By Anne Marie Moro
To be considered gingerbread, the recipe must feature ginger
as a dominant flavour and use either honey or molasses to add
No confection represents the holidays quite as well as gingerbread, does it? The term gingerbread describes both the hard cookie used to make gingerbread houses and the soft, moist loaf cakes. But, before you take your next bite, here some amazing facts about gingerbread you can share with your family and friends during the holiday season.
Ginger and gingerbread have a long and ancient history
Ginger, a common spice today, used to be considered a luxury more than 5,000 years ago. The ginger root was first cultivated in ancient China. Both India and China used it as a tonic to treat indigestion and upset stomachs. It’s generally accepted that ginger spread from the Orient over to Europe via the Silk Road. However, it was a monk, Gregory of Nicopolis, who is credited with bringing a method for making honey-sweetened ginger and spice cakes to Europe around 992 AD. By the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. Gingerbread cookies were extremely popular at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Medieval ladies often gave their favorite knights a piece of gingerbread as a good luck token at jousting tournaments.
It wasn’t always gingerbread men
Back in Medieval days, gingerbread was more often moulded as hard cookies, decorated to look like flowers, birds, animals or shaped like kings and queens. Elaborate gingerbread biscuits, often adorned with real gold leaf, were popular gifts among lovers. But, it wasn’t until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558- 1603) that gingerbread cookies became gingerbread men.
This Queen is credited with the idea of decorating cookies in the shape of men that resembled visiting foreign dignitaries; and then she presented the cookies to them as a gift. Superstitiously, ladies of the day ate man-shaped gingerbread biscuits to improve their chances of landing a husband! (Wonder if it worked?)
Gingerbread houses came after gingerbread men
Gingerbread houses can be traced backed to 19th century Germany where the concept of making gingerbread houses was probably inspired by the witch’s edible cottage in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. The tradition of making gingerbread and building gingerbread houses was brought to America by early German settlers. Eventually, the construction of gingerbread houses became a Christmas tradition.
Gingerbread is the perfect cookie for making houses
Ever wonder why you don’t see cookie house villages made with other types of cookies? That’s because most cookies are just too soft. Gingerbread, on the other hand, is an incredibly rigid cookie so it really works well for building the walls and roof of a gingerbread house.
There are two ‘must-have’ ingredients required to make gingerbread
To be considered gingerbread, the recipe must feature ginger as a dominant flavour and use either honey or molasses to add sweetness. Without these two ingredients, you’re not making gingerbread—you’re just making cookies or a cake!