My sweet tooth is acting up again! A while back, I wrote about my love for Toblerone, which has only been reinforced in the time I’ve been living in Switzerland (where they’re half the price! Very dangerous). Now I’d like to introduce you – if you haven’t been acquainted already – to speculoos cookies and spread.
History & ‘Speculated’ Origins
Speculoos is a Dutch-Belgian creation (more accurately from rural Flanders), a scrumptious shortbread biscuit containing spices that were common in the Dutch East Indies spice trade (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and white pepper). While in the Netherlands and Belgium they were traditional consumed for a holiday known as St. Nicholas’ Feast, they were, and still are, indispensible Christmas-time treats in certain parts of Germany. Workers in the Low Countries region of Europe would make sandwichesto take to work using speculoos cookies and butter (which were cheaper than meat and ham). By midday, the mixture would take on a spread-like consistency just in time for lunch. The name speculoos (speculaas in Dutch) is derived from the Latin speculum, or mirror, since the cookies were shaped into ‘mirror images’ of the wooden molds they were baked in, often of windmills, figurines, animals, etc.
“Young men used to decorate these figurines and give them to their sweetheart. If she accepted, she loved him back. That’s where the Dutch expression for flirting, iemand versieren (literally ‘to decorate someone’), comes from.”
Perhaps the most recognizable brand of speculoos cookies is Lotus Bakeries‘ Biscoff cookies, which were established in 1932. The cookies made their way to Americans’ hearts and stomachs in the 1980s, when they started to be served as in-flight treats.
They’ll feel like familiar cookies to those who eat Archway‘s Windmill Cookies. The closest thing I can think of to the speculoos cookie is a gingerbread cookie but even that lacks what makes speculoos unique and delicious. Chef Ann Cashion once said that what makes Biscoff special is not just the flavor:
“It’s a texture, a mouthfeel thing. They are crisp to the bite, but then they just crumble into tender sand as you chew.”
I think the first time I had a Biscoff speculoos cookie was at BooKafé in Geneva, actually – they often serve coffee with a cookie on the side!
Speculoss Cookie Butter/Spread
The Biscoff spread is actually quite new. In 2007, Els Scheppers competed in the Belgian television show De Bedenkers (The Inventors), where she shared her cookie spread invention. After winning the show, Lotus Bakeries approached Scheppers to bring her product to mass markets. Watch Scheppers talk about her product below:
The spread was introduced in the U.S. in 2011. Knowing that it would be tough to compete against the well-established peanut butter industry there, Biscoff has been branded as a healthy alternative to traditional nut and chocolate spreads. You can find other alternatives in places like Trader Joe‘s (Speculoos Cookie Butter) and various speculoos-inspired products have since been released.
The Fight Over Speculoos Rights
After going into business with Scheppers, Lotus Bakeries felt threatened by competitors who also tried to put out a similar product and sued them, “claiming it had obtained a patent that gave it the exclusive right to sell the paste”, but the patent was later nullified by a court in Ghent which ruled that “food could not be patented”.
Featured image photo cred: Sander de Wilde for the International Herald Tribune