1. The Mishna (Pesachim 114a) presents a disagreement between the Sages and Rav Elazar ben Tzadok as to whether Charoses constitutes a mitzvah. The Sages argue that it does not, while Rav Elazar ben Tzadok argues that it does. The Gemara explains both of the opinions recorded in the Mishna. It explains that the Sages believe that Charoses merely serves to blunt the bitter taste of the Marror. The Gemara subsequently presents two explanations of Rav Elazar ben Tzadok’s opinion. One explanation is that the thick texture and cloudy color of the Charoses serve to recall the mortar that the Jewish slaves used for making bricks in Egypt. A second explanation is that the Charoses serves to remind us of the “Tapuchim” (apple trees- see Halacha 3 below) in Egypt. Rashi and Rashbam explain that the Jewish women in Egypt would painlessly and quietly give birth beneath the apple trees so that the Egyptians would not discover that a Jewish male was born. We follow the view of Rav Elazar Ben Tzadok.
2. The Rishonim (Tosafos, Tur etc.) write that Charoses is made from fruits mentioned in Tanach symbolizing the Jewish people (apples, figs, dates, walnuts, almonds and pomegranates, with some adding grapes and pears). The Ari z”l would eat Charoses comprised of grapes, figs, dates, nuts, apples, pomegranets and pears. The Ari z”l did mention that the common custom amongst Ashkenazim was to make Charoses comprised of nuts, apples and pears.(See Kol Bo and Kaf Hachaim 473:99)
3. It should be noted that Tosafos (Taanis 29b) explains that the Biblical word “Tapuach” refers to a citrus fruit, like an esrog or an orange. This view of Tosafos was also cited by Harav Yosef Dov Soloveichick zt”l. (Nefesh Harav 209) It is for this reason that Rav Hershel Schachter shlit”a (in a shiur) maintains that if one wants to be accurate, he should use oranges (or other citrus fruits) for the charoses. Harav Avraham Blumenkrantz zt”l adds that in many Sefardic homes apples are not used at all for the Charoses. And that those who do use apples for the Charoses should also include some citrus fruit or juice.
4. The Gemara in Pesachim continues and teaches that we should add spices to the Charoses to remind us of the straw in Egypt. The Rama (473:5) writes that the custom is to add cinnamon and ginger. The Baal Hatania explains that these spices resemble straw because even after they are grated and ground they are in strandlike form, similar to straw.
5. Although the common custom is to use powdered cinnamon and ground ginger, it would seem that using powdered cinnamon and ground ginger would not be a proper fulfillment of this custom, as they are no longer strandlike. Harav David Feinstein shlit”a (Hagaddah Kol Dodi page 66) writes, “Semi-ground, long-shaped spices such as cinnamon and ginger should alos be added, since they symbolize the straw that the Israelites had to work with. As of this writing, unground cinnamon or ginger is not widely available in America, so people season the charoses with ground cinnamon. But this is needless because ground spices do not symbolize straw. I am surprised that we neglect to enhance our mitzvah performance by obtaining this ingredient. In Mishnaic times the peddlers of Jerusalem would call out, ‘Come and get your spices for the mitzvah!’ (Pesachim 116a). As of this writing, however, these spices in their unground form have become available and can be used for charoses.”
6. The fruit should be chopped up and ground before Yom Tov. If one forgot to prepare it before Yom Tov one may prepare it on Yom Tov. (Mishnah Berurah 473:47)
7. As cited above, the fruit is chopped up and ground in a thick mixture, in order to resemble the mortar that the Jewish slaves made in Egypt. However, if it were to remain thick one would not be able to dip the Marror in the Charoses. It is for that reason that we add red wine to the Charoses in order to thin it out. The red wine content of the charoses also serves to recall the first of the ten plagues – the plague of blood. (Mishnah Berurah 473:48)
8. The Chayei Adam and Chok Yaakov write that one should bring the Charoses to the table while it is thick and right before one is ready to dip in it the Marror one adds the wine.
9. When Pesach falls on Shabbos the wine should be added before Shabbos. If one forgot to add the wine before Shabbos, the wine may be added on Shabbos in an abnormal way. Therefore, the wine should first be placed into the vessel and then the Charoses is added. He should not mix it with a spoon or other utensil, but should mix it by using his finger or by shaking the vessel. (Chayei Adam ibid.)
10. Similarly, if Pesach falls on Shabbos, the Charoses should be ground or chopped before Shabbos. If one forgot to prepare it before Shabbos, he should cut up the fruit into large pieces just before the Seder. (Halachos of Pesach by Rav Shimon Eider zt”l)