Ashkenazim and the Sephardim

Jewish identity is as much composed of cultural and ethnic dimensions as those of faith and religion. Originating from the Hebrews of the Ancient Near East, Jews branched out to the rest of the world forming distinct communities with their own traditions and cultures- and of course, cuisines! The largest of these groups are the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim; read below to get to know the where and why of each group’s food customs.


The Ashkenazi originate from Germany and Eastern Europe; “Ashkenaz” means “Germany” in Hebrew. In addition to that of Germany, the Ashkenazi cuisine is influenced by the foods of Poland and Russia (i.e. horseradish, rye bread, & pickles). This is a very cold region, and therefore the food tends to be heavier, with lots of potatoes, noodles, and meat. Additionally, this group was forced to live in poverty after having been expelled from Western Europe in the Middle Ages, and therefore were limited in terms of ingredients. Their foods were made with fewer components, with fewer spices and ingredients, and those that were more flavorful had to be used sparingly. This is why the Ashkenazi cuisine is often regarded as being blander than dishes in Sephardi cuisine.


The Sephardi originate from Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, and Turkey; the root of “Sephardi” means “Spain” in Hebrew. Their cuisine was influenced by Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines (i.e. shakshuka and hummus) and was developed in a sunnier climate than Ashkenazi making it generally lighter, healthier, and more colorful than that of the Ashkenazi. Staples of Sephardi cuisine are salads, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, olive oil, lentils, fresh and dried fruits, herbs and nuts, chickpeas, and lamb. Another interesting difference in the Sephardi tradition in relation to food is that they eat rice and legumes during Passover whereas other Jewish ethnic groups do not.


In anticipation of Passover, here are two charoset recipes that perfectly illustrate the differences in the lineages. Be adventurous and try a new one, or serve both to see which you and your guests prefer. Serve them up in a Quest Collection piece for maximum visual impact; we recommend the Passover Coconut Spice Bowl or Wildflower Medium Glass Bowl. And if you have leftovers, either version makes a great chicken breast stuffing!