What are soda crackers and why are they called that? While they certainly aren’t designed to dip into your Dr. Pepper (if that’s your thing though, who am I to judge?), soda crackers do have a long history and a multitude of uses. Let’s crack into it.
Why are they called soda crackers?
Soda crackers get their name from their raising agent—baking soda. Whereas natural leavening agents like yeast take their sweet time to leaven breads and crackers, the chemical-based baking soda is designed for quick baking and doesn’t start the leavening process until it starts to cook. This makes it perfect for things like scones and pancakes. Just make sure you don’t mistake a teaspoon for a tablespoon—using too much baking soda creates a bitter, metallic taste. My family can attest to this after I foolishly decided to make Christmas morning pancakes when I was 12 years old—no amount of maple syrup could salvage those monstrosities.
Soda crackers vs saltines—what’s the difference?
Soda crackers are thin, crispy, dry crackers that are sprinkled with salt and have little holes on their surface. In contrast, saltines are thin, crispy dry crackers that are sprinkled with salt and have holes on their surface. That’s right, they are the same thing!
While the concept of soda crackers has been around since the 18th century, their commercial popularity really took off in 1876 after F.L. Sommer & Co began mass-producing them. Initially called soda crackers, the name was changed to the more marketing-friendly name saltines, associating the cracker with its salted top and distancing itself from the unfortunate taste of its baking ingredients (never forget The Field Family Flapjack Fiasco of ‘95). The holes were added to the surface of the cracker to allow steam to vent out during the baking process, ultimately giving the cracker its flat shape.
F.L. Sommer & Co eventually merged with Nabisco, leading to the iconic and ubiquitous Premium Saltine Cracker brand. Today, the term saltines refers to any soda cracker on the market with that traditional look and taste, including brands like Zesta, Lance, and a whole host of generics.
What do you do with soda crackers?
When you aren’t diligently practicing the Saltine Cracker Challenge, you can actually use soda crackers a lot of different ways. Because of their dryness and solid crunch, they are at their best when paired with a spread. The simplest way to eat a soda cracker is to slather it in the best butter, but it’s also great with peanut butter, cream cheese, or accompanying your favorite cheese tray. They are a great addition to a soup— anyone who’s ever gotten a bowl of chicken noodle soup at a diner can attest to that.
Soda crackers have also gotten into the dessert game. Ever hear of “Christmas Crack?” Pouring melted caramel or chocolate over a saltine cracker base and then freezing it creates a salty sweet toffee candy that’s all the rage these days.
And of course, the soda cracker is one of the best things to eat when sick. It’s at the core of every Grandmother’s Guide to Home Remedy Gut Health. Who amongst us has never been served saltines and broth by nana on a sick day while watching cartoons? Soda crackers to this day remain the best over-the-counter solution to a stomach ache that money can buy. So make sure to always have some in your cupboard.