Hanukkah Candles

The Stories of Hanukkah: 3 Treats & Teas for the Festival of Lights

Posted by Matcha Alternatives

Author: Luce Brandt

Chag Urim Sameach, or happy holiday of light! 

Today I will share the story of Hanukkah, the significance of oil, and three lovely holiday foods with deliciously perfect tea pairings. My dad is Jewish, so growing up, we celebrated a mix of holidays and traditions. These are some of my favorite special Hannukkah treats! I'll tell you about:
  • What is the story of Hanukkah?
  • Latkes and the story of Judith + Recipe + Tea pairing
  • Kugel, with all its variations + Recipe + Tea pairing
  • Significance of Sufganiyot + Recipe + Tea pairing 
  • What is the significance of tea in Jewish life?
  • Bonus: What are flaming teas?! 

What is the story of Hanukkah?

In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah means “dedication.” The word is significant to the holiday because it honors the rededication of the second Temple in Jerusalem. At the time, the Jewish people were amidst a revolt against their Greek and Syrian oppressors (HIS1). 

Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes prohibited the practice of Judaism. Then, Antiochus sent soldiers to Jerusalem, killing thousands of people and violating the holy Second Temple. Within its sacred space, soldiers adorned an altar for Zeus, and even sacrificed pigs (HIS2).

Jewish priest Mattathias led a rebellion against Antiochus, eventually forcing Syrians out of Jerusalem over a period of a couple years. Mattathisas’ son, Juah, worked to repair the Second Temple, rededicating it to Judaism and lighting the its menorah with purified olive oil (HIS3). There was only just enough oil for the menorah to last a day, but it lasted for eight and so the miracle of Hanukkah was born (HI1).

To honor this day blessings are recited while lighting the menorah. A menorah is a candelabra used in Jewish worship. They hold 9 candles, one for each of the eight days that the oil lasted, and one Shamash, or “helper candle,” which lights the others. You light one candle (and the Shamash) on the first night, and increase by one throughout the eight days, until all the candles are lit!

During this festival of lights, foods such as latkes and Sufganiyot are fried in oil. Dreidel, a four sided top, is a popular game often played with chocolate gelt. Gelt means “money” in Yiddish, and is traditionally given to others during Hanukkah. In modern times, chocolate gelt, with a neat gold foil, has been developed for children.

More recently, Hanukkah has developed into a “commercial phenomenon” since it is close to Christmas. Hanukkah does not place restrictions on work or school, since in reality, it is a fairly minor holiday (HIS4).


Hanukkah potato latkes


Latkes and the Story of Judith

What is a Latke?

Similar to fritters, latkes are made from potatoes and other vegetables. With a large variety of textures, they can be smooth (made with mashed potatoes), to crispy (made from shredded potatoes). Again for this food, the oil is the significant element, rather than the potato itself.

What are the origins of Latkes?

To understand the significance of Latkes, we must first examine their origin. Let’s return to a brave Jewish heroine, Judith. She became a well-known figure when she decapitated Holofernes, an Assyrian army general, who was sent to capture the Jewish city of Bethulia (AR1).

Young and beautiful Judith, set out to seduce Holofernes. She offered him wine and salty cheese pancakes, until he passed out. With this window of opportunity, Judith beheaded Holofernes, and presented his head to the Israelites (FR1). 

With this victory, her people were able to lead a sneak attack on the Assyrian Army’s camp, saving their land. The story of Judith has been passed down through generations.

Despite the story of Judith happening centuries before Hanukkah, she has become associated with the oil miracle, and so the Latke (a potato pancake) has taken the place as a Hanukkah symbol. Curious!

Nowadays cheese latkes are far less common, replaced by the potato version. Potatoes were adopted in Poland and Ukraine after huge crop failures in the mid 1800s. And so, with a plethora of potatoes available, cheese was eventually replaced and passed down (HI2). Whether you make cheese or potato latkes, there is a lot of history packed into your meal!


Hanukkah potato latkes


Try latkes yourself

Wondering how to make latkesClassic Latkes by The Kitchn.com, as pictured above, are a wonderful rendition of this holiday food. These Latkes “shatter when you bite into them, revealing a creamy potato- and onion- packed pocket” (CA1). On a toppings note, Latkes truly shine when paired with applesauce or sour cream, so don’t forget these essential flavors (CA2).

Best tea pairings with latkes

For these salty morsels, I recommend a sweeter tea such as Sweet Red Apple Green Tea. This light and smooth tea carries a lovely clear apple taste, that will work like the apple sauce to counter the flavor of the Latkes.

If you don’t want a sweet tea, but would like the apple taste and green tea benefits, consider Sour Green Apple Green Tea. This tea is like drinking a Granny Smith apple, sweet with just the right amount of sourness.

Both of these green teas support relaxation and reduce anxiety, perfect for erasing any stress from a busy holiday! Want to learn more about the goodness in your green tea? Check out our post on green tea antioxidants.

If you don’t like green tea, our Apple Cinnamon Crumble Rooibos has lovely apple notes, essence of cinnamon, rosehips, hibiscus, and toasted almonds to top it off!


Hanukkah Kugel


All About Kugel 

What is a Kugel?

Kugel is a buttery noodle casserole with lots of cream, and sweetness. It has a variety of textures, based on personal preference: some bake it soggy, others crisp. Kugel sounds sweet, but is in fact on the savory side, and usually eaten with the main course.

Apples and raisins, cottage cheese, or sour cream are all components in various kugel recipes. Others make kugel with potato, zucchini, and challah (SH2). They vary tremendously, so you may have to do some experimenting to see what you like the best (BI1)!

What are the origins of Kugel?

Early renditions of Kugel were known as pashtida, with two dough layers and meat filling (SH1). Kugel is a common Shabbat food, and some Hassidic Jews associate kugel with spiritual blessings (KU1). Some Kugels are fried in oil just like Latkes. This type is particularly significant for Hanukkah since it contains oil

Best recipe for the perfect Kugel

The Daily Meal’s favorite Hanukkah kugel recipe, pictured above, is a great choice! With its egg noodles, and savory flavors, this dish is an excellent choice for your Hanukkah dinner (LO1).

Best Tea Pairing for Kugel

For this treat, we need something to counteract the heaviness. I recommend a simple tea like Citrus Beauty Lemongrass Chamomile. This tea is the perfect calming cleanse after a rich meal. With its honey, lemon, hint of orange, and chamomile flowers, this tea will help you wind down and relax, as well as settle your stomach.

Alternatively, Bamboo Paradise Chamomile with its sweet pineapple, grassy bamboo and floral chamomile, will be a lovely addition to your night. To see how chamomile, and other teas help digestion, check out our blog, 6 Best Teas for Digestion.

Not a chamomile person, but want something light and relaxing? Try Smell the Roses Cherry Rooibos. This dessert-like tea is sweet and smooth. With its mix of rose, caramel, and hint of fruity cherry this tea is an evening delight.

An added bonus: its caffeine free so won’t keep you up after your holiday dinner!


Sufganiyot jelly donut


The history of Sufganiyot (Jelly Doughnuts)

What are Sufganiyot?

These treats were once made from two circles of dough, enclosing a jelly filling, and then fried! Pronounced 'soof-gah-nee-oht', nowadays these balls of sweet yeast dough are filled with strawberry or raspberry jam, fried, and sprinkled in powdered sugar. Some variations include other flavors including dulce de leche, chocolate cream, cappuccino, and vanilla stuffings (WI3). There is a flavor for everyone!

What is the history of Sufganiyot?

This word comes from the greek work “sufan”, spongy or fried. Sfenj are an Arabic type of deep-fried doughnut. Sufganiyot are original in their typical jelly filling (RU1).
Wondering how these beloved treats were introduced? After originating in Europe during the 1500s, the donut made itself known as a Berliner in Germany during the 1800s. Polish immigrants brought the donuts to Palestine where it was renamed the Sufganiyah (singular) or Sufganiyot (plural) (WI1). 

Why are Sufagniyot a Hanukkah specialty?

These treats are fried in oil, a symbolic practice to remember the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days (MI1). 12th century Rabbi Maimon ben Yosef, wrote that "one must not make light of the custom of eating sofganim [fried fritters] on Chanukah. It is a custom of the Kadmonim [the ancient ones]" (WI2). The history and tradition of eating these sweet donuts has become sacred to Jewish holidays.

Now, in Israel, over 18 million of these treats are enjoyed in the weeks around Hanukkah, which averages out to over three donuts a person (RU2)!

Try Sufagniyah yourself!

Bon Appétit’s Sufganiyot recipe, pictured above, is an excellent choice. With its pillowy deep-fried dough and delicious strawberry jam, this recipe will make your holiday extra sweet (SC1).

Best tea pairing for Sufganiyot

For this tea, I recommend choosing a tea that is not too sweet, perhaps a bit sour even.

Blueberry Tart White Tea is a lovely choice with its rich blueberry, and smoothness from bai mu tan tea. This tea is better for an afternoon celebration as it does contain caffeine. This is my go-to tea midday when I want a light tea with a bit of energy!

For a caffeine-free alternative, consider Deep Breath Rooibos Tulsi. Try this unique blend of woody red rooibos and aromatic Tulsi, a beautiful balance of flavors that you have never tasted before! Tulsi tea has a rich, warm, herbaceous flavor with a light spice and roundness. The rooibos balances this powerful fragrance with added sweetness and depth. Tulsi and rooibos help with relaxation, ideal for your evenings.

Traditional Jewish flaming teas


What is the significance of tea in the Jewish tradition, plus what are Flaming Teas?

Writer Miriam Leberstein reflects in the Jewish Daily Forward, “Perhaps because tea was taken in rare moments of leisure that provided the occasion for reflection, perhaps because it often was a shared activity encouraging communication, it often served as a conduit for the explicit or implicit transmission of Jewish values” (LEB1).

The image of tea serving as a sharing of values is simply beautiful. Miriam notes that the stories and memories of Jewish immigrants drinking tea are numerous and special moments. 

So where does flaming tea come into it!?

Yes, you read that right: flaming tea. This is a Russian Hanukkah tradition where a large sugar cone is broken into pieces, dipped in brandy, and then lit on fire. Next you take the burning cube and drop into freshly poured tea (EM1)!

The tradition of flaming tea goes all the way back to Eastern Europe and Russia (RO1).

The sugar cube is particularly important in Jewish life. Its significance has been acknowledged by religious authorities. According to the Orthodox Union’s website, the only foods allowed before the Sabbath morning are water, tea, coffee or a sugar cube (LEB2)! 

The founders of MatchaAlternatives.com tell me they first encountered flaming teas during Christmas in Dusseldorf, Germany, where flaming sugar was a topper to hot drinks at Christmas markets such as mulled wine.


Hanukkah menorah


A Note From Luce

I particularly love Hanukkah for its stories, twinkling menorah, and of course the Latkes. I prefer the crispy Latkes, and growing up our neighbor Paul made them perfectly. My own experience of preparing Latkes was a looooong and greasy ordeal, so we were always thrilled when Paul volunteered his talents for our yearly holiday dinner. 

I hope this holiday season is bright and warm, and scrumptious. Let us know in the comments what your holidays look like, what your favorite food is, and if you’ve ever tried the flaming tea ceremony (I’m curious!).

Flaming tea was a new thing for me I found when researching this piece! Any friends out there who can add to the history or practice?

Now, go make some latkes, kugel and sufganiyot and brew the following teas. Happy Hanukkah! 


Matcha Alternatives Sweet Red Apple Green Tea

 Sweet Red Apple Green Tea
Excellent for Latkes, this tea is sweet and smooth with a rich taste of autumn. With a medium caffeine content, it is perfect for a midday energy boost.


Matcha Alternatives Deep Breath Rooibos Tulsi
Deep Breath Rooibos Tulsi
Perfect for you Sufganiyot, Tulsi is wonderful for an energy saving cold brew, this tea has a unique blend of woody red rooibos and aromatic Tulsi, a beautiful balance of flavors. 
Matcha Alternatives Citrus Beauty Lemongrass Chamomile
A lovely choice for Kugel, this tea is a daydream with honey, lemon, a hint of orange and Chamomile flowers. A perfect combination!
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References & Further Reading

Flaming tea Image from the Savannah Tea Room: https://www.savannahtearoom.com/cropped-flaming-tea-jpg/ 

(BI) Bilow, Rochelle. “Yup, We Hosted a Noodle Kugel-Off.” Bon Appétit, 19 March 2015, https://www.bonappetit.com/people/our-team/article/noodle-kugel. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(CA) Catalano, Patty. “How To Make Classic Latkes: The Easiest, Simplest Method.” Kitchn, Updated 30 December 2019, https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-latkes-at-home-251997. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(EM) Emily. “Flaming Tea: The Wildest Hanukkah Tradition.” Poppy and Prune, 10 December 2018, https://www.poppyandprune.com/2018/12/10/flaming-tea-the-wildest-hanukkah-tradition/. Accessed 2 December 2020.

(FR) Frey, Angelica. “How Judith Beheading Holofernes Became Art History’s Favorite Icon of Female Rage.” Artsy, 4 April 2019, https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-judith-beheading-holofernes-art-historys-favorite-icon-female-rage#:~:text=As%20the%20ancient%20story%20relates,in%20order%20to%20seduce%20him. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(HI) Hickman, Kiersten. “The History Of Latkes And Hanukkah.” Bustle, 22 December 2016, https://www.bustle.com/articles/200954-the-history-of-latkes-why-eating-fried-food-is-a-hanukkah-tradition. Accessed 2 December 2020.

(HIS) History.com Editors. “Hanukkah.” History.com, Updated 12 September 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/hanukkah. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(KU) “Kugel.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kugel. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(LEB) Leberstein, Miriam. “Reviving the Flaming Tea Ceremony.” The Jewish Daily Forward, 26 November 2004, https://old.forward.com/articles/4603/index.html. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(LE) Levy, Faye. “Latkes, kugel are two sides of Hanukkah tradition.” StarTribune, 17 December 2008, https://www.startribune.com/latkes-kugel-are-two-sides-of-hanukkah-tradition/36305709/. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(LO) Lobel, Natalie. “Our Favorite Hanukkah Kugel Recipe.” The Daily Meal, 11 December 2017, https://www.thedailymeal.com/recipes/our-favorite-hanukkah-kugel-recipe-recipe. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(MI) Miller, Dr. Yvette Alt. “8 Interesting Facts about Donuts.” Aish, 13 December 2017, https://www.aish.com/h/c/b/8-Interesting-Facts-about-Donuts.html. Accessed 2 December 2020.

(RO) Rogers, Amy. “"Burning Bright:" Flaming Tea for Chanukah.” WFAE, 11 December 2012, https://www.wfae.org/wfaeats/2012-12-11/burning-bright-flaming-tea-for-chanukah. Accessed 2 December 2020.

(RU) Rude, Emelyn. “Why Jelly Doughnuts Are Eaten During Hanukkah.” TIME, 7 December 2015, https://time.com/4138749/sufganiyot-jelly-doughnut-hanukkah-history/. Accessed 2 December 2020.

(SC) Scheft, Uri, and Rinat Tzadok. “Strawberry Sufganiyot.” Bon Appétit, 15 October 2013, https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/strawberry-sufganiyot. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(SH) Shurpin, Yehuda. “Why Eat Kugel on Shabbat?” Chabad.org, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3131238/jewish/Why-Eat-Kugel-on-Shabbat.htm. Accessed 3 December 2020.

(WI) Wikipedia. “Sufganiyah.” Wikiipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufganiyah. Accessed 2 December 2020.

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  • That sounds like a great pairing Trinity! Wonderful that this post was useful too :-D How did your latkes turn out??

    Elizabeth Taeed, co-founder, MatchaAlternatives.com

  • Thank you for this super informative blog!!!! My knowledge of Hanukkah thus far has pretty much been what I’ve absorbed thru popular culture, so it was really great to learn more about the history and traditions :) It also made me hungry lol, I may have to try the latkes paired w/ Apple Cinnamon Crumble soon!

    Trinity Kendrick

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