What Are Oyster Crackers and Are They Made of Oysters?

I had a great uncle who was a fisherman. Every Christmas he would come to my house for dinner and snack on Original Trenton Cracker big ball oyster crackers with a forkload of horseradish. That’s how I learned to love them and I will forever associate them with the holidays and cleaning out my sinuses. But if eating oyster crackers this way doesn’t sound appealing to you, don’t worry. There are plenty of uses for the oyster cracker; let’s get into them.

What are oyster crackers?

Oyster crackers are a wheat-based cracker with a taste and texture similar to a saltine, though they traditionally have less salt. They come in two different forms: large, dense balls (perfect for horseradish) and small hexagonal crackers that usually come in individual packages next to bowls of chowder.

Oyster crackers are a uniquely Northeastern creation with two conflicting origins. The Westminster Cracker Company claims to have been making oyster crackers since 1828. But Adam Exton, a baker from Trenton, New Jersey, also gets credit. According to the Smithsonian, he first created oyster crackers and sold them under the brand O.T.C. (Original Trenton Cracker) in 1847. 

Sadly, in 2018, the O.T.C. brand announced that they could no longer use the machinery that made the trademark oyster cracker ball thanks to stricter manufacturing regulations. This drastically changed their quality and, on a personal level, put a serious dent into my oyster cracker and horseradish habit. The small hexagonal oyster crackers are still widely available, but they just aren’t the same as the balls.

Why are they called oyster crackers?

Some say that the oyster cracker got the name because it was a common addition to oyster stews and clam chowders. Additionally, some claim that they resemble an oyster in its shell. 

How do you use oyster crackers?

Outside of eating them straight with a pile of horseradish, oyster crackers have many uses. They make an excellent topping for most soups and stews and, if you happen to be from Cincinnati, you’ve certainly added them to your chili.

Beyond that, I have used the hexagonal crackers as a crunchy addition to my salads in the same way you might add wonton strips or crispy onions. My mom has also used them as an ingredient replacement in Chex Mix.

However, I don’t think you’ll have properly enjoyed the oyster cracker until you’ve had a big ball topped with horseradish. You’d make me and my Uncle Jim proud.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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  • You never actually answered the question about whether they include oysters!