21. Special Status of Mezonot
A mezonot ingredient is always considered primary, even when not the majority.
In the previous class we began learning about ikar v'tafel, where one food is considered secondary to another and is therefore covered by its bracha. We learned about two types of ikar v'tafel food combinations:
- When two foods are eaten together (but not "mixed"), the ikar is defined as the food that you particularly desire.
- When two foods are mixed together, the majority food is considered the ikar.
Now let's continue this subject, discussing additional cases of food combinations.
We learned in class #13 that bread exempts (nearly) all other foods from a bracha rishona, because it is such a significant ikar. This applies even to foods not eaten together with the bread – soup, meat, potatoes, salad – as long as they are eaten within the context of the bread meal.
On a somewhat lower level, the Sages attributed special importance to foods of the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye) because they are especially filling and satiating.1
[Note: In the context of this discussion, although we will use the term "mezonot foods," this does not include rice, which technically is not one of the "special five grains."2 Furthermore, the special status of the five grains applies only when the bracha is Mezonot, not Ha'adama3 or Shehakol;4 see class #9 where these guidelines are discussed.]
This special status of mezonot triggers rules of ikar v'tafel:
- Rule #1 – A mezonot food receives its own bracha even when it is the tafel.5
- Rule #2 – When mixed with other ingredients and made into one food, a mezonot ingredient is always considered the ikar, even though it is not the majority.6
Now let's explain these two rules.
A mezonot food receives its own bracha even when it is the tafel.
According to the rules of ikar v'tafel, soup nuts which are added to soup simply to enhance its taste should not require a bracha, since they are tafel. However, since the bracha on soup nuts is Mezonot,7 they do receive a bracha. And as we learned, Mezonot is high on the sequence of brachot (see class #17, list #3). So in this case, you should first say Mezonot on the soup nuts, and then recite a separate bracha on the soup (which is the ikar).8
If you add a good amount of soup nuts, making it a significant ingredient of the soup, then the Mezonot becomes the ikar (even though in quantity it is much less than the soup) and no other bracha is said.9
When mixed with other ingredients and made into one food, a mezonot ingredient is always considered the ikar, even though it is not the majority.
A common application of this rule is a cake that contains flour, sugar, spices, eggs, yeast and water. In this case, all the ingredients are secondary (tafel) to the flour, and the bracha is therefore Mezonot, because of the importance of the five grains, even if the flour is the minority ingredient.10
Now let's extend this rule to the case of a delicious cheese cake, made mainly of cheese, with a relatively thick crust on the bottom. Since the whole cake is baked together, it is considered as one food. And although the crust is clearly not the majority, it does add flavor. Thus as a mezonot food, it is considered the ikar – even though you eat the cake primarily for its cheese component.11 So the bracha on cheese cake is Mezonot.12
Note that this applies because the cheese and crust were baked together. But what about a cake topped with creme frosting? If the frosting is minimal, then it is tafel and a bracha is said only on the cake. However if the frosting is a thick layer, and you desire it for its own sake, then the frosting requires its own bracha of Shehakol. (If you are in doubt, you should say Shehakol on another shehakol-food, and have in mind to cover the frosting.) 13
Just like every good rule, there are some exceptions:
Exception #1: When the mezonot ingredient is insignificant
Both of these rules pertaining to mezonot foods are applicable only when the mezonot ingredient is adding either flavor or sustenance. Sometimes, a mezonot ingredient can be added for purely technical reasons. For example:
Flour is often added to meat balls in order to give them a thicker texture. If this is the only reason that the flour is being added (not for taste or sustenance), then it does not become ikar and the bracha on the meatballs is Shehakol.14 The same is true of gefilte fish.15
If cheese cake was baked with a thin crust whose sole purpose is to hold the cake together, then its bracha would not be Mezonot, but rather Shehakol.16
Licorice candy is made primarily of flour, but the purpose is only as a binding agent. The flour is not being added for either taste or sustenance, and as such the bracha on licorice is Shehakol.17
Ice cream with cookies bits, where the cookies are clearly only serving to give it a crunchy texture, is Shehakol.
Exception #2: When the mezonot is solely an "accompaniment"
Another exception to "mezonot-always-ikar" rule is when the mezonot (or even bread) is being eaten for the sole purpose of accompanying the other food.18 The Talmud19 offers the following example:
You want to eat a very salty piece of fish. This fish is practically inedible by itself, because it is so salty. In order to make the fish palatable, you eat it with a piece of bread. Since you are not interested in eating the bread per se, and it is only being used to temper the salty taste of the fish, the fish is considered the ikar and the bread is tafel. In this case, only Shehakol, the bracha on the fish, is recited.
Another example given is when someone drinks a shot of whiskey, and when reciting the blessing has the intention to afterwards eat a small piece of cake to soothe the burning sensation of the drink.20
In actual practice, these cases rarely if ever occur. If you are also interested in eating the tafel (the bread or the cake), then they do require their own separate bracha.21 The status of tafel applies only in a case where the food is being eaten exclusively because of another food or drink. So don't be surprised if you never actually apply this rule.22
Now let's put together everything we've learned about ikar v'tafel: How about a case where fried fish or chicken cutlets are coated in breadcrumbs? Here the bracha depends on how significant the breadcrumbs are in terms of the whole food.
A thin coating of breadcrumbs is generally regarded as a spice and does not add enough to be considered ikar. Therefore the bracha is Shehakol.
If, however, the coating is thick or adds significantly to the taste of the cutlets, then Mezonot is required on the breadcrumbs.24 In that case, some authorities rule that Shehakol is still necessary on the chicken, while others say that the Mezonot on the coating covers the chicken as well. Therefore, it is best to say Mezonot on the coating, and Shehakol on some other food, having the chicken in mind. If this is not possible, then you should separate a bit of chicken from the coating, and say two separate brachot.
This concludes class #21. Next up: Soups & Cereals!
- Grains are also important in that Israel is praised as a land of wheat and barley (Deut. 8:8).
- Orach Chaim 208:7, with Mishnah Berurah 30
- e.g. roasted wheat kernels (Mishnah Berurah 208:30)
- e.g. beer (Orach Chaim 204:1)
- Mishnah Berurah 208:23
- Orach Chaim 208:2
- According to some opinions, the bracha on croutons is Hamotzee (see The Laws of Brachos, pg. 366). According to others, the bracha is Mezonot (Halachos of Brochos – Handbook pg. 60).
- Halachos of Brachos, pg. 72
- Shu”t Igros Moshe OC 4:43. See also V'Zot HaBracha pp. 117-118 which cites from R’ Y.Y. Fischer that a kezayit of soup nuts makes it the primary ingredient.
- Orach Chaim 212:1; Biur Halacha – s.v. “im ha’kar”
- Aruch HaShulchan 168:20
- Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, cited in Halachos of Brochos, pg. 79; Rabbi Y.S. Eliyashiv, cited in Sefer Yashiv Moshe
- Mishnah Berurah 168:45
- Orach Chaim 208:2
- Be’er Moshe 5:62; Orchat Rabbeinu, I pg.88
- Choveret L’Torah V’Hora’ah, footnote 61, cited in Halachos of Brochos, pg. 79. The bracha would be Shehakol even if there is a small amount of flour in the cheese-filling itself; its purpose is merely as a binder. A large amount of flour in the filling would change the bracha to Mezonot.
- Orach Chaim 208:2
- Orach Chaim 212:1
- Brachot 44a
- Mishnah Berurah 212:4 (or he customarily eats cake after drinking whiskey)
- Mishnah Berurah 212:2, 5
- Notice that in these cases of ikar v’tafel, the two foods do not have to be eaten together. However, as we saw in class #20 regarding other types (“enhancers,” and food mixtures), the bracha on the ikar usually will exempt the tafel only if they are being eaten together. The exception is if, when making the bracha on the ikar, you have in mind to eat the tafel afterwards, or if you customarily eat the tafel afterwards, then the tafel is covered by the bracha on the ikar – even if they are not eaten together. (Mishnah Berurah 212:4; V’Zot HaBracha, pg. 96)
- based on V’Zot HaBracha, ch. 11
- Halachos of Brochos, citing Rabbi Ch.P. Scheinberg and Rabbi Y.S. Eliyashiv