The Mezonos Roll… Is It a Piece of Cake?

May 4, 2004

Lead in: Knowing what blessing to say on all those new grain products is not as simple as it looks. Today’s trick question is: “What brochah do you say on a mezonos roll?”

Pull quote: If it looks like bread, tastes like bread, and is used as bread, ipso facto, it is bread…

The Mezonos Roll… Is It a Piece of Cake?

At some unknown time in history, an enterprising fellow made a batter of bread dough and substituted fruit juice for water. After baking the dough in the form of rolls, this innovator searched for an appropriate name to describe this new product. Perhaps he or she experimented with such bland names as “Rolls Made with Fruit Juice” or, more simply, “Fruity Rolls.” Eventually, with a stroke of genius, a new phrase was coined: “Mezonos Rolls.”

As innocent as this term seems, “mezonos rolls” actually implies two important halachos. In the first place, the initial brochah on a “mezonos roll” would be borei minei mezonos rather, than hamotzi lechem min haaretz, and the final brochah is al hamichyah instead of Birchas Hamozon. Secondly, and of perhaps greater import in terms of consumer convenience, a bona fide mezonos roll could be eaten without netilas yadayim, the ritual washing of the hands mandated by Jewish law before consuming bread. The practical benefit of this latter halachah can easily be appreciated. When eating on the road, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to wash netilas yadayim. With a mezonos roll in hand, one can consume a sandwich on a plane or at a picnic table without transporting a water supply and washing utensil. That the phrase “mezonos rolls” stuck and became part of our vernacular is testimony to the popularity of mezonos rolls, and indeed they are sold in kosher establishments around the world.

Five years ago, some members of the Rabbinic staff of the OU questioned the legitimacy of the mezonos roll concept, for reasons which will be explained below. The issue arose because the word “mezonos” was prominently stamped on the cellophane wrapper of rolls which were part of OU-certified frozen meals. After reviewing this matter with the OU’s Halachic consultants, Rav Yisroel Belsky, shlita, Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, and the Rabbinical Council of America; the OU took the bold position that the phrase “mezonos roll” is an oxymoron. Rolls and mezonos can not coexist; mezonos rolls are a spurious term and the correct brochah for the so-called mezonos roll is hamotzi lechem min haaretz, with netilas yadayim a prerequisite. This change in policy was not without strong public comment. Irate travelers wrote the OU in protest, and demanded a return to the state of mezonos roll bliss. In fact, one angry caller pointed out to this author that the OU policy could result in sakonas nefashos (life-threatening situations). “Rabbi, don’t you realize that if everyone would stand up and walk to the: back of an airliner to wash netilas yadayim, the entire aircraft would tip over?” Nonetheless, the OU stuck to its guns, and I am happy to report that we have never received a report of an airplane capsizing because of a rush to the washing station.

This article will present the halachic analysis which forms the basis for the OU position1.

Every yeshivah child knows that the proper brochah for cake is borei minei mezonos, but the Talmudic source of this halachah is not easily apparent. In modem Hebrew, cake is oogah but there is no obvious term for cake in the Talmud. The only relevant discussion is found in Brochos 42a, where the Talmud establishes the proper brochah for pas haba bikisnin as borei minei mezonos. The precise meaning of the Aramaic term pas haba bikisnin became a matter of great dispute among the Rishonim (early Talmudic commentators). Because pas means bread, it is obvious that pas haba bikisnin is some form of bread. The brochah of pas haba bikisnin is reduced to borei minei mezonos because it is a type of bread that is eaten as a snack food. The brochah of hamotzi lechem min haaretz (“Who brings forth bread from the ground” ), is reserved for bread which is consumed as a basic staple and cornerstone of a meal. Nonetheless, it is unclear precisely what type of bread is pas haba bikisnin. There are three positions among the Rishonim2.

Rav Hai Gaon maintains that kisnin comes from the word kosses, which means to chew on hard or dry food. In Rav Hai Gaon’s opinion, pas haba bikisnin, is bread with a cracker-like texture. Although cracker dough can be made from only flour and water which is identical to bread dough, the hard and dry texture of the cracker renders it pas haba bikisnin. This definition includes hard pretzels, flat bread, bread sticks and kichel. (Ostensibly, melba toast should also fall into this category, but this is in fact not the case, since it is initially baked as bread and later sliced and toasted. Once achieving the status of bread, it is not transformed to pas haba bikisnin through subsequent processing3.)

The Rambam understands kisnin to mean pockets, and he views pas haba bikisnin as bread which is kneaded with spices or flavors. Because the dough contains the spices, it is referred to as a kis (pocket). According to the Rambam, pas haba bildsnin is the equivalent of cake.

The Rach subscribes to a third position, closely related to the second. He too defines kisnin as a pocket, but in his view, pas haba bikisnin refers to bread which is baked with a filling which is separate and distinct, rather than part and parcel of the dough. Pas haba bikisnin, then, is a pie which contains nuts, fruit or spices.

The three definitions of pas haba bikisnin (crackers, cake and pie) are mutually exclusive of each other4. It is fascinating to note that some of the Rishonim quoted above rejected the Rambam’s position and recited hamotzi on cake. Historically, it is not known when the Jewish people as a whole began to recite borei minei mezonos on cake, but Rav Yosef Caro, who lived in the sixteenth century, ruled in the Shulchan Oruch (O.H. 168) that we follow all three opinions cited above, and crackers, cake and pies are all treated as pas haba bikisnin. Though we are in essence adopting three contradictory positions, Rav Yosef Caro posits that we apply the principle of sofek brochos lihakel – brochos are not recited when the obligation is uncertain. Since there is a three-way dispute, we are uncertain if the appropriate brochah for crackers, cake and pie is borei minei mezonos or hamotzi. If we would recite hamotzi, then the lengthy Birchas Hamazon would have to be recited after the meal. Therefore, Rav Yosef Caro maintained that it is better to say borei minei mezonos and thus avoid a possibly unnecessary Birchas Hamazon5.

Though Rav Yosef Caro provided a working definition of pas haba bikisnin, a new question arose which is relevant to our discussion of mezonos rolls. Granted that we treat cake as pas haba bikisnin, and recite borei minei mezonos, how much spice or flavor must be added to the dough or batter to render it pas haba bikisnin? Rav Yosef Caro was of the opinion that the spice or flavor need only be nikir – discernable. The Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles), argues that a discernible taste alone is insufficient to transform bread into pas haba bikisnin, and the flavor or spice must be ikir – the main taste, to qualify for pas haba bikisnin status. While it is perhaps difficult to establish objective criteria for a primary taste, it presumably means that the spice or flavor significantly alters the taste of the pastry to the extent that it would not be consumed as bread (i.e. as a basic staple of the meal.) Thus, the appropriate brochah of a pastry with a discernible, but not primary spice, is a matter of dispute between Rav Yosef Caro and the Rama. A mezonos roll would seem to be just such a questionable item, since the fruit juice may be discernible, but certainly the taste of the mezonos roll is not significantly different than that of bread. In fact, the beauty of the mezonos roll is that it tastes almost like bread, and while no one eats tuna fish with marble cake, tuna fish on a mezonos roll is very palatable. In truth, it can be argued that the Sephardim, who generally follow the rulings of Rav Yosef Caro, would also recite hamotzi on a mezonos roll, as the fruit juice taste is rather faint, and a discernible taste must be far more pronounced to qualify for pas haba bikisnin status. The Ashkenazic community, who generally adhere to the views of the Rama, would unquestionably recite hamotzi6.

There is another consideration which flows from the logic of the concepts we have been discussing. According to all interpretations, pas haba bikisnin is a type of bread, as is evident from the term itself, which means bread made in the form of kisnin. This is reflected as well in a halachah found in Brochos 42a. If a person consumes a full meal of pas haba bikisnin, hamotzi and Birchas Hamazon are recited, and netilas yadayim is required. This is because pas haba bikisnin in reality is bread, but the Rabbis reduced the brochah to borei minei mezonos when it is eaten as a snack food. Therefore, when pas haba bikisnin serves as the basis of the meal, it is treated exactly as bread. This will help us understand why we recite hamotzi on matzah. Shouldn’t matzah be in the category of crackers, which is one of the forms of pas haba bikisnin? Indeed, former Sephardic Jewish custom was to recite a mezonos on matzah, (except on Pesach, when matzah is consumed as bread.) Ashkenazim, however, treat matzah as bread because it is generally not eaten as a snack7.

As such, it is very difficult to accept the concept of a mezonos roll. Even if a mezonos roll has the physical characteristics of pas haba bikisnin, on a functional level it is a bread substitute. If it looks like bread, tastes like bread, and is used as bread, ipso facto, it is bread, and cannot be considered pas haba bikisnin. It is of course possible to sweeten mezonos rolls to the point where they taste like cake; however, that would defeat the entire purpose, for they would no longer be substituted for bread. Thus, it is simply not possible to produce a legitimate mezonos roll.

There is another important point that needs to be mentioned in our discussion. It was previously noted that hamotzi and Birchas Hamazon are recited and netilas yadayim is required when pas haba bikisnin is eaten as the basis of a meal (kovaya seudah). Even if only a minimal amount of pas haba bikisnin is consumed, hamotzi is recited if it is eaten with other foods that constitute a full meal. Therefore, even if mezonos rolls were theoretically a valid entity, eating a mezonos roll as part of an airline meal may transform it into bread with a requirement of hamotzi8.

Some of the issues raised regarding mezonos rolls apply to pizza as well. While common practice is to recite borei minei mezonos on pizza, the halachic justification is far from obvious. Ostensibly, pizza is similar to pies, one of the three categories of pas haba bikisnin. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch (168:17) establishes the brochah for pashtida, which are pies filled with meat, fish or cheese, as hamotzi. The Magen Avrohom explains that although a pie is normally considered pas haba bikisnin and mezonos is recited, this is not the case with pashtida, since meat, fish and cheese pies are generally used for meals and not for snacks. Though Italian pizza may be slightly different from Mideastern pashtida, the similarities are nonetheless striking. As such, some contemporary poskim are of the opinion that one recites hamotzi on pizza. Nonetheless, many people treat pizza as pas haba bikisnin and recite mezonos, though this practice is somewhat difficult to explain. Possibly, pizza has earned the status of pas haba bikisnin because it is sometimes consumed as a snack. Even if pizza does fall into the category of pas haba bikisnin, a normal meal of pizza may constitute kiviyas seudah9 , in which case netilas yadilyim is required and hamotzi and Birchas Hamozon are recited. Because of the ambiguous character of pizza (Is it a snack or a meal? Is it pas haba bikisnin or bread?), and the difficulty in pinpointing the serving size that constitutes kiviyas seudah, there are those who avoid eating pizza out of the context of a bread meal10.

Frozen pizza poses an additional halachic problem. A pie is only considered pas haba bikisnin if the dough is baked with the filling. There are two ways to produce frozen pizza. One method is to apply cheese and sauce to raw dough and then bake and freeze the pizza. This product has the same status as fresh pizza. Other companies first bake the dough and then add cheese and sauce. One can easily distinguish this type of pizza by the unmelted cheese. Because the crust is edible before the cheese is added, this category of frozen pizza would seem analogous to cheese melted on a slice of bread, which clearly is not in the category of pas haba bikisnin11.

Having established that rolls in frozen dinners require netilas yadayim, what does one do on an airplane? If possible, netilas yadayim should be performed in the galley. If, this is not feasible, contemporary poskim12 have ruled that netilas yadayim may be performed in a bathroom, when no other options are available. Drying of the hands and recitation of the brochah should be done outside the bathroom.

Sometime in the future, you might find yourself sitting next to someone on an airplane who comments with surprise, ‘‘I wonder why the OU-certified meals don’t come with mezonos rolls? I know they used to.” To which you can respond, “Funny you asked. You know, there’s a whole story behind that. Are you familiar with the term pas haba bikisnin13….?” …

1 For a full discussion of this topic, see Rabbi Yisroel Belsky’s teshuvah in Mesorah, volume 1.

2 The three definitions regarding pas haba bikisnin are cited by Bais Yosef, Oruch Chaim 168.

3 This follows the opinion of Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, ibid., and others. See, however, Mekor Brocha, second printing (5746), #69, who maintains that if the original intent was to bake the product a second time, it is considered pas haba bikisnin.

4 This is the view of the Bais Yosef. However, the Maamar Mordechai and Aruch Hashulchan hold that the three views are not contradictory, but rather each one suggests another form of pas that is consumed as a snack food.

5 Interestingly, there is one situation where we adopt the opposite position and treat (crackers, cake and pie as bread because of the uncertainty of each one’s status. If one eats fruit at the end of a bread meal, a brochah is recited because it is not considered an integral part of the meal. Technically, if one eats pas haba bikisnin as dessert, the halachah mandates that a separate brochah of mezonos is recited since it is a snack food, and is not part of the meal. Nonetheless, in practice, if crackers, cake or pie are eaten for dessert during a meal, no brochah is recited, because the possibility exists that each one is not pas haba bikisnin, but rather bread, in which case no brochah would be necessary. However, it is possible to prepare a pastry which is universally accepted as pas haba bikisnin, e.g. a sweetened cracker which contains a fruit filling, and borei minei mezonos would be recited even in the course of a meal. (Mishnah Bmrah, Biur Halachah, Omch CMim, 168:8, “Teunim brochah” ). In truth, pie may also meet the universal standards of pas haba bikisnin if the dough is baked to a hard brittle consistency. It would follow that a brochah of borei minei mezonos is recited on this type of pie, even if consumed as dessert at the end of a bread meal. Nonetheless, if one is partially hungry at the end of the meal, no brochah is recited for pie because it is then viewed as part of the meal, and not as a snack or dessert (Mishnah Brurah, 168:41). It should also be noted that Igros Moshe (vol.3, #33) is of the opinion that our pastries (which are very sweet) have the unquestionable status of pas haba bikisnin, though ostensibly the Mishnah Brurah quoted above is not in agreement.

6 Proponents of the mezonos roll counter the above by maintaining that the dispute between Rav Yosef Caro and the Rama (regarding discernable or primary taste), applies only to pas haba bikisnin which contains more water than fruit juice. However, if the fruit juice exceeds the water content, mezonos is recited even if the fruit juice is totally indiscernible. (See Mekor Boruch #15). This view holds that, by definition, water must be the primary liquid in bread, and a roll made with more juice than water is inherently cake and not bread. It has been suggested by some that this view is supported by a comment made in Da’as Torah, 168:7. Nonetheless, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, shlita, (Mesorah, ibid.), has shown that this is not the position of numerous poskim nor are the comments of the Da’as Torah relevant to this issue. In fact, the Da’as Torah makes it clear that fruit juice extracted through a pressing rather than a cooking process has the status of ze’ah, which, halachically, is equivalent to water. It should also be noted that this product is often called mezonos rolls, even though there is no claim made that the fruit juice exceeds the water content. Furthermore, if the fruit juice is reconstituted, Minchas Yitzchok (vo1.9,#7) considers the juice to be primarily water, since the water exceeds the concentrate.

7 See Kaf Hachayim, 168:66.

8 A study of the relevant sources reveals that kiviyas seudah can be effected in three ways:
a) One eats the amount of pas haba bikisnin that an average person would consume as an entire meal were no other food available. This is the case even though the person in question has a greater appetite than the average person and is still unsatisfied after this meal of pas haba bikisnin, because we apply the principle botlo da’ato, i.e. in halachah, we follow the norm.(Shu1chan Oruch O.C. 168:6)
There are three different opinions concerning the calculation of the amount of pas haba bikisnin that an average person consumes:
1) The amount of pas haba bikisnin equal to the volume of three or four eggs, which is approximately 3/4 to one cup. This corresponds to the definition of a meal with respect to eiruv t’chumin (first opinion quoted in Mishnah Brurah 168:24).
2) The amount of pas haba bikisnin equal to the volume of 21 3/5 eggs, which is approximately five cups. This corresponds to the size of a meal of “manna” eaten by the Jewish people in the Sinai desert (Shulchan Oruch Harav 168:8 and Oruch Hashulchan 168:16).
3) The amount cannot be derived from halachic precedents. Rather, the size of the average meal corresponds to a normal meal eaten by a typical person in the contemporary society, and must be reevaluated in each generation. (Igros Moshe O.C. 3:32).
b) One eats the amount of pas haba bikisnin that he personally finds adequate for an entire meal, even though the average person would find this meal unsatisfying. (Mishnah Brurah quoting Magen Avraham in 168:24.)
c) One eats pas haba bikisnin together with other food, and the amounts consumed are equivalent to the amount of bread and other foods normally consumed by an average person at a full meal (Mishnah Brurah quoting Magen Avraham 168:24). In the text of my article I wrote that “eating a mezonos roll as part of an airline meal, may transform it into bread,” which indicates some uncertainty. The reason for this is as follows: From Igros Moshe O.C. 3:32 it is clear that the criteria described above in category “c” are only met if the amount of pas haba bikisnin consumed is equal to the amount of bread normally eaten together with other food. Igros Moshe emphasizes that in our society smaller portions of bread are consumed at meals than in previous times, yet the precise amount of bread is difficult to establish. As such, the rolls provided in an airline meal may be less than a normal portion of bread. In addition, the entire airline meal sometimes may be less than the amount of food consumed by the average person at a standard meal.

9 Many contemporary poskim are of the opinion that two slices of pizza sold in the average pizza shop (slices of frozen pizza may be slightly smaller), constitute kiviyas seudah. Presumably this follows the opinion of Igros Moshe, quoted in footnote 8 (a,3 ) that the halachic standard of an average meal corresponds to the amount typically consumed in a normal meal. Since the average person eats two slices of pizza for lunch, two slices are the standard of kiviyas seudah. As explained earlier, if one eats the amount of the average kiviyas seudah, hamotzi is recited even if the particular person in question has a larger appetite and is not satisfied with the meal. Nonetheless, it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that the average person would eat only two slices of pizza for dinner, which is generally a larger meal than lunch. If, howet1er, the person is satisfied after eating two slices of pizza, this is unquestionably kiviyas seudah based on footnote 8b. Similarly, if the person eats only one slice together with French fries or other side dishes, and he is satiated, this would be considered kiviyas seudah, based on footnote 8c. (This presumes that one slice of pizza is equivalent to the amount of bread eaten at a normal meal.) Finally, it should be noted that according to the position cited in footnote 8(a,1), one slice of pizza which equals the volume of three or four eggs would be sufficient for kiviyas seudah. Since there are conflicting opinions, the matter remains a sofek. Hamotzi can not be recited, but a yorei shamayim would avoid eating that amount of pizza except after reciting hamotzi on a piece of bread. It is important to realize that our discussion of the amount of food that constitutes kiviyas seudah pertains only to adults, and not to children (Mishnah Brurah, Biur Halachah 168:6). It is possible that for younger children, even one slice of pizza would be sufficient for kiviyas seudah.

10 It has been argued that the crust of frozen pie is not completely baked and the completion of the baking process occurs when the pizza is heated by the consumer. However, this claim is difficult to substantiate. It should also be noted that our presentation does not follow the view of Mekor Bracha quoted in footnote 3. It should be recognized that, based on the previous discussion regarding mezonos rolls, adding fruit juice to the pie dough has no bearing on the halachic status of pizza.

11 For a discussion of fresh and frozen pizza, see Rabbi Y. Belsky, Mesorah, ibid.

12 Minchas Yitzchok, wI. 1, #60, IInd wi. 4, #/36, and Yabiya Omer, vol. 3, #1.

13 It is difficult to make a definitive statement about bagel chips, pita chips and croutons, because different companies produce these items in various ways. Two issues that effect the halachic status need to be considered. The first is if these products are heavily seasoned to the point where the seasoning is primary, are they considered pas haba bikisnin? I checked with a number of manufacturers, and in each instance they add the seasoning after the baking is completed. As such, this does not constitute pas
haba bikisnin. The second issue is more complicated. The Shulchan Aruch,. O.C 168:10 establishes that boiling pieces of bread that are smaller than a k’zayis (approximately one fluid ounce) changes the brochah from hamotzi to mezonos (even if one is kovaya seudah). Typically, boiling occurs in water. What if the pieces of bread are fried in oil? There are three different levels of frying in halachah:
a) If the pieces are deep fried in a pot of oil, the brochah is mezonos (Magen Avrohom 168:36).
b) If the pieces are fried in a frying pan in a bed of oil, it is a matter of dispute whether the brochah is mezonos or hamotzi. The Mishnah Brurah (168:56) recommends eating these pieces only as part of a bread meal.
c) If the pieces are cooked in a frying pan with minimal oil that is used only to prevent burning, the brochah is hamotzi (Rama, 168:14). Interestingly, the above items are produced in three different ways which correspond to the three levels of frying. In all instances, the product is first baked, sliced and dried. Some manufacturers then deep fry the small chips, in which case the brochah is clearly mezonos. Other companies spray the product with oil and then bake it on pans in an oven. As the oil heats up, it drains onto the pan. If there is sufficient accumulation of oil, this situation might be similar to frying in a frying pan in a bed of oil. The brochah would be uncertain, and the recommendation of the Mishnah Brurah to avoid eating these pieces out of the context of a meal would apply. Still other producers spray the chips with oil and then bake them on a mesh belt which passes through an oven. Since the mesh is porous, the oil drains through the belt. This is essentially considered baking, even though there is a slight coating of oil on the belt, and the brochah would be hamotzi. Thus, it is not possible to establish the brochah without first determining the method of production. It is suggested that consumers solicit this information from the kosher certifying agency. This entire discussion only relates to pieces that are smaller than a k’zayis. If, however, the bagel or pita chips are larger than a k’zayis, frying in oil does not affect the status and hamotzi is recited.