Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hold the Mustard!

Dr John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of corn flakes was something of a oddball, and among his mostly edgy recommendations was a focus on nutrition, yogurt enemas and exercise. An advocate of sexual abstinence, he believed that a bland diet would curb the sexual appetite. But Kellogg got many of his ideas from an earlier nutcase and health lecturer who ranted fanatically about unhealthy carnal urges and ‘self-abuse.’ Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) believed and taught that excessive carnal exercise would cause indigestion, headache, feeble circulation, pulmonary consumption, spinal disease, epilepsy, insanity, and the early death of offspring. He warned that men should remain virgins until the age of thirty, and making love after that only once a month—though not at all if they were sickly. He also believed that the use of mustard and ketchup led to insanity.

Raised by a succession of relatives, Graham worked as a farm hand, clerk and teacher before ill health led to his embracing Christian ministry. Apart from thoughts on carnality, he also preached a strict vegetarian diet, hard mattresses, open bedroom windows, cold showers, loose clothing and vigorous exercise. Certain that a firm control of lust could be managed by a special vegetarian diet, he began recommending “Graham bread,” made from a combination of finely ground, unbleached wheat flour with the wheat bran and germ coarsely ground, then put back in to provide nutrition and flavor.

From the Graham flour and the resulting Graham bread, it was a short jump to crackers, but a type far, far from the Graham Crackers of today. Sylvester Graham’s original was developed in 1829 in Bound Brook, New Jersey, made of course with Graham flour. Though the original was a much healthier recipe than what you find inside a box of Honey Maid Graham Crackers today; the early crackers probably tasted like unsweetened brown sand. More than a few bakers tried to market Graham crackers, but it wasn’t until 1898 that the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) made a dent in the market with Nabisco Graham Crackers. The market took a big jump in 1925 with the introduction of the Honey Maid line, which boosted flavor with the addition of honey.

The continuing popularity of Graham Crackers in North America is undoubtably related to the use of bleached white flour and greater amounts of refined sugar and honey.


  1. Oh, yeah, nut jobs perfectly describes both Kellogg and Graham. Had I been King of the Country or a woman married to either, Lizzy Borden would have had a partner in wielding an axe--especially the first time Kellogg came around with a yogurt enema.

  2. Two graham crackers with some Hershey's chocolate syrup smeared in between them is to die for.(Or is that just a carboholic thing?) But just to stay healthy, eat them next to an open window.

  3. Graham crackers with anything is um um good!

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America