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Snack-of-All-Trades: From Cookies and Biscuits to the Industrial Revolution

A Peek into the History & Difference between Cookies and Biscuit

If you could think of one snack everyone in the world loves, what would it be? Cookies, of course! You might even find aliens on Mars munching on a chocolate chip cookie or an English biscuit. Although both cookie and biscuit are words used interchangeably, they’re two sides of the same coin with a history of evolution - a cookie renaissance, if you will. 

So, where exactly did these confections come from and why are they called by two different names? 

For starters, (or dessert…) as Persians, now Iranians, well-known for decadent and lavish cakes, were one of the first civilizations to harvest sugar cane in the 7th century; making the wealthy empire the ideal makers of what would later be known as cookies, and even later on, as biscuits. It was in the 12th and 13th century that Europe was slowly introduced to these Middle-Eastern methods.

It was the Dutch that, in their experiment to test oven temperature, used little spoons of batter or dough called “koeje”, literally meaning “small cake”, and if you have already figured it out, then you must be a smart cookie. 

All good things crumbs to those who wait… And that is exactly what the French did in the 14th century. To make the “cookies” stay fresh for a longer time, they withdrew all the moisture from them, by baking them twice and that resulted in the dry and hard texture “Biscuit”. 

The British now use the name “biscuit”, but it originated from “Bis Coctum”, Latin for “Twice Baked”. Italian “Biscotti”, is also derived from here.

The word about these little bites spread faster than you could say, “A good cook could cook as many cookies as a good cook who could cook cookies”. Nearing the end of the Revolutionary War, America decided that they did not want the same snack as the British. Thus, we dropped the biscuit that was given to us, and picked up the cookie. 

Then came the late 18th century, and the world found itself in the 1st Industrial Revolution, and everything centered around mass production. England saw that there was potential for commercializing cookies, which led to them trading cookies to America. Soon after, the United States decided to manufacture their own by obtaining resources and machinery.

After that, the cookie-biscuit industry went on the great global bake-off. Cue the avalanche of cookies and biscuits from every bakery in all corners of the world, except Mars (we’re wondering what martian cookies may taste like).

Now that we’re back to modern-day, let's take a peek at how different countries prepare their unique batches:

1. Qurabiya from Iran

Of course, Iran, formerly the Persian Empire, takes the honorary top spot with Qurabiya. Originating from the easter city of Tabriz, these fancy-yet-traditional cookies have been part of the Iranian culture for centuries. Made with egg whites, sugar, little flour, ground blanched almonds and topped with chopped pistachios before baking makes them a sweet snacks for all occasions, especially weddings!

2. Alfajores from Argentina

If you’re not a big fan of crispy biscuits, then the Argentinian Alfajores are the perfect snack for you. Decadent dulce de leche filling, sandwiched between a couple of buttery, crumbly shortbread cookies, is a perfect batch made in heaven! The best part? It is a breakfast item in Argentina but as always, no one can stop you from having them at any time of the day!

3. Nan Khatai from India

The biscuits have travelled and we have reached India! The not-so-secret ingredient is ghee, or clarified butter. Nan Khatai is one of the simpler types of cookies yet loved by all, young and old. These buttery cookies are a holiday staple in India, especially during Diwali, the festival of lights. Still Nan Khatai is found in every bakery, home and even on the streets, any time of the year.

4. Amaretti from Italy

The Italian desserts are world famous. Best enjoyed with a strong and hot cup of espresso in the morning, or crumbled on top of ice cream to give it extra texture; the limits are endless with Amaretti, petite almond paste filled cookies with a slight bitter taste, chewy from the inside. Make sure you don’t mess up the Italian recipes passed down from grandma, though (they may take it personally).

5. Stroopwafel from the Netherlands

If there was a magician in the cookie world, it would be stroopwafels. Usually one would just pick up and eat the thin wafer disc. But here’s where it gets interesting, you put your stroopwafel on top of a steaming cup of coffee or milk, wait, and the hidden caramel filling inside will melt into warm goodness!

And that’s the way the cookie (or biscuit) crumbles. Now, when someone asks you for a cookie and not a biscuit, you can show off your newly acquired knowledge. Food is the one thing that brings people of the world together, and these sweet snacks have done that just perfectly.