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.