27 October 2005


"It's like eating a slice of chai tea." -- Marilyn

Since my posting my pumpkinny memories, people have been asking me about halva. Most of them knew about the sesame and honey kind, but didn't realize that there were more kinds than that, nor is this type of candy popular in many countries.

"Halva" (halawah, hulva, hulwa...the spellings go on and on), is the name given to a huge range of sweets made in the Middle East, Central Asia and India. The word itself comes from the Arabic word for sweet, hulw. A couple of people called it by other names, but I use the English wordform...and so does my mum and a number of other Indians I know.

Halva History
Even though some think of halva as an Indian invention, both The Penguin Companion to Food (my personal food bible) and Food in History by Reay Tannahill consider it to have Arabic roots.

In the seventh century; hulw was a date paste that was kneaded with milk, which eventually evolved into other forms including stiffer confections made with wheat or semolina flour and sweetened with fruit paste, syrup or honey and flavoured with nuts, spices or even rose water before deep frying.

As Arabic influence spread, halva took on local flare. Nepalese versions can be sweet, made from carrot and barley, or savoury, made from barley, ghee, water and salt. Middle Eastern halva can be made with nuts, dried fruits, yoghurt, honey and spices. In Turkey and Greece, halva is made without grain and are made with cooked egg, syrup, nuts and sometimes fruit.

Indian Halva
In India, halva's popularity became the root of halvais, the confectioners caste. Many Indian versions are made with semolina and ghee. Depending upon where you go, you can find types that use spices, nuts, or seeds. Non-semolina-based confections can be made from zedoary flour or veg (carrot, potatoes, beets or squash), fruit (bananas, mangoes, papayas) or legumes (lentils, peanuts, mung beans). Other ingredients can include cream, egg custard or coconut milk and can be flavoured with any number of nuts, spices and/or dried fruits.

European Halva
What many people find in Europe and North America is sesame halva. This is actually a by-product of sesame oil production, by sweetening ground sesame sees with honey or a sugar syrup, and then pressing the mixture into cakes.

If you are looking for halva recipes, try the Wikipedia entry, Kate Wood's raw vegan version or Gourmet Magazine's frozen pistachio halvah pie.

And yes, that is a picture of my mum's pumpkin halva...mmmmmmmm.....

as always,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very good article. helped me in school. thx!