History of Ukrainian Cuisine – Kiev Private Tours
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History of Ukrainian Cuisine
12 Jan

History of Ukrainian Cuisine

Among the Slavic cuisines, Ukrainian is widely known. It has long been spread far outside of Ukraine, and some dishes of Ukrainian cuisine, such as borsch and vareniki, have long become a part of international menu.

Formation of Ukrainian cuisine

Ukrainian national cuisine developed quite late, mainly in the beginning and the middle of the 18th century, and it was finally shaped as it is by the beginning of the 19th century. Until then, it was difficult to distinguish it from the Polish and Belarusian cousins ​​that are closely related to it. This is explained by the length and complexity of the process of forming the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian state.

After the Mongol-Tatar invasion on the territories of Kievan Rus, Ukraine experienced the aggression of Lithuanian, Hungarian and Polish feudal lords; as a result, various parts of its territory belonged to different states (Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, and Romania).

In essence, the formation of the Ukrainian nation began only in the 17th century and was completed in 100 years.

Since some Ukrainian territories were separated for a long time, Ukrainian cuisine was created extremely slowly, only after the unification of the Ukrainian people. In the XVII century the Left Bank Ukraine and Kiev became the park of Russian Empire; Right-bank Ukraine – at the end of the XVIII century. Since the end of the XVIII century the southern part of Ukraine – the Black Sea and Novorossia – began to be settled by people from the southern provinces of Russian Empire, who later assimilated with the indigenous population.

Thus, the territory of Ukraine was formed by the beginning and the middle of the XIX century; most of the Ukrainian nation was reunited and had the opportunity to consolidate in one state.

This greatly facilitated the creation of typical all-Ukrainian dishes, although the differences between the dishes of Chernihiv and Galicia, Poltava and Volyn, Bukovina and Kharkiv, Podillya and Transcarpathia have survived to this day.

Later, the formation of Ukrainian cuisine caused a number of its features.

Firstly, it was created on the basis of elements of culinary culture that have already developed in each of the regional parts of Ukraine.

Secondly, despite the fact that these elements were very heterogeneous, due to the vastness of the territory, stretching from the Carpathians to the Sea of ​​Azov and from the Pripyat to the Black Sea, the differences in natural conditions and the historical development of its individual parts, the neighborhood of many peoples (Russians, Byelorussians, Tatars, Nogais, Hungarians, Germans, Moldavians, Turks, Greeks), Ukrainian cuisine was extremely wholesome, even somewhat one-sided both in the selection of the characteristic national food raw materials, and in principles of its cooking.

Thirdly, the traditions of ancient Kievan Rus cuisine were not included in the national Ukrainian cuisine; the connection was lost after the Mongol-Tatar invasion. This distinguishes Ukrainian cuisine from Russian and Bilorussian, where ancient traditions, although modified, have nevertheless been preserved for many centuries.


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At the same time, Ukrainian cuisine perceived certain technological methods not only of German and Hungarian cuisine, but also of Tatar and Turkish cuisine, partially modifying them in its own way. Thus, frying products in a hot oil, characteristic of Turkic cuisines, has been turned into special Ukrainian kind of saute (i.e., sautéing of vegetables that are used for borsch or second courses), which, for example, is not at all characteristic of Russian cuisine.

Dish of Turkish cuisine dyush-var (something similar to ravioli) turned into Ukrainian vareniki, and then into vareniki with characteristic national fillings – cherries, cottage cheese, onions and bacon crisps. We also took the crushing of products from the German cuisine; it can be clearly seen in various Ukrainian “sichenyki” – dishes from minced meat (cut and crushed meat, eggs, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, etc.).


As for food raw materials, it was selected for Ukrainian cuisine in contrast with the eastern cuisine. So, for example, to make it inappropriate for Muslims, Ukrainian Cossacks began to popularize consumption of lard in the XVI-XVIII centuries. At the same time, the use of beef, common among the Russian population, was relatively insignificant among Ukrainians; the oxen in Ukraine were not food, but draft animals, and their meat was not only less tasty and tougher than pork, but it was also considered not so clean.

At the same time, some foreign products have spread, for example, vegetable oil. It was considered more valuable than butter, because it was from Greece – the country Ukrainian lands were bound with by religious ties. At the same time eggplant, used in Turkish cuisine and perfectly ripening in the conditions of the South of Ukraine, did not find use in Ukrainian national dishes as it was considered “bassurman” dishes.

These principles of selection of food raw materials, common to all Ukrainians in the XVII-XIX centuries. irrespective of the places of their settlement, made Ukrainian cuisine strikingly uniform and at the same time unique and original.

The peculiarity of the national Ukrainian cuisine is expressed, firstly, in the predominant use of such products as pork, lard, beetroot and wheat flour; secondly, this is such features of food technology as combined heat treatment of a large number of dish components with one main and decisive; borsch is a classic example – two dozen other ingredients are added to the beet, but these other ingredients do not suppress the beetroot taste.

Lard may be considered one of favorite and most used food; it may be served as a separate dish, mainly in fried form, in the form of so-called bacon crisps, and in the form of a variety of seasonings and fat base of a wide variety of dishes. This attitude to pork relates Ukrainian cuisine with the cuisine of Western Slavs and Hungarians and neighbors of Ukrainians – Bilorussians; however, the use of pork fat in Ukrainian cuisine is extremely diverse.

Salo (lard) can be raw, salted, boiled, smoked and roasted; it is used as fat for frying; it is used to fill non-pork meals without fat; it is used even in sweet dishes, combining it with sugar or molasses.


For example, such a wide spread confectionery product, like verguns is fried, or rather, scalded or fried in butter.

Ukrainian cuisine is also characterized by equally abundant use of eggs; it is used not only to  cook separate meals such as scrambled eggs and omelets; in Ukrainian cuisine eggs same as lard are more often used as additives for flour and fruit sweet dishes.

The abundance of flour products is very typical for the Ukrainian cuisine; a favorite type of dough is unfermented – simple non-fermented, semi-sweet, fresh brewed, with soda used as a baking powder, and for confectionery dishes – mainly cookie dough. National dishes are products made of simple unleavened dough (1): dumplings, vareniki, shuliky, lemishky, grechaniky, cakes and modern confectionery products – verguns and stavbitsy. Wheat flour is used almost exclusively in floury foods, buckwheat in combination with wheat flour is less often used; when it comes to cereals, millet and rice are rather popular (by the way, rice called “Sorochin millet” (originates from Saracen, ie, Turkish, Arab millet) is used in Ukrainian cuisine from the fourteenth century and came from the West, through the Hungarians; this explains its western name “Saracen”).



Along with flour products important role is given to vegetables. It is used as side dishes for fatty meat food or served as self-sufficient dishes with bacon. The first is of course beets; it can be considered a #1 national vegetable, it is served fresh and pickled. For example, they use pickled beets to cook borscht from autumn to spring, ie, most of the year.

Pickled cabbage

Ukrainian cuisine is also characterized by the use of legumes – lentils and especially beans (but not in pods). Beans are widely used as additives to other vegetables.

Among other preferred vegetable and vegetable crops, we should mention carrots, pumpkins, corn, potatoes and tomatoes. Corn, like beans, is often used as additives. It became widespread in Ukrainian cuisine in the XVIII century, especially in South and South-Western Ukraine. Since the XVIII century Ukrainians also eat potatoes, which, however, did not acquire such significance here, as in Belarus; in Ukraine it is  used like other vegetable crops, as one of many other “spices” (ie side dishes) to the second courses. Potatoes in the form of puree became widely used added to pureed beans, carrots, cottage cheese, apples, poppy. In addition, potatoes are a good absorber of lard in second courses; it is raw material for the production of starch, used for sweet dishes, especially liquid fruit jelly and confectionery.

Although Ukrainian cuisine was almost completely formed in the 18th century, tomatoes and sunflower oil, the ingredients modern Ukrainian table is impossible to imagine without, became widely used and had a noticeable influence on the menu only in the 19th century. It should be stressed that vegetable oils have been used in Ukrainian cuisine along with animal fat (lard) since ancient times, and yet sunflower oil became widespread only in the last century, almost replacing all other vegetable oils. It is now used in two forms: hot pressed oil with a strong, peculiar, so beloved by Ukrainians smell of fried sunflower seeds, and cold pressed oil, known outside of Ukraine.

Hot pressed oil is usually used for cold dishes – salads, vinaigrettes; cold pressed oil is more often used for roasting, spinning, that is, for making second hot courses.

When it comes to spices and seasonings, these are mainly onions, garlic, dill, cumin, anise, mint, lovage, angelica, savory, red pepper; imported spices are bay leaf, black pepper and cinnamon (for sweet dishes). Vinegar plays a big role as a seasoning for meat, cold and vegetable dishes; however, is often excessively used.

If we speak about fruits and berries that are popular in Ukraine, they may be soused, fresh, dried and smoked-dried; most popular are cherry, plum, pear, currant, watermelon and to a lesser extent apples and raspberries.

Along with fruits, modern Ukrainian cuisine abundantly uses sugar and molasses in its pure form, as well as in the form of constituents of knitted goods and especially jam and confectionery.

As already mentioned, the most distinctive feature of Ukrainian food technology is the combined thermal conditioning. Raw food, whether of animal or vegetable origin, is first lightly fried and relatively rapidly sautéing, and only after this it is cooked, baked or braised.

These peculiarities of cooking Ukrainian dishes resulted in special features of Ukrainian utensils for cooking: cooking pots, deep and semi-deep frying pans, low earthenware for subsequent half-drying – all sorts of jugs, bowls, cups, garrets.

Usual Ukrainian dinner

Usual Ukrainian dinner

If we speak about technological methods of cooking, the most widespread are shredding and other methods of grinding food, in particular meat. That is why Ukrainian cuisine has various rolls (zavivantsi), stuffed dishes, casseroles, breadcrumbs with minced meat and “sichenyky”, ie, a variety of meat dishes such as crochets and cutlets, borrowed from German cuisine through Polish and Czech.


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Like any cuisine with a rich historical past, Ukrainian cuisine is largely regional. For example, Western-Ukrainian cuisine differs from the East-Ukrainian cuisine; the influence of Turkish cuisine on Bukovinian, Hungarian to Hutsul and Russian to Sloboda Ukraine is beyond doubt: the greatest variety is in the cuisine of Central Ukraine, especially in the regions of the center of the Right Bank. Borsch being so popular in Ukraine has a lot of varieties; in almost every region it is cooked in a special way.

Borsch – the main Ukrainian meal

Beetroot is the major component of borsch. It gives the basic taste and color of the meal.

As a rule, borsch is cooked from meat, bone or mixed meat-and-bone broth. Correctly cooked broth is the basis of a good borsch. Broth for borscht is usually cooked from a brisket, less often from a thin and thick edge or curl. Bones are always pre-crushed along, and the cartilaginous parts are separated. Duration of cooking bones is 4-6 hours, meat – 2-2.5 hours. After the water boils, continue cooking the broth continues under a low heat. When cooking the meat and bone broth, first brew bones, and then, two hours before the end of their cooking, add the meat and cook until it is ready. After this the meat is taken out of the broth and vegetable part of the borscht is cooked; the meat shall be put back in the pot only 10-15 min until the borsch is ready. By the end of cooking, there should be not more than 1.5 cups of pure broth per serving in the borsch, therefore, at the beginning of the cooking, put at least twice as much water as the broth is supposed to be.

A few words about the ratio of meat in borsch. Beef brisket and pork are usually used in a proportion of 2:1 or 1:1. In addition, after the end of cooking of the basic broth, small amounts of lamb, ham, sausages, homemade sausage in finely chopped form are sometimes added to some types of borscht at the rate of 1:4 in relation to the main borsch meat.

Borsch can be cooked also with goose or chicken broth (Poltava and Odessa). In this case, the addition of other meat is excluded.

Borsch process

The peculiarity of preparing the vegetable part of borsch is the preliminary separate cooking of vegetables. A beet, for example, is smothered always separately from other vegetables. Before being cooked it is sprinkled with vinegar (or add citric acid or lemon juice), which is necessary to preserve the red color; after this, it is put in preheated fat (lard, butter) and stew until cooked. Sometimes the beets are baked or cooked semi-prepared in a peel and only then cleaned, cut and added into broth.

Finely chopped onion, carrot cut into strips and parsley are sautéed for 15 minutes, and vegetables should be covered with fat. Before the end of sautéing, tomato puree or finely chopped tomatoes are added to the vegetables; after this, continue to brown until the fat turns to the color of the tomatoes.

It is very important to consistently lay vegetables in broth – depending on duration of cooking. Potatoes shall be added 30 minutes before the borsch is ready, cabbage – 20 minutes before, beets in ready stewed form – 15 minutes before, browned vegetables (onions, carrots, parsley) – 15 minutes before, spices – 5-8 min, garlic (separately from other spices) – 2 minutes before.

The main type of fat used for borscht is lard. It is pounded or grated in a mortar with garlic, onion and parsley until smooth mass is formed; it is added into borsch 2-3 minutes before the meal is ready.

To give borsch a special sourish taste, most borscht is cooked not only with water but with raw kvass (drink made from fermented rye bread, yeast or berries), with juice of leavened beets and with beet leaven (brews), adding it mainly after cooking the meat into the prepared broth, trying not to boil it long.

When the borsch is almost ready, it is boiling under very low heat or simply put at the edge of a stove, so that it does not cool down and there it waits for another 20 minutes. After this, borsch is served.

Thus, cooking borscht takes at least 3 hours and when cooked with bone broth – even 5-6 hours.

Various versions of borsch are most often named after the area they originate: Kiev, Poltava, Lviv, Volyn, Chernigov, Galician borsch, etc. What is the difference between these kinds? Firstly, the broth: bone, meat, meat and bone broth, from various varieties and combinations of meat (beef, pork, poultry), and secondly, the method of cooking beets (stewed, baked, semi-brewed). In addition, a set of vegetables for borsch can be different. Obligatory vegetables in borsch, besides beets, are cabbage, carrots, potatoes, parsley, onions, tomatoes, additional beans, apples (sour, best green), zucchini, turnips. Vegetables in borsch are cut like sticks, except for zucchini and potatoes, cut accordingly in the form of cubes and large pieces. Beans are cooked separately and in advance, as it is brewed for a long time – more than an hour and it is added into the borsch 15 minutes before it is ready. Turnip and carrots shall be sautéed. Apples and zucchini shall not be sautéed, they are added after all the other vegetables, but no later than 10 minutes before the borsch is ready.

Finally, they add roasted flour to some types of borsch to make it thicker. However, for a good cuisine this is not necessary and even undesirable, as in case of inept frying it can ruin the scent of borscht. At the same time, do not forget to add sour cream to borsch after serving.

Ukrainian borsch with sour cream

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Kate Dobromishev

Tour Guide in Guide me UA / English language / Private Tours in Kyiv

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