Skip to content

The Man Graham Crackers Are Named After Wouldn't Be a S'mores Fan

The popular treat didn't have a very sweet start.

Eating s'mores by a campfire is one of life's great pleasures, but for Sylvester Graham—the moralistic namesake of Graham crackers—such an indulgent treat would have been blasphemy.

Today, Graham crackers are a mainstay of lunchboxes, after-school snacks, and even lazy "gingerbread" houses. Nabisco's Honey Maid Graham Crackers saw sales of about $285 million in 2018 alone, Starbucks has a seasonal s'mores latte, and Trader Joe's covers them in chocolate. The Graham cracker hasn't gone out of style. However, these sweet iterations are a far cry from the cracker's puritanical roots.

Who was Sylvester Graham?

Clean eating is all the craze these days, but the concept is nothing new. Sylvester Graham, born in Connecticut in 1794, was a Presbyterian Minister who preached about the virtues of a high-fiber, vegetarian, limited dairy, and alcohol- and tobacco-free diet. In his Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making, Graham bluntly wrote, "thousands in civic life will, for years, and perhaps as long as they live, eat the most miserable trash that can be imagined, in the form of bread."

He claimed that following the "Graham Diet" would not only yield a healthy life but also repress lustful urges, which he felt were a scourge on society. And his message resonated, if not really with the masses, but at least with a core group of followers who called themselves "Grahamites."

pile of graham crackers
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Graham was an early health guru

In some ways, Graham was ahead of his time. He advocated for the use of unsifted wheat flour instead of refined white flour, recommended a plant-based diet, and included exercise, fresh air, and sleep in his holistic view of a healthy lifestyle. Followers included Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of corn flakes, though it was Kellogg's brother who added sugar and marketed them (but that's a whole other story).

For all of Graham's beliefs that would fit right in with today's trends, some other tenets of his philosophy were a bit more… fringe. For example, he supposedly thought that eating ketchup or mustard would make you go insane and that everyone should sleep with the window open, even in the dead of winter.

How did Graham crackers get so popular?

Where do Graham crackers fit into the picture? Well, the unsifted, unbleached flour that Graham proselytized made from wheat berries became known as Graham flour. The coarse, fibrous crackers made from Graham flour were then called Graham crackers.

Of course, the Graham-approved crackers were dry and bland. It wasn't until around 1900 that they were widely made by bakeries, and not until 1925 did the sweetened Honey Maid variety hit the market. The sweeter cracker is the one we now know, love, and often still indulge in, especially when there is plenty of chocolate and marshmallows around. And though Sylvester Graham may be rolling in his grave knowing that this beloved treat is now made with sugar and processed white flour, we salute him for originating the snack.

Katherine Martinelli
Katherine Martinelli is a recipe developer and award-winning journalist who spends her days dreaming and writing about food. Read more about Katherine
Filed Under