Semi-Sweet Biscuits

Semi-digestive biscuits, square ones on a white background.
Semi-hard biscuits are a great favourite at tea time. Photo by ElsaRiva, c/o Pixabay.

One of the staples of the grocery list is the biscuit and possibly rivalling cookies would be  hard, semi-sweet or sweet biscuits. The emphasis however is on the ‘hard’. Texture is all important here and there are a number of varieties available for the delectation of the consumer.

Rich Tea

The most basic perhaps would be the infamous ‘Rich Tea’. This sweet biscuit is simply prepared from just four main ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, vegetable oil and malt extract. The key carbohydrate is sugar with a little provided by the wheat flour. Protein comes from the flour and coupled with the shortening or fat is the main contributor to texture. The higher the protein content, the harder the biscuit. The higher the nitrogen content in the protein, the harder the biscuit. That mind simplistic as there are so many other factors at play but its not far off.

Back to the Rich Tea biscuit. It was established in the 1600s in the county of Yorkshire in England and was designed for those who could afford a light snack product of sugar in between full course meals. It is now regarded as the ideal dunking biscuit for both tea and coffee. Established brands include McVitie’s, but a number of own-label brands exist. Cadbury’s produce a rich tea type biscuit with a surface layer of chocolate which is very popular.

The finger variety is known as Rich Tea Creams which have a vanilla cream sandwiched between two biscuits which are produced by Fox’s.


The second example is the digestive. This was produced in the UK by two Scottish doctors as a means of helping overcome gastrointestinal problems in 1839. It was prepared from various grain flours with substantial quantities of fibre. One very famous company Huntley & Palmers in 1876 developed a specific recipe which is described in Cassell’s “New Universal Cookery Book” of 1894. This became the forerunner of all those digestives.

Digestive biscuits usually contain coarse brown wheat flour which lends this biscuit a distinctive texture and flavour, along with sugar, malt extract, vegetable oil, wholemeal and raising agents which are usually sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid and malic acid and salt. A few varieties often have dried whey, oatmeal, cultured skimmed milk and various emulsifiers.

Nutritionally, two biscuits would be a typical serving and will have the following profile:- 140 calories, 6 grams of fat, 19 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein and 160 milligrams of sodium. Whilst digestives are not sources of vitamins or minerals, there have been attempts to fortify with extra fibre, iron as with the use

The digestive is ideal for weight management as it’s a fine vehicle for wholemeal flours. A typical serving would be two biscuits. usually, digestive biscuits are not a great or even significant source of fibre but there are many biscuits now containing beta-glucan and a heart- healthy fibre. On average we need 14 grams of fibre for every 1,000 calories consumed which equates to 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. If we can meet our daily fibre needs, it helps us manage heart health, reduce constipation and reduce the risks associated with metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases. Fibre is also a means of exercising appetite control hence the interest as a weight management product. This ingredient is often added to cereals and snacks for its nutritional benefit .

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends you limit your intake of foods with added fat and sugar, such as digestive biscuits, because they contribute calories and offer very little nutritional value.

Marie Biscuit

The Marie biscuit is similar to a rich tea and is more popular than the rich tea in most parts of the world outside the UK. It is alternatively known as the Maria, Marietta and Mairebon. It is a round biscuit with the name Marie or Maria embossed on the top with edges which are crimped with various designs. The famous London bakery, Peek Freans developed this biscuit in 1874 on the marriage of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia to the Duke Of Edinburgh. Marie or Marie was the daughter of Czar Alexander II of Russia and became wife of the second son of Queen Victoria, who was Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. It became immensely popular at the height of the British Empire and was exported throughout the world because of its excellent stability especially to high moisture. Biscuits dunked in tea retain their structure more readily which has helped it achieve some notoriety as well. Its popularity was assured throughout Europe especially in Spain during the Civil War

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1 Comment

  1. Recently had a few packets of the McVitie’s digestives and I’m pretty sure they have changed the texture. They just dont seem the same anymore. The old ones were darker and not as pale and these new ones are a bit too sweet and slightly pappy. I wish people didnt change stuff. I used to eat a whole packet and now i just make do with 2. they seem to disappear when dunked into a cup of tea – at least I had some bits in the bottom if I left them too long in tea.

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