Alex Casey dives into the murky world of crispy-cuppa-companion nomenclature in New Zealand.
Every now and then, a simple revelation knocks your entire world off its axis. You could be staring at your daily box of Shapes, when suddenly your gaze pulls focus like a Magic Eye and you realise that the white background on the box correlates with the shape of the actual Shape. You might be lying on the couch watching old episodes of Transparent, when the pun in the title hits you like a freight train. And nothing, nothing can ever prepare you for what lies within the Canterbury logo.
Hellbent on discovering more secrets that have been nestled away in plain sight, I have recently turned my attention to the beloved biscuits of New Zealand. What secrets do their innocuous names contain? What is their crispy coating hiding? Is there more to their character than just a jammy centre? I reached out to the heads of symbology at Griffin’s and elsewhere, and asked them to dissect the meaning behind some of our favourite sweet snacks.
So are they made of wine or what?! Can you get day-drunk off a lovely wine bikkie dunk? What about SUPER Wines? Not till you’re 18, young lassie! “It is rumoured that the flour used in these biscuits was originally stored in wine barrels to keep it dry,” says Big Griffin’s. “Our origins are flour milling in Nelson where our founder John Griffin established the Griffin’s Flour Mill.”
What I’m reading from this is that once upon a time, a wine biscuit MAY HAVE HAD THE TINIEST TINGE OF LEFTOVER WINE IN IT. There’s only one option left, folks. Excavate an original 1930s wine biscuit from deep within the Earth’s crust and get pissed out of your mind.
Creeeaooole Lady Marmalaaaaaaaaaaade, the ‘ade’ part of Choco-ade relates to the orange jam-like centre, reminiscent of traditional marmalade values. Extraordinary and obvious, luvvit.
I have always assumed that Digestives are healthy and a key part of one’s everyday diet, entirely because of the name and the wholesome vibe. Fruit digestives are breakfast. Regular Digestives are dinner. Chocolate Digestives are dessert. But is there actually any extra digesting to be had over a regular old biscuit?
“In the early 19th century ‘Digestive’ referred to a range of biscuits that did claim to aid digestion,” Griffin’s explained to me, quivering at my interrogation. “It may have been because the recipe contains baking soda, which is an antacid.” Unfortunately for those old-timey marketing cats, that claim has largely been debunked as the antacid qualities of baking soda change once the biscuits are baked. Still yum though.
For a biscuit that is very nice, that’s not actually why it is called that. First of all, a tip for the morons like me until last year. Nice is supposed to be pronounced like “niece”, and/or the French town after which it is named. The biscuits originated in the 1860s and were a favourite of Queen Victoria, who lusted for a sugar-sprinkled frilly biscuit so hard that she ended up squirrelling some away with her on a trip to Nice, France. Nice.
Sure, the ginger part is clear as day. But what does the nut part mean when there is not a single nut in sight? “The general consensus here is that the ‘nut’ comes from the fact that these biscuits are hard like a nut,” says Griffin’s. “We are certainly very proud of the hard crunch our biscuits have, especially as this texture makes them ideal for dunking in tea.”
I left this one till last, the most hotly debated biscuit name of all. “It seems that there isn’t a definitive reason why Afghans are called what they are,” explained Griffin’s, “but one thing for certain is how iconic they are for NZ.” I mean, they’re not wrong, but I needed a bit more than that. According to intellectual-sounding baking site Clever Muffin, one of the favoured theories is that they were first invented by a New Zealand woman who was able to send them to her beloved in Afghanistan in WWII.
However, in ‘Decolonising the Chocolate Biscuit‘, more extremely problematic readings are suggested. “One possibility is that the biscuit was thought to resemble an Afghani male, with the base representing skin, the icing hair, and the walnut a turban,” the blog posited in 2012. Fuck. In 2011, Stuff wrote a piece about Kiwiana which contained this chilling passage. “It is believed that the name has nothing to do with the country of Afghanistan but rather the dark colour of the biscuits.” Shit.
True or not, might I urgently suggest a rename in 2019?
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.