Why were graham crackers invented? As a tasty treat? A healthy snack? Far from it. The original graham crackers were invented by Reverand Sylvester Graham. And you’ll never guess what he thought they could do.

Graham crackers have a wholesome, innocent image. Children dunking them in milk. Kids huddled around a campfire squishing chocolate and toasted marshmallows between them to make S’mores. But a Twitter and TikTok trend has drawn attention to the bizarre origins of the world-famous and, quite possibly, world’s favorite cracker.

More Twitter users ask the same question

After Googling the question, tons of folks have taken to Twitter to post their reactions.

  • One person wrote: “After googling why graham crackers were invented I feel bad for feeding them to my Sunday school students.”
  • “Google why were graham crackers invented, my son is never eating them again,” said ExplicitTrend.
  • TheWannabeMama added: “Whatever you do, don’t Google “why were graham crackers invented?” It will break your brain, or your religion.”

Well, of course, we were just as curious as the next guy, so we did as instructed. Oy…what a salacious rabbit hole we went down. Now we can unsee it.

A little graham cracker history

A picture of Sylvester Graham, the inventor of graham crackers along side a vintage poster of two children on a scooter
: New England Historical Society

To understand by the crackers were invented, we need to delve into a little graham cracker history. Graham crackers, the hallmark of American childhoods, were inspired by the preachings of the 19th-century Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham (1794–1851) from Connecticut. Graham, a devout follower of the Temperance Movement of the time, believed in eating a wholesome plant-based or vegetarian diet that included whole-grain bread. Often considered the Father of Vegetarianism, he inspired like-minded folks to make graham flour (unsifted, unrefined, and unbleached whole-wheat flour), from which the crackers are made. So while Graham didn’t personally invent the graham cracker, he is considered its culinary father.

Why did Graham believe in eating whole grains?

This is where it gets interesting–and a bit kinky. Building upon his Temperance views, Graham created his own theology that sticking with a diet of pure water, fresh vegetables, and homemade whole-grain bread–all prepared without spices and stimulants–along with sleeping on board-hard beds and avoiding warm baths lead to a serene life.

So why were graham crackers invented? The real, salacious reason

Graham believed eating such wholesome foods–including crackers made from graham flour–would temper (there’s that word again) excitement in general. And, more specifically, he believed his diet was a surefire way to discourage sexual desires and the urge to, um, masturbate, which only led to blindness and certain early death. (Uh, yeah, that’s what we thought, too.)

His beliefs may sound absurd today, but they were so popular at the time, a swell of acolytes called Grahamites popped up around him and last for decades. One of them was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who later went on to invent the famously bland corn flakes breakfast cereal–originally intended as an anaphrodisiac–to quell sexual urges.

Make your own crackers

A pile of homemade graham crackers on a marble table with a glass of milk nearby
: Alice Gao

Now, Lord knows we’re not making a statement on your sexual life by saying this, but we’re all for homemade graham crackers. And we think you should try your, um, hand at it.

David Signature

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. No dates? Just “19TH century presbyterian minister”? Pre civil war, post civil war, at least? I know I can look it up, but then there is no need to write this article at all.

  2. So is this why Tony the Tiger says, “They’re Great!” with so much enthusiasm after eating “non-bland” Frosted (corn) Flakes? ???

    GREAT article! Thanks for the food knowledge and entertainment this morning!