Whether you personally enjoy eating gefilte fish and chopped liver or not, you might be easily able to understand why those foods often have a reputation — both within and outside the Jewish community — for being, well, gross. Mysterious gel and unfamiliar textures, sure — they can be controversial.
But what's the deal with Hanukkah gelt? Why do chocolate candy coins wrapped in glittering metallic foil have to taste like old crayons excavated from a heating vent?
That's not just this writer's opinion: Jewish records of note concur. "If you have any chocolate standards at all, you know that 'traditional' gelt is, frankly, horrible," says the Jewish Exponent. "The standard chocolate coins taste pretty awful," agrees The Jewish Week. And, more directly, "'It is sucky,'" quotes Haaretz.
I decided to investigate.
Without giving a whole history lesson, Hanukkah gelt began as real money. Jewish benefactors would distribute coins to poor students during Hanukkah as a way to help publicize the holiday. Then, in the 1920s, as Hanukkah began to rival Christmas in terms of commercialism, an American chocolatier called Loft’s created a chocolate version of the coins, distributed in little “money bags.”
So there’s problem No. 1: These candies were founded in America, land of sub-par chocolate compared to global standard bearers, such as Belgium or Switzerland.
Given the scant Jewish population in America, no major domestic candy companies have ever invested in making gelt. As such, most of our chocolate coins — the ones you grab at your local drug store — are now imported from Israeli firms Elite and Carmit.
Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that a large percentage of gelt goes uneaten; it’s primarily used for playing dreidel or just decorating the house. So there’s no real cause for outcry over the abhorrent flavor and texture.
But with the 21st century came the popularization of the self-described foodie, and now even the schlockiest foods are getting a makeover. Dozens of small, domestic chocolatiers have begun reinventing the Hanukkah candy for the Top Chef generation. Here are six artisanal chocolate coins that are worth their weight in… well, gelt.
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