There has always been a need for nutritious, easy to store, easy to carry and long-lasting foods in the Royal Navy.
Nuts, fruits, vegetables, live game and fish fulfilled a limited role, but the introduction of cooking and baking various cereals provided a more reliable source of food for travelers, especially at sea.
Egyptian sailors carried a flat brittle loaf of maize bread called dhourra cake. The Romans had a biscuit called buccellum
King Richard I (Lionheart) left for the Third Crusade (1189-92) with “biskit of muslin” – mixed corn compound of barley, rye and bean flour. At the time of the Armada in 1588, the daily allowance on board ship was 1lb of biscuit plus 1 gallon of beer.
It was Samuel Pepys in 1667 who first regularised naval victualling with varied and nutritious rations.
“Oldest ship biscuit Kronborg DK cropped” by Paul A. Cziko. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons –
Biscuits remained an important part of the sailor’s diet until the introduction of canned foods and bread.
Preserved beef in tins was officially introduced in 1847, although tinned items had previously been used in arctic exploration.
Canned meat was first marketed in 1813. In the mid-1850s with improved design and new baking equipment, it became possible to bake bread on board ship.
Biscuits have always been made to a large and varied recipes e.g. seed biscuits, fruit biscuits, long biscuits etc. The essential and common ingredients were flour and water, most flour used today is milled from North American wheat or similar hard grain cereals.
It would be difficult to produce an historically authentic biscuit from modern refined flour.