Is a fig roll (UK, fig bar in the US) taxed as a biscuit or a cake in the UK?

A Jaffa cake has been determined to be cake, not a biscuit, based in part on what happens when it goes stale. It is taxed at the lower VAT of a cake.

How is a fig roll taxed? Biscuit or cake?

  • 3
    VAT = value added tax. Also, the word biscuit does not have the same meaning in British English that it does in American English. In British English a "biscuit" as a term that overlaps heavily, although not perfectly, with the set of food items called "cookies" in American English, while in American English a "biscuit" is an individual portion sided bread product that does not overlap significant with the set of food items called "cookies" in American English. A Jaffa cake is similar to a small, frosted cake donut. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa_Cakes Fig roll=Fig NewtonTM.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 19:19
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    Thank you. As far as I can tell, "biscuit" in British English includes "crackers" and some "cookies" in American English. British English also uses the term "cookie" but I have never figured out which American "cookies" are also English "cookies" and which are English "biscuits". Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 21:40
  • I agree. Contrary to conventional wisdom, concrete nouns which break up the world in different categories in different languages and dialects are frequently harder to translate than abstract and intangible concepts.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


The relevant guidance is here, at sections 3.4 and 3.6. It is surprisingly(?) confusing, the result of trying to account for exceptions both historical and otherwise motivated.

The biscuit/cake distinction is not the one to focus on, because some biscuits are zero-rated (I think this category is basically the fairly plain biscuits like custard creams or bourbons) and some are standard-rated (those with chocolate, but also some others as far as I can tell).

The following are supposed to be standard-rated:

biscuits wholly or partly covered in chocolate (or some product similar in taste and appearance)

any item of sweetened prepared food, other than cakes and non-chocolate biscuits, which is normally eaten with the fingers

Later, in the 'zero-rated' column of a table of examples we have both

Cakes including sponge cakes, pastries, eclairs, meringues, flapjacks, lebkuchen, marshmallow teacakes and Scottish snowballs


Biscuits coated with icing, caramel or some other product different in taste and appearance from chocolate

There is some further clarification here:

In most cases, the borderline between cakes and confectionery causes few problems, but there are products whose status as cakes is not self-evident. They will normally be marketed as cakes, through bakeries and supermarkets rather than through confectionery outlets, and will be displayed with cakes and biscuits rather than in the confectionery section. The style of packaging used will also normally follow the pattern for bakery products, with a number of individual portions boxed and cellophane wrapped so the contents are revealed. They are also usually eaten as part of a meal rather than between meals as confectionery.

Later in that page they discuss flapjacks vs. cereal bars and admit that flapjacks are classed differently because flapjacks were around when VAT was introduced and cereal bars weren't.

Based on this, I think fig rolls are likely classed as confectionery rather than cakes, so get standard-rated for tax. If they wanted to invest in the legal battle that Jaffa Cakes had, they might well win, but 'to the man on the street' they are a sweet product sold for eating between meals in its own packaging, and so they naturally fall into that intended category.

EDIT: After all that, I found this wholesaler who states that fig rolls are zero-rated. Perhaps they do get classified as cakes or plain biscuits, then.

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    Thank you. This was mostly for my brother in law, who is an attorney specializing in sales taxes and VAT. I am sure he appreciates the details and nuances more than I do. Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 16:24
  • I'm sure the manufacturer would give a quick and authoritative answer if he contacts them – I'd be interested to hear the result after all this confusion!
    – dbmag9
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 16:25
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    "I'm sure the manufacturer would give a quick and authoritative answer if he contacts them " well they would be able to give an answer on the position they are taking. Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 22:25
  • @PeterGreen Well, yes, but I don't think it's likely to be a contested issue – the Jaffa Cakes story is well-known because it was unusual. Fig rolls are sold widely in the UK so this will be a settled question which anyone who sells them will know the answer to.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 10:18
  • Jaffa cakes have existed since 1927 and VAT has existed since 1973 and yet the legal dispute with the government only happened in 1991. Was there a change to the VAT rules for food around that time or did the government simply decide to wait that long before pressing the issue? Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 15:56

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