I have just realised that the challah I bought for Shabbat says that they are ‘mezonot’. Is that a problem?
This is a great question and is a big source of confusion. It is actually quite a complex and detailed area of Jewish law but we will try and outline some of the basics.
What are ‘mezonot’ and ‘hamotzi’?
Our Sages laid out for us different berachot (blessings) on different types of food. On food that is made with five types of grain, namely wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye, either the bracha of ‘hamotzi’ (short for ‘hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz’ – “who brings forth bread from the earth”) or that of ‘mezonot’ (short for ‘borei minei mezonot’ – “who creates the various kinds of nourishment”) is made.
These berachot should be recited whenever one eats that food. One can mistakenly think that ‘hamotzi’ is reserved for a Shabbat meal as that is where people see it being recited but the blessings on food should really be said over every meal or snack.
How do I know which to make?
Most grain based foods other than bread (biscuits, cakes, etc.) would require the bracha of ‘mezonot’. However, there is much debate as to what constitutes bread and the confusion has been increased in recent years by many
The consensus of opinion (at least for Ashkenazim) is that if the dough is kneaded with more than 50% fruit juice (or similar) or so much that one can actually taste the juice in the bread then the bracha would be ‘mezonot’, otherwise the bracha is ‘hamotzi’. Therefore, something such a Challah, which tastes like bread would be considered hamotzi.
When the food is part of a meal
Even if one has a Challah that is so sweet one can actually taste the sugar it was needed with, if it is served as part of a significant meal in which one will be eating a substantial amount, the bracha of ‘hamotzi’ should be recited.
Then why is it advertised as ‘mezonot’?
This is perhaps the hardest question to answer. There are a number of potential reasons ranging from clever marketing to the expectation that if one is eating a small amount ‘on-the-go’ then there are opinions who would suggest saying a ‘mezonot’.
In practice, if one is eating the Challah at a meal, one should wash, make ‘hamotzi’ and bensch (grace after meals) regardless of whether the Challah is labelled ‘mezonot’ or not.