Gingerbread is a delicious treat to eat — and smell — once the weather turns cold. As a cookie it can do a lot of things: it’s regularly shaped into people or houses around Christmas-time. But it also turns out that gingerbread has an ancient origin story! Let’s find out how the cookie we know so well came to be.
Ginger root is what gives gingerbread its distinct smell and flavour.
Ancient Greeks way back in 2400 BC wrote down a recipe for gingerbread — though it definitely didn’t include icing smiles or gumdrop buttons. Trade routes had spread the ginger root from Asia — where it was grown mainly as a medicine and a spice for food — to Greece, ancient Rome and eventually throughout the rest of Europe.
Europe has been enjoying a version of gingerbread since around the 11th century. The cookies were often pressed into shapes like flowers or animals and included almonds and honey. The treat was popular at festivals in medieval times — ladies would give knights pieces of gingerbread before competitions to bring them luck.
In 16th century England, the first Queen Elizabeth had her bakers make gingerbread cookies shaped and decorated to look like her guests at parties and banquets. Everybody loved them, and soon fancy gingerbread cookies became popular among the royals (and royal wannabes).
Gingerbread houses are popular all over the world.
Although gingerbread houses had been around since the 1600s in Germany, they really became popular after the Brothers Grimm published their Hansel and Gretel fairy tale in 1812. Bakers in Germany, where the Grimm brothers were from, showed off their gingerbread houses at annual Christmas markets. Soon gingerbread houses became a Christmas tradition around the world.
Sultan Kösen, the world's tallest man, unveils the world's largest gingerbread man at an Ikea store in Oslo, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009. (AP Photo / Morten Holm / Scanpix)
The world record for the largest gingerbread man ever made was set in 2009 with a huge cookie created in Norway. The 651-kilogram cookie was unveiled at an Ikea store in the city of Oslo by the world's tallest man at the time, Sultan Kösen of Turkey. It was baked by a local bakery and beat the previous record set in 2006 by 58 kilograms.