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A saltine or soda cracker is a thin, usually square cracker made from white flour, shortening, yeast, and baking soda, with most varieties lightly sprinkled with coarse salt. It has perforations throughout its surface, to allow steam to escape for uniform rising, and along the edges, as individual crackers are broken from larger sheets during manufacturing. It has a very dry and crisp texture, as it is made with less shortening than varieties such as Ritz crackers.
Some familiar brand names of saltine crackers in North America are Christie's Premium Plus (Canada), Nabisco's Premium (U.S.), Sunshine Biscuits' Krispy (U.S.) and Keebler's Zesta (U.S.). Saltín Noel by Colombian company Noel is also a favorite among the U.S. Hispanic community. Unsalted tops as well as whole grain saltines can also be found.
Saltines are often eaten as a light snack, with cheese or peanut butter. They may also be dipped or crumbled in stews, chilis, soups or dips, or crumbled into salads. Typically they are sold in boxes containing two to four stacks of crackers, each wrapped in a sleeve of waxed paper or plastic. In restaurants, they are found in small wrapped packets of two crackers, which generally accompany soup or salad.
As a home remedy, saltines are consumed by many people in order to ease nausea and to settle an upset stomach. Pregnant women are also usually advised to snack on saltines. For some children, eating saltines on Christmas Eve is a family tradition. Saltine crackers have also been included in military field rations (Meal, Ready-to-Eat, or MRE) in the United States.
Various versions of unleavened dry crackers known as hardtack have been around for thousands of years. The generally thick hardtack cracker was extremely long-lasting, but not very tasty.
In 1876, F. L. Sommer & Company of St. Joseph, Missouri started using baking soda to leaven its wafer thin cracker. Initially called the Premium Soda Cracker and later "Saltines" because of the baking salt component, the invention quickly became popular and Sommer's business quadrupled within four years. That company merged with other companies to form American Biscuit Company in 1890 and then after further mergers became part of Nabisco in 1898.
In the United States, Nabisco lost trademark protection after the term began to be used generically to refer to similar crackers. The name "saltine" had been placed in the Merriam Webster Dictionary in 1907 with a definition of "a thin crisp cracker usually sprinkled with salt”. In Australia, Arnott's Biscuits Holdings still holds a trademark on the name "Saltine".
Saltines have been compared to hardtack, a simple unleavened cracker or biscuit made from flour, water, and salt. However, unlike hardtack, saltines actually do include yeast as one of their ingredients. Soda crackers are a leavened bread that is allowed to rise for twenty to thirty hours. After the rise, alkaline soda is added to neutralize the excessive acidity produced by the action of the yeast. The dough is allowed to rest for three to four more hours, to relax the gluten, before being rolled in layers and then baked.
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