Posted by: angmlr007 | 15/03/2011

Cookie vs Biscuit – The American-British Divide

OK folks, today I am going to keep this post simple. Can anyone tell us the difference between a cookie and a biscuit?

Think there is no difference? THINK AGAIN.

The British – Biscuit lovers

Evidently, the British (and most of the Old Worlders I should think) are fans of those little hard snacks that snap and crunch as you sink your teeth into them. Some of them would even come with fillings of different flavors in between those hard layers: Cream, chocolate, strawberry, you name it, you got it. I am sure most of us would have eaten them at least once in our lives. For those who haven’t, meet the biscuit.

Yum yum

Biscuits come in all shapes, sizes and colours, though they usually come bite-size or slightly larger. They are typically dry, hard, and crunchy (there are some crumbly variants). More importantly, their fillings usually come in between biscuit layers – or wafers – which sets them apart from their American counterparts. We’ll explore why this is so in the next section.

(FYI, the word “cookie” is not often used by the British until recently)

The Americans – Cookie “da Rebel”

To the Americans, the need to distinguish themselves from their former colonial masters was great, so great that they decided to do many drastic things to distinguish their culture from their “brothers-in-arms”. Apart from the numerous changes to their spelling system (color vs colour, center vs centre, vaporize vs vapourise), they also decided to break away from the traditional idea of “biscuits” and re-invented the snack. It is now revived with a new style and name, and it is called the cookie.

Subway cookies are a classic example of the American cookie

While most people will go “wait a minute, the cookie and the biscuit are the same thing”, there are actually a couple of subtle differences in the style of presentation and taste of these cookies as compared to their Old-World relatives. For one thing, the Americans decided to make them bigger, rounder, and slightly softer (though softness is subjective, depending on the baking style). More importantly, note how the fillings have been added to the pastry. Unlike the biscuit wafer-style fillings, Americans decided to split their substance into little chunks and embed them throughout the dough, and presto – the chocolate chip cookie is born! Try typing the word “biscuit” into Google’s image search, and compare them to search results for the word “cookie”. You’ll understand the difference.

So where did the biscuit go?

But of course, the Americans pulled no stops to distancing themselves from their former masters. In a bid to throw the biscuit entirely out of the window, they decided that it should be used to name a small leavened bread instead (thankfully they didn’t turn the word into a taboo). If you want a taste of a typical American biscuit here in Singapore, I recommend you check out Popeyes’ biscuits. They taste good, and are damn filling.

Super filling. Couldn’t even finish my chicken after eating those

The Gasoline-Petroleum Issue

Cookies and biscuits ain’t the only things the Yanks and the English have issues about. They also decided to name the fuel they use differently too. In Europe, people top up their cars and other vehicles with petroleum, but in the States, they fill their tanks with gasoline (or gas for short). Hahaha… it’s pretty amusing now that we think about it, why they decide to use different names even though both sides speak the same language.

Metric vs Imperial

That’s not all. While the British have moved on and started using the new metric system of units, the Americans seem to have taken one step “backwards” and retained the usage of the Imperial units system – although they decided it should be renamed as the “United States Customary System”. This is a peculiarity that I never really got an explanation for, and is still going quite strong today. Whether it is out of usefulness, laziness to change, or sheer pride and refusal to accept the metric system, I guess this is an exploration I will look into soon. =)

 

Conclusion

It’s really amusing to explore the other little nuances that separate the Americans from the British. The ones I’ve listed are just a few of the many differences between them. I wonder what others I can find in time to come…

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Responses

  1. I think a big one, also in the culinary or practical sense is pub/bar. Americans have bars, British have pubs. There are also English-, Irish- and Scottish-style pubs in America but those are a novelty. There is a history of Christian opposition to drinking alchohol in America and so Bars are adults only and viewed as unwholesome. Some states do not allow bars near schools, in Oregon, all Bars must also serve food. Americans also have a tradition of drunken debauchery – drinking games such as the famous beer pong, body shots, beer helmets, etc. British pubs are a neighborhood hangout community gathering place traditional kind of thing. In Texas, kids can drink as long as they are with their parents and so maybe bars are more like pubs there.

  2. I enjoyed your article very much. I for one love biscuits when I can find them, especially the chocolate topped ones. Yes, a typical biscuit for me is like the one shown from Popeye’s, which is enjoyed here in my home state of Louisiana. I hope one day to travel from here in the USA and visit all the great places that the United Kingdom has.

  3. When I was in Britain, my friends there taught me the difference between “sweet” and “savory,” a distinction among categories of food I never learned in America but which made good intuitive sense. At tea, they’d serve both crackers and cookies (to use the American terms), and used the term “biscuits” for both. Later, shopping at Harrod’s food hall, I was looking for some distinctly British crackers to go with the cheese I was bringing home as a gift. I asked a clerk where I could find “biscuits,” and he was truly confused, no doubt as he’d never heard an American ask for anything but cookies or crackers. He asked, carefully, “Sweet or savory?” “Savory,” I replied promptly, and he led me to the crackers. So it appears that the distinction you’re seeing reflects a difference in each country’s traditional styles of cookie-baking, but it only reflects part of the use of the much broader category of “biscuit,” which is a term applied to a large range of small baked things.

  4. I should add that if you ask for “crackers” in Britain, you’ll be directed to the party favors. Um, favours.

  5. In the UK we always use the term crackers fro savoury biscuits i.e .Jacob’s Cream Crackers and other cheese biscuits.

  6. Great post! My American boyfriend asked me to get biscuits form the grocery store and I returned with what he would called cookies.

  7. Also note that America is the only country in the world that puts the month before the day in the date. Its lucky I write this on 4/4/13 to save confusion.


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