Oyster crackers are bite-sized buttery crackers which are commonly offered with meals in the Northeastern region of the United States. These small crackers are closely associated with soups and chowders, since they absorb liquid while adding some crunch for texture and little flavor of their own. Visitors to diners and chowder restaurants have also probably encountered packages of oyster crackers.
Contrary to the implications of the name, oyster crackers do not, in fact, contain oysters. The origins of the name are unclear; the crackers may be thus named because their shape does vaguely suggests a bivalve. These crackers also pair well with seafood soups and chowders, including those with contain oysters. It is possible that the crackers were originally marketed as the perfect companion for oysters, and that their name evolved over the years.
A traditional oyster cracker is hexagonal in shape and slightly puffy. Some companies make round perfectly puffed crackers which strongly resemble shelled sea creatures. The crackers are very crisp and crunchy by tradition, and some versions have small holes which make them look like tiny quilted pillows. Other oyster crackers may have crimped edges, and all versions have a rich, buttery flavor. The crackers are also usually dusted with salt.
Crackers have been made for centuries in numerous countries all over the world, and countless recipes for crackers were undoubtedly brought to the New World by settlers in the Americas. The origins of the oyster cracker appear to lie in 1847, when a man named Adam Exton introduced the crackers to Trenton, New Jersey. At first, only one baker picked up the trend, but others quickly followed suit when they realized the popularity of the small crackers. The Northeastern US continues to be associated with these crackers, and several area companies continue to make the crackers for export around the United States.
Usually, oyster crackers are left plain so that they do not interact adversely with the soups they are served in. Some bakers add things like thyme, green onions, or exotic spices such as turmeric. These crackers can add a bit of zest to an ordinary soup. The crackers may also be used in seasoned snack mixes, in which case they are coated in seasoning and baked to serve as standalone crunchy snacks.