Deep-fried zalabiyeh
Alternative namesSpongy dough (sufgan), zlebia, jalebie, zülbiya, jilapi
TypeFritter, Doughnut
Region or stateMiddle East, North Africa, West Asia, Ethiopia, Europe
Main ingredientsBatter (flour, yeast, water, salt), Optional: eggs, milk, sesame oil, sesame seeds[1]

Zalabiyeh (Arabic: زلابية) is a fritter or doughnut found in several cuisines across the Arab world, West Asia and some parts of Europe influenced by the former. The fritter version is made from a semi-thin batter of wheat flour which is poured into hot oil and deep-fried.[2] The earliest known recipe for the dish comes from a 10th-century Arabic cookbook and was originally made by pouring the batter through a coconut shell. Zalabiyeh is also the Arabic language term used by Mizrahi Jews for a deep-fried yeast dough, often topped with either honey or syrup, and known as burmuelos in Ladino.[3]


The earliest known recipes for zalabiya comes from the 10th century Arabic cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh.[4][5] In the old Al-Baghdadi book of recipes of the Arabs; the dough was poured through a coconut shell. This style of fritter is similar to the Indian jelabi and a 16th-century recipe from German cuisine for strauben made using a funnel.[6]

Different methods have developed in the preparation of the pastry dessert. According to Muqadassi (10th-century CE), the people in Greater Syria during winter "[would] prepare the unlatticed type of Zalabiya. This would be the deep-fried bread fritter Zalabiya. Some are elongated in shape, similar to crullers, while the smaller ones, sometimes made into balls, are similar to the shape of dumplings."[7] In North Africa, they would give the name Zalabiya to a different type of pastry, namely to the Mushabbak, being a deep-fried lattice-shaped pastry made by looping batter, and drenched in ʻasal (honey) syrup or qatr."[7]

In 1280, the Jewish–Sicilian doctor Faraj ben Salim translated into Latin a pharmaceutical book, (English: The Table of Countries; Latin: Tacvini Aegritvdinvm et Morborum ferme omnium Corporis humani), which was authored by Ibn Jazla an Arab physician[8] and consists of a number of Persian recipes, including one for "Zelebia".

Among Yemenite Jews, the zalabiyeh was a treat eaten especially during the winter months.[9] In Yemen, the zalabiyeh was fried in a soapstone pot lined with oil about 1 cm. deep, in which oil and sometimes honey was mixed.[10] There, zalabiyeh was "made from a soft yeast bread [and] which is fried on both sides in deep oil. There are those who add to the dough black cumin for improved taste. They are eaten while they are still hot, while some have it as a practice to eat them with honey or with sugar."[11]

Early known origins

According to 2 Samuel 13:8–10 King David's daughter prepared fritters (Hebrew: לְבִיבוֹת) for her step-brother Amnon.[12][10] By the 2nd-century CE, the name of the fritter had taken on the name sūfğenīn (Hebrew: סוּפְגְּנִין) in Mishnaic Hebrew, a word derived from its sponge-like texture with alveolar holes.[13][14][15]


Zalabiyeh are commonly eaten by Muslims during the month of Ramadan, and during the Diwali celebrations for Hindus and Indian Christian communities during Advent and Easter, and by Sephardic Jews for Hanukkah. In Lebanon they are eaten on the night of January 5 to celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ. The dough is mixed with aniseed and, in the South of the country, three holes are made in the dough to symbolize the Holy Trinity. They are eaten in both their elongated form and their round form on that day.

Zalabiyeh (or zelebi) are a traditional sufgan ("spongy dough") for Persian Jews.[4]

Modern variations

The fritter is very common in the Indian subcontinent, in countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, although made differently to that of the Middle Eastern and North African variety. In many Middle Eastern and North African countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Ethiopia, and also in Egypt, they resemble spongy-cakes fried in oil.[citation needed]

In Iran, where it is known as zolbiya, the sweet was traditionally given to the poor during Ramadan. There are several 13th century recipes of the sweet, the most accepted being mentioned in a cookbook by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi.[16]

In North Macedonia they are called Pitulitsi while in the Italian region of Puglia they are referred to as Pittule and are usually consumed in December.

In Iraq in the 20th-century, starch (Arabic: النشا) was a basic ingredient in their zalabiyeh, topped with sugar.[17] In North Africa, zalabiyeh was often made with yoghurt added to the dry ingredients.

They are known as zlebia in Tunisian cuisine, jalebie in the Philippines, zülbiya in Azerbaijan, gwaramari in Nepal and jilapi in India.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Brauer, E. (1934). Ethnologie der jemenitischen Juden (Ethnology of Yemenite Jews) (in German). Heidelberg: Carl Winters Universitätsbuchhandlung. p. 100. OCLC 299777900.
  2. ^ Hunwick, Heather Delancey (15 September 2015). Doughnut: A Global History. Reaktion Books. ISBN 9781780235356.
  3. ^ Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City. Oxford University Press. 11 November 2015. ISBN 978-0-19-026364-5.
  4. ^ a b Goldstein, Darra. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ al-Warraq, Ibn Sayyar; Nasrallah, Nawal (Nov 26, 2007). annals of the caliphs' kitchens. BRILL. p. 413 chapter 100. ISBN 978-9004158-672.
  6. ^ Goldstein, Darra (2012). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ a b Salloum, Habeeb; Salloum, Muna; Salloum Elias, Leila (2013). Sweet Delights from a Thousand and One Nights: The Story of Traditional Arab Sweets. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. ISBN 978-1-78076-464-1. OCLC 8902838136., ch. Zalabiya Fritters (Sweet Crullers)
  8. ^ Levey, Martin (1971). "The Pharmacological Table of ibn Biklārish". Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. 26 (4): 413–421. doi:10.1093/jhmas/XXVI.4.413. ISSN 0022-5045. JSTOR 24622390. PMID 4946293.
  9. ^ Mizrachi, Avshalom [in Hebrew] (2018), "The Yemenite Cuisine", in Rachel Yedid; Danny Bar-Maoz (eds.), Ascending the Palm Tree: An Anthology of the Yemenite Jewish Heritage, Rehovot: E'ele BeTamar, p. 132, OCLC 1041776317
  10. ^ a b Qafih, Y. (1982). Halichot Teman (Jewish Life in Sanà) (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute. p. 209. ISBN 965-17-0137-4. OCLC 863513860.
  11. ^ Tobi, Yosef [in Hebrew]; Seri, Shalom, eds. (2000). Yalḳuṭ Teman - Lexicon (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv: E'eleh betamar. p. 141. OCLC 609321911.
  12. ^ Cf. David Kimhi, Commentary on 2 Samuel 13:8, who wrote: "...according to our Sages, of blessed memory, she made for him varieties of fried pastry, which is when they fry the dough in a frying pan containing oil." This same opinion is held by Levi ben Gershon, ibid, and by Rashi (ibid.) who adds that the fine flour used to make the dough was first scalded in hot water before being fried in oil.
  13. ^ Nathan ben Abraham (1955), "Perush Shishah Sidrei Mishnah - A Commentary on the Six Orders of the Mishnah", in Sachs, Mordecai Yehudah Leib (ed.), The Six Orders of the Mishnah: with the Commentaries of the Rishonim (in Hebrew), vol. 1, Jerusalem: El ha-Meqorot, OCLC 233403923, s.v. Hallah 1:5 (sūfğenīn, al-zalābiye)
  14. ^ Hai Gaon (1921), "Hai Gaon's Commentary on Seder Taharot", in Epstein, J.N. (ed.), The Geonic Commentary on Seder Taharot - Attributed to Rabbi Hai Gaon (in Hebrew), vol. 1, Berlin: Itzkowski, OCLC 13977130 (Available online, at The Geonic Commentary on Seder Taharot - vol. 1), s.v. Keilim 5:1 (p. 15)
  15. ^ Cf. Mishnah (Hallah 1:5 (p. 83))
  16. ^ Alan Davidson (21 August 2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. pp. 424–425. ISBN 978-0-19-967733-7.
  17. ^ Yosef Hayyim (1986). Sefer Ben Ish Ḥai (Halakhot) (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Merkaz ha-sefer. p. 218 (First Year). OCLC 492903129. (reprinted in 1994)
  18. ^ Jones, Paul Anthony (2019). The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226646701.