The 1990s were just better, weren’t they? Oasis and Blur banging out tunes, no social media to put you off, Donald Trump was just a comedy TV character.
Oh, and it was a golden era for snacking – at least that is how I remember it – Space Raiders, Dib Dabs, Tip Tops – lovely.
When I used to come home from school with my sister, our dad gave us 50p as we were passing the corner shop. We were to go inside and get whatever we wanted with that 50p, in a (vain) effort to keep us quiet and out of trouble until teatime.
But was it so great in the 90s and early 2000s? I decided to find out.
I went back to that corner shop with a fiver in hand, to see which of those snacks were still knocking around – and to see if today’s versions match up to my childhood memories.
First up, the Wagon Wheel. Now, my hands were obviously a lot smaller back then, but I remember these things being massive back in the day – research shows they’ve only started shedding a few millimetres since 2006, but I’ll keep believing this conspiracy theory until the day I die.
First made in 1948, this is two biscuits with a marshmallow middle, and chocolate poured over the top – it’s hard to get that formula wrong. They made other variants too – I was particularly fond of the Jammie one.
Here’s a regular one in 2021, sitting on my desk, waiting for the taste test.
VERDICT – Yeah! That’s a Wagon Wheel alright!
The best part is the biscuit crunch going into the marshmallow, which is very satisfying. There’s something different about the chocolate coating though, which isn’t as sweet as I remember. Not a bad thing in this case – there’s a lot of snacks to go.
As expected, hard to get wrong. Strong pass.
Q: “How many Penguins are left in the cupboard, Tom?”
A: “Dunno, mom”, I say, nervously shoving the wrappers under the sofa.
A real icon of school lunchboxes everywhere. All hail the venerable Penguin bar.
A 1932 creation, it started wearing McVities colours in 1948. Again, a simple formula – sort of like a Bourbon biscuit with a chocolate coating. They’ve always been cheap too, so if my sister and I put our money together we could get a dirty great pack of them – we knew how to cheat the system.
VERDICT – Again – that’s a Penguin bar alright!
This one is literally the same as I remember it. I would be surprised to learn if they changed the formula at all within the last 20 years.
Very good crunch, and the chocolate coating and inner layer are very bueno. What more to say? Top marks.
How does a Penguin build its house? Igloos it together *rimshot*
The Penguin, but for the middle classes, with a shiny foil and paper wrapper and sharp, clean edges.
Another “biscuit base with a chocolate coating” snack, but these came in an ingot shape with a wide variety of fillings like mint or orange cream, or a raisin-ey filling so you could pretend you were having your 5-a-day.
A strange aside – the silvery paper wrapper was really durable too, so it was decent makeshift origami paper.
VERDICT – I got the minty one – not too shabby.
The mint flavour wasn’t as strong as it smelled, funnily enough, and the biscuit was a bit soft.
But that’s some world-class chocolate coating, especially for a snack bar. Extra points for presentation. Strong marks.
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Moving onto crisps and crisp-adjacent snacks now, starting with the wild concept of the Transform-a-Snack.
Very clearly made to capitalise on the popularity of Transformers, space, and robots, but at least it’s honest about its intentions.
VERDICT – First thing – there’s an absolutely terrible ratio of wheels to car body parts. It took me a good minute to fish out enough wheels for one car, and I didn’t want to dump the bag over my desk like a savage.
As seen above, the wheels didn’t even all fit on my car, which is just sad. I gave up finding more wheels.
These are the Spicy flavour – decent mild flavour, but now there’s bits stuck in my teeth.
Nice idea – poor execution. Pass for doing the bare minimum, which is not tasting bad.
A late 80’s addition to the British snack scene, these are the quintessential cheap corner shop snack.
They used to have little comic strips somewhere on the bag, and I remember some characters crunching on Space Raiders to scare off nasty aliens.
I don’t remember being a massive fan – they were very crunchy, and a bit too big for small mouths, but they were cheap and cheerful.
VERDICT – Oh good lord these BBQ Sauce ones taste salty, I wasn’t expecting that.
Fairly strong BBQ sauce flavour, meat-like aftertaste, good crunch, but leaves your mouth a bit dry and definitely feels “artificial”.
I remember having to pick bits out of my teeth – always a problem with these types of maize or wheat snacks – but less so with these.
Tastes just about right apart from the initial salt shock, but it’s good that they’ve improved the texture over the years. Solid pass.
The last snack I managed to get from the corner shop before I (28, balding, scruffy) felt awkward raiding the kids’ sweet section.
These sherbet sweets come in all kinds of flavours and packaging, but you essentially get a lolly with some fizzy, sweet powder.
The fizzing sensation is actually a chemical reaction between acids and salts with the water in your mouth – a lot of sugar goes into masking the taste of the reaction.
There’s two ways to eat these – wet the lolly and dip it into the sherbet, or shovel it out dry like a barbarian. Guess which I did?
VERDICT – Hm. Just, hm.
I was expecting so much more fizz that I got – instead, I got something I can only really describe as “slightly spicy sugar”.
That put a dampener on this taste test. Other than that it was fine, I guess. A bag of sugar with a lollipop.
Hm. Hm out of ten.
Something I always bought but didn’t see on my trip to the corner shop were Rainbow Drops. They are still being sold elsewhere, before you panic.
These neon-bright sugary puffed rice snacks were a favourite of mine – like Skittles, there was a joy in separating the colours to see how many you got. The pink ones were my favourite, though I’m not sure there was actually any difference between them.
There were variety bags of Swizzels sweets too, though I had to save up for the bigger packs. Climpies, Love Hearts, Drumsticks and more were always a solid choice.
My sister and I used to badger my parents for Fruit Winders, which were just fun to eat if nothing else. I remember the fury from parents in the UK as they found out Fruit Winders had trace amounts of fruit at best – they’ve been changed since then.
Finally, a special mention for the Twist N Squeeze (now Squeeze It) drinks – many kids’ first experience of walking out of an off-license with 6 bottles. A tradition some of us practise today, in a slightly different form…
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a sugar crash.
What was your favourite childhood snack? What snacks did I miss out on in the 90’s? Comment below, or talk to us on social media.