You know it’s time for fall when you start to see these wonderful orange and brown/black boxes start to pop up in your local supermarket. Growing up in Philly, my family always shopped at ACME which has the market cornered on Ivins “Famous” Spiced Wafers.
I remember being fed these sweet and crunchy confections every fall along with a cup of milk or glass of apple juice, and always feeling excited when I saw the boxes lining the shelves because I knew my birthday was coming, and Halloween wasn’t far behind.
Since I’ve moved to the suburbs, however, my shopping preference has changed to GIANT, and they only carry Sweetzels brand of spiced wafers. Of course I’m not picky so I purchased them and was delighted to find the familiar crunch and spice I remember from years past.
But I was curious… which wafer would win in an ultimate spiced wafer throwdown? After picking up a box of Ivin’s on a quick stop at the ACME, my wife and I sat down to sample the spoils. At first glance, the boxes look similar, each donning the smiling baker. Ivin’s design goes for simplicity with the strict Halloween black and orange with stencil artwork and a rather German and portly-looking chef (the cookies are, afterall, a PA dutch specialty). The Sweetzels box goes with the more clip-art style illustration chef, but also gives a product shot next to a hand drawn chef and his dog.
The proverbial gauntlet, however, is thrown down by Sweetzels with the tag line “Philadelphia’s Original Ginger Snap. Quality Since 1910.” I don’t know about you, but if you’re from Philly, you know that ACME supermarkets pretty much own the city. I never even heard of GIANT or Sweetzels until I moved out of the city. So by my standards, Ivin’s was king of the Spiced Wafer.
I had thought about comparing the two brands for a while now and am always interested that you never see any advertising for these cookies, but I guess when everyone knows they only come out from late August to late November and you’re vision is basically assaulted with orange when you walk in your preferred supermarket, there’s no real reason to use traditional advertising.
But back to the match at hand, after transporting the cookies to a safe location (my kitchen), I inspected the ingredients for any hint of superiority. The verdict, virtually identical. I then looked to the location of the producers. Sweetzels (these days at least) is not technically from “Philadelphia”, but are produced in Skippack, a suburb about an hour outside the city. Ivin’s, however, is not even from PA. These cookies are flown in from Eden Prarie, MN….MINNESOTA?!? Oh well, I guess that is the way of the world, but my childhood image of Ivin’s is now slowly eroding.
Hoping for the best, and expecting at least some difference or reason to place Ivin’s back on the pedestal, I open the boxes…even the packaging is identical. Now for the fun part…the eating. Sweetzels takes the first swing: sweet, crunchy, with the spicy aftertaste I’ve always loved. (This is a great contest, BTW) Ivin’s counterpunches: sweet, crunchy, with the spicy aftertaste I’ve always loved. Final verdict? It’s a boring TIE! The bottom line is, you can’t go wrong with either cookie. They both stack up to my autumn memories and if you’re not careful, both can break a tooth with any bite. But if you’re not into the crunch, toss them into the microwave for 30 seconds and enjoy. They go great with milk, cider, apple juice, vanilla ice cream or an Octoberfest beer! I even make my pumpkin pie crusts with them.
I’ve decided to try my hand at making my own spiced wafers this year, so I’ll report back with the results. But one thing is for certain, they will be a staple in my kitchen every year.