Answer: It depends.
Graham crackers are traditional biscuits that have long dominated the American snack market since their commercial inception in 1880. Why are they so loved? Graham crackers are said to be made from a peculiar, whole-wheat flour known as Graham flour, and they’re highly favored for their salty-sweet taste and “crackling” texture.
Original style Graham crackers are usually vegan and dairy-free, but the honey-flavored brands top US sales. Fortunately, some popular brands still sell crackers that are vegan-friendly and quite innovative.
Graham Crackers History
The invention of the Graham crackers was largely influenced by presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham from Bound Brook, New Jersey. Some sources point to Sylvester as the inventor of the Graham cracker largely due to his book, A Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making, while other sources say that he merely influenced the invention of the product. Regardless, the innovation of the now-popular snack was largely attributed to Graham and his followers.
In 1829, staunch vegetarian Sylvester Graham heavily disdained refined white flour, which he called “vile stuff” in his book, A Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making, and preached on how lust prevention and vegetarianism are the primary goals a human must achieve to receive salvation from god.
Graham promoted a strict, high-fiber, no meat, no sugar, no spices, and no white flour diet, and many people at that time believed his words while seeking healthy restitution in the midst of the cholera pandemic.
He believed that such things, including sexual desires, would cause people to suffer a number of serious ailments such as epilepsy, infertility, and abnormal offspring, with no real scientific bases whatsoever.
We can give credit to Graham for initiating the first and one of the biggest vegetarian movements in the US in which he strongly expressed his proposed dietary reforms that eventually lead to the invention of the gritty and tasteless Graham crackers, the staple food of the Grahamites that was made from Graham flour – an unsifted, coarse-ground, whole wheat flour.
Interestingly, the Graham crackers weren’t just invented as a vegetarian biscuit, but they were also affirmed to be eaten for the purpose of suppressing one’s intimate desires. In fact, during this time, Graham crackers were so notorious for being undesirable that you won’t have a good reason to eat them unless you’re a Grahamite.
Commercial Graham Crackers
The original recipe of the first Graham crackers was Graham flour, oil, shortening or lard, molasses, and salt. Years after Graham’s death in 1851, the Graham crackers were reinvented with a sweeter taste and smoother texture. Graham crackers soon became a commercial product in 1880.
The reintroduction of the vegetarian crackers would then cause a cracker craze by the end of the 19th century as they were first mass-produced by the National Biscuit Company in 1898.
Today, common Graham cracker recipes consist of whole wheat flour, wheat bran or Graham flour, baking soda, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, salt, and sadly, two non-vegan ingredients; honey and butter. Quite far from Graham’s original recipe and completely divergent from his belief in neglecting all forms of sugar, spices, and dairy.
Vegan-Friendly Graham Crackers
As I’ve said earlier, honey-flavored Graham crackers are the top sellers in grocery stores, because people love them. Honey adds a more natural sweetness and a handful of nutrients to the dull crackers, but it isn’t necessary. Meaning, that vegans can also enjoy delicious and healthy graham crackers without guilt.
So, here are some of the best vegan-friendly Graham crackers available in the market and backed by PETA:
Originally known as the National Biscuit Company between 1898 to 1971, Nabisco continues to mass-produce and sell its most popular and widespread product, the Original Graham Crackers.
Typically sold in a 14.4 oz pack of 13 servings, each serving is equal to two full cracker sheets with 8 g of whole wheat, 3.5 g of total fat, 170 mg sodium, 24 g of carbs (8 g from sugars), 2 g of protein, and only 130 cal.
The ingredients included are:
- Unbleached enriched flour
- Graham flour (whole grain wheat flour)
- Canola oil
- Palm oil
The product packaging suggests that the product contains a bioengineered food ingredient, which in this case is most probably wheat.
Sugar and palm oil are both notorious within the vegan community. Sugar may be processed with bone char, while palm oil may be a precursor to animal habitat loss. Consume at your own risk, but organic sugars do exist that aren’t processed with bone char, and there is so-called renewable and responsibly-sourced palm oil. You may be able to fact-check these by heading over to a brand or product website.
Overall, Nabisco Original Graham Crackers do not contain any animal products such as honey or dairy, making the product considerably vegan. This product is vegan s’more ready and pie crust friendly.
Keebler Original Grahams Crackers come in snack packs that are fit for students’ snack boxes. Each serving contains 60 cal, 2 g total fat, 65 mg sodium, 10 g total carbs (3 g sugars), and 1 g protein. It also packs a bit of calcium and vitamin A.
Compared to Nabisco’s, Keebler’s contains a few more additives:
- Corn syrup
- 2% or less of calcium carbonate
- Leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate)
- Soy lecithin
For people who have soy allergies, better avoid this. Keebler also has a Ready Crust Graham Pie Crust which you can simply fill up with fruit, jams, pudding, and other fillings that you prefer. It’s also vegan but has more ingredients than the original Keebler Graham crackers, including:
- Palm kernel oil with TBHQ for freshness
- Graham flour
- Malt extract
TBHQ stands for tert-butylhydroquinone, a synthetic food preservative used to prevent oils and fats from oxidizing. It’s a good practice to limit your consumption of foods with the preservative TBHQ, as according to Healthline, the antioxidant is linked to controversial studies on tumors.
Annie’s Bunny Grahams
The Annie’s website is very comprehensive and also includes a diet filter for vegans. This way, vegans could easily find their wanted products from Annie’s. Now that’s what I call a vegan-friendly brand. Sadly, most of Annie’s products are still non-vegan, but they don’t lack in the Graham snack department though!
Here’s a quick list of Annie’s Organic Bunny Grahams that are vegan (hyperlinks provide nutritional and ingredients info):
- Organic Chocolate Chip Bunny Grahams
- Organic Birthday Cake Bunny Grahams
- Organic Chocolate Bunny Grahams
- Gluten Free Cocoa & Vanilla Bunny Grahams
- Gluten Free Snickerdoodle Bunny Grahams
- Neapolitan Bunny Grahams
Surprisingly, that’s over half of Annie’s Organic Bunny Grahams, and though you can’t use them for s’mores, they’re still fun and delicious snacks to have on the go. Also note that due to shared processing equipment, milk, honey, and soy may be present in trace amounts in their vegan products. So, consume at your own risk, nevertheless, these non-vegan particles are not intentional and is most unlikely.
Annie’s also uses organic cane sugar, organic expeller-pressed sunflower oil, organic Graham flour, and organic corn flour. These ingredients make their products tilt more toward the healthier side, but again, these products are made as snacks and therefore should be consumed in moderation.
Non-Vegan Graham Cracker Brands
Honey-flavored Graham crackers dominate most of the Graham market, therefore, here are the top and most notorious honey-grubbing brands:
- Honey Maid
- Trader Joe’s
- Market Pantry (Target)
Are Graham Crackers Healthy?
As we’ve discussed earlier, Graham crackers were invented in the hope of prospering a healthier, vegetarian diet led by minister Sylvester Graham, but are Graham crackers really as healthy as they or we supposed?
While most health blogs would claim that Graham crackers aren’t necessarily unhealthy, they’re not incredibly healthy either. Rather, Graham crackers stand in an area between healthy food and junk snacks. Eating Graham crackers for s’mores, pie crusts, and other desserts isn’t a bad thing, but as with most sweetened delicacies, moderation is key.
Graham crackers offer little calories and fat, but they’re also high in carbs and sugar per serving and very low on essential nutrients. This means that you won’t immediately feel full as you gorge on Graham crackers, but you’d be taking in a lot of carbs and sugar as you go. This ultimately leads to an unhealthy diet, especially when you have a sweet tooth.
So the best option for Graham crackers would be one that you like and can moderate. If you love making s’mores and pie crusts a little too much, consider setting those cravings down a notch. Remember to complete a balanced diet as well with good plant proteins and vitamins.
Graham crackers started out as one of the most unpleasant snacks in the 19th century, but as time went by and the snacks got reinvented, they soon found their way into the common man’s palate and became one of the most versatile and popular biscuits in the world.
Originally a vegetarian staple, original style Graham crackers are loved both by vegans and non-vegans alike as a snack and a quick baking ingredient.
Always opt for the brand you like and can moderate, and you won’t have to step away from your healthy lifestyle at all.