The Evolution Of The Jewish Dish Kugel
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‘Kugel’ is a Yiddish word derived from the German word for ball. Earlier German kugels were globe-like in shape but most modern kugels are rectangular. Kugel cannot be triangular since that shape is reserved for the pasty hamantaschen, which is eaten by Jews during the festival of Purim.

In the 19th century, sugar was an expensive ingredient in some parts of Europe where cane could not be grown. Polish Jews started manufacturing sweeteners made with refined sugar beet in the early 1800s. This newer, less expensive sweetener was soon included in many Polish and Hungarian dishes, including noodle kugel. Later, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and dried fruit like raisins and berries were added to this sweet kugel. Salty versions of kugel became common in Lithuania and Russia.

Later, sweet noodle kugel was given a new spin—cottage cheese was added, and since kosher prohibits the mixing of dairy and meat, it was eaten outside of the weekly Shabbat meal by observant Jews. Early Jewish cookbooks recommended the cottage cheese kugel only for Shavuot, the Jewish holiday when dairy is consumed.

The sweet version of kugel became most popular in America since most Jewish immigrants there were from Central Europe. During the 20th century, the sweet kugel evolved further under the reign of American Jews. Raisins were replaced with canned fruit like pineapple and maraschino cherries. A cornflake crumb topping was another addition. Both twists reflect the integration of American Jews into wider society.  

An amalgamation of cultures can be found in the Israeli version of noodle kugel, too. Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite) kugel uses thin noodles and caramelised sugar with a generous sprinkling of black pepper. It was invented in Jerusalem because caramel was scarce in Europe, and black pepper was pricey. An Ashkenazi (of central or eastern European descent) dish with quintessentially Jewish flavours embodied the collective migration of Jewish people to Israel. This is why Yerushalmi kugel represents Jewish unity.

There are two main varieties of kugel today: noodle and potato, the latter being newer. Earlier kugels were made mainly with bread dough, and potato kugels came to exist only 300 years after the noodle version. The story of kugel and its variations is as layered as the dish itself.