Pan de muerto

Halloween food traditions from around the world

When it comes to seasonal celebrations associated with food, Halloween can often be overlooked. Fancy-dress costumes, trick or treating, and pumpkin carving usually take centre stage, but food is actually at the heart of this spooky celebration’s history. 

Halloween is celebrated all over the world by lots of different cultures, but many people are unaware of the history behind it and where it originates from. The Halloween traditions that we enjoy today actually date back to Celtic and Roman times, and often derive from practices involving food.

Halloween itself has strong roots in three celebrations, one of these being the Celtic festival of Samhain. This marks the end of summer and harvest season, and welcomes the arrival of long, dark, winter days. Celts believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors were free to roam among the living during Samhain, so wore ghoulish disguises to avoid visits from any unwanted spirits- this is where the Halloween fancy-dress tradition began. 

Halloween also has links to the Roman festival of Pomona. Pomona was the Roman goddess of orchards and harvest and the Romans celebrated her with offerings of nuts, apples and other orchard fruits- foods that are still associated with Halloween to this day. In fact, the tradition of apple bobbing is said to be a nod to Pomona, her apples and their symbolism of love.

Additionally, the Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day, celebrated on November 1st, also has connections to Halloween. As part of this celebration, it’s said that villagers used to bake ‘soul cakes’- spiced, biscuit-like cakes- and offer them to the spirits of deceased ancestors. 

So, how have these Halloween food traditions been adapted around the world?

Pão-por-Deus – Portugal

Pao por deus

Traditionally eaten on All Saints’ Day, these are small, round, coconut-flavoured bread rolls which include a splash of rum, lemon zest and vanilla. In Portugal, children are given these as they go from door to door singing and saying prayers for the deceased- sound familiar to trick or treating? 

Pan dei morti – Italy 

Pan dei morti

These are traditional Italian cookies, often called ‘beans of the dead’, which contain ground-up almonds, pine nuts, cinnamon and lemon zest. They’re described as ‘dense, moist, and chewy’ but the crunch of the pine nuts is supposedly to remind you of dead men’s bones- very spooky. 

Pan de muerto – Mexico 

Pan de muerto

This is a traditional Mexican Halloween bake which literally translates to ‘bread of the dead’. Pan de muerto is a sweetened, soft bread which is shaped like a bun and often decorated with bone-shaped phalange pieces to represent deceased loved ones. In Mexico, these are eaten next to a loved one’s grave to remember them and celebrate their life. 

Candy apples – United States of America 

Candy apples

Halloween coincides with the annual apple harvests in America which is where this tradition comes from. To make these sweet treats, apples are covered in a sticky, sugar coating which is made by mixing corn syrup, water, cinnamon and red food colouring. A stick is then inserted into the apple as a handle- the perfect Halloween treat!

Bonfire toffee – United Kingdom 

Bonfire toffee

As well as appearing on Guy Fawkes Night, bonfire toffee also appears at many Halloween celebrations here in the UK. In Scotland, the sweet treat is known as ‘claggum’, with less sweet versions known as ‘clack’. It’s made by mixing black treacle, butter and sugar which then sets and is smashed into lots of hard, brittle pieces, usually with a hammer! 

Will you be making any of these sweet treats this Halloween?