Open Sesame! Helva Hits The Sweet Spot

The Guide Istanbul|November/December 2019

Open Sesame! Helva Hits The Sweet Spot
COMMONLY ENJOYED AS A SNACK OR MEAL NOT ONLY IN TURKEY, BUT ALSO IN THE MIDDLE EAST, CENTRAL ASIA, AND INDIA, HELVA IS THE NAME GIVEN TO A VARIED RANGE OF SWEET DESSERTS AND CONFECTIONS
Aylin Öney Tan

Turkish helva refers to a variety of sweets which differ based on ingre-dients and the level of complication during preparation. Some types can easily be made at home, but there are also some that require special skills and equipment that can only be made by specialized helva makers. The base ingredients are semolina, flour or starch, butter, ghee, or sesame paste as fat, all mixed with sugar, nuts, and various flavorings.

The ubiquitous, sweet delight rich in sesame is perhaps the best known variety in the world. Known in Turkish as tahin helva, or tahini halva globally, it often comes in big rectangular blocks displayed in shop windows, sold in thick slices or cut into smaller blocks according to a customer’s preference. Sometimes it serves as a quick nourishing snack: a thin slice tucked into fresh bread, still warm out of the oven, makes a satisfactory feast. It can easily be said that it is a staple sweet found almost everywhere in Turkey, enjoyed by all, and perhaps the truly egalitarian sweet of the country.

SWEETNESS IN THE MAKING

Tahin helva comes in three varieties: plain, with cacao streaks, or with pistachios. First, the sugar syrup is prepared with 47% sugar and water. When the sugar is melted, a pinch of citric acid crystals (known as lemon salt) are added and the syrup is continuously stirred while it is boiled to reach the right consistency.

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November/December 2019