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This is part one of a two-part post on the best British snacks. Today, we’ll cover cakes, biscuits, and crisps – and next time, we’ll talk candy. For each item, we’ve included links to where you can get them if you want to give them a try.
Sweet British Snacks
As any fan of The Great British Baking Show knows, the Brits are great at biscuits, cakes, and other baked goods. Although nearly any small village or market town bakery will be able to top everything on this list, they’re still excellent snacks when you find yourself thousands of miles from quality British baking.
Bakewell Tarts – A Bakewell tart is a pastry with a shortbread-like crust, a layer of jam, and then another layer of either frangipane or almond-flavored fondant. There are quite a lot of varieties, but our favorite is the Cherry Bakewell Tart. Fresh or commercial, they’re all quite good. Though you’d have a tough time finding an American bakery that makes them, Mr. Kipling is a popular UK brand you can often find online. Several varieties are available at the links below:
- Mr. Kipling Cherry Bakewell Tarts
- Tesco Cherry Bakewell Tarts
- Mr. Kipling Trifle Bakewell Tarts
- Mr. Kipling Bakewell Tart
- ASDA Lemon Bakewells
- Wheat & Gluten-free Mr. Kipling Cherry Bakewell Tarts
Jaffa Cakes – If you don’t like the combination of orange and chocolate, you’re not going to like Jaffa Cakes (though you might like some of the limited edition alternate flavors). A Jaffa Cake is a comprised of three layers: a sponge base, orange jam, and a layer of chocolate. Though they strongly resemble a biscuit (cookie), the texture is more cake-like. For the purposes of VAT calculation, the UK government considers them a cake. While plenty of companies make them, McVities is the original.
Jammie Dodgers – I’ve already decided that if I ever get another kitten, I’m naming it Jammie Dodger. In a competition for cutest British snack food name, this one wins, hands down. The treat itself is pretty cute, too. Made of strawberry or raspberry jam sandwiched between two shortbread cookies with a heart cut-out, they look like something a primary school would serve on Valentine’s Day. Aside from the more common strawberry and raspberry flavors, you can occasionally find limited edition flavors like toffee, orange, chocolate, lemon, and Vimto (a soft drink).
McVities Hobnobs – A Hobnob is something that, in the US, might be classified as an “old people cookie” – but they’re quite popular in the UK. The original tagline of this biscuit was “one nibble and you’re nobbled”, but they’re not nearly as exciting as that might sound. Made from a combination of rolled oats and jumbo oats, they’re like a slightly lumpier digestive biscuit. Tasty, but this is definitely a more reserved cookie. In addition to the original plain Hobnobs, dark and milk chocolate varieties are fairly easy to find.
Digestive Biscuits – Digestive biscuits (or just digestives) are a slightly sweet cookie that originated in Scotland. They were developed by a couple of doctors who believed the inclusion of sodium bicarbonate would give them antacid properties. The chocolate variety is the most popular biscuit for tea dunking (in the UK, at least). In terms of taste, plain digestives are not too different from graham crackers.
- McVitie’s Original Digestives
- McVitie’s Milk Chocolate Digestives
- McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Digestives
- McVitie’s Milk Chocolate & Caramel Digestives
Viennesse Whirls – Viennese Whirls are a particularly attractive sort of biscuit. Unlike plain sandwich cookies/biscuits, these have a distinctive whirl pattern on each side, along with middle layers of buttercream and jam (often raspberry).
Battenberg Cake – The Battenberg cake originated in England, but nobody is exactly sure who invented it, or when. The earliest mentions are sometime in the late 1800s. What’s important, though, is that we have it. These cakes display a distinctive checkerboard look when sliced, because they’re made of two separate colors of cakes. You bake two cakes, chop them up, slather jam in between the sections, then cover it all in marzipan. Apricot jam is most common, and the cakes are usually pink and white.
Tunnock’s Tea Cakes – This is a bit of a controversial choice for the list, as some Scots have recently been quite angry at this Scottish brand for calling their tea cakes “British” – but of course, the Scottish people ARE British, even if that can be a bit of a loaded term in the chaotic post-Brexit/Independence vote days. A Tunnock’s Tea Cake consists of a shortbread biscuit covered in Italian meringue (much like a marshmallow), all covered in milk or dark chocolate. They expand at high altitude or in the microwave. One interesting note about Tunnock’s – they’re family-owned since 1890.
Lancashire Eccles Cakes – The Lancashire Eccles Cake originated in the late 1700s in Lancashire, though no one is quite sure who invented them. The cakes are round and soft, made from real butter and filled with currants. They’re often served warm with a bit of jam and butter.
Shortbread – It’s virtually impossible to go to Scotland and not see encounter shortbread (and only slightly easier to avoid it in England or Wales). Walkers Shortbread is probably the most popular brand distributed here in North America, but we have a very slight bias toward’s Dean’s (although Walkers Chocolate Scottie Dogs are WONDERFUL).
- Dean’s of Scotland Pure Butter Shortbread Fingers
- Walkers Chocolate Scottie Dog Shortbread
- Walkers Scottish Shortbread Biscuit Selection
- Walkers Pure Butter Shortbread Fingers
- Shortbread House of Edinburgh’s Shortbread Fingers
- Walkers Shortbread Mini Chocolate Chip Rounds
Salty British Snacks
There are a couple things that often0 startle Americans who try British salty snacks (and probably some others, though I’m less familiar with how crisps are flavored in non-US countries).
First, British crisps are often cooked in sunflower oil. The flavor is slightly different, and in my experience, sunflower oil-cooked crisps are slightly more prone to going rancid. High-end natural brands here in the US often use sunflower oil because it’s safe for extremely high temperatures, high in vitamin E, and it has lower levels of trans fat and saturated fats than many other cooking oils. In England, it’s fairly standard. Corn and canola oil are more common in the US.
The other big difference is the flavor selection. US Standards like sour cream and onion or barbecue are a bit less common, and you’re more likely to run into things like prawn, beef, and salt and vinegar. Admittedly, salt and vinegar flavors aren’t too difficult to find here, but they’re definitely more popular in the UK.
Walkers Crisps – If you’ve ever browsed the snack section of a shop in the UK, you quickly realized that they have an entirely different set of flavors from what you’ve seen in the US. Some of the popular flavors include prawn cocktail, Marmite, beef and onion, cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, smoky bacon, Worcestershire sauce, pickled onion, and tomato ketchup.
- Walkers Cheese & Onion Crisps
- Walkers Meaty Variety Pack
- Walkers Classic Variety Pack
- Walkers Roast Chicken Crisps
- Walkers Prawn Cocktail Crisps
- Walkers Worcestershire Sauce Crisps
KP Hula Hoops – KP Hula Hoops are sort of like if you crossed Bugles with calamari rings. They’re made of potatoes and formed into short, hollow cylinders. This makes for a fun shape to eat, and you often find that a bit of extra seasoning has settled into the interior portion of the rings. You can find KP Hula Hoops in flavors like BBQ Beef, Cheese & Onion, Original, Salt & Vinegar, Roast Chicken, Smoky Bacon, and Sweet Chili.
Guinness Crisps – Unlike many of the treats on this list, Guinness Crisps are suitable for both vegetarians AND vegans. In a land of so many baked goods made with real butter, that’s definitely worth noting. Guinness crisps are exactly what they sound like – potato crisps designed to taste like Guinness beer. This is an Irish treat, but of course we cover anything within the British Isles, so it’s close enough for us to add it to our list of British snacks. In addition to the original Guinness flavor, they also come in Rich Beef Chili flavor.
Jacob’s Mini Cheddars – These delightful little snacks came out of an effort by McVitie’s to diversify, but these days you’ll find them marketed under the “Jacob’s” brand. They’re sort of a biscuity cracker, and they come in all sorts of fun flavors like Stilton, Red Leicester, Smoked Applewood, Marmite, Branston Pickle, and Prawn Cocktail.
- Jacob’s Mini Cheddars Red Leicester
- Jacob’s Mini Cheddars Stilton
- Jacob’s Mini Cheddars Smoked Applewood
- Jacob’s Mini Cheddars Original
- Jacob’s Mini Cheddars Variety Pack
Walkers Monster Munch – Monster munch is a corn snack baked into the shape of a monster foot. While pickled onion seems to be the most popular flavor, it’s not the only one. You can also get Flamin’ Hot Monster Munch and Roast Beef Monster Munch.
Twiglets – Twiglets are baked sticks of whole wheat that have been seasoned with a Marmite-like yeast-based coating. Rich in vitamin B and celery seed, they’re actually somewhat healthy compared to other junk food options. They’re great dipped in hummus or pub cheese.
KP Skips – KP Skips are sort of like Chinese prawn crackers, but they have a more delicate texture that sort of melts on your tongue. Prawn cocktail is the original and most popular flavor, but they also come in other, often limited edition flavors like Caribbean Spice Curry, Chinese Spare Rib, pickled onion, and pizza.
Scampi Fries – Scampi fries are a pub favorite – a salty snack that tastes like a mixture of fish and lemon. They leave your fingers a bit grubby, but then again, so do Cheetos. There’s also a bacon-flavored variety.
KP Nik Naks – Nik Naks are an extruded corn snack that’s been sold in the UK since the early 1940s. They’re quite similar to Cheetos, but with some vastly different flavors. While the original flavor was cheese, you can now get them in Scampi ‘n’ Lemon, Nice ‘n’ Spicy, Rib ‘n’ Saucy, and Pickle ‘n’ Onion.
KP Space Raiders – Kp Space Raiders are a corn-based crisp that’s particularly popular with kids. Each crisp is shaped like an alien head, and prior to food coloring laws, they came in green and red colors. Now, they’re a more natural corn light brownish color.
Want more British snacks?
One of our Facebook group moderators, Liberty W., made a video of herself testing a variety of British snacks. We’ve embedded it below for your viewing pleasure.
Want to join our Facebook groups? Just click on the links below and hit join – we’ll get you approved straightaway!
- I Heart British TV Group – for all things related to British T
- I Heart Britain Group – For history, travel, and culture