At long last, Christmas Day has finally arrived. You and your loved ones sit around and share the gifts you’ve painstakingly chosen for one another. Someone hands you an oddly shaped bundle — circular, kind of heavy and very lumpy. Your mind races with all of the possibilities that could lie on the other side of the wrapping paper — only to discover you’ve been the butt of the seasonal joke.
It’s a fruitcake.
“Fruitcake is arguably the food most associated with the Christmas season,” says Sean Coary, Ph.D., assistant professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, “but it’s earned a bad reputation — and largely for no good reason.”
Coary, an expert in food and brand authenticity, says that fruitcake is an especially authentic holiday item. First made in ancient Rome, the dessert has a long history with Christmastime. Yet, its notoriety as the cake we love to hate persists.
“When was the last time someone under 30 tried fruitcake?” asks Coary. “We think it’s from an older generation, something our grandparents would like. It would be like a millennial eating prunes.”
Despising the cake is a self-fulling prophecy, according to Coary: Fruitcake is horrible, because we assume it will be. “Millennials don’t try fruitcake, or if they do, they think they’re supposed to hate it,” he says.
Little data exists on the demographics of fruitcake eaters; yet, Coary posits it is mostly older Americans who continue to buy the desserts year after year. Millennials give fruitcakes to their friends and family as an ironic expression of the tradition. “It’s the ultimate gag gift,” adds Coary.
In considering the eating habits of millennials, Coary sees that younger U.S. consumers are becoming more adventurous eaters, in search of strange, specialty items — but not fruitcake.
“Here is a dessert with a number of interesting ingredients and a history of nostalgia and tradition,” he says. “Why don’t foodies rally around fruitcake?”
Coary defends the infamous holiday treat to all millennials, encouraging them to give fruitcake a second chance — unless, of course, you ask him to eat it.
“I can’t get past the texture,” he says.