There’s a war going on people. Most of us have been oblivious and non-caring. The effects of the conflict have made its way into most households. The result is driving a wedge, splitting us into camps. The clash though, has been so subtle and low-level that most of us are unfazed by its effect. I’m talking about the toast & cracker war.
Chemists have been studying the Maillard reaction for years. The effect of turning bread into toast. Throw radiant heat against amino acids, coupled with reducing sugars, yields the phenomena of toast.
Toast has been a staple for eons. The terms “breaking bread” came about when latin was the language and bread was actually broken. We could break bread for a reason. It was toasted. Un-toasted bread is torn. They didn’t say, “let’s tear bread together.” Bread can’t be broken. Toasted bread can be. It’s when we discovered the crunchy, crisp texture of heating bread by the fire that we recognized bread’s expanded attributes.
Fast forward several centuries and crackers arrive on the scene. Imagine asking someone to “break crackers?” How lame and weak. Several decades ago crackers crept in our markets and have even claimed their own space, the cracker aisle.
Why root for toast? Toast is homemade. Crackers are mass-made. Some of us even make the bread that makes the toast. None of us makes crackers.
Toasters were once a basic kitchen appliance. What was a kitchen without a refrigerator, stove, coffeemaker (maybe) and toaster (definite)? Everyone had a toaster. Those small appliances with at least two or four slots where you drop sliced bread for an even brown crispiness on both sides. (Growing up, our toaster would pop up the toast prior to the right about of brown, requiring a second push of the lever with a watchful eye that the toast didn’t burn on round two.)
Toasters have come a long way. GV and I stayed at her brother’s home for a few days last weekend. Their’s is a Cuisinart 4-slot digital programable toaster. Bread or bagel, toast or defrost, light or dark, preheat or reheat? This toaster does trick toast.
Now instead of conventional 2 or 4 slotted toasters, we toast with toaster ovens, broilers, speciality appliances, or even the stove top. It’s because we recognize the value of turning the staff-of-life to a crispy, more firm nosh that we continue to toast. Toast is bread too fresh or stale heated to a delightful happy medium. Slicing a slightly stale baguette into thin pieces and converting it to toast saves bread from being pitched and provides a purer accompaniment to loads of appetizers. (Creative Italians add sugar and nuts, calling their toast biscotti.)
Most households make toast of some sort. In a pinch, yes, toast can be bought but it may not be easy to find. Crackers however, are always bought and appear in more places than bread. Crackers have been competing vigorously with toast as the compliment choice for the spread and topping market. Crackers have even won over most caviar lovers.
While packaged crackers have fought bitterly to be seen as a go-to snack, they clearly loose in the sandwich category. We wouldn’t think of making a BLT or reuben on a cracker. But crackers have captured the preference spotlight for the plethora of spreads that we are constantly inventing.
Even pita bread has turned against toast. How did this happen? Pita is bread. When we heat pita bread with radiant heat, it becomes toast, not a chip. Chips have seen the headway crackers have made and have joined the offensive by trying to diminish toast’s role. We’ve become such a snack society that we are numbing ourselves to the value of toast over chips and crackers. The conflict has been widening. Buying a package of toast may not sound as sexy as buying a package of crackers or chips. But this is one temptation we shouldn’t readily accept.
Deep down, we know toast rules, so we’ve got to be careful not to let crackers win the war. The word toast didn’t morph from noun to verb without reason. We also use the word to salute or honor someone. We wouldn’t think to raise a glass and cracker them, (or chipping them?). We toast for a reason, because toast is substance. Crackers are fringe, fluff.
Fight back people. Don’t give into to the subtle, scheming marketing ploy of crackers. Toast is cool. Make it yourself. Make toast, not crackers.
…..August 21, 2013……in today’s wsj, an article about France’s “the famously crusty baguette” which can be broken due to the Maillard effect. Now most prefer it torn.