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Charoset is an important part of the meal served at the Passover Seder in Jewish tradition. It can also be served at times other than Passover, and it has been adopted by people in other nations as well. Many people compare charoset to a chutney or fruit compote, since it contains an assortment of fruits and nuts which are intended to be spooned onto other foods. The sweet, flavorful food is a popular part of the Seder meal.
Like all the foods on the Passover plate, charoset has an important symbolic meaning. It is meant to remind the consumer of mortar, used by Israelite slaves in Egypt. The individual ingredients are also references to names for the Jewish people included in the Song of Songs. Traditionally, the maror or bitter herbs are symbolically dipped into the charoset before they are consumed. The maror are supposed to evoke sorrow and contemplative thought, while the ingredients in the charoset collectively remind consumers of the Jewish people and their struggles. The name for the dish is derived from cheres, “clay” in Hebrew.
There are two different kinds of charoset. One is eaten in in Eastern Europe primarily, and it tends to be raw with ingredients like walnuts, apples, cinnamon, sweet wine, and honey or sugar as a sweetener. This type of charoset is more thick and lumpy, and does indeed look rather like mortar. The other type of charoset is cooked with an assortment of ingredients which are more Middle Eastern, including dates, figs, pomegranates, almonds, and raisins.
Each family has their own unique recipe for charoset, sometimes including highly unusual or special ingredients. Children often enjoy making the charoset, as well as eating it, since it is fun to assemble all of the ingredients. Making the dish also encourages children to connect with their culture, and it can be used to strengthen ties between generations of families as grandmothers and grandfathers teach their descendants how to make charoset, while discussing the symbolic meaning of the dish.
This dish is only one of many in the rich Jewish culinary tradition, although it is well liked by people of many religions and ethnic backgrounds. It makes a very refreshing summer food, and can be served on sweet breads, crackers, or as a side salad. To make charoset, try experimenting with different amounts of the ingredients above, chopping to a desired texture and tossing thoroughly before serving with a garnish of mint or a bitter herb like parsley as a nod to the the Jewish heritage of the dish.