Jelly Doughnuts
December 4, 2018

This being the third night of Chanukah, we can make time to ponder and in this instance leave aside our normal routine of focusing on the healthy nutritional aspects of holiday foods. It is generally assumed that there is some Biblical proscription to eat fried potato pancakes to celebrate Chanukah, but this is not correct; it would be just as accurate to say that we are supposed to consume jelly doughnuts.

Fried potato pancakes are traditionally eaten by American Jews; in Israel, jelly doughnuts are the preferred celebratory meal. In Hebrew, these doughnuts are called sufganiyot. That’s the plural, a single doughnut is sufganiya.

The simple explanation is that we are supposed to eat fried foods and doughnuts like potato pancakes are also fried. Yet no one thinks to go out for KFC on Chanukah. There is more to this story than just eating fried food to celebrate the holiday.


At the market in Jerusalem


There is a story in Israel about how these doughnuts came into existence. Apparently, after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden they were quite sad and God Himself, in order to cheer them up a bit, fed them sufganiyot.

The image of Adam and Eve on their first day living outside of the Garden and chowing down on doughnuts is interesting. One must wonder whether those doughnuts were from Tim Hortons, Duncan’s or Voodoo? While multiple articles state that this story is direct from the Talmud, none cite a specific reference and it appears that this is, in fact, a made up story.[1]

A more reliable history comes from Gil Marks in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. The first recorded recipe for doughnuts is found in a book, the Kuchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen), from the Gutenberg press in 1485. The recipe called for making jam sandwichs with two circular pieces of yeast dough and then frying them in lard. Jelly was a new idea. Prior to this doughnuts were savory foods, filled with meats, cheeses or vegetables. Sweet jelly wasn’t a commonplace food at the time; sugar was too expensive. The price of sugar dropped in the 1500s with the advent of slave plantations in the Caribbean.

The Israeli Labor Federation decided doughnuts should be the official food of Chanukah in the 1920s for political reasons. Potato pancakes were easy to make at home. Jelly doughnuts, on the other hand, were too hard to make at home and choosing them as the national holiday food acted as an economic stimulus, which employed a huge network of people to make, deliver and sell sufganiyot across the country.
Marks tells us that in 2009 eighteen million sufganiyot were eaten during the weeks of Chanukah in Israel. [2]

Typically, at this point in my food articles, we somehow transition to a literature review that explains why the specific food is good for you to eat. That may not happen this evening.
We should mention that there actually was a jelly doughnut study published in October 2018. Researchers looked at the effect of drinking water with along with a jelly doughnut and how this impacted blood sugar levels. A total of 35 people volunteered to eat a doughnut. With the doughnut, they drank a bottle of water, either 30 minutes before eating the doughnut, along with the doughnut, or 30 minutes after eating the doughnut. Those study participants who drank the water 30 minutes before their jelly doughnut had the greatest rise in blood sugar. [3]

I suppose we should also acknowledge Kate Raworth’s rather scholarly work that uses a doughnut-shaped graph to describe “The conceptual framework of social and planetary boundaries”…
Since she came up with her doughnut in 2012 her conceptual graph “… has been widely applied within academia, policymaking, progressive business…” it’s not at all the same sort of doughnut we are praising this evening. Raworth’s doughnut, “… combines two concentric radar charts to depict the two boundaries—social and ecological—that together encompass human wellbeing. The inner boundary is a social foundation, below which lie shortfalls in wellbeing, such as hunger, ill health, illiteracy, and energy poverty.” [4]
The doughnuts we are interested in are filled with jelly or any of a range of contemporary Israeli filings that include, “ … halva, crème, espresso, chocolate, truffle, and some more exotic flavors.

Aside from these two mentions, doughnuts don’t show up all that much in the scientific literature.

If you have to remember anything after reading this short not so useful excursion in doughnut trivia, it is the image of Adam and Eve each clutching their bags of doughnuts as they were banished from the Garden.




1. Ungar, Carol Green (Winter 2012). “The ‘Hole’ Truth About Sufganiyot”. Jewish Action. Orthodox Union. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
2. Marks G. Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. Wiley & Sons. Hoboken, NJ. 2010.
3. Bipat R, Toelsie JR. Drinking water with consumption of a jelly filled doughnut has a time dependent effect on the postprandial blood glucose level in healthy young individuals.Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2018 Oct;27:20-23.
4. Raworth K. A Doughnut for the Anthropocene: humanity’s compass in the 21st century. Lancet Planet Health. 2017 May;1(2):e48-e49. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(17)30028-1.