Can cheaper supermarket own-brands topple the mighty McVitie’s? We put them to the test, judging the biscuit, the chocolate and the all-important dunkability
It is obvious when you think about it, but most people buying digestive biscuits in 2016 are probably unaware that they were once thought to have medicinal properties. Certainly, in the case of the chocolate digestive – the humble plain digestive’s upwardly mobile offspring, brought into the world by McVitie’s in 1925 – the feelings associated with it are more often guilt and mild nausea, rather than health and wellbeing. You may open a packet of chocolate digestives with the best of intentions but, invariably, you will end up eating six rather than two. And only stopping at six if you have iron self-discipline.
That gluttony is testament to a biscuit that is, in surveys of such matters, repeatedly chosen as the nation’s favourite. This is surely due to its exquisite balance of sweetness, saltiness and moreish, baked wholemeal flavours, its comforting, chocolatey familiarity and its tea-dunking suitability. But how do our supermarkets interpret a biscuit that, in Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson hailed as a “British masterpiece”? Do any of the cheaper, own-brand alternatives trump the go-to McVitie’s? Note: all biscuits were tested au naturel and after a three-second dunking.
Too sweet and one-dimensional. Initially, it displays a reasonably impressive wholemeal depth, but that soon gives way to a lingering, flatlining sugariness. Meanwhile, the chocolate coating (note: officially, the uncoated side is the top of the biscuit), is milky in an ineffectual, all-too-fleeting way. Overall, this biscuit tastes rather cowed and meek in its flavours. Its texture too readily turns to silt in the dunk, too. It lacks residual bite. Would you happily wolf down a packet of them? Of course, but that is not the question. 4/10
The “serving suggestion” shows a biscuit being dunked into a mug (thanks, Sainsbury’s) but, perhaps, that betrays a perfectionist, rather than patronising, intent on the supermarket’s part. Certainly, it immediately feels like a superior biscuit. It has a clean snap, firm bite, rough crumb and a rich, deep, baked wholemeal flavour, enhanced by the use of demerara sugar and a fractionally higher salt content than some of its rivals (1.09g/100g). It is dangerously wet after dunking, however, and the chocolate could be more assertive. Nonetheless, enjoyable. 7/10
Aldi, Belmont milk chocolate digestives, 300g, 44p
Smaller in diameter (6cm) than standard (6.5cm), and a little peculiar-looking. The chocolate used is darker than normal (it distinctively tastes continental, rather than a Cadbury-mimicking chocolate), and the biscuit tops are unusually smooth and pale. The mouthfeel is comparatively thin and dry, and while there is a discernible wholemeal flavour, these are bland biscuits. However, they hold up well to dunking – softening but retaining a certain solidity – and the tea brings out a clear orange note in the chocolate. A biscuit that comes alive in your mug. 5/10
When it comes to chocolate digestives, most supermarkets do not bother with the hard sell. Unwisely, Asda chooses to up the ante with its promise of “golden, crunchy biscuits topped with smooth milk chocolate”. True, this biscuit has a promising bronzed tan, a strong baked wholemeal flavour and a sweetness nicely modulated by a residual salty tang. This is a punchy, heavyweight biscuit. However, the chocolate is so anonymous, so shouted down by the biscuit flavours, that you could be eating a plain digestive. It fails to fulfil its brief. 5/10
M&S, Simply milk chocolate digestives, 300g, 86p
Are standards slipping at M&S? Not only does the packet show a pile of biscuits that have been plonked directly on to a table without using a plate, but these are deeply odd digestives. Good digestives have a large crumb that quickly turns to a pleasing powder in the mouth, but the texture here is gritty and crystalline. The flavour, thanks presumably to the barley malt extract listed in the ingredients, is closer to malted milk than a digestive. Yes, you can taste the chocolate, but it tastes a bit bargain basement, frankly. 2/10
These are not only head-spinningly expensive biscuits, but also tiny little things – just 5cm in diameter. Rather than the usual neat, rippled surface, they are coated in such clumsy splats of chocolate that this test packet was possibly subject to a manufacturing fault. Either way, while these oat flour, gluten-free creations are too dry, brittle and parsimoniously oaty to pass as convincing digestives, they are a pleasant biscuit. The chocolate, made with whole rather than skimmed milk powder, has more body and complexity than most. 5/10
Lidl, Tower Gate milk chocolate digestives, 400g, 59p
Like Asda’s, this is a sound biscuit but an unsatisfactory chocolate digestive. It is full of tanned, golden, wholesome, freshly baked flavours. It warms the soul like sitting by a real fire on a bitterly cold winter’s night. Sadly, though, the chocolate is an afterthought. You can patiently let it melt on your tongue (yes, I did this) and still its flavour barely registers. These biscuits are good dunkers, too – the edges melt while the biscuits retain a core “bite” – but they can only achieve a middling score. 5/10
Logically, an extra 3% chocolate (30% of the ingredients, while most report 27% or 24%) should not make a huge difference. But of all the biscuits tested, the chocolate flavour – a true, British milk chocolate flavour, too – shone through most clearly here. Despite their lovely, soft and crumbly, quick-melting texture (they go a little too mushy after dunking, arguably), McVitie’s digestives cannot match the bold, biscuity flavour of Asda, Lidl or Sainsbury’s, but, overall, they are a winner. McVitie’s may not make the best digestives, but it makes the best chocolate digestives. 7.5/10
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