Is a Jaffa Cake a biscuit or a cake? The history of the great confectionery debate

The Great British Bake Off picked the chocolate orange delights for Cake Week's technical challenge - but do they actually belong in Biscuit Week?

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It looks like a biscuit, it’s shaped like a biscuit and it’s packaged like a biscuit, so why is a Jaffa Cake classified as a cake?

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It’s a question that’s plagued confectionery lovers for decades – and guess what The Great British Bake Off technical challenge was during Cake Week? Yep, a Jaffa Cake. Typical Mary, trying to catch the bakers out with something fiendish…

So, is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit?

Well, actually, we do have a concrete answer thanks to the UK courts, which in 1991 were asked to make a decision once and for all.

You see, VAT (Value Added Tax) is applied to most items in the UK, including chocolate-covered biscuits. However, cakes are exempt from VAT, because they are considered a ‘necessity’ in the eyes of the tax authorities (well, obviously).

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs wanted McVitie’s to pay VAT on their Jaffa Cakes, believing they were biscuits. But the confectionary maker was having none of it, and decided to take the case to court in 1991.

Revenue and Customs argued that if it looked like a biscuit, was packaged like a biscuit and, as it was sold in the biscuit aisle, it was quite definitely a chocolate-covered biscuit. And that’s a pretty solid argument in many peoples’ eyes.

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But McVitie’s pointed out that the base of a Jaffa Cake was actually a cake sponge, not a biscuit. And they baked an enormous 12-inch chocolate orange delight, which they then brought to court to prove their cake point.

But their killer argument was the following: when biscuits go stale, they go soft. When cakes go stale, they harden. What do Jaffa Cakes do? They go hard.

That’s science.

And that’s what sealed the deal for the courts, which ruled in favour of McVitie’s and legally dubbed the Jaffa Cake a ‘cake’. You can read all about the ruling on HMRC’s official website.

No wonder the Great British Bake Off picked a Jaffa Cake-themed technical challenge for 2016 Cake Week.

The professionals and the powers that be may have had their say, but the jury’s still out in the court of public opinion.

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Biscuit? Or cake? Have your say.

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