The Great Kendal Mint Cake Taste Test

Published 8 October 2014

Four brands of Kendal Mint Cake

Kendal Mint Cake.  It’s an institution, and a firm favourite of many a walker, climber or mountaineer.  You’ll find it on the counter of most outdoor shops, and if you head to the Lake District, you’ll find it pretty much everywhere.  If you’re out walking and need a quick energy boost, then just reach for that combination of sugar and mint, combined together in the way that only Kendal mint cake manufacturers know how.  It’s cheap, will survive most things when bounced around in a rucksack, and is rather tasty too.

But of all the brands, which is the finest?  One afternoon in the suburbs of London – far away from the hills and mountains – we set out to decide.  

On Test

Most people will be familiar with three Kendal Mint Cake brands – Quiggins, Romneys and Wilsons – however there’s also a fourth, less well known brand, Wipers.  We tested them all.  In each case we tested the standard white sugar versions – your standard kind of mint cake, although most of them are also available in brown sugar and chocolate coated versions.  

Each was tasted blind, with the mint cake chopped into individual pieces of similar size.  We tested them on branding, the packaging and – of course – the actual taste.  The order the bars were tasted in was also randomly determined. The tasting panel consisted of myself, Catherine who is editor of London Hiker, and Tal who is some bloke we know.

The results are below, ordered the same way as they were tasted.

Wiper’s

Wiper's Kendal Mint Cake

For most people mint cake comes from Quiggins, Wilsons and Romneys, however there’s a fourth name in the mint cake world.  Not very well known today, Wiper’s was the original mint cake; the one on which all others followed.  The Wiper family sold up to Romney’s in 1987, however Wiper’s Mint Cake is still made to this day, using the original recipe and process.  That said, it’s a hard to find brand, and rarely seen outside of the Lakes.  Oddly the only place we found it – and where we purchased it from – was a branch of The Co-operative Food in Ambleside.  Whilst its competitors worked out at roughly 60p, for a 50g bar, our Wipers came out as 20p instead.  Whether due to a clearance offer or just a mistake by the Co-op, we never found out.

Unlike the other brands which were plastic wrapped, Wipers came in a paper wrapper, with a branding that sat it firmly in the “traditional” territory.  Printed in pink and black, it features line drawings of what are presumably Lakeland fells, although quite frankly what they really are is another matter entirely.  It also featured the wording of “A Present From The Lakes”, which made Tal remark that “it almost sells it as ‘you don’t eat it there but you bring it back as a present for someone’”.  One of those gifts you’d never want to eat yourself, perhaps?  Catherine had a differing view, deciding it “looks like something you’d find in one of your grandparents cupboard in the 1950s.”

When it came to the taste though, Wipers just seemed to a disappointment.  The mint flavour seemed to be almost non-existent and the mint cake itself was surprisingly hard; almost crunchy even if the bar itself looked more powdery, like icing on a cake.  Nor was it particularly sweet, although that did give it at least one redeeming feature – all agreed that it didn’t leave teeth feeling very sugary.

Quiggin’s

Bar of Quiggin's Kendal Mint Cake

Of all the companies manufacturing mint cake, Quiggins is the oldest.  The company has been making the stuff since 1840, and is one of the “big two” Kendal Mint Cake brands whose reach extends far out of Lakeland.  If you’re in an outdoor shop, Quiggins stands a good chance of being on the counter.

Yet if you do see it on the counter, you may not be very impressed with the way it looks. Tal decided it “looked like something you’d get at the dentist”, despite the high sugar content meaning that most dentists would probably recoil in horror at having it with 100metres of their surgery.  The Quiggins logo also featured in much debate with the bow around the Q being described as “bizarre”, with Catherine deciding it looked like it belonged more on a packet of shortbread.

Whilst the wrapping may have disappointed, when it hit the mouth the Quiggins went down well.  The bar had a firm look, almost glacier like and the mint flavour was in abundance, although not too minty for Tal whose doesn’t have a particularly sweet tooth.  When chewed the Quiggins crumbled gently on the tongue with pleasing results, and everyone was keen to take a second piece.

Romney’s

Bar of Romney's Kendal Mint Cake

The newest mint cake on the block is perhaps the best known.  Founded in 1918, the company’s mint cake was the first to head up Everest, being part of the rations in the Hillary expedition in 1953.  Romneys is certainly one of the “big two” of the mint cake world, with its product known throughout the world.

The blue and white packaging is also traditional in style, with monochrome drawings of Lake District scenes, with a portrait of George Romney sitting in pride of place in the line-up.  The whole effect is to give the impression that Romney’s have been using the same wrapper for decades, and perhaps they have, yet it looked distinctly modern and stylish as the same time.

Romney’s was also the mintiest of the four, with Catherine comparing it to extra strong mints, although it was also noted that the mint flavour wasn’t massively overpowering nor long lasting.  On the tongue all agreed that the Romneys disintegrated rather than crumbled, and there was a feeling that would make it easier to eat a lot of. Tal summed it the Romneys in one sentence.  “It’s how I expected them all to be.”

Wilson’s

Wilson's Kendal Mint Cake

Wilson’s has been making Kendal Mint Cake since 1913 when J E Wilson opened a shop on Kendal High Street.  Wilsons can be found across the Lake District, although in our experience, is harder to find in other parts of the country.  Whilst the company was founded on the basis of mint cake, Wilson’s has grown into a sizeable confectioner, with an emphasis on chocolate.  Despite that, it’s the mint cake that the company is best known for.

The bar’s plastic wrapping eschewed tradition, instead with the company emblazoned with a slightly dubious photographic reproduction of snow topped fells, which looked “rather touristy – biscuit tin style” according to Catherine.  The wrapping did include some information on manufacturing techniques, and the important information that you can take the mint cake to the searing heat of the sahara desert.  It also featured a rather glaring spelling mistake, informing that “mint cake has become an essential part of survival foods for oxbeditions.”

Spot the spelling mistake on the Wilson's packet

Whilst the other mint cakes had been rather smooth, the Wilson’s felt sugary in texture with the sugar granules clearly taking centre stage.  Indeed it seemed that there was more sugar than mint at times, with Tal feeling that the flavour went very quickly once it had gone in the mouth.  And all that sugar left its mark on the teeth too, with teeth feeling rather too coated after a few bites.

The Results

It must be said that there’s clearly a couple of flaws in our testing.  Firstly not a single bar was shoved in a rucksack and left for several days.  A good test of the old KMC must surely be how it survives being bashed around when out walking.  The other problem was a distinct lack of testing of energy giving properties.  For starters this would be far more subjective than everything else (as if a test based on branding and individual preferences isn’t subjective enough!), but also the testing was conducted sat in Tal’s house in South West London.  It’s not like we could go out and run up a hill or anything.  

And if we’re honest too, the branding and appearance was never going to be that important.  The true test is on the experience when in the mouth, and that’s what each were ultimately judged on.  The three testers each ranked the four mint cakes in order of preference, with the top being given 30 points, the second 15 and the third 5.  Then the points were totted up.

Wilson’s came in fourth, with a mere ten points, with Wiper’s coming in third with 15 points. Which left Quiggins to come in a respectable second with 50 points.

But the shining glory of the world of KMC and a small trophy went to the bar with 75 points.  Romney’s may have been the newest mint cake on the block (relatively speaking) but it was by far the most popular.  That perfect minty taste, with a good texture too.  Wrapped up in some stylish yet old fashioned branding, and without a single spelling mistake, there was just no competition.  Next time I head up Everest, it will be with a pack of Romneys in the pack.

Agree? Disagree? Prefer an actual mint flavoured cake? Have your say in the comments box below.

Your Comments

Matthew King

8 October 2014 at 8:15 am

I’m wondering if the reason the Wipers was 20p can be found on the side of the bar. Assuming you did the test recently, it was out of date. So was probably in the bargain bin.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

8 October 2014 at 8:21 am

Good spot there! I can say that it was firmly in date when we did the taste test – we actually did it in August 2013 and all bars were purchased in July that years. Unfortunately one thing after another got in the way, and it took me over a year to write it all up…

Mark

9 May 2015 at 6:56 pm

It’s May, 2015 and three 30 year old guys called me from a bar at 2 AM to ask me where to get Kendal Mint Cakes like the ones I gave them when I was their Boy Scout leader (they probably phoned a couple of ex’s, too. God, I hope so…).
Anyway, this reminded me that I still had a stash!
I just finished the last of my Romney’s (White / Brown combo-boxed together). They were all of 15 years old and as good as the first mint cake I had when I worked a gear shop in 1978.
I just bought a box of forty two 40g cakes for about $50 US – a bargain!

Your Comments