A cracker is a baked good commonly made from unleavened grain flour
dough and typically made in quantity in various hand-sized or
smaller shapes. Flavorings or seasonings such as salt, herbs, seeds,
or cheese may be added to the dough or sprinkled on top before
baking. Crackers are a nutritious and ready to eat way to use a
staple food or cereal grain that is advantageous for storage and
travel. A precedent for the modern cracker can be found in nautical
ship biscuits, military hardtack, and sacramental bread. Ancestors
of the cracker can be found in ancient flat breads such as Lavash,
Chapati, Pita, Matzo, and Flatbrod or Crisp bread.
In 1792, Theodore Pearson of Newburyport, Massachusetts,
made a cracker-like bread product from just flour and water that he
called Pearson's Pilot Bread. An immediate success with sailors
because of its shelf life, it also became known as hardtack or sea
biscuit. This was the first cracker bakery in the United States, and
produced crackers for more than a century. Crown Pilot Crackers from
the same recipe were made and sold in New England up until early
2008, and used in traditional clam chowder recipes.
But the real revolutionary moment in the life of the cracker came in
1801 when another Massachusetts baker, Josiah Bent, burnt a batch of
biscuits in his brick oven. The crackling noise that emanated from
the singed biscuits inspired the name - crackers - and a bit of
ingenuity, as Bent set out to convince the world of the product's
snack food potential. By 1810, his Boston-area business was booming,
and, in later years, Bent sold his enterprise to the National
Biscuit Company, which now does business under the Nabisco name.
In 1999, the cookie and cracker industry in the United States
employed 37,857 people, with sales exceeding $10 billion.
The holes in crackers are called "docking" holes. The holes
are placed in the dough to stop overly large air pockets from
forming in the cracker while baking. Crackers come in many shapes
and sizes - round, square, triangular, etc.
In U.S. English, the name "cracker" is most often applied to flat
biscuits with a savory, salty flavor, in distinction from a
"cookie", which may be similar to a "cracker" in appearance and
texture, but has a sweet flavor. Crackers may be further
distinguished from cookies by the manner in which they are made.
Crackers are made merely by layering dough and cookies may be made
in many of the same manners a cake would be prepared. Crackers
sometimes have cheese or spices as ingredients, or even chicken
stock. Crackers are typically salted flour products.
Brands including Captain's Wafers, Club Crackers, Town House
Crackers, Ritz Crackers, Zesta Crackers, Cream crackers and Water
biscuits are sometimes spread with cheese, pate, or mousse.
Saltine and oyster crackers are often used in or served with soup.
Mock apple pie is made from Ritz (or similar) crackers.
Graham crackers and digestive biscuits are also eaten as cookies,
although they were both invented for their supposed health benefits.
A popular snack is crackers with cheese and salt as a topping.