Halva (also halvah, halwa, and other spellings) refers to various local confection recipes in West Asia and its vicinity. The name is used for referring to a huge variety of confections, with the most geographically common variety based on toasted semolina.
|Place of origin||Persia|
|Region or state||Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, Eastern Europe, Caucasus, North Africa, Horn of Africa|
|Main ingredients||Flour base: grain flour|
Nut base: nut butter and sugar
Halva is also popular in Central and South Asia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, Malta, North Africa and the Horn of Africa. Halva can be kept at room temperature during non-summer months with little risk of spoilage.
The word halva entered the English language between 1840 and 1850 from the Romanian Yiddish: חלווה, romanized: halva, which came from the Ottoman Turkish: حلوى, romanized: helva, itself ultimately derived from the Arabic: حلوى, romanized: ḥalwá, a sweet confection. The root in Arabic: ح ل و, romanized: ḥ-l-w, means "sweet".
Halva originated in Persia. A reference to halvah appeared in the 7th century, referring to a mixture of mashed dates with milk. By the 9th century, the term was applied to numerous kinds of sweets, including the now-familiar sweetened cooked semolina or flour paste.
Many of the earlier Persian recipes were documented in the 13th century Arabic book Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes), as well as an anonymous cookbook from 13th-century Moorish Spain. Halva was adopted and expanded by the Ottoman Turks, including a sesame-based version, and spread throughout their empire.
Most types of halva are relatively dense confections sweetened with sugar or honey. Their textures, however, vary. For example, semolina-based halva is gelatinous and translucent, while sesame-based halva is drier and more crumbly.
Grain-based halva is made by toasting flour or cornstarch in oil, mixing it into a roux, and then cooking it with a sugary syrup. Corn is rarely used, more common is semolina, in India called sooji dhokla and in Turkey irmik halva. It's made by toasting semolina in fat, either oil or butter, then adding sweetened milk or sugar syrup to achieve the preferred consistency. Rice flour and coconut milk halva is common fare on the streets of Zanzibar. Dairy-based rice flour halva, known as Pathein halawa, is considered a Burmese delicacy native to Pathein.
Raisins, dates, other dried fruits, or nuts such as almonds or walnuts are often added. The halva is very sweet, with a gelatinous texture similar to polenta; the added butter gives it a rich mouthfeel.
This style of preparing halva can replace the grain swith vegetables, fruits or cheese. Alternative vegetable-based halva recipes popular in India and Pakistan use beetroots, potatoes, yams, and most commonly carrots (for gajar halwa), mung beans (for moong dal halwa), or bottle gourds (for doodi halwa) instead of semolina. Prepared with condensed milk and ghee, without semolina to bind it together, the end result has a moist, yet flaky, texture when freshly prepared. Other examples include the famous Agra Petha, easily available at Taj Mahal, Agra.
Sesame halva is popular in the Balkans, Poland, Middle East, and other areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The primary ingredients in this confection are sesame butter or paste (tahini), and sugar, glucose or honey. Soapwort (called ‘erq al halaweh in Arabic; çöven in Turkish), egg white, or marshmallow root are added in some recipes to stabilize the oils in the mixture or create a distinctive texture for the resulting confection. Other ingredients and flavorings, such as pistachio nuts, cocoa powder, orange juice, vanilla, or chocolate are often added to the basic tahini and sugar base.
Sunflower halva is popular in the countries of the former Soviet Union, but also in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and other Balkan countries. It is made of roasted ground sunflower seeds instead of sesame. It may include other ingredients, such as nuts, cocoa powder, or vanilla. In 1996 around 4-5 thousand tons of sunflower halva were being produced by Ukraine annually.
Pişmaniye (Turkish) or floss halva is a traditional sweet, prepared in Kocaeli, Turkey, made by flossing thin strands of halva into a light confection. Made primarily of wheat flour and sugar, the strands are continuously wrapped into a ball shape and then compressed. The result is a halva with a light consistency, similar to cotton candy. Floss halva can be found in regular and pistachio flavors, and there are brands with halal or kosher certifications.
A similar pistachio-based version of floss halva is popular in North India. It tends to be slightly denser and is often referred to as patisa or sohan papdi. In Chinese cuisine, a floss-like candy similar to pismaniye or pashmak halva, known as dragon beard candy, is eaten as a snack or dessert.
A raw version of halva also has become popular among proponents of raw food diets. In this version, a mixture of raw sesame tahini, raw almonds, raw agave nectar and salt are blended together and frozen to firm.
One regional variant is from Sheki where Şəki halvası halva refers to a layered bakhlava style pastry filled with spiced-nut mix and topped by crisscrossed patterns of a red syrup made from saffron, dried carrot and beetroot.
Halva is a traditional fasting food among Greek Orthodox who traditionally have food restrictions, especially from meat, on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, for all of Great Lent and other fasting periods.
The town of Bhatkal in Coastal Karnataka is famous for its unique Banana Halwa which is infused with either whole cashews, pistachio or almonds. This type of authentic halwas are a specialty of the Muslims of this town.
It is speculated that Halva (or Halwa) is associated with Indian traditions and culture, written records of sweets from Mānasollāsa indicate that semolina halvas, the most popular form of halvas in India, were already known in India, for instance, it mentions a sweet called shali-anna which is a semolina based sweet today known as Kesari in South India.
Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu is known for its wheat halwa. Its preparation is a laborious process that "is slowly seeing this sweet disappear." Unlike other sweets, the extra ghee is not drained out but forms an outer layer. This increases the shelf life of the halwa. The unique taste of the halwa is attributed to the perennial Thamirabranai.
The history of Kozhikode Halwa in Kerala could trace back to Zamorin era. Zamorin invited chefs from Gujarat to prepare halwa for their royal feast. They were also granted places to stay beside royal kitchen. This settlement later evolved as sweet sellers street, nowadays known as SM (Sweet Meat) Street or Mittayitheruvu. Kozhikode halwa is made of pure coconut oil, not from ghee. Significant Arab and Middle Eastern influence in Kerala contributed to the Karutha Haluwa (black haluwa), made from rice, is very popular. Kozhikode halwa also builds religious harmony, Ayyappa devotees from neighboring states Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh are buying halwa and chips like prasadam (Sacred food). They distribute them among their neighbors and friends, who consume them with a religious zeal.
In Iran, halva (Persian: "حلوا") usually refers to a related confection made from wheat flour and butter and flavored with rose water. The final product has a dark brown color. The halva is spread thin on a plate till it dries into a paste. Halva usually is served at funerals and other formal ceremonies, often with almonds or coconut shavings on the top.
Tahini halvah (Hebrew: חלווה) is very popular in Israel and among Jewish people throughout the diaspora. Spelled "halvah" in English, it usually comes in slabs, nearly-cylindrical cakes (illustrated), or small packages, and is available in a wide variety of flavours, chocolate and vanilla being very common. The halvah is almost always parve. Israeli halvah will usually not contain wheat flour or semolina, but will contain sesame tahini, glucose, sugar, vanilla and saponaria officinalis root extracts (soapwort), which are not usually found in other recipes. It is often served as a breakfast component at Israeli hotels, though it is not usually part of an Israeli breakfast, and it is even used in specialty ice-cream.
Halva can be found in ethnic Indian, Jewish, Arab, Persian, Greek, and Turkish community stores and delicatessens. It is increasingly offered by upscale restaurants in some areas. Besides being imported, it is manufactured in the United States, with the largest producer being Brooklyn-originated Joyva.
In Turkey halva is served for special occasions such as births, circumcisions, weddings and religious gatherings. The tradition is for semolina halva to be served at funerals, when someone leaves or returns from hajj, and during Lent.
For this reason, flour (un) halva is also called in Turkish ölü helvası, meaning "halva of the dead". The expression roasting the halva of someone suggests the person referred to died some time ago. In episode 46 of the Turkish TV series Winter Sun (Kış Güneşi), İsmail tells a joke:
- List of desserts
- Mahim halwa
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Halva is a dense confection. The original type is grain based, typically made from semolina, and another kind is seed based, notably made from sesame seeds. Origin: Persia
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The origin of ḥalwā in Persia dates from the pre-Islamic period. References are found in the Middle Persian text of Xōsrōv ud rēdak (ed. Monchi-zadeh, secs. 38-40) to two kinds of sweetmeats (rōγn xwardīg): (1) summer sweetmeats, such as lōzēnag (made with almond), gōzēnag (made with walnut), and čarb-angušt (made from the fat of bustard or gazelle and fried in walnut oil); and (2) winter sweetmeats, such as wafrēnagītabarzad flavored with coriander(gišnīz ačārag). Many references are found to ḥalwā in classical Persian texts, but rarely do they provide details concerning ingredients.
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In Anatolia, the peninsula of land that today constitutes the Asian part of Turkey, halva has a social mission: it is shared with family and friends at joyous events such as weddings, births, circumcision ceremonies and religious celebrations. Traditionally, it is also served during Lent, at funerals and when someone leaves for hajj and is welcomed back home.
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