The Long Naval History of Hardtack Ship’s Biscuits

18th Century historian Jon Townsend took a look back at the long history behind ship’s biscuits, a dense hardtack unleavened cracker made a simple recipe of flour, water, and salt. Because the biscuits had a long shelf life, they were easily stored on ships. They were very filling, despite the lack of taste.

Ship’s biscuit was a staple food for sailors and soldiers for centuries. Join us as we take a journey back in time to learn how this simple, hard, and durable bread sustained armies and navies during long voyages and battles.

Ships Biscuits

Townsend noted that sailors had to first soften the crackers with liquid, otherwise, they were too hard to eat. He made a fresh batch of ship’s biscuits and broke them up into hot chocolate and Madeira.

The trick with ships biscuits  is you can’t just eat them you will break your  teeth so we don’t want to eat that. …We have broken up a  little bit of ships biscuit and soaked it in  wine and here we’re using it like cereal so   I’ve broken up the ship’s biscuit by pounding  it and then pouring it into hot chocolate and that’s another popular drink form form from the time period.

Towsend also ate a biscuit that was over ten years old. It was hard, with extra holes that weren’t there when it was originally baked.

TIt’s got all these extra little holes in it. I didn’t  make all these holes some of these holes are made by bugs which is a common problem with ships  biscuits and this one is a pretty hard …18th century sailors, they would tap the biscuits on the table to knock the bugs out or  eat them in the dark because they didn’t want  to know what they were eating…Tastes almost exactly like the brand new ship’s biscuit still after 10 or 12 years, its just as edible as it was before.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.