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Alternative names
  • Kunafeh
  • Kunafa
  • Kanafeh
  • Knafeh
  • Konafi
  • Kunaftah
  • Künefe
  • Kinafa
Place of originNablus[1]
Region or state
Serving temperatureWarm, room temperature or cold (qishta variety)
Main ingredients

Knafeh[2] (Arabic: كنافة) is a traditional Arabic dessert, made with spun pastry called kataifi,[3][4][5] soaked in a sweet, sugar-based syrup called attar, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream, pistachio or nuts, depending on the region.[6] It is popular in the Middle East.[7][6][8][9]

In Arabic, the name may refer to the string pastry itself, or to the entire dessert dish. In Turkish, the string pastry is known as tel kadayıf, and the cheese-based dessert that uses it as künefe. In Turkey, it is called künefe.[10] In the Balkans, the shredded dough is similarly known as kadaif/cataif,[11] and in Greece as kadaifi, and is the basis of various dishes rolled or layered with it, including dessert pastries with nuts and sweet syrups.


The English language borrows the word "knafeh" from Levantine and Egyptian Arabic, and widely transliterates it as kanafeh, kenafeh, knafeh, kunafah, kunafeh, konafa, knéfé, kunafa, and similar variations.[12][13]

The ultimate origin of kanafeh is debated. Some sources state that it comes from the Coptic Egyptian word "kenephiten", meaning a bread or cake.[14][15][12][16] Early attestations are found in stories like One Thousand and One Nights.[12] Another view is that it comes from a Semitic root with a meaning of "side" or "wing", from the Arabic kanafa, "to flank or enclose".[17][18]


A common story is that the dish was created, and prescribed by doctors, to satisfy the hunger of caliphs during Ramadan. The story is variously said to have happened in Fatimid Egypt, or in the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus, Syria, where Levantine dessert makers prepared it for Mu'awiya I, to reduce hunger during fasting in Ramadan.[19][20] It is also reported to have been mentioned in writing as early as the tenth century, and to be of Fatimid origin.[21][22][23] However, dishes mentioned in historical texts are not necessarily the same as the modern versions of kanafeh.

Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's tenth century Kitab al-Tabikh (Book of Dishes), a collection of Arabic recipes and food advice of the Abbasid caliphs, mentions neither the word kunāfa, nor a description of the dish as it is known today. However, it does feature a chapter on desserts made with the related qatāyif, meaning crêpes, from which the Turkish word kadayıf and Greek word kataïfi derive. In one recipe, qatāyif are stuffed with nuts, deep-fried, and topped with honey-sugar syrup, which is essentially unchanged in today's version. Also described are large thin crêpes resembling fabric, called ruqāq, cooked on a round sheet of metal called a tābaq, layered with fruit, and drenched with sugar.[24][6]

Traditional knafeh maker in Cairo

The 13th century anonymous Kitab al tabikh fi-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus (Book of Dishes from Maghreb and Al-Andalus) uses the word 'kunāfa' to describe a crêpe made with thin batter on an Indian pan or "mirror" (the tābaq), and says it is equivalent to ruqāq. It also gives a recipe for Abbasid Qatāyif (the crêpes being called musahhada in Al-Andalus), which uses the same batter, but the kunāfa is made thinner, "like a fine tissue". It gives a number of dessert recipes for kunāfa, where the crêpes are served layered with fresh cheese, baked, and topped with honey and rose syrup; or cut up into shreds like rose leaves and cooked with honey, nuts, sugar, and rosewater.[25][6]

Ibn al-Jazari gives an account of a 13th-century market inspector who rode through Damascus at night, ensuring the quality of kunāfa, qatā'if, and other foods associated with Ramadan, during the Mamluk period.[26]

In the later Middle Ages, a new technique was created, with thin batter being dripped onto the metal sheet from a perforated container, creating hair-like strings. A mid-15th century Ottoman Turkish translation of Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi's Kitab al-Tabikh added several new contemporary recipes, including one for this kadayif, though it does not specify where it originated.[27] This became the basis for the modern kunafa/kanafeh. It is fried together with butter and fillings or toppings such as nuts, sweetened cheese, or clotted cream, and mixed with rosewater and sugar. The pastry spread from the Arab lands to neighboring countries including Iran and Greece, and to Turkey where the string pastry itself is known as tel kadayıf ("string crêpes"), also used in related pastries such as dolma kadayif.[6]


Homemade Knafeh from Feast: Food of the Islamic World by Anissa Helou, page 444
Mabruma (twined) kanafeh

There are many types of kanafeh pastry:[28][better source needed]

  • khishnah (Arabic: خشنة, rough): crust made from long thin noodle threads.
  • nāʿimah (Arabic: ناعمة, fine): semolina dough.
  • muhayara (Arabic: محيرة, mixed): a mixture of khishnah and na'ama.
  • mabruma (Arabic: مبرومة, twined): It is prepared with noodle.

The pastry is heated in butter, margarine, palm oil, or traditionally semneh and then spread with soft sweet cheese, such as Nabulsi cheese, and topped with more pastry. In khishnah kanafeh the cheese is rolled in the pastry. A thick syrup of sugar, water, and a few drops of rose water or orange blossom water is poured on the pastry during the final minutes of cooking. Often the top layer of pastry is tinted with red or orange food coloring (a modern shortcut, instead of baking it for long periods of time). Crushed pistachios are sprinkled on top as a garnish.


Kanafeh Nabulsieh

A siniyyeh (tray) of kanafeh

Kanafeh Nabulsieh originated in the Palestinian city of Nablus,[8][29] hence the name Nabulsieh. Nablus is still renowned for its kanafeh, which consists of mild white cheese and shredded wheat surface, which is covered by sugar syrup.[30] In the Middle East, this variant of kanafeh is the most common.

Kadayıf and künefe

Turkish künefe and Turkish tea

In the Hatay region of Turkey, which was formerly part of Syria and has a large Arab population, the pastry is called künefe and the wiry shreds are called tel kadayıf. A semi-soft cheese such as Urfa peyniri (cheese of Urfa) or Hatay peyniri (cheese of Hatay), made of raw milk, is used in the filling.[31] In making the künefe, the kadayıf is not rolled around the cheese; instead, cheese is put in between two layers of wiry kadayıf. It is cooked in small copper plates, and then served very hot in syrup with clotted cream (kaymak) and topped with pistachios or walnuts. In the Turkish cuisine, there is also yassı kadayıf and ekmek kadayıfı, none of which is made of wiry shreds.

The EU Commission approved ‘Antakya Künefesi' from Hatay, Türkiye as Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).[32]

Riştə xətayi

This northern Iranian variant is prepared in Tabriz, Iran. Riştə xətayi is typically cooked in Ramadan in the world's biggest covered Bazaar of Tabriz. It is made with chopped walnuts, cinnamon, ginger, powder of rose, sugar, rose water and olive oil.[33]


Greek kataifi

In this variant, called also καταΐφι (kataïfi) or κανταΐφι (kadaïfi) in Greek, the threads are used to make various forms of pastries, such as tubes or birds' nests, often with a filling of chopped nuts as in baklava.

These very thin threads are also known as "kadaif noodles" and are used to make the outer shell of the Greek dessert kataifi. These vermicelli-like threads become very crispy when fried or baked. For this particular Greek dessert, the filling is usually a blend of coarsely chopped nuts, such as walnuts and pistachios, mixed with honey and a light cream.[34]

Gaza knafeh

This variant originated in Gaza Strip, Palestine although it may have been acutally originated in Saudi Arabia and might be the oldest type of knafeh according to legend, and is made of soft bulgur, cinnamon, pecan nuts, and dairy fats.[35]

World records

The world's largest plate of the dessert was made in Antakya, Turkey, in 2017. The tray of künefe measured 78 meters long, and weighed 1550 kilograms.[36] A previous record attempt was made in Nablus in 2009, with a 75-meter tray, weighing 1,350 kilograms.[37] Neither attempt was officially listed as breaking the record; according to the website of the Guinness World Records, there is no current record holder for the title.[38]

See also



  1. ^ Natanel, Katherine (2016). Sustaining Conflict: Apathy and Domination in Israel-Palestine. Univ of California Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-520-96079-4.
  2. ^ "knafeh". Retrieved 2021-08-14.
  3. ^ "Cheese pastry (künefe)".
  4. ^ "Tel kadayıf hamuru tarifi". Hurriyet.
  5. ^ The World Religions Cookbook. Greenwood Press. 2007. p. 158. ISBN 9780313342639.
  6. ^ a b c d e Davidson, Alan (2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. pp. 33, 661–662. ISBN 9780199677337 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "Knafeh". Time Out Sydney.
  8. ^ a b Edelstein, Sari (2010). Food, Cuisine, and Cultural Competency for Culinary, Hospitality, and Nutrition Professionals. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. ISBN 9781449618117.
  9. ^ Nasser, Christiane Dabdoub (2013). Classic Palestinian Cuisine. Saqi. ISBN 9780863568794.
  10. ^ Albala, K. (2011). Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Greenwood. p. 311. ISBN 9780313376269. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  11. ^ Encyclopedia of food and culture. Scribner. 2003. p. 159. OCLC 50590735.
  12. ^ a b c "Etymological Dictionary of Arabic". Bibliotheca Polyglotta. University of Oslo. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  13. ^ Marks, Gil (17 November 2010). "Kanafeh/Kadayif". Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780544186316 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Perry, Charles (26 May 1999). "The Dribble With Pastry". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on 7 December 2015. Retrieved 2018-07-12 – via LA Times.
  15. ^ Youssef, Aḥmad Abdel-Hamid (2003). From Pharaoh's Lips : Ancient Egyptian Language in the Arabic of Today. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press. pp. 46–47. ISBN 9781617974762. OCLC 897473661.
  16. ^ Goldstein, Darra, ed. (2015). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press. p. 447. ISBN 9780199313396 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ The Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. "Appendix II - Semitic Roots". American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  18. ^ Team, Almaany. "Definition and meaning of Kanafeh in Arabic in the dictionary of the meanings of the whole, the lexicon of the mediator, the contemporary Arabic language - Arabic Arabic dictionary - Page 1".
  19. ^ "Kunafa, Qatayef: Ramadan's most favorite desserts". Cairo Post. 6 July 2015. Archived from the original on 2018-07-12. Retrieved 2018-07-12.
  20. ^ "20 places to get amazing kunafa and Arabic sweets in the UAE". 2021-04-14. Retrieved 2023-12-24.
  21. ^ Roufs, Timothy G.; Roufs, Kathleen Smyth (2014). Sweet Treats around the World: An Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 464. ISBN 9781610692212.
  22. ^ Wright, Clifford A. (1999). A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, with More than 500 Recipes. William Morrow Cookbooks. ISBN 978-0-688-15305-2.
  23. ^ Al-awsat, Asharq (4 October 2007). "The Ramadan Experience in Egypt - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive". ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  24. ^ Nasrallah, Nawal (2007). Annals of the caliphs' kitchens : Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq's tenth-century Baghdadi cookbook. Brill. pp. 39, 43, 420. ISBN 9789047423058.
  25. ^ "An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century". Retrieved 2018-07-12. See also contents and footnotes.
  26. ^ Sato, Tsugitaka (31 October 2014). Sugar in the Social Life of Medieval Islam. BRILL. ISBN 9789004281561 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ Isin, Mary (8 January 2013). Sherbet and Spice: The Complete Story of Turkish Sweets and Desserts. I.B.Tauris. pp. 193–194. ISBN 9781848858985 – via Google Books.
  28. ^ "Kunafa". Sampateek. 9 October 2013. Archived from the original on 9 November 2017. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  29. ^ Abu Shihab, Sana Nimer (2012). Mediterranean Cuisine. AuthorHouse. p. 74. ISBN 9781477283097.
  30. ^ Cuisine Archived 2007-08-04 at the Wayback Machine Institute for Middle East Understanding
  31. ^ "Künefe – ein außergewöhnliches Dessert". Archived from the original on 2016-03-25. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  32. ^ "EUR-Lex - 52022XC1115(02) - EN - EUR-Lex". Retrieved 2023-03-17.
  33. ^ "اهراب نیوز - تصویری/ رشته ختایی؛ شیرینی مخصوص تبریز برای رمضان". Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  34. ^ "What is Kataifi?". Gourmet Flyer. August 22, 2021. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  35. ^ Berger, Miriam. "The Palestinian dessert few can enjoy". Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  36. ^ "78-meter-long künefe dessert eaten in 20 minutes in Turkey's Hatay". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 2018-07-14.
  37. ^ "WEST BANK: Palestinian Knafeh enters Guinness World Records". Retrieved 2015-05-21.
  38. ^ "Search Results – Guinness World Records". Retrieved 2018-07-14.

External links

  • Media related to Kanafeh at Wikimedia Commons