Hanukkah: eight days of festive family fun, silly songs, and (of course) food. There are several Hanukkah food staples: latkes (aka potato pancakes), noodle kugel, and the beloved sufganiyot. What is sufganiyot? Simply put, this crowd-pleaser is an Israeli take on a donut. After extensive research, I've discovered that they are so much more than that.

A History of Sufganiyot

Derived from the Hebrew word for sponge, sufganiyot can be traced back to the North African donut, Sfeni, aka deep-fried pockets of dough. These treats were typically filled with savory foods like mushrooms and braised meat. 

Rewind to 1485 when the jelly donut first appeared in a German cookbook called "Mastery of the Kitchen." This donut, unlike today's sufganiyot, instructed bakers to take two circular pieces of dough and some jelly to make a sandwich. 

German's called their jelly donuts Berliners, named for their origin. By the end of the 1800s, jelly donuts were also called Bismarks, which is still a widely used name for them in some parts of the US. Because of their delight, jelly donuts spread throughout Europe, conquering the fried dessert industry.

This German delight, although delicious, was not kosher because it was fried in lard. Jews needed to create their own kosher recipe. Polish Jews altered the paczki, so Instead of lard they fried the donut in oil and called these ponchiks.

When Eastern European Jews fled to Israel in the early 20th century to escape antisemitism, they developed a combination of the German donut and North African Sfeni. Thus, sufganiyot were born. 

Sufganiyot Today

Sufganiyot have undergone a makeover since being redeveloped in Israel in the 1920s. Still small balls of fried dough, the center of the donut was revitalized. This holiday season, travel to local bakeries to see these donuts piped with dulce de leche, chocolate cream, vanilla cream, cappuccino, Nutella, and even Arak. 

Some sufganiyot even come with fancy toppings like coconut shavings, meringue, and fruit pastes. Take a quick trip to Angel Bakeries, Israel's largest bakery, for one of these bad boys. They make over 200,000 a day during Hanukkah, so they know how to make good sufganiyot. 

Why Are These Guys So Popular?

Besides being delicious, sufganiyot creates jobs. While latkes, another Hanukkah favorite, is easily made at home, sufganiyot are not for amateurs. The Histadrut, the Israel Labor federation, decided to rebrand sufganiyot as the classic Hanukkah treat. Because of the difficult baking techniques required, the sufganiyot industry created more jobs for Israeli workers during the holiday season. 

Today, over 18 million sufganiyot are consumed in Israel during the weeks around the holiday season. This averages to over three donuts per citizen. Additionally, the Israeli Defense Forces alone purchases over 50,000 during Hanukkah.

Whether you choose the classic jelly-filled sufganiyot or a newer flavor, you can't go wrong with this Hanukkah treat. Small in size and large in flavor, your sweet tooth will thank you.