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What Is Graham Bread?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Graham bread is named after Sylvester Graham, an early 19th-century American minister who believed strongly that eating more nutritiously could lead to better health. The bread he advocated was darker than the bread commonly sold at the time, thanks to a lack of any chemical additives that would lighten the color of the loaves. The recipe for graham bread also called for using parts of the wheat plant that weren’t normally used by the era’s bakers, such as the germ and the husk. Bakers of the day felt they were losing business because of his recommendation that people should eat only whole wheat flour bread, and they were so infuriated that some meetings where the minister presided needed a police presence.

Some people, who came to be known as Grahamites, strictly adhered to his nutritional principles. Recipes for graham bread have been kept within families and passed from generation to generation, and several kinds of recipes exist for the dark bread that include ingredients such as brown sugar or molasses. Graham crackers are also linked to Sylvester Graham and his graham bread, although it remains unclear whether he or someone else is responsible for the crackers.

Sylvester Graham promoted his bread and other lifestyle recommendations not only for health reasons, but also for moral ones. His code of living was meant to discourage immoral situations, such as sexual affairs and unwed mothers. He believed pure food that contained no chemicals or additives would lead to improved nutrition and pure acts, while impure or altered food would lead to impure acts.

The recommendation that people eat the high-fiber brown bread went hand in hand with Sylvester Graham's vegetarian philosophy and his belief that excess sexual desire should be avoided. Too much sexual contact, he believed, could lead to numerous physical ailments. The least harmful of these were headaches and indigestion, but the range of physical problems extended to insanity, epilepsy, the death of one's children and consumption. He advocated chastity, exercise, bathing, temperance, and vegetarianism. He also preached the avoidance of tobacco, coffee and tea.

The promoter of the high-fiber brown bread that came to be known as graham bread was born in Connecticut and had ties to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Newark, New Jersey. He worked as a teacher and a farmer before turning to the ministry. Among the many beliefs he held that made him controversial in his day was a certainty that men should not engage in sexual relations before they reached the age of 30, and they should do so only monthly.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Jul 07, 2014

Although Sylvester Graham founded graham crackers, they were nothing like the graham crackers made today. Graham crackers of today are not made with graham flour and they are very sweet, unlike Graham's version. I'm sure he would be appalled if he saw what we are eating now.

By bear78 — On Jul 07, 2014

The popularity of graham bread at the time of its founding was sort of a revolution when it came to bread consumption. During that time, brown bread was considered peasant food. White bread was something that people of higher classes enjoyed. And they looked down on brown bread as something not worth eating.

So getting people of all classes to eat this type of bread was quite an accomplishment at the time. Now we all know that brown bread, made of whole grains that are not bleached and processed are much healthier. But it was a very different concept during the time of Sylvester Graham.

By candyquilt — On Jul 06, 2014

Although the idea that pure food leads to pure actions is silly, I do believe that healthy food will result in better physical and psychological health. After all, healthy food is full of nutrition that improves our immune system and function of our organs.

I don't understand Sylvester Graham's obsession with sexual matters, but I do think he benefited society by promoting whole wheat bread and other healthy foods. Plus, graham bread is delicious.

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