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What Is Koliva?

Wheat is used to make koliva.
Some people add raisins to their koliva.
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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 01 August 2014
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Koliva is a boiled wheat dish that is known for its use in religious ceremonies in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The food is also sometimes eaten within the region outside of a religious context. Eastern Orthodox congregations often use it as part of a memorial service for the dead.

Specific koliva dishes are common in funerals in areas where the Greek Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox religion is practiced. Congregations also use this food at a certain times during the Lenten season. It is sometimes used at Christmas as part of holiday religious traditions, as well.

To make koliva, those who prepare it will boil wheat seed, adding other ingredients to provide various texture and taste. Nuts such as Jordan almonds may be added to the mix. Some will add raisins or other similar dried fruit elements.

In addition to these ingredients, many will use sweeteners like cinnamon or sugar with this dish. In some religious presentations, powdered sugar is poured over a mound of koliva, which is meant to symbolize the grave site. In certain cultures, preparers create displays on the surface of the dish with powdered sugar, chocolate or some other component. These commonly include a cross shape, as well as the initials of the deceased.

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Other elements for this dish include parsley or some other greens, usually minced fine. Sesame seeds are frequently added. When koliva is eaten outside of a religious context, those who consume it often put cream on top, where this addition might conflict with the preparations mentioned above for memorial events.

Occasionally, those who prepare koliva use rice instead of wheat. This custom evolved from historic periods of famine. Wheat is still the most common element for this dish.

In many ways, this dish is not unlike other foods enjoyed around the world. Experts cite a Lebanese variety that goes by different names. In other parts of the Middle East, a cold salad called tabouleh also uses wheat, in this case, cracked wheat, served along with other minced elements. In the west, oatmeal is perhaps the closest approximation; oatmeal and koliva share the same "gluey" texture. The distinguishing factor of koliva is its liturgical use, which makes it a part of a rather uncommon category of foods: foods used in religious ceremonies.

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