Penguin biscuits have been on sale in Britain for nearly ninety years. The combination of a chocolate coating over two biscuits sandwiching a chocolate cream filling was invented by a Glasgow manufacturer named William McDonald in 1932. It became a McVitie’s brand in 1948 when the companies merged to form United Biscuits.
Arnott’s food technologist Ian Norris tried the Penguin on an overseas trip in 1958 and subsequently developed Tim Tams. The classic version, described by Arnott’s as “Delicious smooth cream sandwiched between 2 crunchy biscuits, coated in Tim Tam chocolate” was an immediate hit. Many variations have been marketed since, including dark chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, dark chocolate mint, honeycomb and choc orange. There have also been various limited edition flavours.
Tim Tams are notorious for the Tim Tam Slam – a practice that involves nibbling the ends off two diagonally opposite corners of the biscuit and using it like a straw to suck up a drink. (See detailed instructions, with diagrams, here.) Arnott’s have even produced varieties called Tim Tam Slam, “especially made for slamming”.
Tim Tams are exported to America and also made in Indonesia for the local market. There has been ongoing controversy between Aussies and Brits about the relative merits of Tim Tams and Penguins. One British reviewer made the following comparison:
Smaller than the Penguin proportionally lighter as well the Tim Tam feels unfamiliar. Biting in to it we were met by a very light biscuit, the Wife is reminded of the Honeycomb center of a Cadbury’s Crunchie. Its certainly doesn’t have the gritty texture of the Penguin. The whole colour of the Tim Tam is a warm bronze to the Penguins almost slatey grey chocolate and biscuit. And now to the flavour, well we were very impressed. The Tim Tam has a buttery richness to its chocolate and chocolate cream, I was put in mind of Galaxy chocolate.
So the verdict? Well the Tim Tam is a classy little biscuit, it tastes great and its insubstantial nature affords the sucking of tea and coffee through it by Australian songstresses, the infamous Tim Tam Slam. However, the mighty Penguin offers a more of a satisfying mouthful and its greater bulk elevates it from treat to a snack.
Most reviewers seem to agree that Tim Tams taste better, so do we really care if it’s not entirely original? I don’t think so.