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Hardtack is one of the most ancient foods.

Apart from being easy to make, it is also a great survival food – although it doesn’t taste as good as this modern survival food you can find for sale.

Hardtack is especially known as a cost-effective way of feeding civil war soldiers during the civil war, and the Mexican-American war.

In this article, you’ll learn how to make a typical hardtack recipe (as well as a gluten free option) and master making your favorite ship’s biscuit or survival bread!

Table of Contents

What is Hardtack (Definition)?

Hardtack is a cheap cracker or biscuit made from flour, water, and salt, that lasts for a long time.

It sustains people during times of crisis when perishable goods become scarce and was more common in the past – such as the civil war hardtack.

This type of bread was commonly used to feed navies and militaries in the 19th, 18th, and 17th centuries.

It’s been quite useful during military campaigns, land migrations, and long sea voyages.

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The Hardtack Bread History

Unleavened bread has been used as survival bread for many years.

Archaeologists have since discovered pieces of bread, which they believe date 6,000 years back. Until Egyptians introduced it, yeast was not an ingredient in hard tack recipe.

Intrepid explorers transported unleavened bread during their expeditions from one region to the other. Historians believe that Europeans were able to settle in the United States through using this food even though the security hardtack provided limited.

How many calories does hardtack have?

These recipes use grains, which means a sea biscuit contain a amount of calories.

Calories help your body build energy during demanding labor. While hardtack does not have all the nutrients you need to survive, it is a simple meal ready to eat (basically a type of MRE).

Hardtack contains between 75 and 125 calories, depending on the type of flour you use. Swedish hard crackers recipe contains butter and sugar, leading it to be more in the range of 190 calories.

Does hardtack taste good?

Made from simple components, it has a bland, but not nasty taste. Some people find the hardtack taste favorable, while others dislike it.

Is hardtack still relevant in the modern-day?

Diverging from the Native Americans, sailors and soldiers had advanced options of ration storage, hence, they no longer needed to gnaw on pieces of coffee-soaked hardtacks. Still, evolution doesn’t make the necessity for hardtack biscuits obsolete.

Remember, not everybody can afford a big box of good quality MREs and many survivalists and preppers still prefer hardtack.

Hardtack is versatile; you can store it in large quantities in limited spaces. It also comes with a long shelf life. Tack food can help you survive during a crisis, but you should at least pair it with other nutrient-rich survival foods.

Hardtack bread can renew your energy in an emergency and give you enough stamina to hunt for food in the wilderness.

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How to Make Hardtack

The recipe to make hardtack has evolved. Let’s discuss both the traditional and modern hard tack preparation methods.

What You’ll Need

The good thing about hardtack is that you only need minimal ingredients.

Additionally, you can easily bake a big batch in your oven for a large serving size.

Here are the things you’ll need to make your hardtack recipe a success.

Mixing Bowl

You can use ceramic, glass, or even metal bowls.

Dough Docker

A dough docker is a tool to poke holes in your dough. This tool is not only durable, but also handy when you’re preparing a big batch of survival bread recipes. It is a good investment, and you should purchase one if you don’t already have it.

Wire Pizza or Cookie Sheet

Mesh pizza sheets offer excellent airflow and dries your hardtack evenly and faster. You can use these sheets for all your baking needs, especially if you want your baked items to be crispy. The pizza wire sheet was a common item during ancient times.

Traditional Hardtack Recipe Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups White Flour
  • 1 1/2 water (cups)
  • 3 Tbsp Salt

Modern Hardtack Recipe Ingredients

  • 3-4 cups White Flour
  • 9 Rounded Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 1/2 cup Sweet Sorghum Flour
  • ½ Cup Refined Coconut Oil
  • 1 ½ cups of water
  • 3 Tbsp Iodized Salt (not sea salt)

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Hard tack making method remains the same, traditional or modern components. Your essentials are flour, water, and salt. Here is a step by step guide to make mouthwatering hardtacks. Before you can begin the preparation process, preheat your oven to 175 Degrees Fahrenheit or 80 Degrees Celsius, instead of the typical oven to 375.

  • Pour all your dry parts, flour and salt etc., into your big bowl.
  • The amount of water you’ll use varies on how much dry ingredients. Add half a cup of water at a time, knead and mix the flour and water as you go. You would add extra flour to your dough as you knead until you achieve your desired consistency. However, this will depend on the type you’re using.

The right dough consistency should be soft without sticking to your hands. It should be flexible enough to work on using a rolling pin. Your end goal should be to bake your anzac biscuits until all the moisture evaporates.

  • Drizzle some flour on your working surface and roll out the dough into shape using your hands. Now use your rolling pin to roll out the dough until it gets to an eighth of an inch-thick.
  • Use a biscuit cutter to cut the dough into two-inch squares. Use your dough docker to poke some holes all through the dough to allow for easy air circulation. The holes act as breaking points for your hard crackers once you bake them. Poking holes is known as docking; it allows steam to escape and enable hardtacks to dry out completely. If you don’t have a dough docker, you can use other readily available tools like skewers or a fork.
  • Cut your hardtack square sizes depending on your preference. Small squares tend to dry out faster than thick ones. Where possible, make sure your square pieces are almost the same size and shape. Some people prefer round shapes, square or rectangular shapes. Varying shapes make no difference when it comes to baking and drying your hardtacks.
  • Place your shaped hard crackers on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Turn them over and bake for an additional hour. Remember, the thickness of your hardtacks and humidity of your location determines the amount of time it’ll take to bake them.

If after baking your crackers for two hours, they’re still soft, return them to the oven for an extra hour or until they dry up completely. Regulate the heat in your oven to ensure that your hardtacks don’t burn. The traditional hardtacks were known as twice-baked crackers as it took twice to expel all the moisture.

  • When your hardtack is ready, it should have a slightly brown color.
  • Once you’re satisfied, remove them from the oven, place them on a pizza wire sheet and allow them to dry. This process is crucial as it facilitates the evaporation of any remaining moisture.

Gluten-Free Recipe for Hardtack

Having gluten intolerance translates into difficulties after consuming products made from wheat. Consider replacing wheat with almond, or other types like groundnut, oat or bean flour. If you choose almond, then you’ll need to use less water because this type contains a high amount of fat.

Ingredient List

  • A third or quarter cup of water
  • 2 cups of almond flour
  • A half or one teaspoon of salt

The dough preparation and rolling method is similar to traditional and modern recipes.

Preparing the Gluten-Free Hardtack Flour

While almond nut flour is highly nutritious, it contains high-fat content, which shortens its food storage life. A quarter cup of whole wheat and all-purpose white wheat, have 1 gram and 0.3 grams of fat, respectively. A quarter cup of almond flour, however, contains up to 14 grams of fat.

This high amount of fat reduces the shelf life of almond flour to one year without refrigeration. However, you can prolong the duration by storing it in a fridge or freezer. Before you start preparing your almond hardtack, consider freezing the flour for between 48 and 72 hours. This destroys any larvae, bugs, or eggs that could have contaminated it, especially if store-bought. Remove from the freezer and give it time to return to room temperature before using it.

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Cutting Your Gluten-Free Hardtack Dough

Use a knife biscuit cutter, juice glass, or cookie cutter to divide your almond flour dough into portions. A juice glass is handy if you want to make round or circular shaped hardtacks.

Save all the dough scraps and roll them once more to avoid waste.

Preparing Your Hardtack Cuttings for the Baking Process

Arrange the hardtacks on an ungreased baking sheet. Poke some holes throughout the pieces, using a dough docker or any other tool.

The Baking Process

Place your sheet on a rack close to the center of your oven. Bake for approximately 4 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. After cooking for one hour, your hardtacks will become pale white. They’ll be slightly brown after the second hour of baking. Turn your gluten-free hardtacks after two hours of baking and cook them for an additional two hours.

Once the baking process is over, remove your hardtack, anzac biscuits from the oven and place your sheet on a wire rack for cooling. After the cooling process, your almond flour hardtacks will have some pale color and slight browning at the bottom. They’ll also be very hard due to the reduced water content.

Visit the comments if you have any questions.

Store Your Almond Hardtacks

There are various methods of storing your cooled gluten-free hardtacks. As we’ve already mentioned, its high-fat content means they will not last as long as their wheat counterparts. However, you can prolong their shelf life by protecting them from high temperatures and oxygen.

Wrap the Gluten-Free Hardtacks Individually

Wrap your hardtacks individually in plastic or Ziploc bags and seal them well in a resealable plastic bag. Always indicate the packaging date. Store the plastic bags in a dark bug-proof container at room temperature. A glass jar would be ideal in this case. To prolong the period of validity of your almond flour hardtacks, store them inside a freezer. This action helps slow down fat decay in your survival hardtack biscuits. Eat your survival crackers from the oldest first. Check your frozen almond flour crackers often to ensure they’re fresh and hard.

Keep Your Gluten-Free Hardtacks in Opaque and Thick Mylar Bags and Ensure They’ve Got Oxygen Absorbers

Keep individual or small batches of almond hardtacks, which can either be wrapped or not in food-secure metal, opaque mylar bags. These bags block oxygen and light from the survival biscuits, which prolongs their shelf life.

With your gluten-free hardtacks inside a mylar bag, you can insert an oxygen absorber in the package before sealing it off. Use a simple heat source such as a hair straightener or iron box, or sheet iron to seal. A vacuum sealer extracts oxygen from the mylar bag if you don’t have oxygen absorbers before sealing. Date your mylar bag on the outer part and write down its contents before keeping it in the freezer or bug proof, airtight container.

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How do you prepare almond flour hardtack after a survival situation?

With excess almond supply, convert them into almond hardtacks. The storage life of your hardtacks will be longer, compared to almond flour or almonds alone.

Remember, the shelf life will depend on ingredients during the preparation process. You can cook your hardtack directly in a cast iron dutch oven under low fire if you don’t have an electric oven. You can also use charcoal lighted inside a charcoal chimney starter.

Place your hardtack in a single layer at the bottom part of a dutch oven and cook it with the lid on. Use pre-heated charcoal briquettes that are almost the size of your cast iron dutch oven to achieve the best temperature.

Pour Charcoal Briquettes on Top of Your Chimney Starter

Light a piece of paper or fuel cell at the base of your chimney starter and wait for 15 minutes.

Remember, this hardtack recipe takes many hours to cook. You’ll want to replace the coals below your dutch oven and on top of the lid every hour.

Alternative Methods of Cooking Almond Flour Hardtacks

You can cook your almond flour hardtacks using a solar oven or an open fire grill. If you prepare your hardtacks after a survival situation, consume them as soon as possible, especially if you don’t plan to freeze them.

How do you prepare whole oat flour hardtacks?

You can grind stored oats to make oat flour, then use it to bake gluten-free oats. If you prefer ready to use oat, head to the healthy food sections in your local grocery store. The ingredients and dough kneading method is similar to the almond flour hardtacks. However, you’ll use more water as oat has a low-fat content compared to almond flour.

Last for a Long Time

Just as wheat hardtacks, whole oat survival biscuits come with a longer shelf life due to the reduced fat content. The storage process of whole flour oat cabin crackers is similar to their wheat flour counterparts.

Can I add extra ingredients to my hardtack?

Yes. You can add any ingredients of your choice to your hardtack recipe. However, beware of any food allergies or intolerances you may have. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, you may forgo cow milk and choose buttermilk for added nutrition. Macadamia, cashew, or almond milk are also great options.

If you prefer sweet hardtacks, add some sugar. Choose brown sugar for a combination of sweetness and flavor. If you prefer to add oil, choose refined alternatives that come with a prolonged shelf life.

Other ingredients include carob or cocoa powder, if you want your hardtack to have that chocolatey taste.

It’s worth mentioning that any additional ingredients can shorten the shelf life of your hardtacks. Avoid using animal fats such as tallow and lard because they go rancid.

What is the nutritional profile of these hardtack recipes?

Here is a breakdown of the nutritional value.


Salt is a crucial ingredient, especially during a survival situation. Different people use different amounts of salt depending on their taste buds. Remember, finding salt during a crisis can be challenging. Today, many people are watching their dietary fiber and even cutting back on salt. However, when a calamity strikes, you may want to increase your salt intake.

Case in Point

Every time you sweat, you lose a lot of salt. During a survival situation, you may need to engage in more physical labor. You’ll have to rely on energy-consuming methods of transporting both yourself and your equipment. Pulling or carrying items and walking trigger sweating and you lose more salt than you would under normal circumstances.

During the civil war, salt was excluded from hardtack recipes because it was accompanied by high salt meals such as salted pork. During favorable times, the soldiers were served hardtack together with coffee and cured pork. As the civil war intensified, food became scarce, and soldiers would be lucky to get some hardtack to chew on.


The right protein amount depends on gender and age. Studies suggest that an adult man should consume up to 56 grams of protein daily, while a woman requires 46 grams. Breastfeeding and pregnant women should consume 71 grams of protein daily. All you need to enrich your hardtack with protein is nutritional yeast. Remember, the increased number of calories women need during breastfeeding or pregnancy is a clear indication that they should consume more protein.

Folic Acid

Nutritional yeast comes with folic acid. Pregnant women and those in their childbearing age need sufficient amounts of folic acid. If you consume up to 1,705 calories of a modern hardtack recipe, you’ll get up to 350% of the required daily value of folic acid.

Other Minerals and Vitamins

You should always consume enough essential minerals and vitamins in any survival situation. Ensuring your immune system is highly functional is crucial. Those nutrients will keep your body going when getting medical services becomes a challenge.

While having multivitamins is critical, you can add nutritional yeast to your hardtack recipe to improve its nutrient value. Don’t expect the yeast to raise your dough because you only add it and bake your hardtack immediately. Doing so denies it time to rise. Ideal for lactose intolerance, Nutritional yeast also gives your sea bread a cheesy flavor without including any dairy products.

What nutritional component do hardtacks lack?

Hardtacks don’t come with vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid. This vitamin is ideal for the development, growth, and restoration of body tissues. Vitamin C also plays a role in various body functions like iron absorption, collagen development, and proper functioning of the immune system. This vitamin also accelerates the healing of wounds and maintenance of teeth, cartilage, and bones.

A lack of vitamin C in times of crisis can trigger problems within a short time. For example, scurvy was a common problem and it can happen in the modern-day. If you can’t enrich your hardtack with vitamin C, pack some supplements in your survival package.

What is the best way of storing hardtack?

When it comes to storing your hardtack, you want to keep it away from moisture and pests, rodents, and insects. We’re living in a developed world where you can use cheap storage containers and vacuum sealers to prolong the shelf life of your hardtacks.

Consider vacuum sealing your hardtack biscuits to keep them dry. During the civil war in America, worms and insects invaded tack food, making it unfit for human consumption. If you’re wondering why the hardtack would get spoiled, it’s because soldiers didn’t have proper storage. However, soldiers would still consume the food because they had nothing else.

How much hardtack should I store?

If you’re working on a budget, the best way to have enough emergency biscuits for your family is to make hardtack at home. You can store more than you need to have enough to share with others when calamity strikes.

Can you still buy hardtack?

Yes. You can purchase commercial hardtack from various producers in the US to add to your survival food package. For example, the sailor boy pilot bread is popular and readily available.

How do you eat hardtack?

Consume hardtack with a liquid because it can be very hard, molar breakers or tooth dullers. During the ancient days, people would put it between their jaws and give it time to soften from their saliva. However, you’ll have a better time swallowing if you can soak it in some soup, liquid, broth, or even water if that’s all you have.

Exercise care when eating hardtack to avoid hurting your mouth or teeth. You cannot afford to miss a liquid when dealing with hardtack. The best way to consume your survival biscuits is to soak them in water for between one and two hours or until it becomes soggy.

Place as many pieces as you can in a bowl and allow them to soak up. You want to monitor your survival crackers as they soak and drain the water once they’re soft to touch. If you prefer flavor-filled hardtack, soak it in a bowl of hot coffee.

What if you don’t fancy soaking?

If you’d rather eat your hardtack dry than soak it, understand that you cannot eat it fast. You’ll have to bite and chew it for between 20 and 30 minutes. Nibble and chew at the corners and edges of your homemade hardtack before gnawing the small pieces that separate in your mouth. Treat your hardtack as though it was a bread form of beef jerky. Eat the food slowly without biting off a big chunk at once to avoid prolonged chewing sessions.

Cook Your Hardtack

Fry some pieces of sailor bread in bacon fat to soften and give it extra flavor. Add around 30 ml or two tablespoons of bacon fat to a frying pan and heat it on medium-high heat until it starts sizzling. Drop some pieces of hardtack and cook each side for around five minutes or until it absorbs that fat and becomes somehow spongy.

Add Toppings

Top your hardtack with cheese and jam if you don’t fancy fried food. You can also top it with a creamy cheese like Gouda or brie and complete it with your favorite jelly or jam. Bite into the survival biscuit carefully at first. Even with the soft toppings, biting through cabin bread will be a difficult task. If you wish to have the hardtack break off in your mouth easily, consider soaking it in water first for a few minutes before adding your toppings.

Crush the Hardtack with Sugar and Butter

If you’ve got a sweet tooth and want to achieve dessert-like cabin bread, consider breaking it with your hands. Put the pieces in a big bowl and add a tablespoon of brown sugar and two tablespoons of melted butter. Stir your ingredients well until the sugar melts. You can add some water or your favorite beverage to the mixture before stirring again using a spoon. The resulting product should be a chunky and thick pudding.

Are saltines hardtack?

While saltines are compared to hardtack, they contain yeast, an ingredient that is lacking in the traditional hardtack recipe. Also known as soda crackers, saltines are a type of leavened bread that is left to rise for between 20 and 30 hours. After rising, alkaline soda is added to counterbalance the excess acidity that yeast action generates.

The dough is then left to rest for another four or even more hours. This process helps relax the gluten before you can start rolling. Just like hardtacks, flat saltines come with holes along the surfaces. During baking, the upper layer hardens first, and this bars air from evaporating.

The small holes link your hardtack’s upper and lower parts to prevent your saltine from softening due to accumulation of air. Saltine crackers are thinner than hardtacks, and they also contain baking soda.


Hardtack is versatile, simple, and historically proven to be an essential survival food that remains relevant to date. You can use nearly all ground grain, seed, or nut flour as a substitute for regular flour of wheat.

Bonus: you can even use them as dog biscuits!

How long will hardtack last?

Hardtack doesn’t go bad easily, especially with proper preparation and storage methods. It’s said to last more than 100 years, with some unproven evidence showing that edible survival biscuits were discovered in a tomb in Egypt.

How can you give hardtack a better taste?

To improve the hardtack taste, you can take it with your favorite beverage. If you’re making your hardtack survival pilot bread recipe from scratch, you can always change the ingredients to suit your taste buds. For example, you can substitute the water with milk and include sugar or some natural sweeteners like raisins.

How long can you survive on hardtack?

You can live off hardtack only for up to three months. However, it’s worth mentioning that hardtack lacks vitamin C. You may start developing scurvy after 12 weeks of feeding exclusively  on hardtack.

Make Some Hardtack Today

Hardtack is a general food that can last for many years with the right storage. Store your hardtack in Ziploc bags and keep them under cool temperature. Doing so prevents mold from growing. Have enough canned soup, which you can use as an accompaniment for your hardtack.

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