For all that they represent what we have in common, the history of Anzac biscuits is highly contested. Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have invented the cookie-like Anzac biscuit that we now know, but its origins are not clear.
The original biscuit was not sweet at all; rather it was a savoury hardtack biscuit (also known as an Anzac tile or wafer) that was used in soldiers’ rations as a substitute for bread.
The first known Anzac biscuit recipe appeared in The War Chest Cookery Book, which was published in Sydney in 1917, but this recipe was for a cake, not a biscuit. It is said that biscuits with a similar recipe to the one we knew today appeared in magazines under different names, sometimes called “Rolled Oat Biscuits” or “Soldier’s Biscuits”. The current name only came about after the legendary ANZAC Gallipoli Campaign.
Anzac biscuit recipes, in the form we know them today, began appearing in cookbooks in the 1920s. They were sometimes called “Anzac crisps” or “Anzac crispies” (not “Anzac cookies”, as one would assume) in reference to their hardness. The earliest recipe for these “crispies” found to date is from a New Zealand cookbook published in 1921.
THE ORIGINAL RECIPE
The crunchiness of the biscuits was important when the recipe first came about. Although we now see recipes for more chewy versions, the original biscuits – whatever their name at the time – had to stay fresh for the months it took them to reach soldiers overseas.
It is said that women at home came up with the recipe based on ingredients that were readily available, namely oats, sugar, flour, coconut, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water. None of these spoiled easily, which meant that the biscuits would stay fresh for longer. Eggs were scarce during the war, and made baked goods more likely to spoil, which is why melted butter and treacle were used as binding agents, and bi-carb soda as a leavening agent.
Both Australia and New Zealand had an extensive number of Scottish immigrants and descendants, so some say that the original recipe was based on a Scottish biscuits recipe. Oats were eaten extensively in Scotland and were considered very nutritious, which is why they were included.
Although associated with wartime, the biscuits were less common in WW2 as ships had better refrigeration, allowing goods such as fruitcake to be transported to troops stationed overseas.
Our recipe is based on a competition run by The Australian Women’s Weekly more than 40 years ago that aimed to come up with a definitive recipe for the iconic biscuit. As such, ours have the traditional taste and crunchy texture that generations of Australians and New Zealanders have grown up with. Wholesome with oats and coconut, and with a warm sweetness from golden syrup and brown sugar, Unibic ANZAC Biscuits are made to remind us of love from home.