The Smell of Hamantasin - Purim is in the Air

Hamantasin, a filled pastry recognizable for its three-cornered shape, is the most common food eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Book of Esther. Along with eating Hamantasin this holiday is characterized by the giving of mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor, a celebratory meal, wearing costumes, and public celebrations.

The name hamantash comes from its reference to Haman, the villain of this holiday, though today, in modern Israel, these pastries are known as Oznei Haman (Haman's ears), said to represent the ears of Haman that fell off at his execution.

With Purim close at hand, here are some interesting tidbits from Sigal Frishman, Director, Nutrition and Diet Service at Rabin Medical Center, about these delicious pastries, filled with many different flavors, including prunes, walnuts, poppy seeds, apricots, fruit preserves, chocolate, halva, and even cheese.

  • There are about 150-200 calories in each one of these filled pastries.
  • The pastry dough is generally made using margarine, which contains trans fats, known to be bad for our heart as they increase LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol). Today many margarine manufacturers have modified their products so as to be free of trans fats, and these are the ones we should use.
  • Now for the fillings:

Poppy seeds are rich in calcium. 3.5 ounces of poppy seeds contains 1,500 mgs of calcium and has 530 calories.
Sugar Free Halva is also rich in calcium. 3.5 ounces contains 75 grams of calcium and has 500 calories.
Walnuts, though they belong to the "fats" food group, are rich in nutritional fibers, antioxidants, vitamin E, folic acid, and minerals like magnesium and potassium, and are known to diminish levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides, thus greatly reducing risk factors for heart disease. 3.5 ounces of walnuts contain 650 calories.
Dates have only 290 calories for 3.5 ounces, and contain nutritional fibers which aid in the digestive process.
Chocolate, especially semi-sweet chocolate containing 70% chocolate solids, has lately gotten a nutritional boost. It has more phenols than other forms of chocolate and is a potent antioxidant which provides protection against heart disease, high blood pressure, and many other health hazards, 100 grams contains 500 calories.

So as you celebrate Purim choose your Hamantaschen wisely and enjoy this festive holiday of giving. Happy Purim!

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