Saltines are dry leavened crackers with a relatively mild flavor. These bland crackers can be found for sale in most markets, and they have a number of culinary uses. People can also make saltines at home, assuming they have experience making breads. The term “saltine” was once trademarked by the Nabisco company, but it has become genericized over time, so the company lost its exclusive rights to the term.
These crackers, also known as soda crackers, include flour, yeast, baking soda, and some form of shortening. Some styles are also sprinkled with coarse salt. The dough is coarse, dry, and not very greasy, thanks to a relatively light use of shortening, and it is typically allowed to rise for an extended period of time. After the dough has risen, it is rolled out, perforated to allow steam to escape, baked, cut, and packaged for sale. Most brands of saltines are perforated in such a way that the large individual crackers can be easily broken into several smaller chunks.
Many people are familiar with saltines as a home remedy for nausea. The bland flavor makes the crackers relatively unobjectionable, so people sometimes snack on saltines when they are not feeling well to fill their stomachs and hopefully limit nausea. Many pregnant women enjoy saltines for this reason, and some people swear specifically by stale saltines for nausea.
Saltines are also sometimes used as a palate cleanser in tastings of foods and wine. The neutral flavor is said to prepare the mouth for the next round of tasting, eliminating the flavors of the course before so that tasters can focus on each food or beverage separately. Some people have argued that the palate cleanser concept does not hold water, and that probably breads and crackers have been served at wine tastings to limit intoxication, rather than to cleanse the palate.
Soda crackers are also used as a base for spreads, from peanut butter to cream cheese. Many people also enjoy saltines with soup, and some companies make miniature crackers for this express purpose.
Packaged saltines usually come in a large box with several small individual packages of crackers, ensuring that the crackers stay crisp until someone wants to eat them. People who prefer stale saltines may tear all the packages open upon purchase to allow the crackers to age before consumption, while people who like their crackers crisp and fresh usually open a bag at a time, and sometimes seal the bag in an airtight container to slow the speed at which the crackers go stale.