases, or you happen to come across a great selection of import candy (such as can be found here), which of these should you stock up on? The one that you just have to try is the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer, followed closely by the Terry's Chocolate Orange Bar. If you can get your hands on an Ainsley Harriott Chocolate Heaven Bar, then enjoy it for all you’re worth: those things are rare, even over here. And if you're looking for a conversational topic with a Brit visitor, talk of Penguins—and their terrible jokes—are a common bond, much like chatter about the weather, so you can’t go wrong there either.

Chris Stokel-Walker is a 23-year old freelance writer from the UK. Photo of Terry's Orange Chocolate Bar by Evan-Amos.

37 Comments / Post A Comment

AnnSub (#238,121)

Discovered Tunnock's Caramel Wafers on a recent trip to Scotland. They are sublime. I am hoarding my limited supply like a crazy cat lady.

Old Bricks (#238,122)

OMG. I used to eat Penguins all the time, and while I was in the UK I saw on Graham Norton an amazing way to eat Penguins that somebody called "orgasmic tea" which sounds sketchy, but it's not.
Basically you bite two opposite corners off, and suck hot tea THROUGH the corner parts. It melts from the inside out, and you have to eat it REALLY quickly. DEEEElish.

Charlotte Flax (#234,743)

@Old Bricks That's what you do with Tim Tams, too! I thought it was only an Australian practice.

City_Dater (#2,500)

All the love in the world for Tunnock's Caramel Wafers… but even thinking about a goddamn Lion bar causes me to gain weight, because after thinking about it, I will eat five of them.

Emma Garman (#12,303)

@City_Dater This is why Caramel Wafers come in those multipacks! There is no possible way not to eat them all.

Vera Knoop (#2,167)

Ask Tyrone Slothrop.

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

The last time I was in Ireland, I loaded my suitcase with four entire cases of chocolate orange bars. They were gone within three weeks.

bocadelperro (#9,676)

@wallsdonotfall how much different are they from terry's chocolate oranges (the ones that come in a ball that you whack and then open)?

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

@bocadelperro Infinitely better, because they are smaller and cuter. It's also much easier to eat a chocolate bar than not eat a whole orange. I thought that the chocolate seemed a little softer, though, because it didn't have to split apart into distinct pieces.

bocadelperro (#9,676)

@wallsdonotfall Ooh that sounds lovely. Being German, I have a thing for soft, nearly melty chocolate. There's a fancy foods store near me that has them occasionally, I'll have to pick them up…

~ swinton (#217,366)

@bocadelperro They're basically an offshoot of the actual Chocolate Orange. Which also comes in plain chocolate (as in orangey … semisweet? is that what you guys call it?) and various other guises in packets of individual segments. I was confused to find some pretender Chocolate Orange in Walgreens stores everywhere but no sign of the real thing?

BadUncle (#153)

England truly rules the seas of junk food. Leaving aside the great Britannic vistas of potato chip flavors America has yet to even glimpse (tandoori chicken? lamb with mint???), the freaking cookies are my nemesis. Hob Nobs. Evil freakin' Hob Nobs.

betakitty (#6,258)

@BadUncle SMOKY BACON! Crisps, not Hob Nobs.

LondonLee (#922)

I wouldn't be surprised if there actually were Smokey Bacon Hob-Nobs.

Charlotte Flax (#234,743)

@BadUncle I don't like English sweets at all (the chocolate isn't chocolatey enough), but those flavored crisps are amazing. I wish we had them in the US.

I can't trust your opinion on candy – you're not even old enough to remember Spangles.

LondonLee (#922)

I always used to get a Wagon Wheel from our school tuck shop (we had a tuck shop!) so I'll vote for them. They were big too so you got a lot for your pennies.

But you're forgetting Lion Bars, Aero, Toffee Crisp, Crunchie, and Curly Wurlys.

scrooge (#2,697)

@LondonLee Especially Toffee Crisp. And Marathon (Peanut Power), now probably called Snickers.

syditch (#187,619)

Cadbury Crunchie bars are seriously the best. I get so excited when I find them here in the states!

Amphora (#231,928)

@syditch Do they still have Cadbury Egg vending machines in the Tube? That shit blew my teenage mind.


"There’s not a lot that most British people will credit the Scots for, but Tunnock’s is one of them. " As a Scot, I'm a little surprised at this. I was under the impression we were still part of the UK.
*Grumbles about UK/Britain/England confusion*. It's not that hard! Until the independence referendum, Scotland is a part of Britain. England is a part of Britain. After 2014 things might be different. Till then, kindly stop confusing the Americans and Canadians.

dontannoyme (#24,319)

@Helen McClory@twitter Agree that was odd. And I'm English. It's very common for Americans to conflate Britain with England so extra confusion in the mix is not helpful.

Also, can I just say that this whole article needs more references to Cadbury's – the jewel in the crown of British sweets (not candies, absolutely not candies) aand even though Kraft have tried to absorb Cadbury's into their evil empire, we are safe as long as there are Twirl Bars in the world.

Afoc (#238,182)

@Helen McClory@twitter I totally agree! I also take slight offence to the suggestion that the Scots have produced little of value, other than a candy bar. The Scots have a long history of invention and discovery (sorry, scary rant over!).

scrooge (#2,697)

@dontannoyme Everyone's a Cadbury's Fruit and Nutcase, yeah, but Cadbury's can't hold a candle to Galaxy for smooth chocolate.

irieagogo (#209,640)

Malteasers! OOOOOooooooh so much better than the vastly inferior Whoppers. Vastly ! No contest !

@Evil Uncle—also the Jaffa cakes! MMMMMMmmmm jaffa cakes. On peep show when someone is stoned, any and all characters are happy to remember there are Jaffa cakes somewhere nearby.

Laura Rog@twitter (#235,108)

WHOAH WHOAH WHOAH!! We're comparing apples with oranges here! "Candies"?! These are clearly chocolate biscuits, apart from the terry's chocolate orange bar, and you haven't even included the mighty Tunnock's Teacake, not to mention various other teacake varieties- M&S's being a superior sort. Are we doing chocolate biscuits, or chocolate bars? Because if it's chocolate biscuits then where the bloody hell are the Cadbury's Fingers??!! Chris Stokel Walker, are you sure you're British? Are you from, like, the Channel Islands or something? Because otherwise there's no accounting for this tomfoolery!

scrooge (#2,697)

@Laura Rog@twitter Fingers schmingers, I want McVitie's Chocolate Digestive

Morecowbell (#238,178)

The lack of winegums is unsettling. Perhaps I merely have crappy American taste.

The only one of these that's actually a 'candy' is the terrys chocolate orange bar! The rest are biscuits!

Flashman (#418)

@Sophie Hearn@facebook Word. Tunnock's are pretty special though.

Flashman (#418)

The only British sweets that I really miss (and that I occasionally pay a fortune for here in Canada, or have my mother bring over) are Rowntree's Fruit Gums, and to a lesser degree their Fruit Pastilles. There is really nothing else quite so satisfyingly hard-chewy and real-fruity going. I've long agonised over why they don't make or sell them here: pretty much every other Rowntree/Nestle, Cadbury, Mars etc product is also made and sold in some form in Canada, but not Fruit Gums.

crumbcake (#238,185)

@Flashman I've seen both Rowntree's Fruit Gums and Pastilles here in Toronto, at a few different Shoppers Drug Marts…I'm currently addicted to Maynard's sour wine gums, which are sort of like the fruit pastilles.

Also just discovered Tunnock's Tea Cakes and they are soo amazing. Like a Viva Puff but 100 times better.

alabmeta (#238,189)

It is really a hard part when you crave for chocolates like these but you also have to maintain your diet. What are you gonna choose? lol

iamstephieee (#238,199)


Kirsten Hey@twitter (#236,288)

If you mean there's not much the English won't credit the Scots for, then say so, but Britain, being made of England, Scotland and Wales, is well aware of how much good the Scots have done. Besides you missed off Tunnocks teacakes.

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