Gingerbread houses are a fun thing to make during the holidays, but the question of whether they’re something you should eat or not always comes up.
Most kids will pick the candy off and eat it when you’re not looking, but what about the gingerbread itself? Are the houses and candy meant to be eaten, or is it just supposed to be a decorative craft?
As a general rule, gingerbread houses can be eaten if it’s relatively soon after they’re made, but if they’ve been displayed for a long time the gingerbread may not be good to eat. Also, depending on the type of gingerbread that was used to make the house, it may not be a type that was intended to be eaten at all. The candy on the house is generally going to be edible for a longer time than the house itself, but it might end up being too dirty after being displayed for too long.
Whether the houses are meant to be eaten, then, will depend on the material that it’s made from, or the time that it’s been sitting out for display.
What kind of gingerbread is the house made from?
Gingerbread houses can be constructed from various types of gingerbread, some being softer than others. Depending on the recipe used, the gingerbread might not have been intended to be eaten at all, and it might not taste good even when it’s fresh. Recipes that are intended to be used for cookies might taste better but not be as sturdy, so they would be a better choice if the houses are intended to be eaten after decorating them.
Construction gingerbread is specifically for building houses and other structures. It’s harder, doesn’t include as many leaveners, and isn’t really meant to be eaten.
Gingerbread cookie recipes generally contain more leaveners and end up being softer because they’re intended to be eaten.
Cookie recipes might not be good for long-term display of the houses, but if you bake it a little longer than normal it can harden it up so that it stays a little more structured. If you plan on eating the houses soon after decorating them, this kind of gingerbread is probably a better option than construction gingerbread.
In addition to the gingerbread, you need to look at the decorations on the house. If the house is going to be eaten, it’s best to make sure that everything that’s used to decorate the cake is edible. Inedible elements shouldn’t be included in case someone eats something by accident, but also because of cross-contamination from things that aren’t food-safe.
What’s the house decorated with?
If a gingerbread house is decorated with completely edible elements, it’s clearly going to be safe to eat up to a short time after it’s made. However, the longer the house sits out on display, the more likely it is that the house and any candy on it will attract dust and dirt from the air. If the house contains inedible elements it’s best not to eat the sections that have been in contact with those items.
If a gingerbread house is decorated with candy that will basically just get hard as it sits out, like marshmallows, they might not look any different, but they won’t be good to eat.
On the other hand, some candy attracts any moisture that it can from the air and deteriorates because it softens up. This happens with lollipops and hard candy, so while it might still look fine it could also be “lesser quality,” to put it mildly.
If a gingerbread house is meant to be eaten, it’s best to do it soon after it’s been made, or the food quality aspect is going to be affected. In addition, they’re usually just sitting there gathering dust, so that’s part of the “eat or don’t eat” decision, too.
When my kids were little, I made gingerbread houses with them to give to their grandparents. That was fine, but six months later when the houses were still sitting out on display, they were pretty nasty.
Gingerbread houses that sit out for long periods of time tend to petrify if the air is dry, and that’s definitely what had happened to those. My mother-in-law wouldn’t throw them out, though, she said they were too cute to do that! At least they weren’t trying to eat them…
What to do with an old gingerbread house?
If a gingerbread house is past its prime, it can be preserved by various methods in order to keep it as a permanent decoration. It can also be smashed and put into a compost pile. Some people will break the pieces apart and leave it outside for wild animals to eat, but that’s not the best use for them because it’s not necessarily something that animals should be eating!
Raccoons might eat the house, but I checked, and candy and processed sugars are on a list of things that they shouldn’t eat, along with chocolate and bread! (Yes, the list does exist: Things that raccoons shouldn’t eat)
It’s the same with wild birds and other animals. Candy and other processed “human food” ingredients aren’t good to include in their diets a lot of the time.
The best thing is probably to bury it in a compost pile, but honestly, the easiest thing to do with an old gingerbread house is going to be to throw it out. I know it’s painful, but sometimes it has to be done!
So in general, the best thing to do if you want to eat a gingerbread house is to build it, let the kids pick at it for a few days while it’s on display, then break it up and eat it for dessert along with ice cream and hot cocoa. Anything longer than a week is going to get into the grey area of “how much dirt is on that thing” and it just goes downhill from there.
And if little kids made the houses, it’s probably best not to eat those at all, unless they’re the unique kids who used good sanitation practices when they made the house.
Because I made wedding cakes, I was really picky about teaching my kids clean food handling methods, and they knew not to eat the candy or lick their fingers while they were working. However, most kids are going to be licking fingers and sucking the icing out of the piping bags.
When it comes right down to it, I’ll pass on eating those houses…That’s usually the best choice unless you made it and you own the germs!
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