Antarctic Fruitcake Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Antarctic. By robert mcgillivray/Shutterstock

If you're wondering how long that fruitcake will stay "good," consider the curious case of the fruitcake in the Antarctic.

The ubiquitous snack was discovered by members of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, who say it dates back to a 1911 expedition to those icy plains.

The group, attempting to be the first to reach the South Pole, was led by Robert Falcon Scott.

There were no survivors.

Except, apparently, the fruitcake. Not only that, but members of the Antarctic Heritage Trust claim the cake is in "excellent" condition.

In fact, it was still wrapped in paper and nestled in the original tin can, as if only yesterday it had rolled off the assembly line at the now-defunct Huntley & Palmers biscuit company.

Eating it — if you're at all partial to fruitcake — is another matter. The organization had to further embalm the cake for its return to civilization, applying a battery of stabilizing chemicals.

Self-portrait of Robert Falcon Scott expedition
A self-portrait from the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott expedition dated Jan. 17, 1912, the day after the group learned they had been beaten to the South Pole. Henry Bowers (1883–1912

It seems no one wants to see what would happen if this ancient fruitcake were to be restored to a state of freshness.

After all, we all know what happens when ancient things with murky origins are found in ice and left to thaw out: John Carpenter makes movies about it.

What can we learn from fruitcake?

Long suspected of being immune to decay, fruitcake has a reputation for being the last snack standing.

In fact, depending on how you like your fruitcake — moist and chewy or dry and ... dry — this stuff is a model of longevity.

"All of these dried and candied ingredients have what we call ‘low water activity,' meaning they have very little moisture available," food safety researcher Ben Chapman told North Carolina State News. "Low water activity is important because many microorganisms, including foodborne illness-causing bacteria, need moisture in order to reproduce. In practical terms, this makes most fruitcakes extremely shelf stable, so they would be safe to eat for a long time – a really long time," Chapman says. "But it might taste pretty bad."

As for the doomed South Pole expedition — despite members being in desperate straits and likely starving — everyone seems to have declined the fruitcake.

This seems to be a recurring theme with fruitcake, hence the reason why it's still in your fridge today. And maybe forevermore.