Food Editor - Sheenagh de Silva

Jaffa cakes divide the nation once more

10 million people tuned into the new series of The Great British Bake-Off last Wednesday. 

As a GBBO virgin (no really, I am!) I wasn’t sure about an hour of watching cake rise, but 10 million people can’t be wrong, right?  So in my new role as food editor, I dutifully installed myself on the sofa for an hour of baking drama on catch up…   

Cake week launched a strong field.  I marvelled at their showstoppers and reflected on their mirror glazes, sharing their pain when it all went wrong (we’ve all been there) and they had to start again.  South London’s Benjamina was in the running for star baker – go Benjamina!  But the customary exit was, I thought, inevitable (sorry, Lee!)  

There were tears of joy, frustration and disappointment, but so far so uncontroversial.  And then there was #jaffagate – that moment when Handsome Hollywood dunked his Jaffa Cake and sparked the age-old controversy, jaffa cake or jaffa biscuit?  

Co-judge Mary Berry was quick to inform him “we don’t’ do that in the south” and if looks could kill… I’m pretty sure he’s learnt his lesson. 

But if you think this is simply about the north-south divide, think again.  There’s much more at play here. 

You see, under UK law, VAT (value added tax) is payable on chocolate-covered biscuits, but not on chocolate-covered cakes.  McVities, who manufacture Jaffa Cakes, classed them as cakes, not biscuits, but this classification was challenged by the taxman at a VAT tribunal in 1991.

Her Majesty’s Custom and Excise believed that Jaffa Cakes were biscuits due to their size and shape, and the fact that they were often eaten as a snack in place of biscuits.  They argued that the product is displayed and sold alongside other biscuits, rather than with cakes, and eaten with the fingers like a biscuit, rather than with a fork as a cake might be.  

McVities insisted that the product was a cake, and allegedly produced a giant Jaffa Cake in court to illustrate their point!  The ingredients, they argued, resemble those of a cake, producing a thin cake-like batter rather than the thick dough of a biscuit, and the product’s texture was regarded as being that of a sponge cake.  Crucially, Jaffa Cakes harden when stale, in the manner of cake – old biscuits, of course, go soft.

The court found in favour of McVities and ruled that Jaffa Cakes should indeed be considered a cake.  And that’s why, my friends, we don’t pay VAT on Jaffa Cakes today.  So, all’s well that ends well.  

 If biscuits are more your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that tonight is biscuit week on GBBO.  My advice is don’t let Mary catch you dunking.

Right, now I’m off to dream about giant Jaffa Cakes…


 Follow me on twitter @sheens_beans


August 31st, 2016

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