Is this Europe's most beautiful bread?

Ukraine is often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe. As one of the 3 largest grain exporters in the world, it’s no surprise that wheat and grain are a key staple in Ukrainian cuisine.

Korovai: a bread with pagan origins

Perhaps one of the most beautiful and delicious-looking grain-based foods from this part of Europe is korovai. This festive, decorative bread has a long history that goes back to ancient times, long before national borders existed.

Pre-Christian Slavs practised a polytheistic, nature-worshipping religion known as Paganism. Grain played a big role in Paganism, as it was deemed to have magical properties. It is here that the origins of korovai can be found. Prepared for special occasions, korovai was decorated with figurines that had a strong symbolic meaning to Pagans, such as suns, moons, animals and plants.

Korovai Ukrainian wedding bread

More than just a staple

Over the centuries, Korovai became a popular celebratory bread traditionally made as part of wedding festivities. The bread would be baked in the bride’s home, together with other married women and men from the community. Its detailed decorations would include roses and doves, representing love, purity, family and friends. After presenting the korovai at the marriage ceremony it would be enjoyed by the couple and wedding guests. The tradition of baking and sharing korovai gained so much importance that even in times of hardship, the blessing and sharing of the korovai alone was often considered sufficient to constitute a marriage.

Today, korovai is made across modern-day Ukraine, as well as other Slavic nations such as Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia and Poland. Due to its strong symbolic connotations, it continues to play an important role in key life moments and celebrations. And it’s precisely this symbolism that makes korovai so special - it’s more than just a staple, it’s a part of people’s local folklore and identity.