Zurek recipe history culture origin

Easter Żurek in a bread bowl (with typical Polish handle). The pansy is purely for decorative purposes and not eaten. Click here for original image.

Żurek: The Soup that Makes a Man as Strong as a Wall

Published: August 5, 2018

(The Soup that Makes a Man as Strong as a Wall: from the Old Silesian saying “Ze żuru, chłop jak z muru” (Literally: from żur, a man is like he’s made from wall)

Żurek is a sour soup made from fermented rye flour with sausages, potatoes, eggs, and spices. It is popular across Poland in a variety of regional tweaks. Żurek is also eaten in Belarus (as Жур) and in slightly different forms in Slovakia (as kyslóvka) and the Czech Republic (as kyselo). In Poland, it is usually eaten in its full form (with sausage, etc) on Easter, although it is also eaten during Lent (by traditional families) without meat and usually only flavored with salt and garlic to symbolize fasting, sacrifice and self-denial. On special occasions it is served in a bread bowl. It is considered a strong part of Polish culture and has been eaten in Poland since at least the Middle Ages.

How Żurek Got Its Name

(Dlaczego “żurek” jest tak nazywany?)

Żur, as the soup is sometimes referred to (“Żurek” is just a Polish diminutive of Żur), is probably derived etymologically from the Old High German “sur” (modern German “sauer,” a cognate of modern English “sour”), according to Aleksander Brueckner’s etymological dictionary of the Polish language. Brueckner argues that the word “żur” was borrowed from the German and became widespread in the 15th Century in Western Slavic languages (Polish, Slovakian, Czech, and Sorbian) and then later gained currency in Russian from the Western Slavic languages. There is some debate about this, however, with some scholars arguing other origins.

Żur is also closely related to “barszcz biały” [bahrshch byawy] (white borscht). “Barszcz biały” uses wheat flour for its base instead of rye flour and doesn’t always contain sausage. This technical differentiation, however, is really just that. There is in fact more variety between regional takes on Żurek than there is between the archetypal żurek and the archetypal “barszcz biały.” In the northeast of Poland, for example, it is more common to use buckwheat (rather than the typical rye flour) in żurek as the base, whereas oat flour is more common in the south of the country.

Most Polish sources seem to agree that today the two names are more or less used interchangeably to refer to sour fermented soups with a flour base. Historically, however, the two soups were different. Apparently “barszcz biały” was once made from fermented leaves of hogweed, rather than wheat flour. Needless to say, that historical recipe long since gone out of vogue.

Zurek recipe history culture origin
The ingredients for cooking the soup, excluding the zakwas. The sour cream is not necessary and not typically used.

When and How Żurek is Eaten

(Kiedy Polacy jedzą żurek?)

In Poland today the soup has become a widespread staple of Polish cuisine and is usually offered on a daily basis at Polish workers’ cafeterias or milk bars (bar mleczny). Traditionally, however Żurek is eaten in its most extravagant form (with ample amounts of Polish sausage (kielbasa and potatoes) on holidays, especially Easter.

Zurek recipe history culture origin
Żurek is popular enough in Poland that several companies offer instant versions in Polish stores. We recommend making it from scratch, however!

According to Maria Dembińska’s Food and Drink in Medieval Poland, many Polish peasants used to keep (until quite recently actually) a ceramic pot especially for making “zakwas” (the sour base) for żurek. The pot was not washed, which allowed the fermentation from the previous batch to act as starter for the next. “Zakwas” is derived from the Polish word for “to ferment” (and is related to the Russian word “закваска,” which also refers to something fermented and is commonly found when referring to the preparation of Russian dairy-based beverages).

As aforementioned, during Lent the soup would only be flavored with basic spices and thus the soup came to eventually occupy a cultural symbolic space in Polish literature as a metaphor for sacrifice and self-denial. Indeed, at the end of Lent, the “zakwas” pot would be symbolically “killed” by either smashing or burying it. Apparently, Polish archeologists have uncovered a number of such pots in medieval finds in Poland, providing material evidence for the longevity of this tradition.

Cooking Traditional Żurek

(Jak odpowiednio ugotować żurek?)

Preparing żurek in the traditional way takes literally days, so don’t expect to be able to make it for dinner without the help of modern “cheats.” The first step in cooking żurek is preparing the “zakwas” or sour base that gives żurek its signature tang. If this is your first batch of “zakwas” or if you’re using a clean jar, you’ll need a starter to help the fermentation process along. Typically the crust of a piece of rye bread is used (the yeast and bacteria in the bread will start the fermentation process). Although a number of different regional preferences for bases exist, the typical choice is rye flour. The rye flour is then mixed in a jar with water and the fermentation starter or with the residue of former zakwas batches and left to ferment in a warm place (around 70-80⁰F) for two to six days, depending on the level of sourness desired (the longer the zakwas ferments, the more sour it will be). If bread has been used as a starter, it should be removed from the surface of the water after a couple of days before mold starts to form on the bread. If you’re in a hurry, you can also use a prepackaged powder base (sold by Knorr in Poland, for example, as instant żurek or barszcz biały), instead of fermenting your own “zakwas.”

Let’s cook!


See below for a free recipe for żurek. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our full, free Eurasian Cookbook online! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we’ve enjoyed:

Polish Cookery 51EOQWvYmfL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_ 51gf+bAbAzL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ 41Y8R0wcVBL


Żurek Żurek


  • 200 g mąki żytniej
  • 3 szklanki przegotowanej letniej wody (ok. 800 mL)
  • 2-4 ząbki czosnku
  • 1-3 liście laurowe
  • 3-6 ziarenek ziela angielskiego
  • 1-2 kromki chleba razowego ze skórką (może być piętka razowego chleba)


  • 2-4 białe kiełbasy, surowe (ok. 600 g)
  • 1,5 L wody
  • 1 łyżeczka oleju
  • 2 duże cebule, posiekane w kostkę
  • 3 ząbki czosnku, drobno posiekane
  • 200 g wędzonego boczku
  • 0,5 L zakwasu
  • 1-2 łyżeczek majeranku
  • 1-2 liście laurowe
  • 2-4 jajka ugotowane na twardo
  • ziemniaki (ugotowane i pokrojone, lub puree)
  • sól i pieprz do smaku


  1. Przygotowanie zakwasu: Najpierw należy wsypać mąkę żytnią do słoika (lub do kamiennego garnka), a następnie zalać ją przegotowaną wodą i dokładnie wymieszać. Do wymieszania najlepiej użyć drewnianej łyżki lub trzepaczki. Następnie do wymieszanej mąki i wody należy dodać obrane ząbki czosnku, liście laurowe, ziarenka ziela angielskiego i chleb. Na koniec słoik (lub garnek) z zakwasem trzeba przykryć ściereczką, gazą, lub płótnem, tak aby dochodziło do niego powietrze. Odstawić go w ciepłe miejsce na 3 do 5 dni; należy zakwas zamieszać jeden lub dwa razy dziennie.
  2. Kiedy zakwas będzie gotowy, to można zacząć gotować żurek. Do dużego garnka włożyć surową białą kiełbasę i zalać wodą (1.5 L). Gotować na średnim ogniu.
  3. Do patelni należy wlać olej i dodać posiekane w kostkę cebuly i drobno posiekane ząbki czosnku, a następnie dobrze podsmażyć. Dodać zawartość patelni do garnka (do gotującej się wody i kiełbasy). Można odłożyć część podsmażonej cebuli, aby dodać do ziemniaków puree i resztę dodać do garnka.
  4. Następnie na patelni podsmażyć pokrojone w kostkę boczek i potem również dodać do garnka (można wląc też tłuszcz z boczku, żeby dodać smak do żurku).
  5. Wlać do garnka 0,5 L zakwasu (dobrze rozmieszany) i potem dodać majeranek, liście laurowe i sól i pieprz do smaku.
  6. Żurek już jest gotowy! Przed podaniem dokładnie wymieszać zupę, pokroić kiełbasę w kawałki lub plasterki i pokroić jajka na ćwiartki. Podawać żurek z pokrojoną kiełbasą i jajkiem. Można podawać dodatkowo z ziemniakami ugotowanymi i pokrojonymi lub z ziemniakami puree. Smacznego!

Sour Base

  • 200 g rye flour
  • 3 cups (approx. 800 mL) lukewarm water (previously boiled)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves
  • 1-3 bay leaves
  • 3-6 whole dried allspice berries
  • 1-2 small pieces of wholewheat bread with crust (can also just use
  • the ends, i.e. crust, of the bread)

Sour Soup

  • 2-4 links of white Polish sausage, uncooked
  • 1.5 liters of water
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 200 g bacon
  • 0.5 liter of the sour base
  • 1-2 teaspoons of marjoram
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 2-4 hard-boiled eggs
  • potatoes (boiled and cubed, or mashed)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preparing the sour base: First pour the flour into a jar (or a clay pot), then add the warm water (boiled, not straight from the tap) and mix well. It is best to mix with a wooden spoon or a whisk. Next, add the peeled whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, dried allspice berries, and bread to the flour-water mixture. Finally, cover the jar (or clay pot) containing the sour base with a dishcloth, gauze, or linen so that air can reach the mixture. Set the jar aside in a warm place for 3 to 5 days; be sure to stir the sour base mixture once or twice daily.
  2. When the sour base is ready, it is possible to begin cooking the sour rye soup. In a large pot, pour in 1.5 liters of water and add the uncooked white sausage. Cook over medium heat.
  3. Pour the oil into a frying pan and add the diced onions and minced garlic. Fry until translucent and slightly golden brown. Add the fried onions and garlic to the pot with the simmering water and sausage. If desired, set aside a portion of the fried onions and garlic to add to the mashed potatoes, and then add the remainder to the pot.
  4. Next, dice the bacon and fry it until crispy. Add it as well to the contents of the pot (don’t be shy about pouring the bacon grease into the pot too ‒ it will add plenty of flavor to the soup).
  5. Pour 0.5 liter of the sour base (make sure it is well-mixed) into the pot, and then add the marjoram and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. The sour rye soup is now ready! Before serving, mix the soup thoroughly, cut the sausage into pieces or slices, and cut the hard-boiled eggs into quarters. Serve the sour rye soup with sausage and egg. You can also serve it with boiled, cubed potatoes or with mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

Our Favorite Żurek Videos

This is a great video in Polish that shows the entire process of making homemade Silesian żurek ‒ from preparing the “zakwas,” to cooking the soup, to showing how to serve the final product in a bread bowl. Just a note, though: this version of żurek uses mashed potatoes instead of the standard pieces of boiled potato. The use of mashed potatoes and bacon is typical of Silesian żurek, common around the Wrocław area in South-Western Poland.


This Polish-language video demonstrates every step in making “zakwas.” It also includes a useful onscreen list of ingredients as a reminder and shows the removal of the solid matter (bread, garlic) from the “zakwas” after a few days of fermentation.


This video shows famous Polish chef Magdy Gessler making “barszcz biały,” a tasty analogue to żurek.

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About the author

Josh Seale

Josh Seale is pursuing an MA in interdisciplinary German and European Studies at Georgetown University with a specialization in German-Polish relations. He holds a BA in Germanic Studies from the University of Chicago and has interned abroad in Germany and studied abroad previously in Poland. He is currently serving as an SRAS Home and Abroad Scholar in Warsaw, Poland.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: Josh Seale