Last Updated on February 13, 2023
Making gingerbread houses has been a long-time tradition, but lately, more people have been wondering, “can you eat a gingerbread house?”
While it may seem like a silly question, you would be surprised as to how many inedible gingerbread houses emerge during the festive season. Our answer; depends on how you want to use it. Decorative houses go stale after standing out for too long and sometimes contain inedible ingredients like glue. But, houses made from scratch and most pre-mixes are entirely edible and can definitely be eaten.
What is a Gingerbread House?
Gingerbread houses are building-shaped confections made entirely from gingerbread biscuits, frosting, and sometimes, candy. Think of these houses like a puzzle; the gingerbread is molded into specific shapes and sizes which are then baked. These pieces are “glued” together with frosting after they have completely cooled.
Once the foundation has been built, the houses are decorated with frosting and candy. Today, there are thousands of decorating options! Traditionally, only frosting was used to decorate the houses. If you still only want to use frosting, then you have the option to color it for different details on the house.
Many households also use different candies to create details on the house. For example, colored M&M’s are used to show Christmas lights and a pinwheel lolly is used as a wreath on the front door.
Popular candies that are used today that make excellent decorations include gummies, sprinkles of all shapes and sizes, glitter, chocolate chips, and hard-shaped candies.
Needless to say, making gingerbread houses is an extremely fun activity over the holiday season. And, it is a fantastic way to keep your kids busy during school breaks!
How Gingerbread Houses Are Made
As we have briefly mentioned before, gingerbread houses consist of shaped pieces of gingerbread biscuits. These biscuits are stuck together using royal icing. This icing becomes hard as it dries.
Once it dries, the fun part begins. You can use royal icing to decorate the house with fine details. With only icing, you can create very elegant and minimalistic houses or elaborate and heavily-detailed ones.
You also use royal icing to stick on candies and sprinkles.
Do You Eat Gingerbread Houses?
The question isn’t really whether you should or shouldn’t be eating gingerbread house buildings, but more whether it is safe to do so or not.
Depending on where you are from and your family’s traditions, gingerbread houses can be made for eating or only as decoration. This is an important factor to consider because it changes the type of biscuit and decorations you use; not to mention how you store it!
Gingerbread houses that are made for decorations usually use extremely hard and dry gingerbread biscuits. These are edible, but they are not always appetizing. They are made this hard so that they can stand upright. But, if you are making gingerbread houses to be eaten, the biscuits will usually be softer and have more flavor.
Can You Eat A Gingerbread House: Factors to Consider
In general, gingerbread houses are safe to eat, but, there are some factors to consider first.
Making Gingerbread Houses From Scratch
If you are making gingerbread houses from scratch, it is pretty safe to assume that you can eat the gingerbread house. You won’t likely use inedible ingredients in the biscuits themselves or when assembling the house.
Store-Bought Gingerbread House Pre-Mixes
These are pre-mixes that you use to bake the biscuits and make the icing. These kits also only contain edible ingredients. There are many different types of kits, but they generally contain mixes for the biscuits, the frosting (or “glue” part), and decorations (which can be sprinkles or candies).
But, to be safe, always check the box to make sure each of these elements is edible. You should also check if they contain anything you or your family are allergic to or intolerant to.
Pre-Made Gingerbread Houses
These are pre-made and pre-assembled houses that you can buy at the store. However, you should be very careful with these types of houses. Many of them are made to be decorations only and contain inedible ingredients like glitter and actual glue.
Always ask the store or baker whether or not you can eat that specific product and if they contain any allergens.
Eating Gingerbread House: When You Shouldn’t
When people ask us, “can you eat a gingerbread house?” it is almost easier to start with when you cannot! Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t eat them.
If the House is Made With Real Glue
This is quite an obvious one, but you would be surprised how few people know what is in their gingerbread houses, especially the store-bought and pre-assembled ones!
If you are making a gingerbread house for decoration only, it isn’t a problem. Just make sure that you responsibly dispose of the gingerbread house. If, however, you want to eat the gingerbread house, definitely check that the “glue” is made with edible frosting.
If You Used Inedible Decorations
We highly recommend only using edible candies and decorations for your gingerbread house. Or checking that the decorations on the house are edible if you buy them from the store.
It is also crucial to make sure that any glitter or sprinkles are edible. You would be surprised at how many manufacturers (especially local small businesses) don’t choose edible glitters when making these types of baked goods.
If You Left it Out For Weeks
This mostly goes for the gingerbread houses that were made for decoration. Do you eat gingerbread houses that were left out for weeks? The obvious answer is no, but you won’t necessarily be very ill from it.
Extremely hard and dry biscuits are used to make these types of gingerbread houses. But, its low moisture content means that it will still likely be edible, albeit unpleasantly so.
And, most glitters, sprinkles, and candies also have a naturally long shelf life, even when exposed to oxygen. In our opinion, you can eat them, but they won’t be as good as freshly baked ones.
Can You Eat Gingerbread House: How Shelf Life Affects It
It depends entirely on what you intend to do with the gingerbread house. If you are only using it for display purposes, it will last for up to a year!
But, if you want to eat it, we wouldn’t recommend keeping it for more than a couple of weeks. If kept out for too long, the candy and gingerbread become stale and won’t be appetizing to eat.
Are Gingerbread Houses Meant to be Eaten?
Experts claim that gingerbread houses are not supposed to be eaten. However, it all comes down to how the gingerbread house is made. If you’ve made the gingerbread house from scratch or used a pre-made kit, the house was likely made to be eaten. However, sometimes bakers will make a gingerbread house for display purposes only. If this is the case, then they should not be eaten as it’s likely to contain some inedible items, such as glitter or glue.
How Long Do Gingerbread Houses Last?
If you’re wondering how long gingerbread houses last, it all depends on whether you’re using your gingerbread house for decorative purposes only, or if you’re making it to eat. When sealed effectively, you can keep a gingerbread house looking gorgeous for around 12 months; but it does need care.
However, it’s very different if you’re choosing to eat the gingerbread house. Gingerbread houses will last between 2-4 weeks if stored correctly. After this time, they will harden, and not be as tasty as they once were.
Who Invented Gingerbread Houses: History of Gingerbread Houses
If you’re wondering who invented gingerbread houses, then look no further. Gingerbread houses found their home in Germany and became popular in the 16th century. They very soon became associated with the festive season.
You may have heard of the story of Hansel and Gretel, which was made famous by the Brothers Grimm. Gingerbread houses were a main focal point in the story and gingerbread houses grew in popularity because of this story.
When the Germans came over to America, they brought the tradition of gingerbread houses with them. Nowadays, they’re a firm Christmas staple in many households and many people choose and make and display them throughout the festive season.
Why Are Gingerbread Houses Associated With Christmas?
As to why gingerbread houses are associated with Christmas, there is no real reason why! The flavor of gingerbread is said to have been celebrated with Christmas due to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Once the idea of gingerbread houses came over to other parts of the world, the celebration of gingerbread houses became more popular and in turn, a yearly tradition.
Are Gingerbread Houses Gluten Free?
If you have a specific dietary lifestyle, like being gluten intolerant, you may be wondering if gingerbread houses are gluten-free. When it comes to gingerbread houses, the main ingredient is wheat flour. Unfortunately, wheat is one of the gluten-containing grains and should not be consumed when following a gluten-free diet. However, it’s easy to make your own from scratch, and you can even buy gluten-free gingerbread house kits from stores such as Lakeland.
Are Gingerbread Houses Vegan?
Another popular dietary lifestyle is veganism. If you’re wondering whether gingerbread houses are vegan, they typically are not. This is because the use of both butter and eggs is used when making gingerbread houses. However, there are plenty of vegan-friendly recipes to try online, if you’d like to make one yourself.
Can You Eat A Gingerbread House: Final Takeaway
Making gingerbread houses is a fun activity for kids and adults. You can get creative and it takes up some time during the holidays. So can you eat a gingerbread house? The answer is, sometimes. Make sure to share this article with your family and friends so no one is left out of the loop!
Lindy Van Schalkwyk is a culinary specialist with a background in Advanced Cooking, Advanced Pâtisserie, Media Communications and Nutrition. She has gained invaluable experience in the culinary industry having worked in some of the top restaurants in Africa in 2016 and 2017. Her expertise in nutrition has enabled her to develop recipes for special dietary needs. In 2018, Lindy began working in the Food Media industry, focusing on recipe development, recipe writing, food writing and food styling.