Tim Tam. Just the name sends a shiver down the Aussie spine. The chocolate biscuit is as true-blue an Australian icon as Donald Bradman, Mr Squiggle or casual racism. Like most Australian icons, it’s owned by America – since 1997 Arnott’s have been a fully-owned subsidiary of The Campbell Soup Company of America (you may know them from their work with Andy Warhol).
Wikipedia describes the Tim Tam as “two layers of chocolate malted biscuit, separated by a light chocolate cream filling, and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate”, which I think takes away some of the magic. The Tim Tam is so much more than wafers and chocolate – it’s a delightful treat, it’s a straw for coffee, it’s a lonely girl’s companion. Launched in 1964, the name comes from a prize-winning American racehorse which Ross Arnott had seen win the 1958 Kentucky Derby (by a strange co-incidence, the horse that came second was called “Chocolate Wafer Biscuit You Can Drink Coffee Through”). Tim Tam (the horse) was inducted into The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985, no doubt leading to endless disappointment for biscuit-starved ex-pats visiting Saratoga Springs, New York.
As the old saying goes, “if you build it, they will copy it under a slightly different name”. So the original Tim Tam now competes with several similar biscuits on the supermarket shelves. How do they stack up? In the interests of science, The Outland Institute gathered a panel to do blind taste tests of four contemporary Tim-Tamalikes.
The four biscuits on trial were:
The Tim Tam
Original (none of this double-choc-vodka-and-cranberry-infused malarky for us). $3.05 per pack.
Dick Smith’s Temptin’
Temptin’. Get it? Temp…Tin’… never mind. A bad pun and a greenish pack is not the best omen for this snack. Arnott’s sued Dick Smith in 2003 over this biscuit (it was settled out of court). $2.48 per pack.
Select Chocolate Sandwich
Homebrand Triple Choc
The panel was asked to rate each biscuit on a scale of 1 to 5 in four categories – Appearance, Taste, Texture and Quality Of Chocolate. The biscuits were marked by identifying letter only, and the objective was not to guess which was the Tim Tam but rather to evaluate each biscuit on its own merits. And to eat chocolate.
The selection panel were:
Anne-Marie Peard, theatre reviewer (“pretentious arsehole” – John-Michael Howson); gourmand Angela Costanzo; artist Zoe Horsfall; the Evil Doctor Chris; international guest speaker Alden Anderson and myself. Psychology student/property developer Dallas, by admitting she didn’t really like chocolate, was relegated to “control”. Or possibly Geneva. Tea and coffee was served, and then beer.
“wonky coverage”, “you can see the biscuit”, “it feels cheap”, “it’s a dominant fondant”, “1 for taste – it’s harsh”, “remember this is the first one, it could turn out to be as good as it gets”.
“you could eat this with a latte, whereas you’d scoff biscuit A in a carpark at the supermarket”, “it’s a good weight in your hand”, “it works as one”, “it tastes like something you could take to a Christian Music Camp and not be embarrassed”, “it’s got a good mousse”.
“nobody can stack a biscuit anymore”, “i like the shape, they’ve embraced themselves, gone in their own direction”, “they’re not copying Tim Tams”, “this is my favourite”, “you’re an early adopter – this is the future shape of Tim Tams”.
“another wonky one”, “it’s got that gross filling again! what the fuck is that?”, “this is my second favourite”, “it’s got an aftertaste – biscuits should not have an aftertaste”, “can you break an A in half so I can compare again? yes, that was disgusting”, “I think D’s got melamine in it”*.
(Several of the team found it impossible to finish Biscuit D).
At the end of the experiment, the scores were tabulated, the biscuits took off their masks, and the winner stepped forward…
The winner was far and away Biscuit B, which was the bona-fide Tim Tam.
Part of the reason for this test was that I honestly thought all the biscuits might turn out to be exactly the same. There are products that have both premium and homebrand versions produced in the same factory, and often what you end up paying extra for is the packaging and advertising. I had visions of The Outland Institute opening up the whole world to a new Marxist dawn in which there were cheaper biscuits for all.
Sadly, capitalism was proved right, with the most expensive biscuit turning out to be the best. It won in all categories, particularly blitzing the competition on Texture and Quality Of Chocolate, and was the only one to have a noticable malty taste. However, the second most popular did hint at my socialist chocolate dream, as Biscuit C – being the Woolworth’s branded Select Chocolate Sandwich – was over a dollar cheaper than the Tim Tam. Further down, the Dick Smith’s Temptin’ narrowly edged ahead of the Homebrand Triple Choc, although neither biscuit could be considered “popular”. (The single most positive comment for the Temptin‘ was that “it looks like the packet”).
Curiously, the Dick Smith Temptin’ was the only biscuit on our list that listed “flour” as a bigger ingredient than “chocolate”. The Triple Choc packet also held a surprise – they contain beef fat. Not the sort of thing you want to find out after you’ve fed them to three vegetarians.
So what have we learned? The best Tim Tam… is a Tim Tam. And I think there’s something in that for all of us.
Anne-Marie: “Tim Tams mark the change from student to grown-up – having Tim Tams in your cupboard means you’ve made it”.