Why It's Illegal to Call This a Cookie - Anzac Biscuits
Why It's Illegal to Call This a Cookie - Anzac Biscuits

Why It's Illegal to Call This a Cookie - Anzac Biscuits

This is the story of Anzac Biscuits - and how, for over a century, their name has been protected by law and become, 'the most protected word in the world'.


This is Anzac biscuit. They're sometimes chewy, they're sometimes crunchy, but what it can never be legally is called a cookie. Now this isn't about some archaic law that's still on the books, but it's about something that legal scholars have called the most protected word in the world. It's a story about how for over a century, and to this very day, a government department is regulating the name and recipe of this humble biscuit.

Firstly, and particularly for our American friends, let's talk about language. Here in Australia, we spell colour like this, baseball like this, but the word relevant to ask is biscuit. So this is what a biscuit looks like in the U.S.A. and this is what a biscuit looks like here in Australia.

Now the other part of the name Anzac. This dates back to World War I, when Australians fought alongside New Zealanders in the Gallipoli campaign, and they were called the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This was a source of national pride, the very first time that this new nation had sent troops as a national entity. And while the history's a bit unclear, the origins of Anzac biscuits goes back to this time, and it's said that with their robust ingredients, they would survive a journey from Australia to the troops overseas.

And the phrase Anzac came into common use and people started to use it in their business for hats, for tea rooms, for boots, and for soaps. Members of the community thought that it shouldn't be used like this in business and the Australian government agreed. In 1916, the Australian government put the first restriction on the word Anzac, meaning you couldn't use it for a business name or a trademark, but also for personal use, like your home or your boat or your vehicle.

Now it was 1916 when James Armstrong was convicted for breaking these laws with his Anzac Art Photo Enlargement and this started a century of restrictions and regulations, and here's how the rules work. To use the word Anzac, you have to apply for and get permission from the Department of Veteran Affairs, and this is how the process normally works.

You come up with your idea, you request it, and they say no. In 1934, Australia's beloved aviator Charles Kingsford Smith, an absolute badass who was the first person to do a transpacific flight from the U.S.A. to Australia asked the Australian government for permission to call his plane Anzac. Now he fought in the Gallipoli campaign, he was an Anzac, and what did the Australian government say, no. Australian government's been pretty heavy-handed about this, but there are some personal areas where it's okay.

You can name your pet Anzac and you're allowed to call your kid Anzac, as well, but if they grow up and wanna name a business after themselves, then that's banned. Now back to our biscuits.

For their first few decades of life, they weren't really sold. They were something you would make at home. But when people did wanna sell them, what would they call them, they're called Anzac biscuits, and here's what the regulations say. "Application for Anzac Biscuits are normally approved "and are referred to as Anzac Biscuits or Anzac Slice," and here's the key, "Referring to these products "as Anzac cookies is generally not approved due "to the non-Australian overtones." That's right, it's un-Australian to call these a cookie and prohibited by law to the tune of $10,200 for an individual, $51,000 for a company, and up to 12 months' jail. And the Department of Veteran Affairs will only give it their tick of approval if you comply with the original recipe. That is, if you add chocolate chips to these, that is against the law.

So you might be thinking surely an Australian government department isn't really regulating the recipe of biscuits, well, you might be surprised. Now the spirit of this law is to protect the tone of the word Anzac and to stop this kind of thing, when lads' mag Zoo Weekly tried to have a special Anzac centenary edition and had to pull it due to public outcry and not getting approval.

In 2008, it was found out that Subway wasn't using traditional ingredients and they were ordered to change their recipe. Now they've had a lot worse scandals than this one, but when they worked out it wasn't cost effective, they stopped selling the biscuits. Ice cream makers Gelato Messina was required to change their name from Anzac Bikkie ice cream to Anzac Biscuit ice cream. In 2017, a Reddit post described this as un-Australian, a vegan, cauliflower, shortbread Anzac cookie, and this got mainstream news. Now the company making it had no idea about this law and quickly withdrew the product.

And across the ditch, New Zealand have passed similar laws. Where Anzac biscuits are allowed, Anzac cookies are not.

So you might be thinking, "Yeah, "but I'm not in Australia or New Zealand, "so these laws don't apply to me. "I'm gonna start my own Anzac cookie company" Sounds good, but it might not be so easy. In 2003, Australia and New Zealand made a submission to the World Intellectual Property Organization to protect the word Anzac under Article 6ter, which restricts the use of national symbols and emblems, and this was accepted, so all 164 signatories of the WIPO are now required to restrict its use and ban any trademarks featuring the word Anzac.

And that's the story about how Anzac became one of the world's most protected words and why wherever you travel, you'll probably not see this called a cookie, so I say eat up and enjoy the history and tradition of one of Australia's iconic foods because when it comes to a recipe and the name, the Australian government is one tough cookie.

Thanks for watching, I'm Julian O'Shea and I make videos about weird and wonderful topics, so hit Subscribe if you wanna see more of them. I'd love to give a shout-out to Catherine Bond, who literally wrote the book on this topic and for taking the time to have a chat about the legal status of Anzac biscuits.

A link for the book and the government-approved recipe for Anzac biscuits will be in the description, thank you.