Greek Kolyva (Koliva) Wheat Berry Memorial Food



40 servings



4 cups wheat berries (about 1 pound, 6 ounces)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 tsp. anise seeds
1-1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (6 ounces)
1-1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds (6 ounces)
1-1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 lg. fresh pomegranate (see Notes)
3 cups confectioners' sugar Divided (sometimes called icing or
powdered sugar)
2 cups whole blanched almonds, for decorating
Silver draggees (see Notes)


Rinse the wheat berries and place them in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches, along with a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the berries are tender and beginning to split but not mushy, about 1 3/4 hours. (Add more water to the pot when the liquid reduces to the level that the wheat no longer floats, and stir from time to time so the berries don’t stick to the bottom.) Drain and set aside in the strainer to cool and dry for at least 1 hour or up to several hours.

Place the cooled wheat berries in a large mixing bowl. Add the sesame and anise seeds, walnuts, slivered almonds, raisins, cinnamon, and the pomegranate seeds. Sift in 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and toss it all together.

Transfer the mixture to a large platter or tray. Sift the remaining confectioners’ sugar over the top to coat it thickly, almost like a frosting. Decorate the top with the whole almonds and the dragees.

To serve, present the platter of decorated kolyva. Then, just before eating, mix it all together.

NOTES: Pomegranate is not always in season, but there really is no substitute for the seed in taste, texture, or symbolism. If it is not available, simply omit it.

Dragees are available in any well stocked large supermarket, usually in the baking aisle.

Kolyva is traditionally prepared the day before the memorial serve, but the wheat berries can ferment if left at room temperature overnight and the sugar can crystallize in a refrigerator’s moist environment. The best pre-preparation method is to boil and refrigerate the wheat berries ahead of time, then add the other ingredients and decorate the kolyva just before it’s needed.

Adventures In Greek Cooking

Author's Comments

While this is a mournful memorial food, it is also a much loved treat, patted down in pie tins, blanketed with a thick layer of sugar, and elaborately festooned with silver dragee candies, seeds, and almonds.

It is brought to the church for blessing on the third and ninth day of a beloved’s passing, again at forty days, a year, and three years, and also on “Soul Saturday” twice a year.

After church the kolyva is poured into a sack or a large bowl, mixing the sugar, decoration, and grain together, and offered around. Children wait for it, paper bags at the ready. Adults, unable to forgo the comfort and memory of it, take handfuls. It is a fine way to honor the deceased with the food of life.

9 Recipe Reviews


This Recipe Is Exactly Like The One I Used To Have As A Child It Is Absolutely Beautiful And I Have Been Searching For This Recipe For Years Thank You. I Look Forward To Many Of Your Dishers.


This is a great recipe,but leaves out 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 c chpped parsley I have made it...serve it i npaper cups and eat it woth a spoon!!! Use 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs over mound then sift confectioner's sugar over it, smooth it out with strips of waxed paper. Use candied white almonds to make a cross on top. Question: how to apply dragees that do not slide off the confectioner's sugar? Symbolism: parsley, green of earth, almonds sweet and bitterness of life, wheat, seed must die in order to live again(eternal life) pomegranite, Christ's blood, Hymn is "Memory Eternal." Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has full info on history and recipe. Different Orthodox cultures use slightly different ingredients. So what to do with dragees, some way to "glue them on"?????


Excellent recipe. It got raves from many people, young and old-timers alike. I only tweaked it a bit. - no anise (because my mother did not like it!) and no silver dragees. The pomegranate was amazing in it - I was lucky to find some. This is definitely a keeper


There are so many variations of koliva recipes, but there is a "base" that seems to be universal. We serve ours in small baggies and eat them with a spoon. Sometimes, I take an extra home and have it with yogurt for breakfast! YUM!
Millie - after you pat down the initial coating of powdered sugar on the koliva, if you add a light dusting on top of that and your dragees will stay better. At least that's how I do it.


I just wanted to add a couple of historical traditions on this very important food. Besides it's nutritional value that is very rich in phyto-protein and carbohydrates there are a few symbolisms that need to be mentioned.
This traditional food predates Christianity and all of the main products that go into making it are offerings to deities of the Hellenistic religion.
Wheat: belongs to Dimitra ( in Greek all of the grains are called Dimitriaka)
Parsley: symbolizes rebirth
Pomegranate: is the fruit of Hades.
So in one dish we pay respect to Dimitra, her daughter Persephone and Hades. All together these are the figures that are in the story of the Hellenes to describe our seasons.
I cannot find another way of commemorating one's passing and having sweet thoughts of the time that we have shared together.
This is a simple recipe and one that is delicious.
Also, for those who might find this interesting, women while lactating will make this dish as it promotes milk production. ( That is what my mom says anyway, she raised six of us)


Hey can you please tell me what kind of berries this is made with?...Is it "Gold wheat berries" or "spelt"?


The type of berries used is called "Winter White Wheat Berries". In Dallas, they can be purchased at Whole Foods grocery store.


Oh, as well, it is the SOFT Winter White Wheat Berries.


I add fresh parsley as well. This is a very nice recipe. Thank You