The “animal cracker” is an often misunderstood delight, deserving of detail and defense in an era of mislabeling and generalizations.
According to Wikipedia’s definition of “animal cracker,” they are “crackers in the shapes of animals… They are like crackers due to the way they are made, with layered dough, however the use of sweetened dough gives them the cookie taste and consistency.”
Tellingly, the definition also notes: “There is debate about whether or not Animal Crackers are actually crackers or cookies.”
And this is where I come in. See, I have this very debate roughly every two weeks. Someone will invariably see one of my animal cracker “snackin’ buckets,” and say, “Man, I love animal crackers, too! I remember those boxes as a kid with the circus animals, and…” And that’s where I stop them.
Nabisco’s Barnum’s Animals (Crackers) are far from animal crackers. Sure, they have animals on them, share a similar form factor, and even share similar packaging labels. But, they are animal cookies. Always have been. They are soft, buttery, crumbly, shortbread cookies. Not crackers.
According to Merriam-Webster, a “cracker,” is
“a dry thin crispy baked bread product that may be leavened or unleavened.”
Merriam-Webster then goes on to define a “cookie” as
“a small flat or slightly raised cake.”
Can there truly be much debate? Could an animal cracker be mistaken for a cake? (Maybe so, for its frosted cousins, such as the Keebler Frosted Animal Crackers, but not for the standard animal cracker.)
What, then, is the standard for the animal cracker? Stauffer’s originated the animal cracker in the US back in 1871. And, true to their legacy, they still make a mean animal cracker. Stauffer’s Animal Crackers have a similar outline and package as their cookied, Nabisco brethren, but follow through on their cracker promise.
Semi-sweet, crisp, and airy, Stauffer’s always delivers. Further, they offer good value. For a period of time, Costco offered a giant, 5 lb. Stauffer’s Bear Jug. I’ve seen smaller bear jugs and bags at Target and Walgreens occasionally, but unfortunately the consistency of the cracker is not matched with consistency of shelf stocking. (I can rarely find Stauffer’s on my shopping escapades.)
As such, I often find myself picking up Trader Joe’s Organic Animal Crackers for $2.99 for a 1-pound tub. I can’t say I know what’s “organic” about an artificial animal cracker, but I can say Joe makes a mean cracker.
And that’s what I’m always looking for… a great animal cracker. The world has many cookies, and Nabisco is behind many of them. But, their “animal crackers” are not among these cookie greats, nor their cheap, low-rent, imitation knockoffs. (I’m looking at you, Keebler and Borden.) The thing is, I don’t need any more new cookie encounters. Mostly, I don’t need Nabisco and friends converting their remnant cookie cruft into “crackers;” if future generations only encounter these cookies-in-disguise, they’ll never know the joy of a delicious, dry, crispy, baked, semi-sweet, bread product in the shape of an animal.
Instead, they’ll only be digesting disappointment.