Not many brands have elevated their product to the status of proprietary eponym (a trademark that has become synonymous with the product it represents), but when this harmonious vernacular takes place, otherwise known as genericide, it essentially guarantees a lifetime of profits and complimentary marketing. Such is the case for Kleenex (tissues), Band-Aid (bandage), ChapStick (lip balm), and Speedo (skimpy bathing suit that some men should really reconsider wearing), though many foods have also crept into this space, like Jell-O (gelatin), Coke (soda), and even Tabasco (hot sauce). Another on the rise? Triscuit: the ultimate (and frankly, only) choice in whole wheat crackers.
This wafered crisp has humble beginnings, all thanks to the inventor of shredded wheat himself, Henry Perky. The entrepreneur began with the cereal we know and love today, but found a biscuit version to be more appetizing. In 1898, after five years of developing a recipe that cooked the wheat into shreds, he sought a patent for a "new and original design for wafers," replacing the previous model of slicing a larger wheat biscuit in half to serve upon toasting. In 1901, he sought two additional patents for “a cracker of filamentous or shredded wheat." And from there, the Triscuit was born.
Production of the cracker started at an innovative Niagara Falls, N.Y. plant (The Palace of Light) in 1903 with a 2 1/4-inch by 4-inch cracker marketed as "baked by electricity." This Triscuit elder would retain this shape for 21 years before being sized down to two-inch squares and eventually coated in salt and oil in 1935 to improve the taste. In 1984, the brand received another facelift by introducing flavored varieties with an emphasis on health and crunch. (Hi, Roasted Garlic!)
Today, the cracker has continued to deliver on its promise of simplicity, offering only three ingredients in its composition: wheat, oil, and salt. This commitment to plainness, albeit deliciousness, paired with Mondelez's transparency (they're officially non-GMO!) is also reflected in its production process.
I had the unique opportunity to visit the thumb (or as I liked to call it, acrylic nail) of Michigan to witness Triscuit's vast wheat fields and annual harvest firsthand. As someone who swears by the cracker's touted health benefits and all-around versatility, it was a rewarding, informational, and all-around exciting experience to see this evolution from wheat berry to ideal hummus vessel.
Family farms, working in tandem with the Cooperative (Co-Op) Elevator company, strive to not only yield a superior product, but also integrate the best practices in which the product is made. Like Perky himself, there is a true hunger for optimization and innovation, as well as a sense of camaraderie and friendly competition among the local community. Local farmers take a genuine interest in each other's success and make a collective effort to gather, sell, and distribute their crops fairly, share the latest in technology, and promote longterm sustainability efforts. It's a well-oiled machine brought to you by well-oiled machines (or at least that's what the massive GPS-guided tractors appeared to be).
At the end of the day, a cracker may just be a cracker, but it's rare to find such a massively successful fixture of American food culture devoid of the additives, unpronounceable ingredients, and unicorn flavors of its competitors. With Triscuit, it's this dedication to quality, combined with an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, that separates it from the norm. And that's something we can all crunch on.
Joey is editor-at-large at Chowhound. When he's not writing or eating french fries, he's probably listening to Beyonce, playing volleyball, or practicing his stand-up comedy routine. You can order his debut cookbook, BASIC BITCHEN, at bit.ly/BasicBitchen.