A biscuit (pron.: /ˈbɪskɨt/) is a baked, commonly flour-based food product. The term is applied to two distinctly different products in North America and the Commonwealth Nations and Europe. * In the United States and Canada, it is a small, soft, leavened bread, somewhat similar to a scone, though generally softer and fluffier. Although yeast may be used as a leavening agent, it is often replaced or supplemented with baking powder or baking soda. A Southern regional variation on the term, "beaten biscuit", is closer to the British variety. * In Commonwealth English, it is a small and generally sweet baked product that would be called either a "cookie" or a "cracker" in the United States and a "cookie" in English-speaking Canada. Biscuits in the United Kingdom and Ireland may be savoury (savoury biscuits are often referred to as "crackers") or sweet, such as chocolate biscuits, ginger nuts, custard creams, or the Nice biscuit. Although in Commonwealth Nations, the term "cookie" may be synonymous with "biscuit", a cookie is generally a softer baked product. Biscuit|
American biscuit (left) and one variety of British biscuits (right) – the American biscuit is soft and flaky; these particular British biscuits (Bourbon) have a layer of chocolate filling between two hard biscuit layers|
The modern-day confusion in the English language around the word "biscuit" is created by its etymology. The Middle French word bescuit is derived from the Latin words bis (twice) and coquere, coctus (to cook, cooked), and, hence, means "twice-cooked". This is because biscuits were originally cooked in a twofold process: first baked, and then dried out in a slow oven. This term was then adapted into English in the 14th century during the Middle Ages, in the Middle English word bisquite, to represent a hard, twice-baked product History
Biscuits for travel
Ship's biscuit display in Kronborg, Denmark
The need for nutritious, easy-to-store, easy-to-carry, and long-lasting foods on long journeys, in particular at sea, was initially solved by taking live food along with a butcher/cook. However, this took up additional space on what were either horse-powered treks or small ships, reducing the time of travel before additional food was required. This resulted in early armies' adopting the style of hunter-foraging. The introduction of the baking of processed cereals including the creation of flour provided a more reliable source of food. Egyptian sailors carried a flat, brittle loaf of millet bread called dhourra cake, while the Romans had a biscuit called buccellum. Roman cookbook Apicius describes: "a thick paste of fine wheat flour was boiled and spread out on a plate. When it had dried and hardened, it was cut up and then fried until crisp, then served with honey and pepper." Many early physicians believed that most medicinal problems were associated with digestion. Hence, for both sustenance and avoidance of illness, a daily consumption of a biscuit was considered good for health.
Traditional Polish toruń gingerbread
Early biscuits were hard, dry, and unsweetened. They were most often cooked after bread, in a cooling bakers' oven; they were a cheap form of sustenance for the poor. By the seventh century AD, cooks of the Persian empire had learnt from their forebears the secrets of lightening and enriching bread-based mixtures with eggs, butter, and cream, and sweetening them with fruit and honey. One of the earliest spiced biscuits was gingerbread, in French pain d'épices, meaning "spice bread", brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk Grégoire de Nicopolis. He left Nicopolis Pompeii, of Lesser Armenia to live in Bondaroy, France, near the town of Pithiviers. He stayed there for seven years, and taught French priests and Christians how to cook gingerbread. This was originally a dense, treaclely (molasses-based) spice cake or bread. As it was so expensive to make,...