9

You find in dictionaries (OED for example) that what the British call biscuit, is called cookie or cracker in America. But,

British biscuits are like these:

enter image description here

while American cookies are like these:

enter image description here

and crackers are like these:

enter image description here

They're totally different in form and character. I'm afraid the best choice would be British biscuit!.

  • What is the “British” biscuit called in America?
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    Not all "American cookies" look like what you've shown. They can also look like your "British biscuit". I think the technical "American name" for that type of cookie is "sandwich cookie". Oreos are a good example. – Jim Nov 25 '15 at 19:40
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    ALL these are cookies: pepperidgefarm.com/ProductLanding.aspx?catID=715 – Jim Nov 25 '15 at 19:43
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    Context is critical in deciding which term to use. British biscuit is not a term average Americans would think of, but seeing the picture you provided they would automatically say cookie. – spirographer Nov 25 '15 at 19:48
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    Crackers are not cookies they are a completely separate thing. You also didn’t find pie, cake, and hamburger in there either. – Jim Nov 25 '15 at 20:16
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    All the answers are good but somewhat complicated. The basic and simple rule of thumb which will work almost all of the time in AmEnglish is if it is sweet, it’s a cookie. If salty/savory, it’s a cracker with a few exceptions like graham crackers. – iMerchant Nov 2 '17 at 9:11
14

The first two examples you show are cookies; the third are crackers. Cookies are made in all kinds of shapes and sizes and may be hard or chewy (I like the chewy ones, myself). Crackers are salty and never sweet.

Most of the cookies in your first picture are called sandwich cookies or crème-filled/jelly-filled cookies. The most famous of this type is the Nabisco Oreo.

Very brittle cookies are called wafers. Wafers are also the item used with wine during Communion.

And in the US, a biscuit is a sourdough soft bread product served with a meal. It is common in Southern cooking, and is a usual accompaniment to fried chicken.

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    Just one nitpick: US biscuits don't involve yeast at all; they certainly don't contain sourdough yeast. They're a quickbread, i.e. they contain baking soda and/or baking powder. – Marthaª Nov 25 '15 at 19:56
  • A US "biscuit" would usually be called a "scone" (although savoury not sweet) in British or Australian English. (Biscuits and gravy is a mostly Southern treat that takes some getting used to indeed). – Cargill Nov 25 '15 at 20:56
  • @Marthaª Just Google "sourdough biscuit" and see what comes up...I'm not a baker, but these are the items I'm referring to. – Steven Littman Nov 25 '15 at 21:20
  • @Cargill--I was considering comparing a biscuit to a scone, but I decided not to. The two are similar, but not at all the same. Refer to the following. bonappetit.com/recipes/article/scone-is-not-a-biscuit – Steven Littman Nov 25 '15 at 21:22
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    There are sweet crackers. Graham crackers are sweet - particularly the cinnamon variety. – Kristina Lopez Nov 25 '15 at 21:32
12

While your photos of chocolate-chip cookies and saltine crackers are archetypical, form is not the sole determiner of the difference betwen a cookie and a cracker. Probably the most important distinction is that a cookie is usually sweet whereas a cracker is usually savory, as noted in the AHD definitions:

cookie - A small, usually flat and crisp cake made from sweetened dough.

cracker - A thin crisp wafer or biscuit, usually made of unsweetened dough.

There are a few exceptions, probably the most familiar being the graham cracker, which is lightly sweetened but very thin, crisp, and dry, like the saltines you posted. But cookies and crackers come in a wide variety of shapes and textures. Girl Scout cookies, sold as a fundraiser by the GSUSA, are iconic— if the Girl Scouts call it a cookie, no one will say otherwise— and as you can see, they are quite varied:

Various Girl Scout cookies

I would probably call the contents of your first picture cookies (or more specifically, sandwich cookies as Steven Littman notes).

(Perhaps second only to the girl scouts in this power was the company that popularized many of the best-known 20th-century American cookie and cracker brands— animal crackers, Fig Newtons, Nilla Wafers, Ritz crackers, Wheat Thins, and above all, Oreos. Ironically, perhaps, the brand was Nabisco, derived from National Biscuit Company.)

The sweet/savory distinction, and the nature of crackers to be crisper, also seems to be supported by recipe names. The 2014 paper "Cookie- versus cracker-baking--what's the difference? Flour functionality requirements explored by SRC and alveography." (doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.578469)— by a team headed by a researcher at Campbell Foods— observes

Both types of products are similar in their major ingredients, but different in their formulas and processes. One of the most important and consequential differences between traditional cracker and cookie formulas is sugar (i.e., sucrose) concentration: usually lower than 30% in a typical cracker formula and higher than 30% in a typical cookie formula

Gluten development is facilitated in lower-sugar cracker doughs during mixing and sheeting; this is a critical factor linked to baked-cracker quality. Therefore, soft wheat flours with greater gluten quality and strength are typically preferred for cracker production. In contrast, the concentrated aqueous sugar solutions existing in high-sugar cookie doughs generally act as an antiplasticizer, compared with water alone, so gluten development during dough mixing and starch gelatinization/pasting during baking are delayed or prevented in most cookie systems.

  • Is "chocolaty" the correct spelling, and does it mean the coating isn't real chocolate, but chocolate-flavour? – Owain May 21 at 20:35
  • @Owain Chocolaty: made of or like chocolate; also, having a rich chocolate flavor (Merriam-Webster). Samoas contain cocoa but not chocolate per se; however, the word chocolaty by itself does not necessarily suggest a lack of chocolate, any more than starchy would suggest a lack of starch or oily would suggest a lack of oil. Then again, consider that what is allowed to be called chocolate varies from country to country. – choster May 21 at 21:02
  • So they may be allowed chocolat(e)y because of the cocoa, but not chocolate, just as 'buttery' might be allowed for a spread containing milk fat but not actual butter. As you say, legal product descriptions vary, which is why I was curious. – Owain May 22 at 7:23
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We have lots of pictures already. Just for completeness, in America a "biscuit" means this:

biscuit

It is not sweet itself, but you could put something sweet (such as honey) inside when you eat it:

honey

Also commonly eaten smothered in gravy:

gravy

  • I've never heard of honey in biscuits and, frankly, it sounds pretty gross. Now gravy on the other hand... – Casey Nov 2 '17 at 13:57
  • They look like British scones, which can be made with treacle (I've never seen them made with honey) deans.co.uk/recipe/treacle-scones – Owain May 21 at 20:38

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