The True Origins Of Latkes

For each Jewish holiday, there is are special foods to be shared with family. For Rosh Hashanah, it's apples dipped in honey, and for Hannukah, it's fried latkes, which are most often made of potatoes, onions, and seasonings, according to Chabad. Latkes, which means pancake in Yiddish, are most often made with potatoes. However, they can be comprised of cheese, carrot, or even zucchini. There are lots of ways to modernize and have fun with the traditional latke recipe, but one ingredient must remain is oil because of its significance for the Jewish holiday.

A recipe for latkes on Food Network from Molly Yeh, calls for shredded russet potatoes, yellow onion, Kosher salt, eggs, fresh lemon juice, flour, pepper, and canola or vegetable oil for frying. To accompany the crisp latkes, apple sauce and sour cream are two of the most common toppings. Like so many traditional foods, home cooks and professional chefs have added new twists to the common recipe. AllRecipes has a latke recipe for each night of Hannukah, including a baked potato latke, Cajun potato latkes, curried sweet potato latke, and apple potato pancakes. Latkes do not need to be limited to a savory dinner entrée, per Delighted Cooking, which says that some cooks have given them a sweet taste with vanilla and cinnamon. 

A holiday of oil

The oil used to cook during Hanukah represents the eternal flame in the temple in ancient Jerusalem that burned for eight days even though there was only enough oil for it to burn for one day, according to The Takeout. Known as the Festival of Lights, the Jewish holiday is celebrated for eight days and nights, according to Learn Religions. At night, families light candles on the menorah, sing, play games, give gifts, and, of course, eat food cooked in oil. Besides latkes, other popular Hanukah foods are fried jelly-filled doughnuts, blintzes (sweet cheese wrapped in a think pancake and fried), and a sweet or savory casseroles made of potatoes or noodles that is called kugel.

Potatoes and onions became a central part of the food traditions of Hannukah because they were inexpensive ingredients, per the Takeout, which states that when many Jews lived in Eastern Europe they were poor. However, potatoes didn't reach Eastern Europe until mid-19th century, so in the centuries prior, Jews likely ate latkes made out of buckwheat flour and were comparable to Russian blini, according to The Takeout. Schmaltz, or chicken fat, was also used to fry the latkes in the days before vegetable oil and olive oil were household staples. If you are craving some fried goodness, there is no need to wait for the Holiday of Lights. Simply get out your grater and a bag of potatoes and get to work to create some crispy, fried yumminess.