The charoset debate

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

For me, there is only one real charoset: it’s the one made with apples, walnuts, cinnamon and wine (or a really good grape juice if people can’t have alcohol). I know that’s a controversial, Ashkenazic-centric statement. However, that charoset is from my childhood – I used to make it with my aunt – and it’s just not Passover without it. I even made it when we used to hold seders at Broome Developmental Center. People would look at the brown mush and I’d tell them to trust me and try it. It never failed: people scarfed it down.
I have tried other charosets and like them. But they always feel second best. I might feel different if I wasn’t comparing them to the version I love. Perhaps I might like them better if they were called something else. However, that would mean eating them wouldn’t be fulfilling the commandment to eat charoset during the seder. That leads to the question of why we eat charoset during the seder – a food not mentioned in the Torah as part of the holiday. There is some debate about the reason. When I was growing up, we were told that charoset represented the mortar – or clay – that the Israelites used when they were slaves in Egypt. Others believe the apple in the dish is connected to the fruit trees under which Israelite women gave birth in order to prevent pharaoh’s decrees against Israelite children. A third idea connects the paschal lamb and charoset, suggesting that the wine in the charoset replaced the blood of the lamb the Israelites painted on their doorposts. I’ve also read a historical suggestion that differs greatly from any of these: the scholars who believe the current form of the seder follows the format of a Greek symposium (wine drinking and all) say charoset was used as a palate cleanser between courses.
Although the traditional Ashkenazic charoset is still my favorite, I love trying different kinds. In fact, I could eat charoset as my entire holiday dinner. As a child, I think that was something I tried one year. There are many different recipes for charoset and website addresses for some can be found below.
The traditional apples, walnuts and wine version can be found at www.joyofkosher.com/recipes/traditional-ashkenazi-haroset/. It is slightly different from the one I make in that it includes sugar. The apples and the wine alone are usually sweet enough for me.
Sephardic recipes make a charoset that more closely resembles what we think of mortar or clay. One using coconut and a variety of dried fruits can be found at www.thoughtco.com/sephardic-charoset-for-passover-pesach-2076541. The addition of cherry preserves and the suggestion to use pomegranate juice in place of wine make this one stand out. 
The recipe for Egyptian charoset is fairly simple. It contains dates, raisins and wine, with walnuts for garnish. The recipe can be found at www.joyofkosher.com/recipes/egyptian-haroset/.
Six different charoset recipes can be found at http://crownheights.info/general/33829/six-charoset-recipes-from-all-over-the-world/. In addition to the Ashkenazic versions, there are recipes from Turkey, Egypt, Morocco and two recipes from Italy, one of which includes chestnuts.
The recipes at https://jewishjournal.com/culture/food/passover_food/217327/recipes-around-world-magic-charoset-ride/ offer charoset from a variety of countries and cultures, including Yemenite charoset, Greek charoset, Turkish charoset, Israeli charoset, Italian charoset (which contains a hard-boiled egg), Persian charoset and a California charoset (which uses avocado in addition to dried fruit and substitutes apple juice for wine).
Similar charoset recipes can be found at www.cjvoices.org/article/charoset-recipes-from-around-the-world/, but with the addition of Indian, Ionnina, Komitini, Persian and Israeli (this one contains bananas) charoset.
These are only a few sites among many on the web that offer recipes. Of course, if none of them appeal, you can always try creating your own version. Feel free to invite me to be a guinea pig. I’m always up for eating my favorite Passover food.