I take biscuits very seriously. A good cup of tea and a biscuit can be the only thing which keeps me going at half past three in the afternoon. They are a great source of debate – how much chocolate coating can a biscuit have before it becomes an item of confectionery? Is the Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? And why do they still insist on putting Bourbons into Family Favourites tins when no-one likes them?
Something I’ve never considered, however, is their ethical/green credentials. Luckily, the latest issue of Ethical Consumer has done the research for me.
Interestingly, when the magazine looked at biscuits a decade ago, the issues were very different. The emphasis then was on the use of genetically-modified ingredients. A lot of food companies have since moved away from GM products, though it remains an concern.
A massive new issue to be addressed is the use of palm oil by food manufacturers. Indonesia has already given up six million hectares of land to palm oil, displacing local people, creating soil erosion, and destroying natural habitats – of the orangutan in particular.
(I don’t want to put you off your breakfast but see the Born To Be Wild site for more on the brutal killing of orangutans to make way for palm oil plantations.) Clearly that’s to be avoided, so I’m keen to steer clear of products which contain palm oil – or unsustainable palm oil such as that from Indonesia.
Now, rightly or wrongly, I perceive more ethically and environmentally-conscious products to be more expensive, and in the case of biscuits it seems to be broadly true.
Duchy’s Originals get quite a high ‘ethiscore’ (in 8th place out of 31) and they are bloody good biscuits. I’ve enjoyed many a Sicilian Lemon Shortbread – mainly when I’ve bought them for my Nan for Christmas. But at £2.39 per 100g for Chocolate and Vanilla Shortbread, it’s hard to justify them as an everyday biscuit.
The biscuits with the 2nd and 4th-highest ethiscores were also extremely expensive: Island Bakery’s Organic Chocolate Gingers at £3.08 per 100g and Against The Grain’s Chocolate Chip and Hazlenut biscuits at £3.05 per 100g.
What was a pleasant surprise was that the brand which had the highest and 3rd highest scores were not nearly as expensive as some less ethical brands. Dove’s Farm Hazlenut Cookies are quoted at just £1.53 per 100g, so half the price of Island Bakery’s comparable product.
I hunted high and low at the big Harringey Sainsbury’s but couldn’t find these mysterious Doves Farm biccies. Or Island Bakery or Against The Grain, for that matter. Doves Farm might be reasonably priced but where on earth can you lay your hands on them?
The Doves Farm website says Mother Earth in Islington is one of its stockists so I will make it my weekend’s mission to purchase some of their champion biscuits. In the name of ethical research, you understand….