Breathe in, Breathe Out
Suffice it to say, without the holes, crackers probably wouldn’t be crackers at all — they’d be puffed up pillows of crispy dough. That’s pretty tough to fit into a saltine box.
If you’ve ever made dough for bread or pizza crust, the beginning of the cracker-making process should look familiar: workers mix water, wheat flour, yeast, and special enzymes together, then let the newly mixed dough sit for around 16 hours.
While it sits, the enzymes break the starch in the flour into simple sugars. The yeast gobbles those sugars down and belches out carbon dioxide gas without so much as an “excuse me,” filling the dough with gas bubbles that make it rise in a process called respiration. After the dough rises, workers add baking soda, salt, oil, and seasonings, then leave the dough to rise a bit more before it’s ready to be rolled into sheets, run under “docker” pins that punch it with holes, and finally baked.
If You Can’t Stand the Heat
The baking process is really where those holes come in handy. That’s because while you want bread and pizza crust to get big and fluffy in the oven, you want crackers to stay almost exactly as they were when you put them in to bake. But in the first 10 minutes of baking yeast dough, a phenomenon called “oven spring” makes the yeast speed up its respiration and belch out a final dying puff of carbon dioxide. At the same time, the carbon dioxide and water that was already in the dough expands as things start heating up. It can be hard to stay flat with all that expansion, so the crackers’ holes let off some steam to keep things from puffing up too much.
You can still see where the cracker has risen in the form of browned bubbles between the holes. With the right number of holes, that rising doesn’t get out of control and results in a flat, crispy final product that’s ready for snacking.