Every Kiwi kid knows that toasted cornflakes and rich chocolate wafting from the kitchen means Afghan biscuits. New Zealanders of all ages enjoy this classic treat at snack time, during holidays, at potlucks, and as after-school fuel. But despite its ubiquity, the origins of the Afghan biscuit are purely conjectural. Is it racist? A nod to geography? No one knows for sure.
As a young nation, New Zealand derives much of its culinary inspiration from British tradition, but the Afghan biscuit is a cookie all its own. The recipe begins with a buttery cocoa batter studded with ground cornflakes, which add a gritty crunch all the way through each bite. After baking, each cookie gets topped with chocolate icing and studded with a single walnut. The finished product is crispy, rich, salty-sweet, and addictive. Kiwis also buy them everywhere from gas stations to inter-island ferries.
Still, the origin of this crispy chocolate delight remains a mystery. The authors of Edmonds Cookery Book may have been the first to chronicle Afghan biscuits in the 1940s, without mention of credit or history. Likewise, the recipe’s name is of unknown origin, though speculation points to several rather unbecoming possibilities. The most harmless of suggestions likens the cookie’s texture to the landscape of Afghanistan, with the crushed cereal representing sand and the piled frosting and walnut symbolizing mountains. Others tie the biscuit’s inspiration to Britain’s involvement in the Anglo-Afghan Wars, which began in 1839. Afghan biscuits may have been invented for wartime care packages, or to represent “eating” the enemy. Indeed, there are mentions of the cookie as representation of an Afghan male, wearing a symbolic walnut turban.
Offensive? Certainly. Out of the question? Not entirely, seeing as “political correctness” had yet to be coined in the 19th century. If nothing else, here’s fodder for your next controversial conversation over tea and cookies—and the Edmonds recipe, to boot.
Need to Know
There are plenty of recipes for Afghan biscuits online. If you're in New Zealand, you can find them just about anywhere.