Graham Cracker and Graham Flour History

Graham Crackers
Garrett Aitken / Getty Images

Most Americans fondly recall eating graham crackers with milk as a childhood snack or as the base in the ever-popular campfire treat the s'more. But what is it that makes them different from other crackers that use white wheat flour?

The History of Graham Flour 

Graham flour is a form of whole wheat flour. It is named after it's inventor Sylvester Graham, a forerunner of the health food movement. Graham developed this form of flour in the 1830s in hopes of diverting people away from the less healthy refined white flour. His Graham hotels promoted vegetarian meals and unseasoned foods, being of the belief that condiments would encourage the imbibing of alcohol.

Graham flour is made by finely grinding the endosperm of winter wheat. The endosperm is the tissue formed inside of seeds that create starch and provide nutrients to the growing plants. It can also provide nutrients to humans who consume it. The bran and germ layers are returned and mixed in, resulting in a course, brown flour with a nutty and slightly sweet flavor. Today, some commercial granaries remove much of the wheat germ to prolong the shelf life of the flour. The germ contains oil that accelerates rancidity. Graham flour is unrefined and unbleached.

Although the terms graham flour and whole wheat flour are often used interchangeably, there is a difference. Graham flour is a slightly coarser grind than whole wheat flour.

Graham Cracker History

Well-known by 1882, graham crackers are a flat, crisp cookie made with graham flour and typically sweetened with honey. They were created in the 1830s by Sylvester Graham as part of the other health foods he served at his hotels, along with pie crusts, granola, and Grape Nuts cereal that are also made with graham flour.

Are Graham Crackers Healthy?

While graham crackers were originally meant to be a healthy treat, their current recipe isn't quite as sparse as Sebastian Graham originally intended. The added sweetness of today's graham crackers doesn't mean they're all bad either. They have a low glycemic index which makes them a great treat for diabetics with a sweet tooth. They can be included as part of a balanced diet so long as they're consumed in moderation. 

Gram or Graham—What's the Difference?

Fans of Indian food should be aware that despite the similar-sounding name there's a significant difference between gram and graham flour. Gram flour is made from ground chickpeas; it's also called besan. It's a popular high-protein flour that's a staple in many Southeast Asian homes. Gram flour has become somewhat popular in portions of the United States because of its naturally gluten-free properties. Graham flour, however, is made from wheat and does contain gluten. Mixing these two would not only have a much different taste, but it could also result in some nasty health issues for people who can not have gluten.