This section is from the book "Practical Dietetics With Special Reference To Diet In Disease", by William Gilman Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease.
All kinds of crackers enter more into the dietary in America and England (where they are called "biscuits") than in any other country. The lighter forms of wafers and rusk are nutritious and very easily digested by invalids having mild gastric disorder, for the starch has been well torrefied.
Crackers vary much in hardness and flavour, but, generally speaking, they are quite as digestible as good bread. The simplest forms, such as water crackers or milk crackers, are made with flour and water or milk, to which a little salt is added, after which they are baked in flat shapes so as to become hard and more or less brittle. Soda is sometimes added. If it is desirable to have them less friable, butter may be added in small quantity. The hard unleavened preparations known as "ship biscuits," "hard-tack," and "pilot biscuits," which form an important article of diet for sailors at sea, are manufactured upon these principles.
Ship biscuits are so dry and firm that they are much less bulky than bread, and it is estimated that three fourths of a pound of such biscuits is equivalent to one pound of bread in actual nutritive value.
Most biscuits, if kept long exposed to the air, become exceedingly dry and tasteless, although they do not readily mould. Owing to their hardness and unpalatableness when long kept, it is found inexpedient to give them to soldiers or sailors to the exclusion of fresh bread whenever the latter can be obtained. The biscuits known as "hard-tack" are usually made five inches square and are perforated with small holes. They have the advantage of keeping well for a very long time and remaining edible, although they are not very palatable even when fresh. They are extremely tough, and require soaking in milk or water before they can be eaten.
Granose is a flaky form of entire wheat biscuit prepared by the Battle Creek (Mich.) Sanitarium Health Food Company. It may be eaten with cream or hot milk, and is palatable and nutritious. Gran-ola is a similar preparation.
Semolino is a name having two applications. In France it denotes the hard central substance of the wheat grains which are retained in the bolting machine after separation of the finer portion which has passed through; but in Italy the word is used to denote the finer portion itself, consisting of fine hard granules round*d by grinding. The larger sizes contain much gluten, and may be used to thicken soups. The granules swell in water. When the grinding and sifting process is carried still further the starch granules are obtained in the fine powder which constitutes flour.
Semolino is used extensively in the manufacture of what are called "alimentary pastes," such as macaroni.
Macaroni is made by mixing semolino made from hard flinty wheat into a paste which is kneaded and put into a cylinder, the bottom of which is pierced with holes. A piston descends in the cylinder, and the paste issues from the perforations in the form of long thin tubes, which are cooled by a current of air, cut in lengths, and dried on screens. As much as twenty million pounds of macaroni are manufactured annually in Lyons alone. It contains 16 to 18 per cent of gluten, whereas bread holds 10 to 11 per cent.
Sir Henry Thompson says, in speaking of macaroni, that, "weight for weight, it may be regarded as not less valuable for flesh-making purposes in the animal economy than beef or mutton. Most people can digest it more easily and rapidly than meat; it offers, therefore, an admirable substitute for meat, particularly for lunch or midday meals".
After thorough soaking and when well cooked by boiling or stewing in milk or stock it is very nutritious, and it is often agreeably combined with cheese, although this is not advised for persons with feeble digestive power. Cooked alone with boiling water, macaroni is by many regarded as tasteless; and as the art of cooking it properly is less understood in this country than in Italy, it is not so favourite an article of diet as it might be.
The use of Italian pastes, such as spaghetti and vermicelli, in this country is extensive, but by no means as much so as their intrinsic value deserves. They are manufactured from flour from which the starch has been in part removed, and hence contain a relatively large proportion of nitrogenous matter. Although very wholesome they are tough, and require prolonged cooking. The vermicelli which is sold in the form of letters, to use in soups, cannot be boiled sufficiently to be thoroughly digestible unless the letters lose their shape.