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25 Days of Exchange // follow the crumbs

Holiday gingerbread cookies have a dark and violent past

By Michael Tabb

Today, gingerbread’s greatest use seems to be in the most-delightful holiday activity: building gingerbread houses. But its history goes back much further.

Jordan Coelho for Quartz
Day 2 of Quartz’s 25 Days of Exchange

People have prescribed ginger as medicine for millennia, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that it was was used in baking—at least as far as historians have been able to gather. And it wasn’t until the 1800s that they were used to make confectionery houses.

Watch the video above to follow gingerbread’s journey from Indonesia’s Spice Islands to the house-making kit sold at your local craft store. But a warning: gingerbread houses haven’t always been such wholesome morsels. Digging into their history may change the way you think about the iconic Christmastime creations.