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Many people enjoy oyster crackers simply for snacking, but they were originally intended to accompany soup. We wondered which brand would perform both functions best.
Published Jan. 1, 2012. Appears in Cook's Illustrated January/February 2012, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 13: Two Ways with Fish
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What You Need To Know
How oyster crackers earned their name is long forgotten, but either their shell-like shape or traditional pairing with seafood chowders must have played a part. Today they’re available in various forms, from more archetypal versions resembling dense hardtack to light, flaky disks. Many people enjoy oyster crackers simply for snacking, but they were originally intended to accompany soup, and we wondered whether traditional or modern versions would perform both functions best.
We evaluated four nationally distributed brands for their taste and texture, both alone and in tomato soup. The crackers ranged from small and hexagonal to large and almost spherical, with some featuring the typical crimped edges. Our tasters panned the largest and most traditional cracker for being too “dense,’’ “bland,’’ and even “raw’’-tasting. The winning cracker, by contrast, was better suited for straight-from-the-box snacking, with its “tender,” “flaky” texture and “wheaty” taste, yet it also held its crispness in soup. The more classic runner-up closely rivaled it in the rankings, also retaining its crunch after soaking in soup. This brand had a pleasantly “floury” flavor that was deemed “just what an oyster cracker should be.”
Bottom line: Tasters want an oyster cracker that not only stays crunchy in soup but also can be eaten on its own.
Everything We Tested
Tasters repeatedly praised Sunshine’s hexagonal crackers for their “addictive,” “wheaty, toasty flavor.” Although their texture “adds crunch to soup,” their “flaky,” “delicate,” “melt-in-your-mouth” quality also made them a cracker that tasters could “nosh on all day.”
Tasters enjoyed the “puffiness” and “mild, creamy” flavor of these round, pale crackers. Their traditionally “light,” “floury” quality was deemed “just what an oyster cracker should be.” In soup, the crackers “stayed crisp” and “held up well.”
Recommended with reservations
Eaten plain, these round, crimped crackers were praised for their “toasty,” “nutty” flavor and “nice crunch,” but in soup we found that they quickly turned “mushy” and “soggy.”
The “giant,” “unwieldy” knob-shaped OTC crackers (for Original Trenton Cracker, made in New Jersey since the mid-19th century) prompted comparisons to “jaw breakers.” Their “stale,” “too-hard” texture and “raw” flavor yielded comparisons to “dog biscuits.”
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