What Sufganiyot Symbolize On Hanukkah

Hanukkah is November 28 to December 6 this year (via Chabad.org). The festival of lights commemorates the victory of a small Jewish army over a much stronger force of Syrian-Greeks who had occupied the Holy Land and had attempted to suppress the Jewish religion. After the battle, as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated (hence the name "Hanukkah," or "dedication"), a one-day supply of oil miraculously kept the temple's menorah lit for eight days.

Every holiday has its food traditions, and Hanukkah is no exception. Fried mozzarella sticks, latkes, and jelly donuts called sufganiyot in Hebrew are all on the traditional Hanukkah menu, per Kosher.com. The fact that all of these are fried foods is no coincidence. They all represent the miraculous olive oil that lasted eight days.

Sufganiyot today are the Hanukkah food of choice in Israel, according to Jewish Action. The plump, jelly-filled donuts normally made to be nearly one-quarter pound in size are produced on assembly lines to keep up with demand in Israel. The nation's largest bakery chain is said to crank out 25,000 sufganiyot a day during the holiday. Strawberry jam and caramel are the traditional flavors, but recently sufganiyot options have expanded to include cappuccino, Bavarian cream, cheesecake, and even vodka-infused.

Fried in oil, sufganiyot represent the miracle of Hanukkah

The sufganiyah's role in the Hanukkah tradition is both ancient and modern. A 12th century rabbi promoted the idea of eating "sufganin" on Hanukkah, which Kosher.com says is the same word as sufganiyot. But it wasn't the same food, exactly. In the Middle Ages, sufganin was most likely a syrup-coated pancake, per Jewish Action. The first mention of jelly donuts doesn't appear in the historical record until a 15th century German cookbook, according to The Nosher. Donuts were a rarity until slave-produced sugar from the Caribbean became more common in Europe, in the 16th century. Poles embraced the jelly donut, with Christians incorporating the treat into their Christmas celebration, and Jews adopting it as a fried food of choice for Hanukkah.

Now, sufganiyot are most associated with Hanukkah celebrations in Israel (although you can find them in Jewish communities in the U.S.). Israel embraced the jelly donut at the prodding of labor unions in the 1920s, who understood that latkes, or potato pancakes, were easy to make at home. Sufganiyot, on the other hand, would require professional and unionized workers to produce, market, and transport. Today, 80% of Israelis have at least one jelly donut over the eight-day holiday, according to a survey. In the past decade, in a nod to increasing health consciousness in the country, Israeli bakeries have begun making half-sized and bite-sized versions of the big, deep-fried, sugary treat.