As we get closer and closer to Passover you'll notice coconut macaroons popping up on super market shelves once again, right next to the boxes of matzah. Having grown up in a Jewish household, eating macaroons was an integral part of my childhood. But what are macaroons? And where did these originate from? What makes macaroons so popular around Passover time? If you didn't grow up in a Jewish household, it's understandable that you're feeling a bit confused right now. 

What Are Macaroons?

chocolate, cream, eclair
Gabby Phi

Macaroons are usually made by combining coconut, condensed milk, vanilla extract, whipped egg whites, and salt. This batter is piped onto a baking sheet and is later baked until golden brown. Once the cookies have cooled, you can dip them into chocolate if you choose. This creates a chewy, but crunchy texture. This texture combination is thanks to the chewy coconut and chocolate combined with the sweetened condensed milk. 

Origins of Macaroons

Coconut macaroons can be traced back to Italy, where they were first created in monasteries. This treat was likely brought to France in 1553 by the cooks of Catherine de Medici, who joined the pastry chefs of King Henry II and Catherine de Medici to develop their recipe further. As you probably can guess, the macaroon recipe that gained popularity in France was a different cookie altogether, which we now call a macaron.

Italian Jews later applied the baking and eating of macaroons to Passover because these cookies require no flour or leavening, but rather rely solely on egg whites to rise. This tradition was eventually introduced to other European Jews. As European Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought this tradition of eating macaroons during the eight days of Passover with them.

During the eight days of Passover, Jews refrain from eating any form of leavened bread. This tradition is because when the Jews were fleeing Egypt, they did not have to time for the bread they were making to leaven, so they left it unleavened. Jews around the world honor this story by replacing all of their bread consumption with matzah during Passover.

This tradition of eating strictly unleavened bread during the eight days of Passover also extends to snacks and desserts. Many supermarkets sell unleavened snacks, cookies, and cakes during Passover. Macaroons are just one form of unleavened cookie that Jews can enjoy. Over the years its popularity has soared and the macaroon has become some sort of symbol for Passover.

Although macaroons can be made with slivers of almonds, pecans, cashews, or other nuts, in the US, Canada, and Europe, coconut is often used. Coconut macaroons are most widely known in the US due to the fact that are both made by local bakeries and manufactured for supermarkets.

In the US, commercially-made macaroons are often sweet and dense, while those handmade in a smaller bakery are light and fluffy. No matter where you purchase your macaroons, they will often be dipped in chocolate (the chocolate dipping is simply due to tradition).

#SpoonTip: You can make your own macaroons with this easy recipe.

Macaroons have a long history and have become a traditional food to eat during Passover. If you've never tried a macaroon before, use this opportunity to buy one or even to make one for yourself now that you know the history behind this little coconut cookie.