Hardtack is a type of survival food that has been dried to prolong its shelf life. It’s ideal for long-term storage and has many other names, such as Ship’s Biscuits and Worm Castles. This biscuit is a traditional survival morsel used by explorers, the military, and even prospectors for centuries. It’s a staple survival food that’s been used in many forms since pre-Egyptian times.
See how to make hardtack, what are the nutritional value and the long-term storage benefits of hardtack, and much more below:
What Is Hardtack?
Hardtack is essentially a dry, unleavened bread. Because of the way it is made, it is incredibly easy to store as well. The traditional recipe for hardtack would have involved three ingredients; water, salt, and flour. Sometimes it would be just flour and water if no salt was available. Using these ingredients, a dough would have been formed and then rolled out to make flat squares.
The next step is the piercing of the squares with the end of a nail. These holes ensured the hardtack cooked evenly and helped to release moisture so that the biscuits didn’t billow during cooking. The baking process takes around an hour, with a 30-minute interval of flipping the biscuits over so that both sides are baked.
With older ovens, making hardtack would have to be repeated up to 4 times to ensure all of the water was driven out of the dough. The more you cook your hardtack, the longer it will last when stored properly. In fact, some hardtack was found from both the 18th and 19th centuries that can still be eaten today.
How To Make Hardtack
There are only a few ingredients needed to make the most basic form of hardtack biscuits. These ingredients include:
- 10 grams of salt (optional)
- 360 grams of plain white flour
- 1 cup of water depending on the absorbency of the flour
As well as these very few ingredients, you will also need a mixing bowl, some greaseproof paper, a sharp knife, and a clean nail or chopstick.
Below is a step-by-step recipe for making basic hardtack biscuits.
- Preheat your oven to 375ºF.
- Mix your flour and salt ingredients in a bowl.
- Slowly and carefully add in your water, just a few drops at a time. While adding the water, you should be continually mixing until a dough is formed that doesn’t stick to your hands. If the dough does begin to stick, there’s too much water in it. To resolve this, you can add a small amount of flour.
- Once you have the right dough consistency, roll it into a square or rectangular shape. It should be around a ¼ to ½ an inch in thickness. If you roll it any thicker than this, the hardtack will be very tough and almost impossible to consume without soaking it.
- Divide the dough up and cut it into nine equal squares. Any other shape will work too, but squares are the more traditional choice.
- Using your nail or chopstick, make some evenly spaced holes in your square-shaped dough. Doing this in a four-by-five grid pattern will work best, although any design is fine as long as it isn’t overdone.
- Place your dough squares onto your greaseproof paper that is laid onto a baking tray.
- Bake the hardtack for half an hour, turn the biscuits over and then bake for a further 30 minutes. At this point, you should see the outside gaining some color. Once the hour is up, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Keep them out to rest for a day or two. The biscuits will now be rock hard so that you can store them in an airtight container so they don’t go stale. Appropriately storing your hardtack in a cool and dry environment means that it could last from 2 to 20 years plus!
- You can repeat the baking process more than once to eliminate all the moisture in the biscuits. Doing this will also significantly increase how long you can keep the hardtack. Most survival experts would recommend baking them for 2 hours.
Hardtack as a Survival Food
Although hardtack won’t provide you with all the protein you need, it is a staple survival food. It’s so great because it’s simple to make, has a long shelf life, and can be transported easily as well. For something so basic, it’s incredibly heavy in calories and can be added to other foods to make them go further because of its versatility. Hardtack can be eaten by itself or dipped into a beverage. It even works in soups. The limits know no bounds with this super survival food!
All of the reasons that hardtack was used on long sea voyages and during the war are still very much true today. If you’re planning a long trek out into the wilderness or want to be prepared for a survival situation, hardtack is the top biscuit.
Hardtack nutritional value
Since there are only three ingredients in hardtack, the nutritional value of each biscuit is pretty straightforward. An average square will provide you with about 75-100 calories, which all come from flour. There are also around 16 grams of carbohydrates in each biscuit. And that’s about it!
Depending on the flour you use, there may be the addition of protein to your hardtack as well as fiber. Consuming biscuits is a great way to boost your energy on long walks. However, they won’t give you enough sustenance to keep you alive for weeks without consuming other food with it. By itself, it might not be enough to survive on.
Hardtack is brilliant as standalone survival food, but it can also be mixed with other foods to make a meal go further. These biscuits are a stable source of carbohydrates in an emergency. Many add other ingredients like sugar and fruit to improve the taste. However, this will impact how long you can keep the hardtack for. For authentic survival food, stick to the traditional recipe set out above.