chocolate covered melomakarona cookies on a plate

Melomakarona, traditional Greek Christmas cookies, tend to be rich in olive oil and honey (with the beginning of their name coming from meli, the Greek word for honey). Dr. Eleni Melliou, president of the World Olive Center for Health in Athens, shared a version of her grandmother’s cookie recipe that uses super healthy high phenolic extra virgin olive oil.

Every year before Christmas as Melliou grew up, her grandmother told her mother about this recipe, and she watched, listened, and then began to take part in this multi-generational baking tradition. As Melliou explains, “the aroma from the ingredients and the images from the kitchen with me, my grandmother, and my mother is in my memory every Christmas. The memory of the taste and smell is my strongest memory.”

Melomakarona Recipe

For approximately 120 small cookies, or fewer larger ones


(Using American measurements, with some Greek and metric equivalents indicated)

For the cookies
2 cups sugar (2 teacups, 400 grams)
6 cups high phenolic* (early harvest) extra virgin olive oil
1 cup orange juice
zest of one orange
1 cup cognac
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup fine semolina
4.4 pounds or 16 cups (2 kilograms) all-purpose flour

For the syrup**
3 cups sugar
2 cups honey
3 cups water
the peel of one orange

1 cup (200 grams) chopped walnuts (best if chopped by hand)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Optional topping, instead of some or all of the toppings above
Melted chocolate
Chopped walnuts


In a large bowl, whisk together the high phenolic olive oil and the sugar until the sugar dissolves. Then add the orange juice and orange zest and stir.

In another bowl, mix the cognac with the baking soda and baking powder, stirring until the powders dissolve. Then add this to the large bowl with the olive oil mixture.

Add the cinnamon and cloves and stir. Next, add the semolina and stir again.  

Add the flour gradually, kneading the mixture with clean or gloved hands. Knead until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands, but be careful not to overwork the dough.

These cookies are most often formed into an egg shape, but you can also cut them into your favorite shapes. Make small balls of dough with your hands, then use your hands to flatten each one on a floured surface until it is about 3/5 of an inch (1.5 cm) thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.  

melomakarona cookies on baking sheet before baking

Place the cookies on a large baking sheet covered with baking parchment, leaving about 3/5 of an inch (1.5 cm) between them, and bake at 350 degrees F (175-180 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes.

**You can either make the syrup 3 to 4 hours before making the cookies, so the syrup cools, and you can put the hot cookies in it. Or make the syrup after baking the cookies, then put the cooled cookies into the warm syrup.

To make the syrup, heat all the syrup ingredients, stirring occasionally until the sugar and honey dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove it from the hot stove. Use a spoon to remove any foam that appears on the surface, then mix well until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. (You can leave the orange peel in the syrup to give the mixture more aroma.)

Soak the hot cookies in the cooled syrup, or the cooled cookies in the warm syrup, for 1 minute on each side (turning them after a minute of soaking). Then let them drain on a wire rack.

After draining, place the cookies on a big plate and sprinkle them with the mixture of sugar, cinnamon, and crushed walnuts. Alternatively, you can dip the tops of some or all of the cookies in melted chocolate, then sprinkle chopped walnuts over them.

*Why use high phenolic extra virgin olive oil?

It is not essential to use this type of olive oil, but the natural phenolic compounds found in extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs) do have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, among many other health benefits. More phenolic compounds tends to mean more health benefits.

a plate piled high with brown melomakarona cookies, with angel decorations near the plate and a bit of Christmas tree in the background

“My grandmother always used olive oil for melomakarona,” said Melliou, “but the olive variety that we have on Salamina island, where we live, is the Megaritiki variety. We discovered several years ago that the phenolic concentration of the olive oil from the Megaritiki variety is low. So people used this olive oil to make sweets without noticing any of the bitterness or pungency” typical of high phenolic EVOO.

This year Melliou used a very high phenolic olive oil (total phenols 1400 mg/kg), but when the cookies were baked, she reported, “I didn't notice any bitterness or pungency.” So the flavor is not affected much. What about the nutrition?

“I think the higher the phenolic content of the olive oil that we use to cook, the higher the health value will be after cooking, but I have to prove that in my next study!” As a scientist who has worked on many studies of the health benefits of high phenolic olive oil, Melliou is serious about testing the phenolic content of her cookies.

For our health, Melliou says, “the best way to consume olive oil is in its raw form, but we have seen from our studies that it is better to use olive oil to cook than other oils. A small percentage of the original phenols remain after 30 minutes at 175-180 degrees C, but the other phenols decompose to become free tyrosol or hydroxytyrosol,” different types of phenolic compounds that also add health benefits.

Stay tuned for more details about the health benefits of these Christmas cookies. Meanwhile, enjoy their flavor!

Thanks to Dr. Eleni Melliou for sharing her grandmother’s recipe and the photos.

All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil, the Mediterranean diet, and/or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as anyone else interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website. The only wide-ranging English-language site featuring news and information from the Greek olive oil world, it has helped companies reach consumers in more than 200 countries around the globe.

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