Nanaimo bars - a traditional Canadian dessert - on a dark background
Nanaimo Bars Are Canada's Most Iconic No-Bake Dessert
By Nico Danilovich
Canada’s cuisine is inspired by different cultures around the world, with former Prime Minister Joe Clark once referring to it as a smorgasbord. Some of the country’s famous food items include butter tarts, maple syrup, poutine (cheese-and-gravy fries), Saskatoon berries, tourtières (meat pies), and the beloved Nanaimo bar.
The no-bake dessert is named after Nanaimo, a city on Vancouver Island in the Georgia Strait of British Columbia. It was first founded under a different name to take advantage of the local coalfields, and it eventually became a prominent port city with agriculture, fishing, lumbering, shipbuilding, and tourism all bringing in money.
As for its iconic treat, the City of Nanaimo lists graham crumbs, cocoa and coconut, sugar and butter, custard filling, and a layer of chocolate as the five base ingredients, with no baking involved. The dessert is so beloved it's even commemorated on an official Canadian stamp, and tourists can try different varieties at the Nanaimo Bar Trail.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the recipe has been around since the 1930s, just under different names, but the first written proof comes from 1952 in the Women's Auxiliary of the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook, where it’s called a "chocolate square." A slight variation on the recipe appeared as a "Nanaimo bar" in Edith Adams' Cookbook a year later, and a national recipe and mascot were chosen in 1986.