Today Jewish Cuisine is a collection of the different cooking traditions of the Jewish people worldwide. It is a diverse cuisine that has evolved over many centuries, shaped by Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) and Jewish Festival and Sabbath traditions. Jewish Cuisine is influenced by the economics, agriculture, and culinary traditions of the many countries where Jewish communities have existed and varies widely throughout the world. In turn, Jewish cuisine has also influenced the cuisines of many countries.
Broadly speaking, the distinctive styles or cuisines in their own right that may be discerned in Jewish cuisine are: Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European), Sephardic (descendants of the Iberian Jews, including Italian, Greek, Turkish and Balkan), Mizrahi (North African, including Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan), Judeo-Arab (Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi), Persian Jewish, Yemenite Jewish, Indian Jewish, and Latin-American-Jewish . There are also distinctive dishes from Jewish communities ranging from Ethiopia to Central Asia.
Ancient Israeli cuisine
The daily diet of the ordinary ancient Israelite was mainly one of bread, cooked grains and legumes. Bread was eaten with every meal. Vegetables played a smaller, but significant role in the diet. The Israelites drank goat and sheep’s milk when it was available in the spring and summer, and ate butter and cheese. Figs and grapes were the fruits most commonly eaten, while dates, pomegranates and other fruits and nuts were eaten more occasionally. Wine was the most popular beverage and sometimes other fermented beverages were produced. Olives were used primarily for their oil. Meat, usually goat and mutton, was eaten rarely and was reserved for special occasions such as celebrations, festival meals or sacrificial feasts. Game, birds, eggs and fish were also eaten, depending on availability.
Most food was eaten fresh and in season and the diet was essentially vegetarian. Fruits and vegetables had to be eaten as they ripened and before they spoiled.
Modern Cooking: Cuisine of the Mizrahi Jews and Cuisine of the Sephardic Jews
The exact distinction between traditional Sephardic and Mizrahi cuisines can be difficult to make, due to the intermingling of the Sephardi diaspora and the Mizrahi Jews who they came in contact with. As a general rule, however, both types reflect the food of the local non-Jewish population that each group lived amongst. The need to preserve kashrut does lead to a few significant changes (most notably, the use of pareve olive oil instead of fleishig animal fat is often considered to be a legacy of Jewish residency in an area). Despite this, Sephardic and Ashkenazic concepts of kosher differ; perhaps the most notable difference being that rice, a major staple of the Sephardic diet, is considered kosher for Passover but is forbidden kitniyot for most Ashkenazim.
Sephardic cuisine in particular is known for its considerable use of vegetables unavailable to the Ashkenazim of Europe, including spinach, artichokes, pine nuts, and (in more modern times) squash. The cooking style is largely Middle Eastern, with significant admixtures of Spanish, Italian, and North African flavors.
Until recent times Sephardic food has had little influence in the largely Ashkenazic populations of eastern and northern Europe and North America, though the Anglo-Jewish plava is thought to come from the Sephardic pan d’Espanya. Influence is growing because of the inter-marriage between both groups and the location of the State of Israel. Sephardic food has also become more popular because of the fashion for the “Mediterranean diet”as it relies heavely in it, being considered healthier than the “heavier” Ashkenazic style.
Why is important to keep kosher ?
The reason Jews were command to eat kosher (or keep any of the Torah’s commandments, for that matter) is because, in His infinite and unknowable wisdom, the Creator of the World decreed it. The Torah tells us that eating non-kosher foods is an “abomination”,2 and we are forbidden to “defile” ourselves 3 by eating such foods. Would G-d use such abstract wordage for something as down-to-earth as health hazards?
All in all, a person should not be misled to think that keeping kosher is only for health reasons. Neither does the fact that a food item is kosher mean that it is necessarily healthier. We should be encouraged to develop the most appropriate, G-dly, diet possible – both for body and soul.
1. There are certainly many aspects of Kosher which are very logical and contribute to very good health. Some examples: the prohibition against eating diseased and sickly animals, checking the inner organs to ascertain that the animal is not diseased, not eating meat from animals found dead, as well as checking all sorts of food in order not to ingest bugs and insects. Not mixing meat and milk and waiting between eating them also makes good sense from a health point of view, as each entails different types and rates of digestion. But all these are “fringe benefits.” Thanks to all the wonderful Jewish women making a mark and legacy in Bible, the World , their kitchen and our stomachs !
2. Deuteronomy 14:3
3. Leviticus 11:43