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The Greek Christmas Dilemma

Melomakarona Vs Kourabiedes


‘Tis the season to bake all the sweets. Cookies, cakes, pies, traditional festive breads like oliebollen and panettone …you name it! Like everywhere else in the world, a big holiday like Christmas obviously comes with special treats. In Greece, the food on the table varies from region to region, but a few recipes are considered a must all over the country.

Two of them and most popular of all, are the two Christmas cookies Melomakarona and Kourabiedes, which seem to divide the population into two camps. While most people enjoy both, everyone who grew up in Greek culture passionately favors one of the two. 

Melomakarona are soft and syrupy, topped with walnuts and warmly flavored with spices like cinnamon and cloves, but their most important ingredient is honey.

They are so rich in flavor as they are in history. Their name derives from the ancient Greek word “makaria”, which was the pie for the soul. That is, a piece of bread, in the shape of the modern melomakarona, which was offered after the funeral. The first historical documents where we meet “makaria” date back in 430BC when they were served after the famous Epitaph speech of Pericles in Kerameikos area in Athens. The “Makaria” were later soaked with honey  and were named: honey (“meli” in greek) + makaria  = melomakarona, according to the Byzantines.

Typical ingredients of the melomakarona are semolina, orange zest and juice, cinnamon, some aged cognac and olive oil. Immediately after baking, they are immersed for a few seconds in cold honey syrup. Finally, they are decorated with ground, as well as bigger pieces of walnut.


Kourabiedes are deliciously buttery shortbread-like almond cookies, covered in very generous layers of powdered sugar as a reference to snowy mountain tops during Christmas.

The word “kourabiedes” derives most probably from the Persian “gulabiya”, a cookie made with rosewater since the 7th century in Persia. The Greeks seem to have adopted them in their cuisine during Byzantine period, around the 10th century, through the Arabs and their shortbread-like biscuit “qurabiya”. A similar cookie has appeared in Ottoman cuisine since the 15th century, under the name kurabiye.

Kourabiedes are usually shaped either into circles or crescents, then baked till slightly golden. Immediately after removing the cookies from the oven, the Kourabiedes are rolled in icing sugar and left to cool. The most common flavoring is vanilla, but other variants include rosewater, Greek cognac, or mastika.


To make up your mind about which is your favorite, we recommend sampling both as many times as you get a chance! 

author: Konstantina Akrivou