List of foods with religious symbolism
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.
- St Agatha's Breasts (also Agatha Buns, or Minni di Virgini) - served on the feast day of St Agatha (5 February), the small round fruit buns are iced and topped with a cherry, intended to represent breasts. St Agatha was martyred by having her breasts cut off, for refusing to surrender her chastity and virginity to pagans. Due to this association, she has become the patron saint of bakers. Minne di Sant'Agata are a Sicilian version of the bun, made with a soft shortcrust pastry that holds a ricotta and chocolate mixture, and the same icing and cherry outer layer.
- Baklava - in Greece, it is supposed to be made with 33 dough layers, referring to the years of Christ's life.
- Bread - often (though not exclusively) unleavened bread; one of the two elements (with wine) of the Christian eucharist, the bread represents Christ's body.
- Cattern cake - small individual cakes with caraway seeds, made on St. Catherine's Day (25 November) to celebrate St Catherine of Alexandria, and originating in Tudor times amongst the lace-makers of Nottinghamshire, England.
- 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, often flavoured with oil of cassia as a symbol of the perfumes used in preparing Christ's body for burial.
- 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.
- Galette des rois - a puff pastry pie filled with frangipane and commonly eaten at Epiphany in northern Europe, francophone Canada, and other locations; it is the origin of other forms of King cake (see below), and shares the same traditions, including a charm (representing an infant) baked into each pie.
- 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.
- King cake - a cake or bread served at Epiphany in many Christian countries, usually having a single bean baked inside it; as the Three Kings discovered the infant Jesus after following a guiding star, so the person discovering the bean (symbolic of a swaddled infant, and in modern times sometimes replaced by a small plastic baby) figuratively shares the joy of the three kings, or symbolically becomes a king for the 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).
- St. Lucia buns (St Lucy buns) - a saffron bun with raisins, also known as Lussekatter, associated with St Lucy's Day (13 December) celebrations, especially in the countries of Scandinavia.
- Michaelmas Bannock, St Michael's Bannock, or Struan Micheil is a Hebridean bread made from equal parts of barley, oats, and rye without using any metal implements.
- Michaelmas cake or St Michael 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).
- Paska - Polish and Ukrainian sweet bread baked and often blessed with other foods for consumption on Easter Sunday to mark the end of fasting.
- Pretzel - Southern France monks (610 AD) baked thin strips of dough into the shape of a child's arms folded in prayer. Also associated with Lent in some places.
- Religieuse - a type of éclair common in France, made to resemble a nun (which is the meaning of its name).
- St Sarkis Aghablit - salty biscuits eaten by Armenian youths (traditionally girls, but also now boys) on the eve of St Sarkis's Day to induce dreams of their future spouse, by the saint's blessing.
- St Sarkis Halva - a sweet pastry stuffed with fruit and nuts eaten in Armenian communities on St Sarkis's Day to symbolise the blessings brought by the saint.
- Simnel cake - symbolically associated with Lent & Easter and particularly Mothering Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent).
- Soul cake, soulmass-cake, or somas loaf - small bread-like cakes distributed on or around All Souls Day, sometimes known historically as soulmass or, by contraction, somas. The cakes commemorate the souls of the faithful departed. Once widespread in medieval England, the practice is now limited, but is also continued in a number of other nations.
- 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.
- Vasilopita - Saint Basil's or King's cake, traditionally eaten on New Year's Day in Greece. It is baked with a coin inside, and whoever finds the coin in their slice is considered blessed with good luck for the whole year.
- Wine - one of the elements of consecration used in the sacrament of the eucharist, the wine represents Christ's blood.
- Ghee - sacred food of the Devas. Burnt in the ritual of Aarti, offered to gods, and used as libation or anointment ritual.
- Modak - a sweet dumpling with a filling of fresh coconut and jaggery made specially during Ganesh Chaturthi.
- Ghevar - is a Rajasthani sweet traditionally associated with the Teej Festival.
- 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.
- Tumpeng - cone-shaped rice dish of Javanese tradition, associated with the slametan ceremony as well as the Mawlid ceremony. Syncretic in nature, also used in ceremonies of the Balinese Hindu people
- Sufganiyot - eaten on Hannukah, a fried pastry filled with sweet jelly symbolizing the miracle of oil.
- 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.
- Etrog - the yellow citron or Citrus medica used during the week-long holiday of Sukkot.
- 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.
- Tofu - the abura-age (soybean curd) is a favourite food of the foxes associated with the deity Inari and is offered at shrines.
- 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.
- White cut chicken - It is believed in Chinese/Taiwanese folk religions that chicken's blood has the power to exorcize unclean spirits.
- Illustration and details at Good Food Stories website.
- Reference with picture at Adventures of the Kitchen.
- "Minne di Sant'Agata (Sicilian Ricotta and Chocolate Pastries)". Food 52. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
- Theodore Kyriakou and Charles Campion, The Real Greek at Home, London 2004
- Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. Eucharist
- History and recipe available here.
- Referenced at the About Food website.
- See entry at The Greek Glutton.
- Discussed at The Guardian website.
- Anne Jordan (5 April 2000). Christianity. Nelson Thornes. ISBN 9780748753208. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
Easter eggs are used as a Christian symbol to represent the empty tomb. The outside of the egg looks dead but inside there is new life, which is going to break out. The Easter egg is a reminder that Jesus will rise from His tomb and bring new life. Orthodox Christians dye boiled eggs red to make red Easter eggs that represent the blood of Christ shed for the sins of the world.
- The Guardian, Volume 29. H. Harbaugh. 1878. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
Just so, on that first Easter morning, Jesus came to life and walked out of the tomb, and left it, as it were, an empty shell. Just so, too, when the Christian dies, the body is left in the grave, an empty shell, but the soul takes wings and flies away to be with God. Thus you see that though an egg seems to be as dead as a stone, yet it really has life in it; and also it is like Christ's dead body, which was raised to life again. This is the reason we use eggs on Easter. (In days past some used to color the eggs red, so as to show the kind of death by which Christ died,-a bloody death.)
- An account of the soup, and a journey to discover its origins, in published in New Yorker magazine.
- Mary Cadogan. "Galette des Rois". BBC Good Food. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
- "Galette Des Rois". Paul. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
- One recipe, with pictures.
- St George's Day cakes at Stork website.
- Turner, Ina; Taylor, Ina (1999). Christianity. Nelson Thornes. p. 50. ISBN 9780748740871.
To mark the end of the Lent fast Christians eat hot cross buns. These have a special meaning. The cross in the middle shows how Jesus died. Spices inside remind Christians of the spices put on the body of Jesus. Sweet fruits in the bun show that Christians no longer have to eat plain foods.
- "History of King Cakes". New Orleans Showcase.
- Referenced at Diane Kochilas, Greek food for life.
- Referenced at The Guardian.
- See details at Spice Roots website.
- "Lussekatter må man ha når man skal feire Luciadagen". Aktivioslo.no. 2009-12-01. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
- "Luciadag". kristendom.dk. Retrieved 2013-10-15.
- Randal W. Oulton (2007-05-13). "Michaelmas Bannock". Cooksinfo.com. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
- "About (Our Patron)". London: St Gabriel, North Acton. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
- Shrove Tuesday inspires unique church traditions KATIE WALKER Archived 2016-02-14 at the Wayback Machine 7 March 2011
- Joan Halmo Celebrating the church year with young children Liturgical Press, 1988 ISBN 978-0-8146-1580-5. 159 pages. page 43
- Fakes, Dennis R. (1 January 1994). Exploring Our Lutheran Liturgy. CSS Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 9781556735967.
Since people often gave up meat during Lent, bread became one of the staples of Lent. Bakers even began making dough pretzels--a knotted length of dough that represented a Christian praying, with arms crossed and hands placed on opposite shoulders.
- "une religieuse, un éclair". Pretty Tasty Cakes. 2008-08-31. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
- See The Daily Meal website.
- Story and recipe at the Armenian Kitchen website.
- Recipe at The Daily Meal website.
- Recipe at The Armenian Kitchen website.
- "BBC Religions: Mothering Sunday". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
- Simoons, Frederick J. (1998). Plants of Life, Plants of Death. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-15904-3.
- Hood, Karen Jean Matsko (1 January 2014). Halloween Delights. Whispering Pine Press International. p. 33. ISBN 9781594341816.
The tradition continued in some areas of northern England as late as the 1930s, with children going from door to door “souling” for cakes or money by singing a song.
- Stollen history
- Swieconka by Ann Hetzel Gunkel
- Margaret M. Hasluck, "The Basil-Cake of the Greek New Year", Folklore 38:2:143 (June 30, 1927) JSTOR
- Chef Mandaar Sukhtankar (24 August 2017). "A modak by any other name". The Hindu. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
- Festival reference and recipe.
- The health benefits and symbolic purposes explained at Shia Chat.
- Reference from the Jakarta Post.
- Ma, Guansheng (2015-12-01). "Food, eating behavior, and culture in Chinese society". Journal of Ethnic Foods. 2 (4): 195–199. doi:10.1016/j.jef.2015.11.004. ISSN 2352-6181.
- "The Significance of Dumplings in Chinese Culture". Z & Y Bistro. 2020-02-25. Retrieved 2022-04-13.
- 溫宗翰 (2017-11-10). "神鳳飛佇百姓家：雞的臺灣民俗思維". 民俗亂彈 (in Chinese (Taiwan)). Retrieved 2022-04-13.
- "從何時開始，向神明起誓一定得「斬雞頭」？". 故事 StoryStudio. 2017-01-26. Retrieved 2022-04-13.