The correct blessing for sushi

The issue is one of which brachah (blessing) to make on composite foods when one of the 5 grains is an ingredient.

Halakha Hotline, | updated: 06:48

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What is the proper b’rachah to recite over combined foods/mixtures that include ingredients from the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye)? This discussion is relevant to two common types of sushi that contain wheat: “tempura” and “crunch.” For tempura sushi, the sushi is dipped in into a batter made of flour and water, after which the sushi – with the coating – is deep-fried in oil. For “crunch” sushi, a batter made of flour and water is dropped into boiling oil, where it solidifies into crunchy flakes and/or crunchy pieces, which are sprinkled onto sushi. 

Below is a summary of a previous article on the subject:

1) When dealing with a composite food or mixture (henceforth in this article referred to a composite food), if one of the ingredients in a composite food is the ikar (main [ingredient]), and the other(s) is/are tafeil (subordinate [ingredient]) to the ikar, the b’rachah on the ikar effectively covers the tafeil. When a composite food does not contain any of the five grains, the ikar will be either the ingredient that one prefers the most (such that the motivating factor for one’s eating the composite food is the presence of that preferred ingredient), or if one prefers all of the food items equally, the ikar is the ingredient that comprises the majority of the composite food.

When dealing with composite foods that contain one or more of the five grains, the factors that determine which ingredient is the ikar are somewhat more complicated. 

2) The Gemara[1] writes: “Any [food] that has in it [an ingredient] of the five grains – we recite [over it] the b’rachah of borei minei mezonos.” The implication of this statement is that the b’rachah on such foods is borei minei mezonos even if the presence of the grain is not the motivating factor for one’s eating the composite food, and even if the grain does not comprise the majority of the mixture. I.e., these grains (in any form, such as chopped, ground, or flour – excluding a whole grain; see below) are always considered the ikar of a composite food (so long as the taste of the grain is noticeable).[2]

This ruling is codified in S hulchan Aruch[3] with the qualification that if the food is baked into bread the correct b’rachah is hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz. 

3) There are several exceptions to the Gemara’s ruling that grain is always the ikar, such as cases in which the grain serves merely as a binder or was added only to inject color into the mixture;[4] or the grain was liquefied;[5] or the kernels were baked whole. (See notes.)[6],[7] 

4) The Gemara‘s ruling – that the b’rachah on grain is mezonos – is relevant to the batter that is an ingredient in tempura sushi and crunch sushi, since the batter is made from flour, which is considered a solid, and is added for the purpose of enhancing the taste of the sushi and/or to make it more satiating. Accordingly, the b’rachah on the fried batter – were it to be eaten on its own – would be borei mini mezonos
 

5) Since the b’rachah on the batter is mezonos, and the Gemara rules that the b’rachah over any food that contains an ingredient of the five grains is borei minei mezonos, it would seem – at first glance – that the b’rachah on both tempura sushi and crunch sushi would be simply mezonos. In fact, however, there are other exceptions to the Gemara’sstatement – aside from the ones mentioned above – even with regard to a solid that is added for the purpose of enhancing the taste of a food and/or to make it more satiating. 

The Mishnah Berurah[8] writes that the Gemara’s statement applies only when the grain-food and the other ingredients are baked together so that they become one food. When they are not baked together, grain food has no superiority, and we follow the standard rules of ikar and tafeil. 

Although the Mishnah Berurah spoke only about a case involving baking, it seems clear that the same guidelines apply to a case in which the grain-food is cooked together or deep-fried together with other ingredients. 

In two different locations,[9] the Mishnah Berurah discusses cases in which one cooked a small amount of one of the five grains together with a large amount of soup whose b’rachah is shehakol. (The particular of those cases are beyond the scope of this article, but the halakha that is derived from the case is relevant to our discussion.) The grain was added for taste, but since there is such a small amount of the grain, the soup is the main ingredient and is certainly the ikar.

The Mishnah Berurah rules[10] that one must recite two b’rachos: mezonos on the grain and a shehakol on the soup.[11] A question arises: If the soup is clearly the ikar, and for whatever reason the statement of the Gemara that grain-food is automatically the ikar does not apply, why should one have to recite two b’rachos; seemingly, one should recite only the b’rachah of the soup (shehakol)!? 

The answer (as explained by the Poskim) is that even when the rule of the primacy of grain does not apply and the grain-food is not considered the ikar, the grain food is important enough that it is not considered tafeil to the other ingredients and thus requires its own b’rachah.Accordingly, one must recite a b’rachah on the small amount of grain since it is not tafeil to the soup, and one must recite a shehakol on the soup since it is the main ingredient and thus not tafeil to the grain. 

The same principle can be applied to a case in which there is a mixture (or combined food) of the five grains and a large quantity of some other ingredient(s), and they were not cooked/baked together. Since they were not cooked/baked together, the ruling of the Gemara that the grain-food is automatically the ikar does not apply. Still, one would be required to recite two b’rachos: mezonos on the grain since it is not tafeil to the other ingredient(s), and the b’rachah of the other ingredient(s), since it is the main part of the mixture and is thus not tafeil to the grain. 

We may now apply the above principles to sushi combined with batter. In the case of tempura sushi, where the sushi is deep-fried together with the batter, the b’rachah is simply mezonos (but see note).[12] (See also note 13 regarding the b’rachah acharonah on tempura sushi.)[13] 

In the case of the crunch sushi, however, where the crunchy batter is merely sprinkled onto the sushi, and the sushi and the batter are not deep-fried (or baked or cooked) together, it would seem that generally reciting only a mezonos will not suffice (but see note).[14] First one should recite a mezonos and eat some of the crunch; then one should recite the b’rachah (or b’rachos) that one would recite on the rest of the sushi sans the crunch.

Note: If crunch sushi is made with white rice – whose b’rachah is mezonos, and the quantity of the white rice and the crunch combined comprise the majority of the sushi (such that mezonos is the majority b’rachah-type of the sushi), one recites only a mezonos before eating the sushi.[15]

Sources:

[1]  Berachos 36b. 
[2] M.B. 208:49. 
[3] Orach Chaim 208:2,9. 
[4] S.A. O.C. 204:2. 
[5] S.A. O.C. 208:6; 204:1; M.B. 204:16. 
[6] S.A. O.C. 208:4. It should be noted that when grains are cooked or deep fried, their b’rachah ismezonos only if they were cooked/fried long enough such that the grains stick together (either to each other or with the other ingredients) (M.B. 208:4,15). 
[7] If the grains are peeled and then baked, there is a discussion in the Poskim (halachic authorities) whether the b’rachah is ha’adamah or mezonos; see M.B. 208:15. If they are cooked/fried whole, theb’rachah depends on various factors; see The Laws of B’rachos (ArtScroll) page 271. 
[8] 168:45. 
[9] 205:11 (end) and 208:23. 
[10] Based on the Magen Avraham 205:6 (end) and 208:7; see Pischei halakha 7:30. 
[11] In fact, the M.A. and M.B. in these locations seem to rule that one should first recite shehakol on the soup and then recite mezonos on the grain. (Cf. Nesiv Chaim to M.A. 205:6 who emends the text of the M.A. to read that one should recite mezonos on the grain and then shehakol on the soup!) The order of shehakol and then mezonos applies only in those particular cases of shehakol soup; in other cases, one would definitely first recite mezonos on the grain and then the appropriate b’rachah on the other food item. Further analysis of this distinction is beyond the scope of this article. 
[12] The ruling presented here certainly applies to a case in which the tempura coating is thick. However, if the tempura coating on the sushi is very thin – similar to the breading on a chicken cutlet or fried fish, it would seem that there would be a dispute amongst the Poskim which b’rachah to recite. Some Poskim rule that in the case of breaded chicken cutlet or breaded fish, it is difficult to say that the crust is the ikar and that one should recite a mezonos on the crust. They maintain that the chicken and fish are clearly the ikar, and the crust is tafeil to them; accordingly, they rule that one should recite only a shehakol on breaded chicken and fish. Seemingly, they would rule as well that if tempura sushi has a thin coating, it is difficult to say that the coating is the ikar and that one should recite only mezonos on the coating. Rather, the coating is tafeil to the sushi, and one should apply the guidelines presented in the earlier articles of this series to determine the proper b’rachah/b’rachos on the sushi. Other Poskim,however, rule that even when the coating is very thin, such as in the cases of breaded chicken cutlet or fish, the mezonos is considered the ikar – as it is in the case of a thick coating. Thus, since the chicken or fish were deep-fried together with the coating, one would recite only a mezonos on the tempura sushi. See Mekor HaB’rachah #28 and Be’er Moshe 5:61; see also Pischei halakha appendix #15 for a thorough discussion of the matter. 
[It should be noted that in a case in which the coating has only “medium” thickness, such as in a commercial potato blintz, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe O.C. 4:43) rules that the b’rachah is stillshehakol since it is difficult to say that the crust is not tafeil to the potato; accordingly, he rules that one recites a ha’adamah on a potato blintz. Seemingly, he would rule similarly that one would reciteshehakol on a tempura sushi whose crust is of “medium” thickness. It would seem, however, that mostPoskim do not follow the ruling of the Igros Moshe (see Pischei halakha, milu’im #15 at length), and they rule that when the grain item is cooked/baked together with other food item(s), the crust is theIkar; thus one should recite just a mezonos; thus, they one should recite only a mezonos on a potato blintz and on tempura sushi even if they have only a coating of “medium” thickness. See Laws of B’rachos (ArtScroll) chapter 7, section C for further study.] 
[13] As far as the b’rachah acharonah (after-blessing) is concerned, if one ate a k’zayis (olive size) of the crust within the shiur of k’dei achilas p’ras (approximately 2-4 minutes for these purposes), one would recite an al hamichyah; otherwise, one would recite a borei nefashos on of the other ingredients in the sushi. 
[14] The ruling presented here certainly applies to a case in which the tempura coating is thick. However, if the crunch is very thin, see note 12. Also, if the crunch has no taste and is added just to enhance the chewy experience, it is questionable whether one would recite a mezonos on the crunch; see Pischei halakha (Michtavim #24, page 274). Moreover, Chut Shani (B’rachos page 26; cited inSefer Sha’arei HaB’rachah (chapter 23, end of note 15) rules that (even if the grain has a taste but) the grain is added to the food item merely to add a crunch effect, but not for satiation or for the taste, one does not recite a mezonos on the crunch. 
[15] This ruling presumes one is eating sushi for the combination of its ingredients, as explained in earlier articles of this series. Accordingly, the proper b’rachah is determined by the b’rachah on the majority b’rachah-type in the piece/roll (ignoring the nori). 


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