The materials are published with support from donations and help from the volunteers, provided to the Centre Food Studies by the їzhakultura community. Support us on Patreon!


Seems like everything has already been said about borshch. But not really. The origins of borshch continue to be covered in mystery which is just waiting to be solved. But for now we are going to list some interesting facts from the history of borshch. 


• Many continue to believe that borshch got its name from the Heracleum plant or hogweed, known for its bristles (e.g. Borste in German). However, the evidence is simply not there. Most probably, this belief is a modern invention because hogweed has never been used as an ingredient in borshch.

• The borshch connoisseurs claim that in the ancient times the Ruthenian princes were very fond of borshch. There is no truth to it. Although cabbage and onion were readily available at the time and in theory could have been used as ingredients in some recipes, there are no mentions of borshch. Instead the ancient manuscripts widely mention porridges, whole grain kisil and other dishes. Our search for the primordial borshch has lead us to formulate the following argument.

• There is no borshch. There are only types of borshch. Because borshch is a collective name for different types of soup. Its flavour, colour, and the basic ingredients are defined by the region of origin and time period. Most likely borshch was invented in the 17th century.

• Borshch is constantly in flux. Now borshch is almost always made with tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes. These foodstuffs arrived in Ukraine just mere 120-150 years ago. Ukrainians traditionally follow fast days, as a result there are many borshch recipes with dried and baked fish. And although fish borshch is not as popular as its meat variety, fish borshch is often served as a ritual dish at Christmas or as a funeral meal.

• Borshch is known for its sour flavor. Here are some secret ingredients. Before tomatoes and tomato souse became available, the sour flavour was achieved by adding beetroot kvas and bread kvas, a sourish drink. Ukrainians have staged plenty of experiments in the field. Wanna see some proof? In the forested areas of the Polissya region, which is in the north of Ukraine, the beetroots did not always grow to size, but the homemakers never gave up on cooking perfect borshch. Unripened berries and cranberries were used to enhance the flavour.

• “During my stay at the Polissya region I decided to make some borshch. The local boy brought me some beetroots and cabbage, and said: “The cabbage is small, the beetroots are not big either, what do you have to make it sour?” “Perhaps you could lend me some kvas”, - said I. “We use wild apples and pears instead” “How does it work?” “Let it cook and then add some green apples. Or add green cranberries” // Institute of Manuscript of Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, #12159. – Sep, 12, 1925; from the Olesky district, the Perga village (author unknown.) Sheet 12.

• So what makes borshch special? This dish can be served at an expensive restaurant, which prides itself on high cuisine and at almost every Ukrainian home. Borshch is equally popular among the different strata of Ukrainian society, regardless of class, income, and background. 



Illustration: їzhakultura