Crackers, or savory biscuits, are a savory and crunchy product made by layering sheets of strong dough and baking until the texture is crunchy. Crackers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, but are generally three inches or less in diameter, 1-5% moisture, and made from grain flours. Crackers, by definition, are 60% flour, which is higher than most other baked products. The low moisture content of crackers leads to longer shelf life than other baked goods. Crackers that are high in sugar typically form weak dough; therefore most crackers have a low sugar content. Crackers also always have small holes called docking holes cut into them in order to prevent large pockets of air from forming in the product.
Historically, crackers were made with extremely low fat content in order to prevent rancidity of the product. Civilizations have made a cracker-like product since the time of the Roman Empire due to the long shelf life. The shelf life, in combination with being flat, made crackers perfect rations for soldiers and sailors. In 1792, John Pearson created the first cracker in the United States, and his original formula was sold until 2008 and had the name Crown Pilot crackers. In 1801, another baker from Texas, Josiah Bent, accidentally burned a batch of biscuits. He noticed that when they broke they made distinct cracking noises, which lead him to call his new product “crackers.” Nine years later, Bent worked with the National Biscuit Company, now Nabisco, in order to produce his crackers on a large-scale basis. Today, crackers constitute a ten billion dollar industry, employing approximately 38,000 people.
There are many types of crackers, each of which serves a unique purpose. All of the crackers made are run through sheeters in order to achieve the desired thickness of the cracker, but there are many variations on the formulas that ultimately get flattened out and baked. Fermented crackers, such as saltines, use a sponge starter method in order to achieve rise in the cracker. These crackers are typically bland, slightly salted, and low in fat content, about 8-10%. They are often eaten with soup, and used as pallet cleansers between wine tastings. Chemically leavened crackers form another group of crackers that have significantly more variation. These crackers can have any number of additives such as cheese, herbs, spices, seeds, nuts, and whatever the baker deems appropriate. They are typically sprayed with hot oil after baking in order to apply toppings to the crackers, or have the additives mixed into the dough.
There are also crackers made from products other than wheat, such as rice or almonds. These crackers are appealing due to their perceived health benefits over traditional wheat crackers. All of these types of crackers come in a variety of shapes and sizes.