List of foods with religious symbolism

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The List of foods with religious symbolism provides details, and links to articles, of foods which are used in religious communities or traditions to symbolise an aspect of the faith, or to commemorate a festival or hero of that faith group. Many such foods are also closely associated with a particular date or season. As with all religious traditions, some such foods have passed into widespread secular use, but all those on this list have a religious origin. The list is arranged alphabetically and by religion.

Many religions have a particular 'cuisine' or tradition of cookery, associated with their culture (see, for example, List of Jewish cuisine dishes). This list is not intended for foods which are merely part of the cultural heritage of a religious body, but specifically those foods that bear religious symbolism in the way they are made, or the way they are eaten, or both.

Christianity[edit]

  • Baklava - in Greece, it is supposed to be made with 33 dough layers, referring to the years of Christ's life
  • Cattern cake - small individual cakes with caraway seeds, made on St. Catherine's Day (25 November) to celebrate St Catherine of Alexandria.
  • Christopsomo - a type of Tsoureki bread served at Christmas in Greece; Christmas symbols, and a cross, are traditionally incorporated into the loaf using dough shapes; it is flavoured with figs.
  • Easter biscuit - associated with Easter, particularly in parts of England.
  • Easter egg - associated with Easter, as a symbol of new life.
  • Fanesca - Soup eaten during Holy Week in Ecuador. It contains twelve types of beans representing the Apostles and salt cod representing Jesus Christ.
  • St George cake - individual fairy cakes with white icing, and a red icing cross, eaten on St George's Day (23 April).
  • Hot cross bun - traditionally eaten on Good Friday after the Good Friday Liturgy, to break the fast required of Christians on that day.
  • Koulourakia - pastry dessert served on Easter Day in parts of Greece.
  • Lammas loaf - ordinary bread, but baked using flour from the first cut of the new harvest, for the eucharist of Lammas Festival (1 August).
  • Lampropsomo - a type of Tsoureki bread, flavoured with ground cherry stones, served at Easter in Greece; the name signifies the light of Christ, and red-painted hard boiled eggs are inserted as a symbol of Christ's blood (often three eggs, symbolic of the Holy Trinity).
  • Michaelmas cake - served at Michaelmas (29 September) this cake is identical to a butterfly cake, but the 'wings' represent angels rather than butterflies.
  • Pancakes - traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday to symbolise the end of rich eating before Lent (which begins the following day).
  • Pretzel - Southern France monks (610 AD) baked thin strips of dough into the shape of a child's arms folded in prayer.
  • Religieuse - a type of éclair common in France, made to resemble a nun (which is the meaning of its name).
  • Simnel cake - symbolically associated with Lent & Easter and particularly Mothering Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent).
  • Stollen - a German fruit bread with marzipan, eaten during Advent; it recalls a special Advent tradition restricted to Germany, granted by the Pope in the so-called "butter letter" (1490).
  • Święconka - a savoury meal, each element of which is symbolic, blessed in churches on Holy Saturday, and eaten on Easter Day, in Poland.
  • Wine - one of the elements of consecration used in the sacrament of the eucharist.

Judaism[edit]

  • Apples and honey - eaten on Rosh Hashanah, to symbolize a sweet new year; other foods with a symbolic meaning may be served, depending on local custom, such as the head of a fish to symbolize the "head" of the year.
  • Bread - two loaves of bread (lechem mishneh), usually braided challah, the blessing over which the Sabbath meals commence, symbolic of the double portion of manna that fell for the Israelites on the day before Sabbath during their 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.
  • Cheese blintzes, cheese kreplach, cheesecake, cheese sambusak, atayef (a cheese-filled pancake), a seven-layer cake called siete cielos (seven heavens) and other dairy foods are traditionally eaten on Shavuot, and have various symbolic meanings all connected to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai celebrated on this holiday.
  • Charoset - a sweet paste eaten at the Passover Seder, symbolically representing the mortar made by the Jews in Egyptian slavery.
  • Hamantash - a triangular pastry filled with fruit, nuts, or seeds (especially poppy seeds) and eaten at the festival of Purim, being symbolic of the ears of the defeated enemy.
  • Latkes - potato pancakes, known as latkes in Yiddish, especially among Ashkenazi families, Sephardi, Polish and Israeli families eat jam-filled doughnuts (pontshkes), bimuelos (fritters) and sufganiyot, all of which are fried in oil, eaten on Hanukkah, to commemorate the miracle of a small flask of oil keeping the flame in the Temple alight for eight days.
  • Maror - a bitter herb eaten at the Passover Seder meant to remind of the bitterness of slavery
  • Matzo - a type of unleavened bread eaten at the Passover Seder (and the following week), symbolically recalling the Jews leaving Egypt in too much haste to allow their bread to rise in the ovens.
  • Wine - for the recitation of kiddush at the beginning of Shabbat and Festival meals, at the Havdalah service at the conclusion of the Sabbath, and for the Seven Blessings of the wedding ceremony.

Islam[edit]

  • Baklava - associated with the fasting month of Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr by the Balkans and Ottoman Empire.
  • Dates - traditionally dates are eaten at the Iftar meal to break the fast of Ramadan, symbolically recalling the tradition that the prophet Muhammad broke his fast by eating three dates.
  • Halva - on the 7th and 40th days and first anniversary following the death of a Muslim, the semolina or flour helva is offered to visitors by relatives of the deceased; it is known in Turkish as “helva of the dead”. The ritual is also performed in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran.
  • Ketupat - packed rice wrapped in a woven palm leaf. Associated with Eid ul-Fitr among Muslims in Southeast Asia.
  • Rendang - spicy meat dish of Minangkabau. The ingredients of the food contains symbolism of the Minangkabau culture: the chili symbolizes ulama and sharia, the meat symbolizes clan leaders, the coconut milk symbolizes teachers, spice mixture symbolizes the rest of Minangkabau society,

Hinduism[edit]

  • Ghee - sacred food of the Devas. Burnt in the ritual of Aarti, offered to gods, and used as libation or anointment ritual.
  • Pongal - a Tamil dish associated with many Hindu rituals and feast such as the Pongal feast.

Taoism[edit]

  • Dumpling - symbolizes wealth because the shape is similar to money-related instruments such as the tael (Chinese weight measure) or Chinese ingots (especially the jau gok). They are eaten at midnight of Chinese New Year.
  • Noodle - symbolizes longevity, usually served in the Chinese New Year’s Eve

Shinto[edit]

  • Tofu - the abura-age (soybean curd) is a favorite food of the god Inari and is offered to him.

See also[edit]