Bread in Ukraine: history, meaning, traditions and types

Since ancient times bread has had a special position not only in Ukrainian cuisine, but also in Ukrainian culture. Even now bread plays an important role in different traditional ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

Ukrainian bread history

Ukrainian bread
Ukrainian bread

The fertile black soils and vast fields gave Ukrainians the possibility to grow wheat, that’s why Ukraine has been considered as an agricultural country from long ago.

In many written sources dating back to at least last two centuries Ukraine is referred to as the breadbasket of Europe.

Until XIII century Ukrainians ground grain for flour manually between two grindstones. In the beginning of XIII century windmills and water mills appeared.

The process of single grinding used by Ukrainians gave the possibility to obtain whole-wheat flour and to bake whole-wheat bread. With the improving of milling technology and sifting it became possible to obtain white flour and to bake light-rye bread or white bread.

Ukrainians have a lot of bread recipes, the choice depends on occasion.

Importance of bread in Ukrainian culture

For Ukrainians bread was always a symbol of well-being and prosperity, it was considered as a gift of God.

In the past even the dough kneading and bread baking were considered as mysterious acts and had their own ritual practices.

It was forbidden to throw bread away, and if a slice of bread fell to the ground accidentally, it should have been picked up, kissed by the one, who picked it, and put on the table. Nowadays this tradition is rarely followed, but in all Ukrainian folk customs bread plays a really important part.

Ukrainian bread and salt
Ukrainian bread and salt

From the ancient times no significant event in Ukrainian family could take place without bread. It was used to bring blessings to every farm task commencement, during the marriage ceremony, child’s birth celebration and even the move to a new home. Bread was also used during the funerals and wakes.

Bread is a sign of Ukrainian hospitality. Along with salt bread is ceremonially offered to honored guests.

Ukrainian bread types

Besides popular among the Ukrainians white bread, rye bread or black bread there are ritual breads for different events and ceremonies, which have their special names, recipes, shapes and symbolic meanings:

  • Babka – Easter sweet bread of cylindrical form, often decorated with dough ornaments. The dough for babka is made with butter, milk, sugar, eggs. Raisins and other dried fruit can be added. This bread is brought to church to be blessed.
Ukrainian Easter bread babka
Ukrainian Easter bread babka
  • Korovai – Ukrainian braided bread. This main ritual wedding bread has a circular form and is decorated intricately with birds, periwinkles, other ornaments made of dough. Ukrainian wedding bread is made of special dough similar to dough used for babka. Some other types of sweet bread can be used during wedding ceremony in addition to korovai — lezhen, dyven, shyshky.
Ukrainian braided wedding bread korovai
Ukrainian braided wedding bread korovai
  • Kalach – ring-shaped bread which is usually served at funerals and during Christmas celebrations. Ring shape symbolizes eternity, the circle of family and life. Often the dough for kalach is braided and has three strands which represent Holy Trinity.
Ukrainian bread kalach
Ukrainian bread kalach
  • Paska – Easter bread of tall cylindrical form. The top of paska is often decorated with roses or crosses – typical Easter symbols. Paska is popular in Eastern Ukraine and is used as babka in Western Ukraine.
Easter Ukrainian bread paska
Easter Ukrainian bread paska

Ukrainian proverbs and sayings about bread

Folk wisdom is usually contained in proverbs and sayings. Considering the role of bread in Ukrainian culture there is a lot of proverbs and sayings about bread. Here are some of them:

  • Bread is the staff of life.
  • Where bread and water are there is no hunger.
  • Without bread and love dies.
  • If there is no bread, there will be no dinner.
  • Bread doesn’t fall from the sky.

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