Kitchn Love Letters

These Animal Crackers Are the Only Ones I’ll Buy (and No, They Don’t Come in a Red Cardboard Box)

published Jun 15, 2022
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Credit: Sorbis/Shutterstock

It’s practically a rite of passage: Carrying around a little red cardboard box by its ribbon handle, a miniature train case of crackers shaped like lions, zebras, and giraffes, their counterparts illustrated on the front. What child can resist biting off the head of their favorite zoo animal as it crumbles into dry, slightly sweet oblivion, a pleasure so pure you can’t help but swing your feet happily to the rhythm of each bite?

Iconic as they are, though, that well-marketed box isn’t the brand I reach for. Nor are the organic or licensed vanilla versions that are ever-present at the big club warehouses and natural food stores. For me, there is no substitute for the Stauffer’s brand of animal crackers — the original and, in my humble opinion, the very best. 

Credit: Su-Jit Lin

Stauffer’s Original Animal Crackers

They’re uniquely crumb-less, for minimal mess and come in a menagerie of somewhat amorphous shapes. Their imprecise, puffy silhouettes merely hint at elephants, camels, horses, and tigers. Other shapes remain unidentifiable, but comfortably so. Cool and dry to the touch, they bubble up in three-dimensional relief with small puncture dots and pressed folds — a blobby contrast to the precise imprints of newer brands, and considerably less detailed than the bigger-name classic, who use a rotary die for more precise shapes.

Buy: Stauffer’s Original Animal Crackers, $1.69 for 16 ounces at Instacart

I have a specific way of eating them, even to this day, as an adult in my late 30s. While some kids (and grown-ups) go straight for the head, I like to bite off the appendages first, saving the puffiest sections for last. The little nubbin legs, the elephant trunk, maybe then the head, leaving what’s often the rear end leading … well, the rear. 

These segments, which were allowed to rise more voluminously, have a unique kind of flaky shatter to the bite, scattering microscopic, mildly sweet cracker dust in a small explosion across my tongue. Carried out in different order per cracker shape, this precise way of eating each individual cracker is very much part of the ritual.

Credit: Su-Jit Lin

It’s not just the shape of them that sets the Stauffer’s animal crackers apart, though. It’s the slight tinge of nutmeg that does it for me, the barest hint of artificial vanilla not even mentioned in the ingredient list, and the cheap white flour-ness of the whole thing. They remind me of the milky arrowroot biscuits my grandma was so fond of back in the day, or even the LU European biscuits, sans chocolate coating. In fact, the chocolate version of these crackers is even better than the original.

Stauffer’s chocolate animal crackers are deliciously restrained. It’s cocoa powder that gives them an earthy chocolate flavor, and you can taste it, unmasked by any excess of added sugar — again, the puffy texture making them instantly recognizable as Stauffer’s-made.

The chocolate ones are a more recent discovery of mine. The plain classic — found at Target for a buck a pound sometimes or in bulk sizes at various budget supermarkets and Walmart — has historically been my go-to. I wasn’t big on chocolate when I was growing up, but when I did want it, I could always coerce my mom to buy a tub of ready-to-spread chocolate frosting for me to dip it in — a poor girl’s Dunkaroos. 

So everyone else can keep their favorite animal crackers. For me, Stauffer’s goats (and buffalos and hippos and bears) will always be the G.O.A.T.

Do you have a favorite snack from when you were a kid? Tell us about it in the comments below.