Who doesn’t love animal crackers? Those little red boxes full of animal-shaped cookies have been an essential part of childhood for generations, but did you ever really stop to think about them?
Like graham crackers, animal crackers are made with a cracker-style layered and docked dough, but they’re sweet like cookies.
The field has narrowed somewhat; today you might find a bear, bison, camel, cougar, elephant, giraffe, gorilla, hippo, hyena, kangaroo, lion, monkey, rhino, seal, sheep, tiger, or zebra in your Barnum’s box.
If you define an “animal cracker” as any cookie or cracker that’s shaped like a cracker, then you can also loop Goldfish and Teddy Grahams into the category.
Before 1958, all animal crackers were stamped with a simple cookie cutter and didn’t have any other details. Today, details including arms, legs, and facial features can be engraved onto each cookie thanks to rotary dies.
Because the usage dates back so far, and technically only refers to the showman P.T. Barnum, Nabisco isn’t required to pay any licensing fees to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (although maybe they should be, as the circus is folding later this year).
Stauffer’s animal crackers, which first hit the market in 1871, can be found at a handful of discount retailers. Their formula calls for the addition of spices nutmeg and mace.