Small, round, flat, edible…

Then again, with a bit of distance on the subject, you can kind of see where the Brits are coming from on this whole naming thing. Take a small, disk-shaped piece of flour-and-water dough, bake it, and you have a cracker. Add a little fat and leavening and it’s a biscuit (an American biscuit, that is). Sweeten it with sugar or molasses and you have a cookie. They’re all so closely related it can be difficult to sort them all out, especially if you’re, you know, British.

Now if I were King (speaking of British), biscuit would be the word for “cracker” the world over. Why? Because of all the possible choices, a cracker is the closest match to the word’s true meaning. Look up biscuit in most food reference books and you’re almost sure to find something about the word being derived from the Old French words bis cuit which mean “twice cooked”. Of course if the French weren’t so keen on taking credit for just about everything that happens in kitchens in the Western hemisphere (notable exceptions being Spam and cocktail wieners) the books would actually credit the Romans, whose panis biscotus (literally “bread twice cooked”) is the true proto-cracker.

Why twice cooked? Simply because baking bread twice (or even three times) is the quickest and most efficient means of removing all moisture from it. The reason you’d do that: to extend shelf life. Indeed, crackers, if kept dry and cool, will keep for years. A handy thing indeed in the days before FoodSaver Vacs. Just about every Western culture has their version. Parents of teething children will recognize zweiback as the German equivalent. The Italians have biscotti, which of course is virtually the same word as the Latin original without the, er…panis. And we have bagel chips and Melba toast.

So you see, technically speaking, a cracker is indeed a biscuit, and vice versa. And that’s a handy thing to know, since we’ll all be ammending our copies of Webster’s the day that Joe ascends the throne.

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