Maria Cookies, the Queen of All Cookies

In my eternal pursuit of simplicity and economy, I have long enjoyed Maria Cookies. I like to try as many different kinds as possible, to determine which varieties provide the most pleasurable experience. I have rated each variety, numbering them on a scale of +5 , the unattainable ideal, to -5 , the unfathomable abyss. These are my personal opinions, and yours may be different.

Please benefit from my sacrifice, and enjoy Maria cookies yourself, whenever possible.

A vendor of foods from Spain relates this history of "the Queen of all Cookies":
"In 1875, the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia married the Duke of Edinburgh in a festive wedding, which caught Europe's fancy. To celebrate the occasion, a small English bakery in England created a sweet new cookie with Maria stamped on the top. Its popularity spread throughout Europe. Most of all, in Spain it became the nation's favorite cookie -- 40% of all cookies sold in the country. Marias were first produced in large quantities in Spain around the turn of the 20th Century, but it was not until the Civil War that they became an integral part of the national culture. The long harsh years of the war plunged Spain deep into poverty, turning even a simple loaf of bread into a luxury. When the war ended in 1939, the nation's top priority was for every Spaniard to have enough bread. The wheat harvests were so plentiful that the bakers turned out huge number of cartons of Marias to consume the surplus. In those days, every cafe had a plate of Marias on the counter -- a happy sign of Spain's recovery."

The cookie is often called Marie, especially in Asia. The appearance varies little, almost always retaining the distinctive imprint and border pattern.

Fan/Hate Mail Page - new letter Oct 1 2009!

Questions, comments, anecdotes or abuse by email on the fascinating topic of bland round biscuits may be read on the MariaMail page!

New Review December 16, 2010

Pechivo Maria, Zhytomyrski Lasoshi, Zhytomyr Ukraine

Rating -3

250g for $1.39 - 25% free! These are the first oval Marias I have encountered - 2"x2.3" (5.2 x 5.8cm). The greek key border is replaced with an attractive spiral wave pattern. With high hopes I opened this new roll of Ukrainian Marias, only to be met with an odd fishy odor. These are thick, hard, and dry tea biscuits meant for dunking, and their sweetness is difficult to perceive. The unusual aroma floats in the roof of the mouth, but does not permeate the biscuit. Dear Ukrainian friends, believe me when I say I really want to give you a good review, but my standards are different from yours. I like a Maria that makes me say "This is really delicious!" and this just makes me say, "What is that weird flavor??"

Alidoro Maria Cookies, Product of India

Rating +2

First product review from the Indian subcontinent! 400g (14oz) for $1.34 - a pretty good deal. Glossy cardboard box containing two foil-clad rolls of thick, aromatic cookies. Despite their claim to being Maria cookies, these are imprinted Marie Biscuit as in the weirdly photoshoppedcover photo. (Click on image for larger version to see how the image was fakedup from one partial biscuit) These could hardly be more different from the thincrisp wafers from Uruguay reviewed under the Alidoro name below. Roughly 6cm (2 5/16") diameter though not perfectly round, and almost half a centimeter thick, they are toasty brown, hard and crisp, and far more aromatic than they are flavorful. Very mildly flavored and slightly sweet,these more nearly resemble the heavy Ukrainian tea-biscuit Marias, and they would certainlystand up well to dunking. Not the sort of thing you want to keep eating and eating, which isa good thing in a way. A fairly good job for India's first showing here.(Reviewed December 10, 2010)

Regal Marie Biscuits, Jakarta Indonesia

Rating +4

250g (8.8oz) for $2.58 - Truly regal in both appearance and price, a single roll in a gleaming metallic wrapper,6cm (2 5/16") diameter. Uniformly toasty brown with all the conventional markings. A strong and pleasing aroma, a nice flavor with a light fruity touch under the caramel overtone. Very crunchy, a little harder than what might be called crisp, with very little breakage. This seems to follow the Spanish/Portuguese model and is overall an excellent product except for the outlandish price. In a less optimistic mood I would simply have passed this by with a slight lingering regret, but I made the sacrifice for the benefit of you my beloved readers. Considering the other Maria values to be found, this delicious item, my first Indonesian Maria, has priced itself out of the competition.

Rio Maria made in Spain by Grupo Siro of Portugal

Rating +4.7

800g (28.2oz) for $3.99 - A big cardboard box with four sealed rolls, 6cm (2 5/16") diameter. Maybe I am just in a good mood, or maybe these are just incredibly delicious. A big, thin, very crisp cookie, uniformly toasty brown. Very sweet and tasty, just sweet enough you don't want to keep eating too many. It is only my belief that perfection must remain an unreachable ideal that keeps me from giving this a 5. Friends, this is a masterpiece of a Maria, and I am glad there are so many of them to enjoy. Now comes the inescapable question - can something this delicious truly fall within the bounds of plainness and simplicity that constitute the Maria Cookie? Who cares? Once again the Iberian Peninsula rules the Maria world!

WAIT! I have just confirmed that this is the same cookie as the Maria Berta, also produced by Grupo Siro, previously reviewed! In all fairness I have revised my rating, from 4.9 to 4.7 in accordance with my earlier review and will say, yes I was in a good mood, but these are still incredibly delicious.

Svitoch Maria made by Svitoch, Lviv Ukraine (owned by Nestle)

Rating -2

160g (5.8oz) for 89 cents. 5.5cm (2 3/16") diameter. A pale, hard mild cookie of average size with an ornate imprint which reflects its national origin. A pleasant vanilla aroma but an unfortunate stale softness. Packaged in November of 2008, and freshness dated May 2009, these are sadly past their prime. They may be better when fresh, but the best I can say about them now is they are not offensive. Not BAD, but definitely not good. The attractive packaging bears a gold medallion proclaiming this cookie #1 at something, and I wish I knew what it was. I regret that I have not yet been able to find a Maria from the Former Soviet Republics to which I can give a positive rating, or even one which is within its freshness date. I have been delighted by their indigenous baked goods - big thick cookies with pictures molded on them - and their fabulous candies and cheeses, but Ukraine is just not making it with Marias. Come on, former comrades - Arise!

Pagasa Marias Cookies, Tijuana B.C. Mexico
Rating +4

138g (4.8 oz) package, three packages for a dollar - an excellent value. My wife and co-tester says, "At least they are crunchy," but she speaks as a layperson, not a true afficionado and admirer of the Maria Cookie. Crunchy they are indeed, one might even say crispy, and very pleasingly so. They are of a pleasingly toasty appearance, precisely two inches in diameter, and the flavor is mild and inoffensive. A Maria Cookie which has no distracting features is, to my mind, a purer Maria than one which is outstandingly great or awful, has some unusual flavor or texture, or is distracting in some way. The Pagasa Marias provide a mildly flavored experience which is not in any way unpleasant, and what more can you ask?
Reviewed August 3, 2009

Alidoro Maria Cookies, Blue Bird S. A. Food Services, Montevideo Uruguay.
Rating +4

These marias were in the reduced price racks at the Food 4 Less store, because they had exceeded their freshness date. Three large individually sealed rolls in the package - the rolls open easily with a red cellophane pull-strip. 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) diameter. Unusually thin and crisp, delicately golden brown. The imprint and perforations are very clear and deep. A faint dusty vanilla aroma. Subtly sweet with a touch of vanilla and a nutty baked flavor. Leaves very little residue in the teeth. An unusually refined and pleasant maria.

ADDENDUM! These large fragile cookies are eaten in this household by breaking them into pieces before ingesting. While the lady of the house was breaking one in half she noticed what at first appeared to be pieces of shredded coconut protruding from the broken edge. Under closer investigation these turned out to be two short narrow strips of thin white plastic, of the kind which is nowadays used to make the sort of bag in which sugar, flour, and other powdered or granular ingredients are transported and stored. This has not in the least decreased our enjoyment of these cookies, of which I have another entire unopened package in storage. It is the first example of a foreign object being found in a Maria Cookie.

Marias Gamesa, "PRODUCT OF MEXICO"
Rating +4.5

States on the label, "If it's not Gamesa, it's not the Original Marias Cookies". 140 g (4.9 oz) for 36 cents in a foil mylar package. 5.2cm (2+ in) diameter. A medium-thick cookie, with an even all-over light brown tone. Imprinted pattern is deep and clear, including the company name. This is a very rare instance of wide variation from the standard imprint design, A sweet sugary aroma. Firm and crisp, very white inside, with a pleasant lemony tang. Eating more than a couple leaves the molars and interstitial areas of the teeth rather gummy. For general cookie-eating this is a superior brand, requiring some self-discipline to keep from gobbling them all down. The favorite of the lady of the house.

Cookies Marias, Fabrica de Galletas La Moderna, S.A. de C.V. (Mexico)
Rating +2

170g (6 oz) for 43 cents in a thin plastic wrapper. 5.5 cm (2.1 in) diameter. A thick cookie, heavily textured with the high spots golden brown, lower areas paler. Name is very simple, perforations unusually large and open. A light aroma, vaguely like coconut. Texture is delicate and pastrylike, easy to break into small pieces off. Sweet and very plain with an elusive, indefinable touch of flavor rather like coconut or a berry of some sort. Dissipates rapidly from the mouth.

Small Marie Biscuits, Khong Guan Biscuit Factory, Singapore
Rating 0

225g (7.94 oz) for $1.28, five rows of tiny cookies in a plastic tray. 4cm (1.55 in.) diameter, a small biscuit indeed. Uniformly beige with a faint cookie aroma, this variety resembles a poker chip in almost every way, including the sound it makes when dropped on the table. It has an appearance of having been molded and hardened, rather than pressed and baked like most marias. It is solid and crunchy but rather dry, vaguely sweet and with a faint flavor which, again, can only be described as being like a cookie. Very plain and not entirely pleasing, but inoffensive. Khong Guan makes many varieties of cookie, including a full-size Marie Biscuit which I shall assume bears close resemblance to this.

Mariebiscuits, made by Pally, Holland
Rating -2

150g (5.3 oz) for 88 cents, one roll of large thick biscuits 5.8cm (2.25 in.) diameter. I hesitate to call these cookies at all. Crunchy and crisp, they fulfill that claim. Quality is a variable and not an absolute, and they do have qualities. Brownish and flat with a faint imprint, they appear as if pressed from a disc of clay. Their aroma resembles that of a cardboard box which once contained cookies, long ago. Very dry, barely sweet, and with no discernible flavor. This is a type of biscuit which was not intended to be enjoyed on its own, but as a contrast to a nice cup of tea. They could be pleasant like that, but not otherwise.

Maria Cookies, Spartak, Republic of Belarus
Rating -4

140 g (4.9 oz) for 49 cents. 5.6cm (2.25 in.) diameter. A pale, heavy, very hard cookie, almost odorless and flavorless. Its only positive attribute is a faint vanilla savor floating in the mouth. The fact that its expiration date was three months ago can't help the quality. Its attractive packaging and presentation and its exotic origin don't compensate for its unpleasantness. I look forward to an opportunity to try a newer package, but for now must regretfully report that this is the worst Maria I have ever had.

Maria Cookies, Cuetara, Madrid Spain
Rating +4.7

100g (3.5 oz.) for 49 cents. 7.2cm (2.5 in.) diameter. Large, light and golden brown with a faint imprint. A faint pleasant aroma, sweet from the moment it touches the tongue. Crisp and flaky, not too sweet, with a delicious toasty flavor. Without an accompanying drink, it might accumulate in the molars a bit, but it really stands up to being eaten alone. This is an outstandingly good Maria which I place among my favorites and would not hesitate to buy again.

Pechivo Maria, Kharkiv Biscuit Factory, Kharkiv Ukraine
Rating 0

210g (7.5 oz.) for 89 cents. 6.1cm (2.4 in.) diameter. Very thick, dry, and extremely hard. Nearly odorless and flavorless. The Marias of the former Soviet states clearly have a different purpose than those of the Spanish-speaking and Asian nations. This biscuit holds up to dunking extremely well - you would have to work at it to get it to drop pieces into your cup. Russian tea culture includes a small, hard, ring-shaped dunking biscuit which resembles an unsalted pretzel, and these biscuits seem to mark a meeting place between them and the sweeter Maria cookie.

The text in the red and yellow logo transliterates as Biskvit Shokolad, yet I can find no evidence in the ingredients list of any chocolatey content. Is that faint ghost of cocoa aroma floating in my mouth a mere illusion?

Maria Berta, Grupo Siro, Spain
Rating +4.7

200g (7 oz.) for 98 cents. 6.1cm (2.5 in.) diameter. Another light golden brown Spanish Maria, lightly impressed pattern and perforations. A toasty brown look and flavor with a pleasing finish, not gummy, with little lingering aftertaste. With experience of only two Marias of Spanish origin I hesitate to attribute qualities to an entire nationality, but the similarity of this to the Cuetara brand revued above causes me to draw some tentative conclusions as to national preference. Though it is nearly twice the price of its sisters of Mexican origin it is a more refined item in many ways.

El Mexicano Marias Cookies, Product of Mexico
Rating +3

170g (6 oz.) for 42 cents. 5.7cm (2.2 in.) diameter. A small, lightly toasted, heavily textured Maria in the Mexican style. Little aroma, nicely crisp when fresh, and an unusual fruity, almost bubble-gum flavor but not so strong as to be offensive. Its packaging is unusual in showing off the cookies through large transparent areas. (I suspect that many Marias are packaged in opaque wrappers to conceal breakage.) A pleasant cookie with enough differences from the others to possibly make it an object of choice. With many Marias, it doesn't matter which one you buy, but others, such as this one, may require from the buyer a certain mood, due to distinctive features of flavor and texture.

Addendum (Dec. 2 2008) El Mexicano has new packaging since this review was written.

Marie Lu, Parmalat Bakery Group, Battle Creek Michigan
Not Rated

NOTE: since this review was written, the parent company of the manufacturer of Marie Lu biscuits has gone out of business, and they are no longer being manufactured. My sympathy goes out to all of you who feel their loss.

This large tasty cookie is only incidentally classed among the Marias. I began reviewing Maria cookies because I consider them descendents of an original Ideal Cookie which developed in divergent forms through cultural separation influenced by regional preference. I consider the Marie Lu a cookie of a different order, molded into an approximation of the Maria form but not partaking of its essential qualities. That said, this hefty, tasty, shiny-glazed cookie is what I call "a good eatin' cookie." It doesn't invite one to gluttony the way many Marias do. It is so heavy and crisp, however, that its thick foil wrapper with well-designed pull strip opener often conceals quite a few broken cookies at one end. This is the type my wife buys when she wants a Real Cookie, and I am not immune to their appeal. They have a definite vanilla flavor and lots of texture, and they dunk fairly well.

Maria Bella Marie Cookies, Product of China
Rating -3

454 g (1 lb.) for $1.18. 6.8 cm (2.7 in.) diameter. Two rows of cookies in a tray, in a transparent plastic bag. Nicely browned, very conventional in appearance, except for the additional imprint "K. G. B. BISCUIT." (I doubt there is any possible connection with the notorious Soviet Secret Service with the same initials.) There is a faint aroma of coconut. A very crisp, very dry cookie with a faint sweetness and no apparent flavor of any kind. It is most remarkably dry and flavorless. So dry and flavorless, in fact, that for the first time ever I whipped up a small batch of vanilla icing and made some of them into sandwich cookies. This was a great improvement, but not as good as if I had used cookies which themselves actually tasted good. Packaging states that it is marketed by KGC (not KGB), Union City, California. The packaging is in both Spanish and English, as if it were to be marketed to hispanic customers - I can't imagine anyone who has access to Marias of Mexican origin ever buying these a second time. The same company sells a chocolatey Marie, as well as a more substantial sugar cookie, but I have little curiosity about them.
(Reviewed April 22 2007)

Garden Marie Biscuits, Made in China
Rating +1

350g (12.3 oz.) for $1.68. 5.2 cm (2 in.) diameter. Three individually wrapped trays in a transparent package - rather heavy on packaging for my tastes, but convenient for storage as they are not particularly compelling, and you can keep them around for when there is nothing else to eat. A small, well-formed biscuit of standard appearance. Very light vanilla-like aroma. Slightly sweet, but the only real flavor is what I would describe as "toasty." Fairly solid and crunchy. Better than not having a cookie.
(Reviewed May 4 2007)

Gorona Marie Biscuit, made by SIMSEK BISKUVI VE GIDA SAN, A.S. Karaman Turkey
Rating +4

150g (5.27 oz.) for 44 cents. 5.7cm (2.2 in.) diameter. A single roll in a decorative wrapper with an easy-open strip. An extremely thick, light and airy biscuit, so bubbly as to almost obscure the conventional imprint. Toasty aroma, very sweet, with no recognizable vanilla flavor despite the implications of the orchids appearing on the wrapper. Its most distinctive feature is its bubbly, airy texture, which melts in your mouth. It would be easy to lose control and gobble down too many of these. Though I have had other Turkish biscuits in the past, and always found them pleasant, this is the first Turkish Maria I have encountered. A very good value which I would not hesitate to buy again. Also comes in orange and chocolate flavors. Nice work Turkey!
(Reviewed May 4 2007)
Addendum: I went back to the store to stock up on these while I could, and found that, in addition to orange and chocolate, they also come in banana flavor. I purchased one each of the orange and chocolate but chose to miss out on the banana. Banana really seems to me to be crossing a line. The flavors were extremely subtle, and the chocolatey flavor was undetectable when taken with coffee, but I don't think there is any reason to flavor a maria in the first place.
Addendum July 2009: These delicious cookies are again available at the local Food 4 Less store for 58 cents a package.

Tasty Biscuits, PRODUCT OF CHINA
Not Rated

Though flavored biscuits do not fall within the purview of this exercise, I include this item because of its many unique qualities. I found these on the dollar aisle of the supermarket, where one may purchase shoddy housewares, cheap toys, and eccentric food items for a dollar. I was hoping to find some of the delicious Turkish tea biscuits, or even some of the slightly less delicious tea biscuits from Oman which sometimes appear there, when I spotted this brightly colored cardboard box. This is the first time I have found a maria cookie in a box, and the first which is not actually marketed as a Maria or Marie cookie. In fact, the cookies in the photo are inverted, as if their mariahood is being disguised. They claim to be distributed by Preferred Grocers, Baldwin Park, CA. They smell faintly of chocolate and taste almost exactly like chocolate flavored cardboard. I hesitate to stereotype, but my experience appears to indicate a fundamentally different approach to baking in many asian countries - their Marie cookies appear to be hardened or congealed rather than delicately toasted or infused with fresh-baked goodness. I am certain these things will be going out to the compost bin very soon. Tasty, it seems, may also refer to things which taste BAD.
(Reviewed May 30 2007)
Note added Oct. 2008 : Actually I ate them all. They were terrible.

Marie Biscuit, made by Morinaga , Japan
Rating +4

141 g (4.97 oz.) for $2.98. 5.9 cm (2.25 in.) diameter. A very very crisp biscuit. Hard to the touch with a weirdly smooth back side. Evenly toasty brown with a light imprint bearing all the conventional markings. A pleasant vanilla-like scent. Despite its unusual hardness of surface it is very light and crunchy when bitten, very milky and smooth in flavor. Somewhat transcends the genre and becomes a rather superior cookie on its own. The packaging is very Japanese, with a perforated flap making the box a handy accessible carton for the eight packets of three cookies each. This is the first time I have seen Marias packaged in sets this way, very convenient for the purse or lunch. The inside surface of the top flap includes diagrammatic instructions for flattening your happy smiling box for disposal. Rather expensive, but quite a delicious sensation. Though I prefer products with less stuff to throw away, I found the overall presentation charming.
Reviewed Oct. 23 2008

Biskut Marie Biscuits, made by HUP SENG PERUSHAAN MAKANAAN (M) SDN. BHD, Malaysia
Not Rated

265 g (9.3 oz.) for $1.68. 6.1 cm (2.45 in.) diameter. A chocolate flavored biscuit and so not rated, but included as my first Malaysian Maria. Smells like chocolate flavored cardboard, and kind of tastes like it too - not very sweet, with a dusty sort of tang. Like the Morinaga Marie above, these are packaged in little packs of three, as shown in the package illustration above the plate of cookies. The outer packaging is a plastic pack with a little handle cut into it at the top, apparently to be used only when carrying it home, as opening the package necessarily destroys the handle. The packets are contained in a transparent plastic tray. Way too much packaging to suit me and, regrettably, not very appealing overall.
Reviewed Oct. 23 2008