The Big Debate: Applesauce vs Sour Cream


by Laurence Kaufman

Which is the right accessory for the potato latke, applesauce or sour cream? As the spokesman for applesauce, some might consider me the underdog in this debate. After all, on matters of the kitchen, women are expected to know more than men; and on matters of ritual significance, rabbis are expected to know more than lay people.

But not by might, and not by power, but by spirit alone shall applesauce prevail.


Sour Cream
by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer

There is an eternal debate on Chanukah. I’m sure you’re thinking, “candle lighting from left to right or right to left?” or “do we add a candle each night or take one away instead?” but you would be wrong.

The big debate on Chanukah, perhaps the most important decision one can make in the month of Kislev, is this: Applesauce or Sour Cream?

And I’m here today to tell you why Sour Cream is the ultimate in latke topping.

You may have learned in religious school that we eat latkes at Chanukah to remind us of the miracle of the oil.  But the yeshiva graduates who follow this blog know the real story is the revolt against the Hellenizers – those who were fascinated with the culture of Greece.  And what kind of Greece are we talking about?  Goose Greece, naturally – known in the vernacular as schmaltz.

Clearly a latke is not a latke unless it has been fried in schmaltz – which of course makes it fleishig, as indeed it should be, because who would eat a latke without a side of brisket?  And if you’re cooking with schmaltz, and eating alongside brisket, you would have to wait six hours before going near sour cream.  Obviously you have to accessorize your latkes with applesauce.  Ein breirah, there is no other choice.  

If you order potato pancakes in restaurants, they’re likely to be served with both sour cream and applesauce.  If such a restaurant were in St. Louis or Kansas City, I suppose you could excuse their gaffe as the Missouri Compromise.  And of course, if the restaurant were in Pittsburgh, they might say it takes both applesauce and sour cream to elevate and sanctify our lives, and to serve only one is apt rather to obstruct than to further our modern spiritual elevation.  But anywhere else, trying to have it both ways is just plain wishy-washy.

Living, as do I, and as does my worthy opponent, in the Chicago area, we have to apply more universal principles, notably pikuach nefesh, the saving of life, and its corollary, as urged at the Union’s Toronto Biennial by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, healthful eating.  Applesauce is untainted by cholesterol, while sour cream is loaded with it – and, sheh’ne’emar, as it is said, an applesauce a day keeps the doctor away.  

In case any apikoros (heretic) doesn’t consider the teaching of Rabbi Yoffie definitive, I cite a proof text with which no one can quarrel, Mrs. Simon Kander’s Settlement Cook Book. This sacred tome, which once guided every American Jewish balebuste (consummate housewife) rules as follows:   (Tractate VII, Griddle Cakes, Waffles, and Pancakes, p.84-85):  Drop (the potato mixture) by spoonfuls on a hot, well-greased (sic) spider, in small cakes.  Turn and brown on both sides.  Serve with applesauce.  

Now this makhloket l’shem shamayim, argument for the sake of heaven, is taking place on the Reform Judaism blog, where the spirit of pluralism marches hand in hand with the spirit of personal autonomy.  So I concede Rabbi Sommer the right to her opinion that sour cream is a legitimate accompaniment to latkes (even though right-thinking people know its proper place is in beet borscht or on herring).  Next thing, she’ll be trying to make us believe that hamantaschen can be filled with apricot jam instead of poppyseed.


Let me tell you a little story about how dairy foods came to be a part of the Chanukah celebration. There once was a Jewish lass named Judith. During an Assyrian siege of her village (as part of the war that is remembered through the Chanukah celebration), she charmed her way into the enemy camp with a basket of cheese and wine. The enemy general, Holofernes, ate of the cheese and drank of the wine until he was unable to stay awake. The sweet lass Judith then took his sword and beheaded the muddled man. She brought his head back to her people in a basket and saved her town.

In her honor, then, dairy foods are consumed. What better choice than to top latkes, the perfect Chanukah treat, with sour cream, the perfect Chanukah remembrance?

Now, aside from the ritual value of the sour cream and the story that it allows us to tell at our dinner tables, there is also the added benefit of calcium (about 2 percent of your recommended daily allowance) and protein (about 1 gram per 2 tablespoon serving). These nutrients enable the latke consumer to create a whole meal around the latkes with no need for any additional protein source at the meal. Why is this beneficial? So the latkes can be the centerpiece of the table, a perfect solution for vegetarians and lighter eaters. No need to add meat to a latke supper, just serve sour cream with your latkes for the perfect combination of vegetable (potato) and protein (sour cream)!

Sour cream never goes out of season (unlike apples) and as long as properly refrigerated, will not spoil for the whole week of Chanukah. It is the perfect cool and creamy match to the salty, oily, crispy taste of a latke. It’s a match made in heaven.

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17 Responses to “The Big Debate: Applesauce vs Sour Cream”

  1. avatar

    Applesauce, NEVER. I have never liked applesauce!
    Now some nicely stewed apples in a little butter 🙂 That’s another story. Anyway, there’s enough cholesterol in the latkes themselves, so you might as well gild the lily with sour cream.
    I think I’ll make some fish with the latkes 🙂

  2. avatar

    Or just forget the meat and eat only latkes with your choice of toppings. There have been many articles this season with alternative/additional stuff for toppings. My personal favorites are lox or caviar!

  3. dcc

    Ah yes! Finally a debate of sustenance on this blog…(sorry)
    But this is an important question. Can we all just get along? Perhaps those who like applesauce and those who like sour cream can share a table in peace, in a communal triumph of evil and stare into the face of simple carbs, a year’s worth of starch and mono-saturated fats and say, “We are proud to be Jews and we shall eat fried things together!”
    Also I am a veggie oil guy, fries at a higher temp and leaves you feeling less disgusting than schmaltz. Word from the wise…don’t make latkes in a 550sqft apartment with no windows in the kitchen. Just take my word for it.

  4. avatar

    Apple sauce? Goose fat?!? CAVIAR?!?!? FEH! People put some weird stuff on their latkes. Okay, maybe apple sauce isn’t that strange of a combination, but I’ve never cared for it.
    This piece gave me a nice laugh. Thanks Larry and Rabbi Sommer! I especially appreciated the Pittsburgh Platform allusion. Also, I did not realize that anybody actually made latkes with rendered animal fat. I actually olive oil works rather well if you’re careful not to burn it. It’s healthier than vegetable oil, and smells and tastes great. It also has the added benefit of historical accuracy, since the oil involved in the supposed “miracle” of long-lasting menorah fuel was almost certainly olive oil.
    I wish everyone a very happy Hanukkah! Chag Sameach!

  5. avatar

    My friend Sandra Tankoos has two latke recipes on her website Both of them say, Serve with applesauce.
    But in all fairness to Rabbi Sommer and the members of her congregation, Ohavei Sourcream, one of Sandy’s latke recipes lists sour cream as one of the ingredients of the latke iself.
    You may have noted that the good Rabbi, as well as at least one of the commenters, refer to sour cream as a topping. My original post referred not to toppings, but to accessories. The third alternative, of sour cream as a hidden ingredient, never even occurred to me. But, of course, I am one who follows the Biblical injunction not to seethe my latke in its mother’s milk.
    Meanwhile, I was taken to task offline for the statement that women are expected to know more than men about the culinary arts. In the gender-sensitive Reform environment, I should probably have expected that. And now I will wait for the crack that the Reform movement has failed because I have conceded that our lay people know less than our rabbis.

  6. avatar

    OK, In all fairness, I do provide applesauce for the ohavei applesauce, but there’s also sour cream for the ohavei sour cream. The other additions would be for a special occasions. The sweet potato latkes were excellent!
    Larry, Yasher Koach to whoever took you to task! I am the cooking expert in this house.
    Chag Urim Sameach l’kulam!

  7. avatar

    Why hasn’t anyone suggested the perfect compromise– applesauce AND sour cream? (Of course, this is being a bit of a chazer about things, but we also have the aforementioned caloric excess, non-standard toppings, etc.) Its actually quite good– for a three inch sized latke, top it with about a teaspoon and a half of applesauce and a smidgen (roughly a quarter teaspoon, in Mrs. Kander’s parlance) of the sour cream.

  8. avatar

    This was a fun article with some interesting educational facts.
    Thank you both to Larry and to Rabbi Sommer!
    For me, applesauce was only on the menu when you were sick with the flu or recovering from having teeth pulled or getting braces on. In other words, it was food you ate when you were sick.
    Needless to say, I’m a sour cream with latkes kinda gal.
    I also like to fry in olive oil. If that isn’t on hand, I use peanut oil as it has a higher smoking point and can withstand the higher temperature that you need to use when frying.
    In any event, be they russet potatoes, sweet potatoes or potatoes with parsnips… may everyone enjoy a joyous holiday filled with Light!

  9. avatar

    @Larry Kaufman
    One of the more entertaining posts on here. Yashar Koach to you and Rabbi Sommer!
    I don’t know any 21st century shomrei mitzvot who fry their latkes in animal fat. Generally speaking, we like to keep pareve items pareve, so they can be consumed by the maximum amount of people and the maximum amount of meals in the future.
    I like sour cream on my latkes. However, I more often end up using applesauce because:
    – I’m eating latkes with a meat meal
    – depending on where one lives, it can be difficult to find chalav yisrael sour cream, whereas certified kosher pareve applesauce is ubiquitous.
    @Rabbi Sommer
    We definitely make more dairy dinners on Chanukah, in honor of Yehudit and Chana. Latke toppings are debatable, but blintzes without sour cream is sacrilege. :p

  10. avatar

    @ Former Reform Jew
    Your comment reminds me of the story of the three baseball umpires. The first says, I call them as I see them The second says, I call them as they are. The third say, They ain’t nothing until I call them.
    Similarly latkes. If you fry them in schmaltz, they are fleishig. If you fry them in butter, they are milchig. If you fry them in oil, they MAY be pareve, assuming that all the utensils with which they were prepared are also pareve.
    The great latke-maker in my family was my Tante Anna. After she was gone, her daughter (my cousin Esther) and her niece (my sister-in-law Judy) were constantly frustrated in their efforts to replicate Tante Anna’s latkes, using what Esther knew to be her mother’s recipe. Eventually they figured out that the missing ingredient was the frying pan — seasoned over many years of konkletten (hamburgers) and other meichels (tasty morsels) fried in the same pan.
    What I think perhaps we are seeing is that this debate is not Hillel vs. Shammai — but a matter of minhag (custom) rather than of din (law). The minhag on DeSota Avenue called for schmaltz and ergo applesauce, and there is no reversal of that history. If you did not have the good fortune to grow up on DeSota Avenue, you’re on your own!

  11. avatar

    I use applesauce on my latkes … although I often have them with just an extra bit of salt and nothing on top.
    But I’ve got another question … what do you put BETWEEN your latkes?
    Dan Pashman at the Sporkful blog has a suggestion:

  12. avatar

    @ Larry Kaufman
    I would never tell someone to give up their family minhag. If you make latkes in a greasy fleshig pan, with decades of caked-on hamburger grease to perfect the flavor, then keep eating those fleishig latkes.
    Of course, you could try Tofutti brand Better Than Sour Cream – a pareve sour cream that comes pretty darn close to the real thing. It’s also a great alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.
    Another interesting question is what blessing to make on latkes. Some latkes are made with matza meal, others are just potato and onions. Ha-adamah? mezonot? she-hakol? (It’s all one big mush, after all).

  13. avatar

    Tonight: Golden Beet Latkes with sour cream and a beet juice reduction.
    Frying Medium: Earth Balance Shortening which is parve, has a high smoke point and a neutral flavor. Sorry Larry.
    Though I love “al tikra ‘Greece’ ela ‘grease'” and the ensuing gezera sheva (wherever we find greece it means schmaltz), the Pikuach Nefesh arguments falls before those of us who need to take care with sugar. Sour Cream has a lower glycemic index than apple sauce (leave the latke out of it, they don’t HAVE to be made from potatoes, you know).
    However two conflicting verses may be resolved by bringing a third. So while Larry says not to seethe the milk in its mothers fat and Ravah Sommer says that dairy commemorates Judith’s triumph over Holofernes by means of the Cheese Course, it is written “A land flowing with milk and honey,” where honey is generally understood to derive from dates. Thus the milk of the mother and the sweet stuff from the tree may be comingled.

  14. avatar

    There is a proof text that might substantiate the use of sweet potatoes — I Yam that I Yam — but the statement that latkes don’t have to be made from potatoes is pure heresy.
    If, as I suggested earlier, the proper place for sour cream is in beet borscht, al achat kamah v’kamah, how much more so is it true that borscht is the proper place for beets. And if that were not the case, would not the Prophet have said, “And though shalt beet thy swords into latkes?”
    As for Former Reform Jew’s she’ela (question) about the appropriate b’racha, certainly the first latke of the holiday warrants Shehecheyanu!

  15. avatar

    I’m with Larry.
    Sour cream and applesauce have vaulted places in Jewish holidays. Note there’s an “S” on “holidays.”
    What would Shavuot be without blintzes and sour cream? And is it possible to break fast without that duo?
    But Hanukah is a winter holiday….It’s applesauce and latkes. Save the sour cream for a warm day (or for the hot borscht you eat on a winter Shabbat lunch.)

  16. avatar

    FRJ Wrote of Toffutti Better than Sour Cream:
    It’s also a great alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.
    According to our Mishna, if you are lactose intolerant, then take a pill!

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