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What is Tzimmes?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 16, 2024
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Tzimmes is a Jewish dish of stewed vegetables and fruit, traditionally served as a side dish at Rosh Hashanah. The ingredients are cooked slowly over a low heat, making a thick compote. Recipes vary in different regions and even in different families, giving each dish a personal touch, but a traditional tzimmes is usually made with carrots, honey, dried fruit and sometimes brisket, adding sweetness to the New Year meal.

Recipes can vary greatly and might bear little resemblance to one another. Carrots most often are the main ingredient, but sweet potatoes sometimes have been substituted. Additional vegetables, especially root vegetables such as potatoes, might be included, and meat such as brisket is optional.

Different combinations of raisins, prunes, apples and other fruits might be included. Spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg might be added as well. Other recipes are made using only fruit.

Including tzimmes in Rosh Hashanah is an old tradition traced back to Germany and Eastern Europe. Foods sweetened with honey traditionally were included in Jewish New Year celebrations throughout the region. Winter root vegetables such as carrots and dried fruits were readily available even in this cold climate, bringing together the main elements of this dish.

Ingredients used in tzimmes, especially carrots, have a symbolic significance as well. The Yiddish word for carrot is merren, a word that also can mean “to increase,” a reminder for the diners to do more good in the coming year. Some also note that sliced carrots resemble gold coins and suggest that they might also represent a wish for prosperity in the New Year.

Spelling variations are common, and the dish is commonly referred to as tsimmes, tzimmis or tsimmis. The word tzimmes is Yiddish, and in addition to referring to this sweet dish, the word might refer to a mess or a fuss or bother. “Don’t make a big tzimmes” is a common Jewish phrase and a way of telling others not to complicate matters.

The dish’s name might be a reference to the recipe’s complexity and the work involved in preparing the vegetables and fruits, or it might refer to the way this dish stews until the ingredients dissolve into a homogenous “mess.” It also might be derived from the German words zum essen, meaning “to eat,” or a variation on the English word "simmer." It’s possible that more than one of these factors came together to give the recipe its name in a bit of wordplay.

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Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Oct 08, 2011

I love that phrase: "Don't make a big tzimmes!" That's so cute! It reminds me of my grandmom who used to say "I'm in a stew!" when she didn't know what to do about something.

I'm not Jewish but I love learning Jewish recipes because a lot of them are actually suitable for a Vegan diet and tzimmes is one of them. I discovered this article when I was looking for a new Vegan dish to try and it sounds perfect!

I love the addition of fruits and honey to vegetables because that means my kids will be willing to eat it. I think it would do wonders to get over a cold too, considering how many vitamins it has.

By burcidi — On Oct 07, 2011

@ysmina-- Not me! I love a good tzimmes with beef, matzo balls, carrots, potatoes, dry cranberries, prunes, honey and a few drops of vinegar. It's such a hearty and satisfying meal and the perfect side dish at Rosh Hashanah.

I ask my mom to make it every time I visit home from college and even though she usually doesn't make it except for Rosh Hashanah, she can't say no to me.

My aunt also makes a killer tzimmes. She uses lamb instead of beef and also adds apples and fruit juice. She cooks it in the oven instead of the stove. I think it takes longer to cook that way. It's the first thing she puts in the oven for Rosh Hashanah, almost like the Thanksgiving Turkey. But the result is definitely worth the wait!

By ysmina — On Oct 07, 2011

This sounds delicious although I'm not too found of mixing sweet and salty flavors together. I would enjoy tzimmes just sweet or just salty. In fact, when I think about the idea of boiling different root vegetables and honey together to make a meal, it reminds me a lot of Noah's pudding. Noah's pudding is made with different ingredients- beans and fruits, rather than vegetables and fruits, but it is also boiled together and made sweet.

I love having Noah's pudding as dessert so I think I would like tzimmes as a dessert as well.

By LisaLou — On Oct 07, 2011

I have a home based business and one of my customers is Jewish. It seems like any time I have stopped by her home, she is getting ready for some kind of celebration. Most of them include food in one way or another.

I am always curious and ask her a lot of questions about what she is making. One day when I stopped by she was making a sweet potato tzimmes recipe.

She said she traditionally made it with carrots, but was trying sweet potatoes instead this time.

It sounded like a lot of work to me, but when she told me the ingredients she used, it did sound like it would taste pretty good.

When she found out that I also sell honey, she was excited to use my honey in her recipes. She said she would probably be one of my best honey customers because she had many recipes that she used honey in.

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