When you think of graham crackers, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it slathering them in peanut butter? Making s’mores? Or, you might see them as tools to fight the temptations of the flesh dangled in front of society by the Great Deceiver, Satan himself? Well, if you grew up in the 19th century, that latter option may have appealed to you.
What are Graham Crackers?
Today’s graham cracker is a well-liked snack cracker, usually made in large, perforated sheets that you can break into smaller rectangles or squares. They are usually made with some amount of whole wheat flour, as opposed to the more refined white flour you would find in a saltine cracker. This flour gives the graham cracker a heartier consistency and a lot more fiber, making it a cousin of the digestive cracker.
The first commercially available graham crackers came from Nabisco in 1898, but their origins precede that by nearly 70 years. Today, you can get them in their original flavor as well as honey, cinnamon, and even chocolate. The graham cracker is also used to make variations of other popular snacks like Oreos and Goldfish.
What are Graham Crackers made of?
The key ingredient to any cracker is flour but there’s a lot of different types out there. As mentioned above, graham crackers use whole wheat flour, but what does that actually mean? Here’s a super quick flour rundown.
The wheat seed is made of three different parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran and germ are responsible for a flour’s flavor, color, and fiber content while the endosperm contributes to the baking process. The way that seed is processed accounts for the different types of flour, and whole wheat flour means the entire seed is thrown in there and ground up.
Graham crackers use a unique kind of whole wheat flour called graham flour, which gets its name from inventor Sylvester Graham (more on him later). When ground, graham flour has a much coarser consistency than other all-purpose flours and even other whole wheat flours. You can see the difference in a graham cracker; next time you eat one, take a closer look and you’ll find noticeable particles of wheat in the cracker.
Why were Graham Crackers invented?
This is where the story of the graham cracker gets a little whacky. In the 1830s, a Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham became involved in the temperance movement, a social movement promoting abstinence from alcohol. As a devout and pious man, Graham believed that anything that provided physical pleasure excited lust in people, causing societal harm and defying God’s wishes. He was a proponent of abstinence from sex, alcohol, and other traditional “sins” in the eyes of Christianity. But he didn’t stop there: He meant any kind of physical pleasure, including sleeping in a soft bed, having a warm bath, or even eating delicious foods.
To that end, Graham developed his own religiously-guided diet and became one of the first proponents of vegetarianism in the United States. To supplement this diet, he created graham crackers, which he designed specifically to be as bland as possible. He believed that these crackers and his all-veggie diet would even cure the societal blight of masturbation. Thankfully, capitalism stepped in and altered Graham’s recipe, adding sugar and other good stuff to turn the graham cracker into what we know and love today.