MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — King Cake is a must-have for Mobilians celebrating the Mardi Gras festivities, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the King Cake is relatively new in the US compared to the European countries who have been a long-time tradition for centuries. No matter if you’re in Pensacola, Fairhope or Mobile, King Cake is likely to play a part in your Mardi Gras celebrations.

Where did the King Cake come from?

Versions of the King Cake started to appear in the 15th century. In 1870 it was first brought over to the US from France, according to the King Cake festival in New Orleans.

The King Cake actually represents two religious celebrations. The King Cake marks the 12th Night of Christmas, which is the last day of the Christmas season, according to the King Cake Festival in New Orleans. The cake also celebrates the Biblical story where three wisemen brought gifts to baby Jesus, which is known as Epiphany Day or Three Kings Day. 

There wasn’t always a baby in the cake

Fava beans were initially placed in the cake to symbolize baby Jesus, but it was later replaced by porcelain babies, according to NPR. Today, King Cakes are made with plastic babies. Much like the fava bean, many people hope to find the baby in their cake. Back in the 15th century, it was thought to bring good luck to those who found it. Today, those who find it are King or Queen for a day — become responsible for brining next year’s King Cake.

Is King Cake the same in France?

No, it’s not the same anywhere Three Kings Day is celebrated. Although King Cake is a French tradition, it has changed over time as different cultures adopt the King Cake. In France, the cake is known as “galette des rois” and is very different to what Southern Americans know it as.

The Galette des Rois is a puff pastry containing an almond-flavored filling. King Cake in the US is not a puff pastry, but a more traditional cake. Instead of relying on almond for flavor, cinnamon and nutmeg are primarily used in the cake, according to Louisiana Travel. King Cakes in the US are typically round in shape and are decorated with bright Mardi Gras colors. Some shape their cakes by braiding the dough. 

Variations in US King Cake 

Even in the US, recipes vary. One King Cake recipe used pecans, raisins and another even used honey in their recipe. Even in Mobile, you’ll find King Cakes flavored with strawberry, chocolate and Banana at Rouses Market. They even feature a MoonPie-themed King Cake. 

Whether your making a brand-new variation of the King Cake or an old family recipe, the cake is symbol for not only religious celebrations, but reflects the culture of Mardi Gras and Mobilians.