It is a question that has divided the nation. To dunk or not to dunk? Some people consider it socially unacceptable to dunk a biscuit in your cup of tea when in good company, while others think it is a sign of friendship and familiarity (in other words, they want a good excuse).
There are people love to dunk their biscuits to soften them up so they melt in the mouth, while others complain that it just leaves loads of soggy crumbs in their drink. The latter group are the people who have not yet discovered which biscuits are best for dunking.
Image from Morguefile
River Cottage cook, Nigel Slater recently went on a mission to trace back the history of the British biscuit, and along the way he rediscovered the biscuits of his childhood, from those 'boring' ones his grandparents used to serve to the ones he was excited to find in his school lunch box.
On his journey, Slater recruited biscuit experts and scientist to find out which biscuits were the least likely to fall apart if you dunked them in your tea. So if you are tired of crumbly dregs, here are the bickies to go for.
Also referred to as ship biscuits, hard tack are one of the first kinds of biscuits to be made, and were eaten by sailors on long sea voyages or before going into battle. Made from not much more than flour and water, hard tack biscuits tasted like cardboard, and were so hard that even dropping a cannon ball on them doesn't always cause them to break. These biscuits were designed for long voyagers because they had a long shelf life, were full of calories, and filled seamen up.
Hard tack biscuits were impossible to eat unless dunked in soup or a hot drink, which is where the tradition originated. They not be something you want to eat nowadays, but you have hard tack to thank for your dunking pleasures today.
2. Rich Tea Biscuit
Image by Sean Whitton, Wikipedia
Tea biscuits were invented in seventeenth century Yorkshire, and are one of those plain biscuits that the older generations seem to like, but young kids find boring. Youngsters might wonder why grown-up went for these boring sort; perhaps it is because of their dunkability. When put to the test, when a rich tea biscuit was immersed in tea, it held together for over ten minutes. The clue is in the name.
Although Oreos are American biscuits, I could not resist putting them in. I'm not a fan of these biscuits myself, but their very tagline demands they have a placing.
The Kraft company repackaged Oreos to appeal to a UK market, and added the phrase 'twist, lick, dunk' as part of its advertising. Oreos are the dunking biscuit of choice for children, as they go best with a glass of milk and are great fun to take apart.
Image by Paul Downey, Wikipedia
Invented in 1910, Bourbon biscuits are good for dunking because the chocolate buttercream that sandwiches the two dark chocolate biscuits together, strengthens their structure. When put to the test, they lasted over five minutes in tea.
Some fun trivia facts. Bourbons are 62mm in length and have ten holes each.
Custard Creams are good dunkers for the same reason as a Bourbon. They have a vanilla custard flavoured buttercream filling, and are an alternative if you are looking for something less rich or sickly.
6. Shortbread Fingers
Image by David Souza, Wikipedia
A classic Scottish biscuit, shortbread is high sugar biscuit. Despite being very crumbly, the sheer thickness of a shortbread finger means that it holds together for longer. When put to the test, they also lasted over five minutes.
The biscuits to avoid dunking with include Hobnobs (last only thirteen seconds), chocolate chip cookies (twenty-six seconds), ginger nuts (forty-five seconds), and despite being the nation's favourite, a McVitie's Digestive only lasts twenty-two seconds. If you buy the chocolate kind, you can make them go a bit further (sixty seconds).
Experiments for biscuit dunking were done long before Nigel Slater had a go. In 1998, Dr. Len Fisher from the University of Bristol looked into the physics of biscuit dunking.
Biscuits are made up of dry grains of starch which are glued together by sugar. When exposed to hot liquid, the grains swell and soften, which makes them taste and feel so nice in the mouth. However, this same process also dissolves the sugar, which means you lose the glue. This is why the less sugary the biscuit, the more likely it will hold together.
If you still insist on going for the crumbly biscuits, Fisher investigated the best way to avoid a dunking disaster. A digestive should be dunked for a maximum of eight seconds, whereas a ginger nut should not be dunked for any longer than three seconds. It is best to use a cup with a wide rim, only dunk horizontally, and once taken out, to hold it upright, so the biscuit is supported by the dry section. It is also better to dunk biscuits in milk rather than tea or coffee. Because of the fat molecules in milk, this drink also releases more flavour from your biscuit.
Great article Bryony however, I have to say that to me, there is only one biscuit that can be dumped and that's the good ol' Arnotts Ginger Nut. It doesn't crumble and has a great gingery taste. But only in tea, never in coffee.