In the tale of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, along with an ice-cream cone, a pickle, a slice each of Swiss cheese and salami, a lollipop, a wedge of cherry pie, a sausage, cupcake and a slice of watermelon, our ravenous protagonist devours a piece of chocolate cake.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the latter has become synonymous with the insect (and visa versa), and subsequently that a caterpillar-shaped sponge is often the most familiar guest at birthday parties and office celebrations across the land.
Nor is it surprising that the news of Marks & Spencer taking Aldi to court in a bid to protect its Colin the Caterpillar cake has provoked such an uproar.
The retailer has accused the discounter chain of riding on its reputational coat-tails after Aldi began selling its own Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake, which looks very similar. But since M&S launched Colin (a chocolate-coated sponge cake bearing buttercream, topped with sweets and fronted by a smiling white-chocolate face) some 30 years ago, similar critters have emerged, and not only from the German discount store.
From Cuthbert and Wiggles to Curly and Carl the free-from caterpillar, there are cute-faced chocolate Swiss rolls in almost every supermarket – and each has a band of fervently loyal supporters.
But how do they compare to each other? Does Colin hold the gold standard when it comes to softness of sponge and flavour of edible boot? Are the sprinkles on Curly superior to those adorning Morris?
While Aldi has not stocked its Cuthbert cake since mid-February and so was sadly unavailable for review, we netted the best of the rest and put them to the test.
Colin the Caterpillar, £7, M&S
With reassuring heft, thick, white-chocolate feet and a slightly unsettling button eyes, Colin’s iconic look remains, in my eyes, unbeaten. His ridged back, decorated simply with green and yellow sugared chocolates, has a good chocolate-to-cake ratio, the thick shell revealing swirls of Swiss roll and rich chocolate buttercream. He tastes light, moist and gloriously chocolatey.
Taste test score: 5/5
Wiggles the Caterpillar, £6, Sainsbury’s
Sainsbury’s cake is perhaps the closest in resemblance to Colin among today's line up, featuring a white-chocolate face with milk-button eyes, and even a little tongue poking out. The body, decorated with similar chocolate sweets and the addition of hundreds and thousands, looks a little less luxurious than Colin, and the feet are considerably smaller. The taste is lacklustre; thin chocolate, dry cake and little flavour beyond sugar.
Taste test score: 2/5
Curly the Caterpillar Cake, £6, Tesco
I won’t lie; I am quite partial to a fondant face. Curly’s rather cute, almost bashful little smile is set in a thick orange fondant – great for kids. He’s adorned generously in chocolate sweets, white chocolate stripes and little coloured chewy things which get stuck in your teeth. The flavour, sadly, is lacking. The chocolate is rather thin, the cake dry and the buttercream granular, sugary and dull.
Taste test score: 2/5
Carl the free-from Caterpillar Cake, £6, Tesco
One has to pity the recipient of this gluten-free caterpillar. Covered in chewy fondant icing and sporting a, quite frankly, terrifying orange fondant face, this larva must be that of a moth. Cutting into it reveals that the cake is a conventional layered chocolate sponge with a buttercream centre, rather than the usual Swiss roll swirl. That said, it doesn’t taste awful, especially for a gluten-free cake.
Taste test score: 2.5/5
Cecil the Caterpillar, £7, Waitrose
With a thick, white-chocolate face and expressive fondant eyes, a generous chocolate-coated body (longer and thicker than Colin), and decorated with chocolate sweets and white chocolate stripes, Waitrose certainly means business with this caterpillar. Decapitating it reveals an extra layer of buttercream coating the light chocolate Swiss roll, wonderfully rich and smooth. Colin, you have competition in the taste stakes.
Taste test score: 5/5
Morris the Caterpillar cake, £6, Morrisons
Morris wins a point for the most (or should that be least?) inspired name. I also like the swirl of chocolate-coated buttercream that snakes down his body, studded with sweets and coloured sugar, providing an extra mouthful of rich buttercream. The cake is a little dry and the white chocolate face and feet are no match for Colin’s (in terms of both taste and size), letting him down.
Taste test score: 3/5
Clyde the Caterpillar cake, £5.92, Asda
Clyde seems a gentle soul; you can tell by the sweet little fringe (or droopy antennae, possibly) that frames his face in green fondant. He’s certainly dressed to the nines, sporting funky orange fondant boots and multicoloured sugar decorations. Though the chocolate isn’t the best quality and the cake is nondescript, he’s generous on the buttercream, and everyone knows that’s the best bit.
Taste test score: 4/5