The Biscuiteer: Arnott’s Iced VoVo

iced-vovo-pack-shotIced VoVo
Manufactured by: Arnott’s

ratings-8

Back when I was a cultural studies postgraduate student, there was some speculation about the decision to purchase Iced VoVos as catering for the postgrad seminar series. One student – let’s call him Alex, because that was his name – protested that they resembled vaginas, adding that the name “VoVo” sounded like a euphemism for female genitalia.

This story is what cultural studies academics would call “a contested site”, because Alex later denied ever having said such a thing. But despite its possibly apocryphal nature, since then I have never been able to think about Iced VoVos without thinking about vadges.

Arnott’s first produced the Iced VoVo in 1906 and describes it variously as “sweet and interesting” and “a symphony in pink”. It consists of two strips of pink fondant icing atop a plain sweet biscuit, a strip of strawberry jam running down the middle, and the entire thing dusted with desiccated coconut. The back of the biscuit has a fancy moulded design on it.

The Iced VoVo has an iconic place in Australian culture. Growing up, I always thought of it as an old ladies’ biscuit, the sort you might break out at a CWA meeting if all the sponge cake was gone. As a child, Crikey journalist Eleri Harris wanted to call her firstborn child Iced Vo-Vo. “I thought it was the most beautiful sounding name in the world… hmm. Good thing I grew up,” she says.

"A symphony in pink"

"A symphony in pink"

In a turn of events that doesn’t exactly counteract the biscuit’s prissy reputation, Kevin Rudd’s 2007 election victory speech famously enshrined it as the ultimate in bureaucratic party foods.

“Friends, tomorrow, the work begins,” Rudd said. “You can have a strong cup of tea if you want, even an Iced VoVo on the way through. But the celebration stops there.”

You might also remember a brouhaha earlier this year when doughnut chain Krispy Kreme created the “Iced Dough-Vo”, a jam-filled doughnut with pink coconut-sprinkled icing. At first the company was defiant in the face of legal action from Arnott’s.

“The word iced is pretty well used, and the word dough I don’t think has got anything to do with what Arnott’s do, and the word vo, I’m not sure what it means, but it goes well with dough,” Krispy Kreme CEO John McGuigan told The Australian.

However, eventually the company agreed to rename the doughnut – a move that had some grumbling the entire episode was a marketing stunt. Which is what people tend to grumble when fast-moving consumer goods make the news.

Perhaps it’s the coconut, but the Iced VoVo is actually much less soft and fluffy than it appears at first glance. The jam is of the hardened, almost toffee-like biscuit consistency, and the icing may look like marshmallows but it is also quite hard. Biting into the biscuit, it’s very slightly chewy to the teeth, but mostly crisp and crunchy.

Dipping it into a cup of tea leaves you at risk of having the coconut detach and float on the surface, but the rest of the ingredients stand up very well to dunking. It actually increases the softness of the biscuit and makes it more enjoyable to chew.

Because it’s also quite a small biscuit, it’s gone in several bites, leaving only the impression of something light, sweet and texturally pleasing. The description “sweet and interesting” is surprisingly apt! The VoVo is surprisingly moreish – while chatting over a cuppa, I managed to devour most of the packet without really realising it. Highly recommended for both ladies and postgraduate silly sausages.

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Comments

  1. I’ve always loved the Vo-Vo as it feels like she’s a biscuit who dressed up for the occasion of being eaten.

  2. Jeb says:

    Perhaps my memory fails me, but didn’t the Iced VoVo originally have marshmallows on the strips?

  3. Mel Campbell says:

    Jeb – I always used to think the pale pink part was marshmallow and was surprised by how hard it was. This shop describes the consistency as a “transitionary form between icing and marshmallow, and is perhaps closest to the components that pink shrimp sweets are made from.”

    Having never eaten the shrimp sweets they’re talking about, I can’t say if this is true.

    I’m not sure if they used to be made with real marshmallow and have since downsized to mere icing, but apparently Aldi sells a biscuit called Snow Cakes that contains real marshmallow. I’ll have to check these out and report back.

  4. T J Honeysuckle says:

    Those shrimp sweets are made out of spongey stuff that is very similar- if not identical- to lolly bananas. And they do not taste of shrimp.

  5. Brian Hair says:

    I joined Arnotts in the eighties and the first week attended a retirement of an employee who had worked for them for 40 years. The manager giving the farewell speech said to the retiree “You must have had an interesting job to stay so long”. The reply was “I shook the desiccated coconut onto the Iced Vo-Vo”.

    He had done this for 40 years? What dedication to the Vo-Vo.

  6. mellygoround says:

    I loved Iced VoVos as a kid precisely because, unless my memory is totally screwed, they were soft, fluffy and marshmallowy. I tried one again last year for the first time since I was a child and discovered – exactly as you report – that it was neither as soft and fluffy as I remembered, nor as marshmallowy. And also tiny.
    I’ll allow that everything seems bigger when you’re smaller, but I remain convinced that downsizing has definitely occurred.

    Is there any way to find out? Would Arnotts’ admit to such a thing?

  7. Brigid Tancred says:

    These people are talking rubbish. A proper iced vo-vo never had marshmallow or anything disgusting like that on it. It was always soft but crunchy. The only difference between the biscuits I used to eat in the forties and the contemporary version is that we now get much fewer biscuits to the packet. There is a substitute version made by another company which unashamedly uses marshmallow. I reccommend that to those of your readers who lack discernment.

  8. Puffin Fresh says:

    I agree with the last post – the mallow vo vo seems like a good idea but in reality it whacks out the proportion of the biscuit.

  9. mel says:

    No need to get personal, Brigid. Geez. Each to their own, chill out.

  10. Mand says:

    This article makes me sad. Not because I care whether Iced Vo-Vos have marshmallow on them, but because someone brought a packet of them to my last-day-of-work morning tea a couple of weeks ago, and I thought ‘I’m enjoying this cheesecake! I’ll have an Iced Vo-Vo later.’ But when I went back later, they were all gone.

    The moral of this story is that when it comes to free biscuits, carpe diem.

  11. Mel Campbell says:

    “And then when I asked if the Iced VoVos would be back, they said they didn’t know.”

  12. DC says:

    The more marshmallowy biscuit referred to in this comment thread is perhaps Paradise Food’s Strawberry Mallow: http://www.paradisefood.com.au/_images/product_fancies3.jpg

    Rediscover, mellygoround!

  13. Cheryl Lamb says:

    Last night I was at a function that had iced vo vos – what has happened to them? they are nothing like what I experienced as a child. Bring back the old fashioned vo vos with the marshmallow topping. I am going straight to the kitchen to now make my own which I have done before, will not give Arnotts the satisfaction of buying there fake ones.

  14. Erko says:

    G’day folks, as a child of the 80s I can confirm that at that time the Iced VoVos did indeed have raised marshmallow…..I understand that after the Campbells acquisition, the biscuit was downsized and marshmallow done away with, for cheaper icing.

  15. mellygoround says:

    Hooray Erko! As a fellow child of the 80s, I thought I must have been getting early-onset Alzheimers or something when comparing today’s Iced VoVos with those of my memories.

    Those Strawberry Mallows look closer to my VoVo memory than the contemporary VoVo does but they are far more mallowy.

  16. VoVoVo says:

    Nothing too much has changed about iced vovos, they are the same today as I remember from my childhood (in the 70′s).

    At the risk of sounding a biccie tragic, those poor misguided souls wondering where their marshmallow has gone are indeed thinking of Strawberry Mallows (from the Paradise Biscuits brand). They look like iced vovos except they do have the pink marshmallow in place of the pink icing.

  17. Davey W says:

    This is getting exciting!

  18. mellygoround says:

    No, VoVoVo! I am not, indeed, thinking of a Strawberry Mallow as the mallowy Iced Vovo of my childhood; I hadn’t even heard of them until two days ago and they are far too mallowy.

    But thank you for enlightening me about what I’m thinking any way Very kind.

    And isn’t it, Davey!

  19. Davey W says:

    I’m here for the long haul, Mel. I need to know.

  20. JV says:

    Don’t care what anyone says, I distinctly remember Arnotts Iced Vo Vo’s having marshmallow, not icing.
    Why else would I have been so disgusted when I bought a packet last week, expecting … an Iced Vo Vo, and getting… whatever that crap Arnotts is selling in their place now?

  21. Nay says:

    They sure did have marshmallow, I’ve done a little survey at work and they all agree.

  22. anaglyph says:

    I’ve stumbled upon this old thread but I feel I have to comment:

    As a child of the ’60s (!) I can say with complete certainty that proper Iced Vovos NEVER had marshmallows on them. The bikkie that had marshmallow was called the Strawberry Mallow (or Raspberry Mallow maybe) and was a different beast entirely. Iced Vovos were a favoured treat of my childhood and I ate many of them, so I have an excellent recollection of what they were like. And the reason I can be SO certain of the difference was because my sister preferred the Mallows and my brother and I used to ridicule her lack of acumen.

    The Iced Vovos you can buy today are identical in every way to the ones I had as a kid, except a little less generous with the topping and certainly a little smaller.

  23. Elle says:

    No, no, no, no. Iced Vo Vos of my childhood never had marshmallows in them. I noticed those strawberry mallow things for the first time the other day while stalking the IGA biscuit aisle. Ring ins, I tells ya.

  24. mellygoround says:

    The Iced VoVo war rages on! Is there a generational delineation appearing here, between the marshmallow camp in the soft and fluffy child of the 80s corner and the anti-mallow camp in the pre-80s corner?

    Although, to confuse the matter, the VoVos of my childhood did not have actual marshmallow on them (they were most definitely NOT Strawberry Mallows) but the icing was absolutely softer and fluffier – more *mallowy* – than today’s is. I like the Aussie Food Shop’s description of the disputed territory as a “transitionary form between icing and marshmallow”.

    Maybe everybody’s right. Maybe VoVos had these depressing smears of hard icing in the 40, 60s and 70s and Arnott’s played with recipe during the 80s? Or maybe it’s time to take the war to Wikipedia? (note: Wiki enters another competitor by choosing the word “fondant” – neither icing, not marshmallow.)

  25. erica says:

    Yes I agree that the 80s vovos definetely had a softer topping, i cant say that it was marshmallow, but i prefer the softer topping to that horrible hard topping. I dont see why people are being so rude about what topping you prefer, its a biscuit for god sake who cares? each to their own.

  26. ruby says:

    Vo-Vos never had marshmallow. I am talking 70s/80s Vo-Vos, pre ‘remastering’.

    They had icing.

    The emphasis on their being ‘iced’ is in THEIR NAME.

    Biscuits featuring marshmallow – with the notable exception of Rocky Road anythings – usually draw undue attention to their mallow-centric nature.

  27. Brian Meagher says:

    The Vo-Voes were first produced by Hardman Biscuits in Sydney, not by Arnotts. Originally the Hardman Biscuits company was started by the Hardman Brothers who had immigrated from England in the 1850′s building themselves into a leading biscuit manufacturing company in Sydney and branching out over Australia to become with Arnotts the two biggest biscuit manufacturers in Australia. In 1946 after their large factory in Newtown was burned down. It is told by our family that Arnotts brought them out and so the Vo-Vos became a receipt of theirs. There are many of the Hardman descendants remember this story. I being one of them.

  28. Justin Hardman says:

    Well as a Hardman! And a direct descendant of The Biscuit Makers! I do declare there was no marshmallow ever on our Iced Vovos! Could any other direct descendants please get in touch with me as I am doing a study on the Hardmans. Cheers and keep dunking those Iced Vovos! Justin P Hardman esq

  29. Justin Hardman says:

    G’day Brian, Justin here. I am living in Birmingham originally hailing from Sydney. My Grandfather who died 15 or so years ago was Owen Paul Hardman. My father is Damon Paul Hardman and I am Justin Paul Hardman. Please let me know when you get this comment. Warm Regards
    Justin

  30. Geraldine says:

    Here at work we are having a debate about how the Iced Vo Vo inherited its name. We were wondering how the `Vo Vo` came into it. I suggested there must have been an Aunty Vo Vo ( short for Violet) who concocted the recipe originally.. and voila the name `Iced Vo Vo`. Is there any true history on this please ?

  31. Darian Zam says:

    Actually, Iced Vovos were being marketed by New Zealand company Aulsebrook’s in 1905. So unless there’s proof of a date that Hardman’s came up with them before that…

  32. Doug McLeod says:

    “I always thought of it as an old ladies’ biscuit”

    I don’t know why you say this. Iced VoVo’s are a man’s biscuit.

  33. kitchener.musgrove says:

    how did iced vo vo get its name

  34. James Larkey says:

    Hardmans Biscuit was still operating in the 1950′s as part of Hackshall a listed company which also ran a flour mill,Southern Cross, and Sunshine Bread all from the Newtown site.I woul be interested to hear of anyone with knowledge of this period. Their big line was Fairy Cakes I never heard they were making Iced Vo Vo.

  35. Alex Lowe says:

    I just stumbled apon this. A couple of years too late.
    Justin, Grandfathers name was Owen BENEDICT Hardman!!
    ;)

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