With marshmallow-roasting season now in full swing, we figured it was as good a time as any to contemplate the spongy s’mores most structurally important bedfellow: the Graham cracker. After all, you probably haven’t given this crunchy snack much thought beyond picking up a box for your next woodland adventure, or giving them to hungry kids between meals. But, there’s a lot more going on with this story. Like, can you even describe the flavor of a Graham? Thought so. In case it’s been a while since you’ve cracked into a box, let us refresh your memory. Each rectangular piece proves slightly sweet while being wholesome, and you can eat them plain, slathered with peanut butter or crumbled up as a crust for a tasty pie. No matter what you do with the food, here are seven things to make your next run in with Graham crackers more interesting.
1. Graham was, in fact, a real person: You may have noticed the name Graham is always capitalized when referring to the cracker. That’s because, unlike other snack foods, this one is actually named after a real person: the evangelical minister who created the recipe in 1829. His name was Sylvester Graham, and he was well before his time when it came to diets and healthy eating. For one, he was a vegetarian, a strange concept at the time, and promoted foods one should eat to maintain physical, spiritual and mental health. He even had followers called the Grahamites, and they adhered to his special lifestyle that promoted eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high fiber foods. They also eschewed animal products and alcohol. Yup, he was the original straight-edge guy, and obviously charismatic enough that people still follow his teachings and have kept Graham crackers around in mainstream culture for more than a century.
2. The original Graham crackers were kind of gross: Far from the slightly sweet and satisfying Graham cracker you buy today, authentic article was actually rather bland, dry and unappealing. Made from unrefined flour, this biscuit-like substance lacked the flavor and finesse of its contemporary descendant. But, then again, it did fit in with the teachings of its health-nut creator.
3. Commercially made Graham crackers date back to the 1900s: Before Honey Maid dominated the Graham cracker market, this snack was made by bakeries all over the United States. In 1898, many of these independent operations joined together to form the National Biscuit Company, aka Nabisco. It was through this merger that, by 1925, the Graham cracker we know and love today was created and sold under the name Sugar Honey Grahams. The name was changed to the currently recognized moniker Honey Maid in 1976. Over the decades, Nabisco has tweaked the recipe a bit, adding a cinnamon variety in 1986, low-fat crackers in 1995 and doubling the amount of whole grains in each serving in 2006. Still, it has remained a recognized food for generations, and we doubt that will change in the years to come.
4. Grahams may help you fight sexual urges: While Sylvester Graham preached temperance and eating healthy, he also was firm believer in abstaining from sex and masturbation. The reverend believed carnal desires were inspired by the rich, fatty foods that Americans were consuming. So, his push to maintain a healthy, plant-based diet was in part to curb physical arousal. His poplar Graham crackers were part of this, and while there is no scientific evidence to back up the correlation between eating this food and a lack of romantic intimacy, Graham amassed thousands of followers who believed in it. And, truth be told, even today there isn’t anything too sexy about eating a Graham cracker.
5. Graham crackers have been used in s’mores for 87 years: Ever since s’mores were supposedly created by the Girl Scouts in 1927, the tasty treat has involved the famous Graham cracker, as well as a toasted marshmallow and hunk of chocolate. The first recorded recipe for this dish appeared in the publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, though it didn’t gain mainstream popularity until the late 1960s and early 1970s.
6. You can use Graham crackers in savory dishes: Many people relegate the Graham cracker to key lime pie crust, crumbled as an ice cream topper, s’mores and s’more-like dishes. But, you can actually turn them into a savory treat, as well. “Graham crackers have all those nice maillard-y flavors, they are roasty, toasty and gently sweet,” says chef Justin Warner of Brooklyn’s Do or Dine, who suggests pulverizing and scattering them over foie gras. “You wouldn’t bat an eye if I told you to cook with stout beer. So, I’m pretty sure Graham crackers have some untapped potential, although the Reverend Graham would not approve.” At Sticky’s Finger Joint in New York City, the staff takes hot, salty french fries and tops them with Graham crackers, marshmallow and chocolate to make a savory-sweet side dish. You can also crush them up and use as a coating for pork chops or chicken, or simply slather some peanut butter on top and dish out as a healthy and hearty snack.
7. You can make them at home: Leave the box of commercial crackers on the shelf and try your hand at making them in your own kitchen. It’s not as hard as you think. At the Smith in New York City, pastry chef Thea Habjanic makes the crackers by beating a mixture of cream, butter, white sugar, brown sugar and honey until it’s creamy. Then, she adds flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt, rolls the dough into thin sheets and bakes until golden brown. Once the mixture is cool, you can break the product into pieces for crackers, or mash it up to make a tasty Graham cracker crust. It’s basically like making pie dough, but with less butter and worry about making the product tough.
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