Food Fight – Are Jaffa Cakes Biscuits or Cakes?

Are Jaffa Cakes Biscuits or Cakes?
Sporcle user Rackie introduced Jaffa Cakes to Sporcle staff during a summer visit to our headquarters in Seattle. We instantly became fascinated by the biscuit vs. cake debate that surrounds these tasty treats. So, are Jaffa Cakes biscuits or cakes? We’ll give you a little background, and then let you decide.  

What Are Jaffa Cakes?

Jaffa Cakes were first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1927. They are a product of McVitie & Price (now called McVitie’s, a British snack food brand owned by United Biscuits).

While Jaffa Cakes have come in different varieties over the years, they are most commonly circular in shape, and comprised of three layers: a sponge cake base, a layer of orange flavored jam, and a coating of chocolate. They are named after Jaffa oranges.

Interestingly, McVitie’s did not trademark the “Jaffa Cakes” brand, so other snack food companies have made similar products under the same name.

Orange is the standard Jaffa Cakes flavor, but other limited edition variants have been made available in the past, like lemon-and-lime and strawberry.

The Jaffa Cake Debate

The whole biscuit vs. cake debate surrounding Jaffa Cakes dates back to a value-added tax that was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1973. A value-added tax (VAT) is a tax that is assessed incrementally, based on the increase in value of a product or service at each stage of production or distribution. In the UK, VAT accounts for the third-largest source of government revenue, behind income tax and National Insurance.  

In the United Kingdom, VAT is payable on chocolate-covered biscuits, but not on chocolate-covered cakes. When the rules around VAT were being made, it was decided that cakes were generally made in homes (and therefore a “staple of living”), while biscuits, when covered in chocolate, were seen as factory-produced luxury treats. Thus, cakes are exempt from the value-added tax.

When it came to Jaffa Cakes, it was ruled that they fell under biscuit classification. This was largely due to their size and shape, and the fact that they were often eaten in place of traditional biscuits. As such, Jaffa Cakes were subject to VAT.

McVitie’s Fights Back

In 1991, McVitie’s brought forth a case against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for the right to not charge VAT on Jaffa Cakes. They insisted that their product was a cake. The case was held before a VAT tribunal.

During the tribunal, Jaffa Cakes were examined and debated, and many different factors were considered. For starters, the product’s name, which includes “Cakes,” was determined to play no real role in whether or not VAT would be charged.

Here are a few other key points that were brought up:

Why Jaffa Cakes are Biscuits

  • They more closely resemble biscuits in size
  • They are traditionally displayed alongside other biscuits, not cakes
  • It takes only a few bites to eat a Jaffa Cake, similar to biscuits
  • They can be eaten with one’s fingers, like a biscuit (cakes, it was argued, are eaten with forks)

Why Jaffa Cakes are Cakes

  • The ingredients are similar to those of a cake
  • Jaffa Cake batter is thin, like cake batter, not thick, like biscuit dough
  • They have the texture of a sponge cake
  • Jaffa Cakes harden when they go stale, much like a cake (biscuits, conversely, get soft)

Are Jaffa Cakes Biscuits or Cakes?

Compelling arguments were made on both sides, but ultimately, the tribunal ruled in favor of McVitie’s. It was determined that Jaffa Cakes should be categorized as a type of cake, and are therefore exempt from VAT.

This was a huge win for McVitie’s, as it is estimated that over one billion Jaffa Cakes are eaten each year. As you can imagine, that is a lot of tax savings.

Are Jaffa Cakes biscuits or cakes? Let us know what you think in the comments below. And if you liked this post, you might like this one: Is a Tomato a Fruit or Vegetable?

Mark Heald

Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.

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Mark Heald
About Mark Heald 138 Articles
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.