19th July 2010, on the menu today...

Digestive Biscuit (Brands Reviewed: McVitie's Original and Milk Chocolate Digestives)



  • That faithful old friend. It may not have the glitz and glam of more elaborate snack creations and you may be tempted away for a while but, long after others have been and gone, you can always count on the Digestive being there for your cuppa. Moreover, after being away in foreign lands for a while, Digestives - like baked beans or a decent cuppa - is one of those reassuringly British things you gradually begin to yearn for. Indeed, going on holiday with my parents, I can always remember a few biscuit, baked beans and teabags being packed as emergency provisions and when, like my parents, you have children that are as picky over their food as I was such provisions suddenly become lifesavers.
  • The giant amongst dunkers. One of the great things about the Digestive is undoubtedly its size. This combined with its high dunking tolerance makes for a wondrous piece of food manufacturing. Needless to say, on many an occasion I have sat with my Digestive dunked to see how long it would last and, still not a master of my craft after all these years, this has often resulted in a large chunk of biscuit sludge being deposited in my tea - hmmm, biscuit sludge!
  • A healthy, wholesome biscuit...only in moderation! The other thing about McVitie's Original Digestives are their simple, wholewheat taste and appearance which lures the eater in to a false sense of biscuit healthiness. These days, this feeling of healthiness is reinforced by the great big text on the packaging proclaiming "Now lowest ever saturated fat". Again, I have to hold my hands up and say that I regularly fall for this one and find myself making my way through a packet far too rapidly - thank goodness for exercise!
  • The chocolatey counterpart. As good as the plain ones are there is nothing quite like the chocolate-coated Digestive. Where the plain biscuit fails to ignite the interest and taste buds of the young, the Chocolate Digestive more than succeeds as a layer of milk chocolate delivers a rich, sweet taste to contrast with the plainer biscuit underneath. I can tell you now, whenever these were about the house a biscuit tin raid was imminent and it was everyone for themselves.

Packaging :

McVitie's Original Digestive: The simply designed packaging reinforces the biscuit's simple, wholesome appearance and taste. Smart yellow and dark reds and blues in the background with simple white font across it make for a more grown-up appearance. The 'flick' off to the right on the end of the letter 'v' in Digestives and the dot design for the 'i' along with the subtle wheat imagery in the blue and red background all echo this idea of wholewheat and natural ingredients. A message that is made explicit by the surrounding text e.g. "70% wholewheat...No hydrogenated vegetable oils...no artificial flavours or colours". Moreover, the way in which the nutritional information has been positioned on the front for everyone to see is further evidence of the message that is trying to be conveyed here.

McVitie's Milk Chocolate Digestives: Here we note a slightly different packaging design for McVitie's less healthy offering. Firstly the nutritional information is not boldly displayed on the front of the packaging showing levels of fat, sugar, salt etc. McVitie's know they won't be scoring any points on, for example, fat levels so instead they highlight the following: "45% wheat and wholemeal goodness...No artificial flavours or colours...No Hydrogenated vegetable oils". This notion of a wholesome, natural product is reinforced with the same wheat-like font design and background imagery as for the plain version.



McVitie's Original Digestive (undunked): Biting into these, there is a bit of resistance that under increased pressure yields to the sound of a satisfying crunch. After further biting, you note a distinct wheat flavour coming through combined with a slight wave of sweetness that enhances the more the biscuit is chewed. The level of sweetness here is very well judged and suited well to more mature taste buds. It is not over done to the point where it overtakes the subtler tastes of the wheat nor is it underdone to the point where the biscuit bores the palette. Very good stuff indeed.

McVitie's Milk Chocolate Digestive (undunked): Again you get the satisfying crunch from the plain Digestive biscuit base but, at the same time, your teeth sink through a layer of smooth, creamy milk chocolate that has been drenched over the top. As you chew, the unmistakeable tastes and textures of milk chocolate are delivered to the palette beginning with a rich sweetness segueing into creamier textures as the chocolate melts. This is all wonderfully contrasted by the plain, crumbly tastes and textures of the wheat biscuit base.

TV Advertising:


McVitie's Dark Chocolate Digestive:


With an influx of 'posh chocolate' that trades on its provenance, high cocoa content, nutritional benefits etc so it can charge, in some cases, obscene amounts of money, relatively cheap and cheerful milk chocolate, as said in my article on Cadbury's Dairy Milk, is more and more looked down upon. Therefore, to tap in to this change of tastes, McVitie's along with nearly every chocolate snack nowadays has converted to the dark side.

Taste-wise, the biscuit is nice and does offer something different with its bitterer taste and more cocoa-rich flavours. And indeed, like all dark and milk chocolate, there is a time and place for both. But, whether it be Digestives, Toblerone, Kit Kats etc, the original is still the best and this offering, whilst all fine and dandy in catering to current fashions, is and always will be foreign to the taste and textures I and many others have grown up loving so much and identify with as a true Digestive.

History (as per practicallyedible.com article, see here):

Alexander Grant invented the Digestive Biscuit in 1839 while working for McVitie's.

McVitie's originally called them "Homewheat" biscuits because unlike other biscuit makers who were using imported wheat, McVitie's chose to use British-grown wheat. Though given that half the world was British at the time, it would be worth enquiring further whether that actually meant grown in Britain. The name "Homewheat" was later dropped.

McVitie's released the Chocolate Covered Digestive in 1925.

Two years later, McVitie's would launch Jaffa Cakes in 1927.

McVitie's says the name Digestive comes from the Baking Soda in the biscuits, which was presumed to help digest food and settle stomachs.

Baking Soda is a bicarbonate, and so can act as an antacid. It doesn't seem likely, however, that this effect would transfer through to the packaged biscuit, as the Baking Soda would already have been broken down in the cooking process, leaving it no power to cure indigestion. And after all, no such claim was ever made about Soda Crackers, invented around the same time across the pond in Massachusetts and also made from baking soda.

Other sources say that the name didn't so much refer to settling stomachs but rather to the use of whole wheat flour: with more fibre than white flour biscuits, it was thought that it would help keep people "regular" in their bowel movements. In this regard, it would be no more a special aid to digestion than would be piously choosing the brown toast with your Denny's Grand Slam Slugger breakfast.

Though the name has not been changed, McVitie's no longer makes any special claims to health benefits for this biscuit in regards to digestion.

In late 2001, McVitie's transferred its production of biscuits from Hatton, near Peterhead, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, to Halifax, West Yorkshire, England.

Web Links:

McVtie's International

McVitie's Dunk or Not

United Biscuits (owner of McVitie's brand)


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