Gingerbread Men and Women
Credit: Meredith

The flavor of holiday gingerbread may have morphed into lattes, marshmallows, and gelatin today, but real gingerbread—the kind you'll find in a traditional cookie—has a long history. Although the ancient Chinese used gingerroot medicinally and to season food, historians credit the Greeks with introducing gingerbread to the world, in a bread recipe dating from 2400 BC.

It wasn't until the Middle Ages, however, that it became truly popular: Europeans made crispy cookies using preserved ginger, bread crumbs, molasses, wine, and rose water. Painted with icing or gold leaf, they were sold at fairs, markets, and pharmacies. Experts believe it was Queen Elizabeth I who had the idea to mold the dough into shapes of animals and people. It's even said that she had some cookies made to resemble members of her royal court.

Gingerbread became associated with the holidays during the 16th century, when Germans began decorating little gingerbread-cookie houses to mark the start of the Christmas season. And in 1812—after the Brothers Grimm published Hansel and Gretel, featuring a witch's house made entirely of sweets—there was no turning back. Gingerbread was here to stay.

Try out these Spicy Gingerbread Men for your next holiday party!