Paterson’s Shortbread – Just Say NO

I really never complain about anything officially, like most people I just have a good moan to myself if something upsets me. If it’s a place then I just vow never to darken their doors again, and I stick to it. If it’s a product which I’m unhappy about then I never buy it again and that’s that.

Paterson's Shortbread Packet

Recently I bought a box of Heritage Shapes Shortbread from Paterson’s, a Scottish manufacturer that I’ve been buying shortbread from for getting on for 40 years. I couldn’t believe how disgusting the shortbread tasted. I had a look at the box expecting to see those dreaded words New Improved Recipe, but they weren’t there. Instead it was – now with 80% less saturated fat which was proudly printed on the box.

Reverse of Paterson's Shortbread Box

That accounts for the fact that the shortbread now tastes of cardboard then, I thought. I’m not exaggerating, cardboard is the only flavour which these biscuits taste of. What is even worse is that some time after eating one of them they come back to visit you again in the shape of cardboard flavoured burps! I’ve never eaten a biscuit which has made me burp before.

Anyway, I was not a happy bunny, because shortbread is a traditional Scottish food and these biscuits are the sort of things which people buy as gifts to give others as reminders of Scotland. I feel embarrassed that people might think that these represent Scottish baking. So I wrote Paterson’s an email:

We bought a box of your heritage and choc chip shortbread recently and have been very disappointed with the flavour of them. They taste of cardboard. As I have always bought your shortbread in the past I was somewhat puzzled, but on closer scrutiny of the box I noticed that it says you are now using 80% less saturated fat.

So problem solved you need the fat in baked products to give the flavour, especially in something like shortbread. Shortbread should be an indulgent treat but I’m afraid I’m now going to have to go back to baking my own in the future if you are going to persist with this change to the recipe.

And they replied thus:

Hello Katrina,

Thank you for getting in contact, it is greatly appreciated. We are so sorry to hear that you were disappointed with the taste of our Paterson’s Heritage Shapes and Choc Chip Shortbread. As you mention, this product does contain less than 3% saturated fat. We are proud to offer what we consider to be a delicious, guilt free, melt in the mouth indulgence, however we regrettably accept that it will not be to all tastes.

We are truly sorry that our product was not to your taste or preference on this occasion and wish that it were otherwise. However, we are very grateful to you for taking the time to write to us – we really do appreciate all feedback.

Thanks once more, and apologies for the delay in responding to you.
Best Wishes,

Well, far from being melt in mouth-ish the new recipe sticks in your teeth and has a cloying texture.

So there you have it. We aren’t being trusted to eat a sensible amount of tasty bites nowadays. The health squad have got at shortbread, just in case we go mad and eat a whole box at one sitting presumably.

Butter happens to be the most important ingredient in shortbread and of course it’s also the most expensive so it’s to the manufacturer’s advantage to cut out the expensive part of the recipe and substitute something a lot cheaper, never mind that it makes the product disgusting, it’s supposedly healthier!!

Paterson’s are behind the times anyway as the food experts are now saying that butter isn’t bad for you at all. It’s the fact that the food industry tampers with natural products which makes them unhealthy. According to the late lamented cook Clarissa Dickson Wright the bit that they remove from skimmed milk is the thing which helps your body break down the fat in the milk!

So it seems that I now have to go back to making my own shortbread because there are some people in the world who are greedy and have no will-power and can’t be trusted with biscuits. To be fair, my own shortbread always tasted better than any shop bought kind anyway. I’m still mortified that non-Scots might eat the horrible stuff though and assume that that is what shortbread should taste like.

Paterson's Shortbread Ingredients

As you can see, butter appears second to last in the list of ingredients, apart from flavourings – which presumably is cardboard – meaning there’s a minuscule amount in the shortbread when it should be the main ingredient, along with flour.

31 thoughts on “Paterson’s Shortbread – Just Say NO

  1. Well, it’s not even shortbread without tons of butter! They should have at least sent you a coupon or something. They’ve replaced the butter with vegetable oil, I’m gagging as I type…

      • I just accidentally bought these in Canada thinking they were Walkers-similar/same packaging. They are awful! I thought they were stale. don’t even resemble anything shortbread. If you can find Walkers, go for it, they are awesome.

        • Ben,
          Crucially the butter is last in the ingredients list, or was last time I looked anyway. I can’t believe that they have 50% of the shortbread market, but then loads of people eat at McDonald’s and I can hardly believe that either! Some people will eat anything if it’s cheap!

  2. I’m sorry this dodge has spread to the U.K., Katrina. For the past several years, ridding everything of trans fats has been all the rage here in America, with the result that almost nothing baked tastes like it used to. You’re quite right that butter – and butter ONLY – is what puts the ‘short’ in shortbread.

    I was sad to see that British corporations are also expert in the same mealy-mouthed double-speak that American ones use when one of the Great Unwashed has the temerity to speak up for himself. I once wrote a company about a ready meal )I confess I use them occasionally) that had been terribly compromised on quality and actually got back an answer saying that they had tested the product with focus groups that liked it, and so the fault must be with my palate, not the product!

    Still, you’re quite right to complain. The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, ‘Be sure to get what you like, or you will end up liking what you get.’ Quite right he was.

    • Sandy,
      I really expected them to reply saying it must be a fault with my taste buds. I can’t imagine that anyone would buy this stuff twice so it’ll serve them right if their profits plummet, it’s sheer greed on their part, these biscuits must cost a fraction of what they would if they used butter.
      I think we all use ready meals now and again but I try to make most things from scratch, at least I know exactly what’s in them – no horsemeat or anything!

  3. Good on you for having your say: what a revolting recipe that product must be now. I’m smiling to myself because one of my daughters just won first prize for her shortbread, in the Baking section of her local country Show 🙂 Of course she uses butter!

    • Valerie,
      Congratulations to your daughter! I remember when I first started baking shortbread that I was always tempted to leave it in the oven longer than I should, instead of taking it out at that blonde stage, not browned as most biscuits are.

  4. I just had to comment on your shortbread post! I agree 100%. I am so fed up of manafacturers replacing important ingredients with cheaper, tasteless and supposedly ‘healthy’ ones. Shortbread without butter as the main ingredient is ridiculous and I will certainly not be buying Patterson’s in the future. Thanks for the warning.

    • Karen White,
      Yes, they must think we are daft and don’t realise it’s nothing to do with health and everything to do with their profits. It should be illegal under the trades description act – you just expect shortbread to have butter in it.

      • Katrina,
        Does the U.K. have anything equal to America’s ‘standard of identity?’ ‘Standard of identity’ means that a certain food is expected by everyone to have certain things in it, like mayonnaise containing eggs and oil. I should think that shortbread would fall under that standard if there is anything like that in your country – as you say, it’s flippin’ butter that flippin’ makes it shortbread!

        • Sandy,
          We have something similar in our trades description act, but I think they can get around it just by claiming it’s a healthy option. But I don’t think they should be allowed to call it shortbread. I should take it up with my MP but they would probably all think it’s trivial especially as we are in the middle of an election campaign. I should stand for the Real Shortbread Party!

  5. The US market, at least where I live, is pretty much all Walker’s. I haven’t noticed if they have a “healthy” option yet, but if so, I will be avoiding it! I sometimes make these basic chocolate chip cookies or brownies, because I enjoy baking but it’s just me at home. People go on about them a bit (and these are basic one-bowl, no fuss), I think because they taste so different from store-bought – because I use butter & eggs.

    • Lisa,
      I was trying to think what brand they sold in Edinburgh Woollen shops and came to the conclusion it was Walker’s. I must have a close look at their ingredients, they deserve to corner the market if they’re still using the traditional butter. I think home baked things always taste better and of course you have the wonderful aroma going through the house too!

  6. This is deeply upsetting; I feel your pain. I recently eliminated butter as my son was diagnosed as lactose-intolerant, and it has been a wrench. There’s an ocean of difference between a pat of butter and a spoon of Earth Balance spread.
    Btw, I’m curious as to what the “heritage shapes” mean?

    • Niranjana,
      You have my sympathy, our eldest son is lactose intolerant and it means we can’t have any of the lovely puddings with cream in them which we used to have. If he has even a small amount of butter he has to be very close to a loo!
      ‘Heritage shapes’ seem to be the Celtic symbols and thistle designs moulded into the biscuits and also battle shield shapes.

  7. I’ve been eating healthier for a couple of years now. Mostly avoiding processed foods. I prefer my own cooking anyway! But there are some things that should only be prepared properly – if not they, are best avoided completely. Among those things are mayonnaise, salad dressing and baked goods. I’m not one for “healthy” substitutions…unless one is consuming boxes of shortbread a day, the elimination of butter from the recipe is of little consequence – and certainly not worth the sacrifice in taste and mouth feel.

    • Pearl,
      I agree, you’re best to stick with your own cooking whenever possible. Your weight loss over the last couple of years is proof of that!

  8. Shortbread made with oil? Ugh, no thank you! It’s not the natural fats like butter and lard that are the problem, but the processed oils like rapeseed oil or canola,and sunflower oil. Those are the things we should be giving up on! That whole myth came about through someone not doing a very good job of his studies around the end of WWII. He’s being proved wrong now!

    • Evee,
      All these so called healthy eating things have only ended up with people getting bigger and bigger. Everything in moderation I say, but it’s almost impossible to buy ‘ordinary’ stuff nowadays, it’s all low sugar or low fat which means high in real nasties which haven’t even had proper studies done on them, such as aspartame.

  9. Oh the shame of the company! Shortbread is my favourite and yes I admit to probably being able to consume vast quantities of it. But butter is key ingredient and at least when you make these things yourself you know EXACTLY what is in it!

    Why do people have to fiddle with perfection?

    • Jo,
      Nobody would ever want to consume vast quantities of this shortbread! It must make it a lot cheaper to make, it’s all about profits and to hell with the product.

  10. I just opened a box of Paterson’s shortbread and it tasted terrible. I looked up to see if Paterson’s had been taken over. I found this information which explains everything. I loved the petticoat tails. I wont be buying this shortbread again.

    • Valerie,
      Nowadays I always look at the ingredients listed on the shortbread packaging. If it has oil instead of butter then it just isn’t worth buying. Luckily most shortbread makers aren’t skimping the way Paterson’s do, I hope that continues.

    • Bea,
      Interesting, maybe they have gone back to using butter as so many people noticed the difference. If it isn’t butter – it isn’t shortbread!

  11. Try Deans shortbread baked in Huntly a lot better than the Walkers shortbread. Paterson’s caramel shortbread is excellent, can’t see how people like Walkers really not good.

    • Stewart Henderson,
      I agree about Deans being good. It’s a long time since I had a really awful packet of Paterson’s shortbread but it put me off from buying it again.

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