The Health Food Origins Of The Graham Cracker

When was the last time you munched on a graham cracker? A common lunchbox treat or after-school snack for children — often accompanied by a cold glass of milk — these mildly sweet, super crunchy cookies are more frequently consumed by adults in the context of a camping trip s'more or as the pie crust base upon which a cheesecake is built. On their own, graham crackers don't really cut it for a mature palate. They can be dry and crumbly, with a flavor that's not that complex.

But when compared to early commercial versions of graham crackers, today's boxed varieties would seem like a total indulgence. That's because, according to Connecticut History, the popular commercial snack was actually invented in 1828 as a health food, rejecting the refined flour that was becoming ever more present in the American diet in favor of whole wheat flour. Early graham crackers didn't contain any sweetener, either, according to Kitchn, so they would have made for a rather restrained snacking experience.

The graham cracker creator was very pro-health

Graham crackers were first made commercially available by Sylvester Graham, a 19th-century Connecticut Presbyterian minister who has often been called the "father of vegetarianism." According to Connecticut History, Graham's sermons often focused on the benefits of a vegetarian diet that was low in fat and high in fiber — not just health benefits, but moral benefits, as well.

Entrepreneur writes that part of Graham's advocacy against the consumption of meat, spices, alcohol, tobacco, and white bread was due to the fact that he believed that these "vices" would stoke eaters' sexual urges. Graham advised his followers, nicknamed the Grahamites, to only have intercourse once a month, a practice supposedly reinforced by other lifestyle recommendations including taking cold showers and sleeping on hard mattresses (via Medium).

In the 1800s, whole grain consumption as a way to curb libido was something of a fad. John Harvey Kellogg, a Michigan doctor who put his now-famous Corn Flakes on the market in 1894 (via Metro), was another strict vegetarian and vocal anti-sex crusader whose long-lived product was also intended to snuff out sexual urges, according to Mental Floss. And to think that these days, we look to whole grains to address issues such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (via Healthline) — a far cry from these puritanical directives.