Australians, by and large, are a pretty easygoing group of people. As long as you respect our biosecurity laws and pretend to like Vegemite, there's not much we won't put up with. There is one exception to this rule, however. If you mess with our childhood snacks, the nation will immediately rise up in a homicidal, jingoistic rage.
Old-school snack fans have had a pretty rough trot of it lately. Last year, Allen's killed off most of its classic lolly range, including green frogs, spearmint leaves and Oddfellows. Then, Smith's discontinued that perennial public pool favourite, Toobs (I'm still suffering trauma from that one). Now, Arnott's is changing the taste and texture of its popular Shapes biscuits in an apparent bid to make them healthier.
Last month, the biscuit giant announced it was changing Shapes to a "New And Improved" recipe. Here's the official announcement as it appears on Shapes' website:
"Fans this one is for you! Tame your hunger with new and improved Shapes, now with more flavour. Made on a crispy, crunchy oven-baked-not-fried biscuit base they’ll smash your cravings…you asked for more flavour Shapes lovers, so get a big flavour hit from the new and improved Shapes available in the biscuit aisle now."
From the very beginning, most longtime fans were skeptical. The general consensus seemed to be "if it ain't broke, why fix it?"
Then customers actually began tasting the stuff. The resulting explosion of disgust, vitriol and outright hatred made Shapes a trending topic on social media for weeks. People accused the new version of tarnishing their childhood memories with a ferocity not seen since Star Wars Episode 1.
Here is a tweet that's roughly representative of how the new recipe has been received by the masses:
I tried the "new and improved" arnotts bbq shapes and they tasted like ants.
— (wet reggie) ????krisp (@krispythehuman) April 13, 2016
There's currently a petition on change.org to return Shapes back to their original flavour. As we said, you just don't mess with Australia's childhood snacks.
Despite the public backlash, Arnott's is sticking to its guns. “We all genuinely can’t understand how people could NOT prefer the new ones. Everyone who I have sat with who has done a true test genuinely prefers the new,” an Arnott’s representative explained to Lifehacker. We decided to put that claim to the test.
But first, let's take a look at how the new recipe differs from the old.
In terms of base ingredients, the biggest change is the addition of cornflour (maise). Presumably, this decision was made to bring down the manufacturing costs, as corn additives are considerably cheaper than wheat. (This is why corn is found in everything.)
Other new ingredients include baking powder, paprika extract, citric acid and new additives such as E307b. Omissions from the old recipe include Worcestershire sauce and garlic.
The new recipe has also altered the nutrition contained in an average serve, as evidenced in the below table.
Nutrition per serve (25g):
|Old BBQ Shapes||New BBQ Shapes|
As you can see, the new Shapes have a smaller amount of salt and saturated fat, but also less protein and more carbs and sugar. Calling them healthier is probably a bit of a stretch.
But we're not here to judge whether BBQ Shapes are good for you. Instead, it's all about the taste. We placed the new and old versions into two separate bowls and invited our colleagues to judge with their taste buds. We also gave Pizza Shapes the same treatment.
Here are our individual verdicts:
Chris Jager, Lifehacker editor
My first impression when biting into a new BBQ Shape was that the new recipe is definitely more flavoursome. The second was "Christ, that's sweet!"
The new formula is dominated by a ketchup-esque tomato powder that's dusted liberally on each biscuit. The flavour isn't terrible, but it's considerably different to traditional Shapes. The texture is also slightly softer and less "rustic" which may put off existing fans. (Newcomers won't bat an eyelid, however.)
I think the new BBQ Shapes are still pretty moerish, despite being of lesser quality. It's like the difference between a T-bone steak and a sauce-smothered cheeseburger — one is unquestionably superior to the other, but sometimes you just feel like something soft 'n' sweet.
New Pizza Shapes, on the other hand, are unquestionably rank.
Hayley Williams, editorial assistant:
The new Shapes make me sad.
I had been craving Shapes for a couple of days before the taste test, as any sane Australian would after they had been discussing the merits of our favourite snack food for a few days straight (and defending them from Mark Serrels’ blasphemy). After trying the new Shapes… well, I still wanted Shapes, only I didn’t. I feel like new Shapes have left me in an existential crisis.
The new BBQ Shapes taste like they might come from a box of Woolies brand biscuits called something like ‘Pieces’ — they almost taste like BBQ Shapes, with a strong aftertaste of disappointment. The biscuits are too soft, and added sweetness means that you’re pretty put off after one or two biscuits. The biggest travesty is the loss of the chunky, salty flavouring that used to congregate mostly in the bottom of the bag. As someone who has actually dug an ‘empty’ box of Shapes from the bin to scrape the leftover bits of flavouring from the inside of the goon-sack-esque wrapping, I feel like my life will never be the same.
The new Pizza shapes are even more offensive. The first bite kind of hints at a classic Pizza flavour, but it disappears as quickly as classic Shapes will soon be gone from our supermarket shelves. The rest is just a soft, irregular hexagon of sadness, with a hit of almost corn-syrupy sweetness I haven’t tasted since the USA almost destroyed my digestive system. ‘New and improved’ my arse. I always wondered how pet food manufacturers tested a ‘new and improved taste’ for their latest chunky cat food formula — but whatever it is, Arnott’s must have used the same process to ‘test’ the new Shapes flavours.
Why have you done this to us, Arnott’s?
Mark Serrels, Kotaku editor:
Shapes are trash. Old shapes are trash and new shapes are trash. Like we're eating a slightly different type of trash now? This is a big deal?
Come on people.
Shapes are like a fake-healthy potato chip alternative. Just buy potato chips. Buy Red Rock Deli chips and live your life the way it was intended: with snacks that actually make you feel alive.
Alex Walker, Kotaku journalist:
Never mind Mark; we’ll have him deported later.
Pizza shapes to me are an institution. They’re as Australian as a sausage sandwich on election day. Asking for a drink in a schooner. Pavlova. Bogans and utes. The beach. Kids overdosing on red cordial.
It’s just part of how we do life. We like our crunchy little biscuits, and the bits of flavour that get left behind in the alfoil packaging afterwards. Wetting your finger and digging through a finished Shapes packets: it’s almost a rite of passage.
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to shapes: Barbeque, Pizza, and nothing else. So when I heard that cornflour was the new base for the biscuits instead of wheat, I was reluctant. Why are they buggering with something good? Why are they taking a classic and giving it a touch of, dare I say it, America?
I pondered these questions when eating the original versions of Shapes. And then the taste of the new Pizza shape hit my tongue.
Arnott’s hasn’t just messed with an institution. They’ve taken one of the most treasured memories and tastes of my childhood, cracked open my stomach and dropped an enormous, corporate dump on everything I loved.
How on God’s green fucking earth did they ruin Shapes so badly? The Pizza Shapes are nothing short of awful. They’re almost sickly sweet and have an awful sourness that lingers for far too long. It doesn’t feel pleasurable in the slightest; it’s not the clean biscuit experience of the original Shapes.
The BBQ flavour is more passable, but it’s still noticeably worse. The flavour is less distinct and the aftertaste is infinitely less painful than new Pizza. But they suffer the same problem: you’re eating a chunkier biscuit that’s not as clean, and that’s part of the fun of eating Shapes in the first place.
Thank Christ someone within Arnott’s had the brains to continue the original BBQ flavour line. And hopefully there’s a glut in the global wheat market, because if they start using cornflour as the base for every Shapes flavour I’ll never buy another box again.
Tiffany Roma, administration assistant:
It’s softer, sweeter and saturated in seasoning. I kind of like the new one! Not necessarily based on flavour, but definitely texture. It’s noticeably softer. If I tried to fit a whole bunch of shapes in, it wouldn’t cut the roof of my mouth.
The seasoning sticks to the shape now too, it doesn’t fall to the bottom anymore nor does it create a sad pit of disappointment. I no longer have to look down after I’ve finished and think “look at all the flavour I could’ve had”. I ended up eating way more of the new Shapes than I should have today. Would scoff again.
Rae Jonhtson, Gizmodo journalist:
You know when someone (probably you) leaves your packet of BBQ Shapes open on the kitchen bench overnight, and you sneak one in the morning even though you know it’s gross and a little bit soft and won’t taste nearly as good? That’s what the new BBQ Shapes taste like — except all the time. They have a strange new sweetness to them. They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t on par with the old recipe – not by a long shot. I think I could get used to them, if I had to.
The Pizza Shapes, on the other hand, deserve an award in the “how companies destroyed foods you love” hall of fame. The flavour profile completely lacks familiarity. It’s like the people who created these lost their sense of smell in a freak shampoo accident (I don’t know how, ask them!) and now everything they make tastes like handwash fragrance. I had to eat a handful of the old Pizza Shapes to get the flavour of the new Pizza Shapes out of my mouth. There are no words to describe how not okay with this I am.
Amanda Yeo, early morning editor:
The first thing I thought when I popped the new Barbecue Shapes into my mouth was that I’ve tasted this before — and not in a Shapes biscuit. I was immediately reminded of Goldfish, even though the last time I had them was in primary school. The new biscuits aren’t necessarily bad, but they are remarkably generic. They’ve done away with everything that made Shapes unique. The flavour you can see, so proudly advertised a few years ago, is now flavour you can see with a magnifying glass. The cracker-like biscuit, plain but for the aforementioned flavour flakes, is now strangely sweet. The biscuits have been given a bronze burnish and are now softer and more crumbly, and the titular shape itself is slightly wider. I will say that the flavour is now more evenly distributed around the biscuit.
People who have never had Shapes before and even some who were raised on the biscuits likely won’t object to the actual flavour. I’ll admit, I didn’t mind it, and can picture myself mindlessly eating a box. However I came out of the experience with the distinct impression that I could probably get the same flavour from a thousand other biscuit products, probably generically branded ones at that. Though it was tasty, it’s wasn’t the iconic Shapes.
So there you have it. Six out of seven judges preferred original Shapes. On the plus side, Arnott's has announced it will continue to sell both versions of BBQ Shapes “as long as people are still buying". If we get stuck with the new version, we only have ourselves to blame.
Have you tried Arnott's "New & Improved" Shapes yet? Tell us what you thought in the comments.