This article may contain one or more independently chosen Amazon affiliate links. See full disclosure.
“Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty.”
Alright, so, if you’re a Narnia fan, you know that Edmund got completely bonked on the Turkish Delight the White Witch gave him. It must have been one heck of a treat but what in the world is it? Well, it’s a starch jelly.
I’m sure that clears it up, right? No? Picture a jelly type candy like an orange slice, spearmint leave, gumdrop, or even Swedish fish. Those are all starch jellies. Incidentally, if you eat Swedish fish, you’ll never be able to be a professional wrestler. Just thought I’d let you know.
You would never be able to make any of those candies at home. I know, why would you want to? But the point is, they use special modified starches that are made to behave in special ways. You can’t get these at the grocery store.
Turkish Delight, also known as lokum, is an example of a starch jelly that can be made at home. They consist of sugar, water, cream of tartar, cornstarch, and flavoring; usually rose water. Sometimes unsalted nuts are added. Pistachios are traditional (pistachios are plentiful, cheap, and awesome in Turkey). They are meant to be soft and subtle with a gummy mouth-feel, and not over-the-top sweet like other jelly candies.
Legend has it that one of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire had this candy developed. He wanted a dessert to “delight wives in the harem.” The cook experimented until he came up with a gelatinous candy-like dessert flavored with rose water and featuring various nuts.
That is the legend. Others say that the recipe was developed by an Ottoman confectioner named Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir. He came to Istanbul from a mountain town called Kastamonu in 1777 and opened up a store in the city where he cooked up what became the ubiquitous Turkish favorite known as lokum to the Turks but Turkish Delight to the rest of the world.
Hard as it is to believe, the business is still going strong and locals can still buy their authentic lokum from store branches. Turkish Delight may not be quite what American palates like in a dessert but after two centuries, Haci Bekir must be doing something right. The main store is located at Hamidiye Caddesi 83, Eminonu, near the Spice Bazaar, in Istanbul. They even have a website: www.hacibekir.com. According to the company, Turkish delight has been produced in Turkey since the 15th century but became famous during the 19th century. See a photo of the storefront in Istanbul below.
The lokum at Haci Bekir comes in all sorts of flavors: plain, rose, pistachio, hazelnut, walnut, almond, coconut and almond, cream, cream with cinnamon (winter season), mint, mastic, fruit-flavored (sour cherry, strawberry, orange, apricot, lemon) date, cinnamon, ginger, clove and coffee. You can order an assortment of plain through hazelnut Haci Bekir Turkish Delight. (availability fluctuates) or other single flavors. Although the company is clearly proud of its products and its heritage, it doesn’t seem to make any claim to having invented Turkish Delight. Rather, they say it was the introduction of refined sugar and starch in the 17th century that really brought Turkish Delight into its own. Before that, it was made with honey or molasses and flour. Apparently, unrefined ingredients produced unrefined results.
If you’ve had Turkish Delight not made in Turkey, it probably wasn’t very good. It would probably make you wonder why Edmund would eat a whole box of it in one sitting. However, I did get to try some Turkish Delight when I was in Turkey during a military tour. And it was out of this world. I really began to understand Edmund…
I’m lying. For some reason, this particular lokum was covered in a sweet syrup, which made the dessert a little over-sweet. But it was chock full of nuts and not as bad as I imagined, given that I don’t like soft jelly-type desserts. I can’t say I understood old Edmund any better as I certainly did not want to eat an entire box in one sitting.
I later figured out that what I thought was a ‘syrup’ was simply the result of the confectioner’s sugar having melted in the sweltering heat. It was not too sweet and had a soft, chewy, and hard-to-describe texture. Almost like a soft and airy jelly bean. I liked the flavor but the texture was off-putting to me. So, on the whole, I didn’t love it.
Therefore, I can’t tell you that should you get a hold of some imported Turkish Delight that you’ll be blown away. But it is better than a “Turkish Delight” I’ve since tried that was made by a local American candy shop. And no, Turkish people do not mind calling it Turkish Delight, even though this is the name the British gave to it. I am not at all sure that the one I bought could be considered true quality, though.
In America Mansoura Pastries, claims to be the oldest American maker of Turkish Delight. They have a website from which you can order. See the image below. You might like it, who knows. You might go bonkers like Edmund. I might even like it if I tried some again. You never know.
Rather than Turkish Delight, the correct and full name of the dessert is loukoum rahat, which means ‘throat’s ease’ in Turkish. It is likely that it is an offshoot of an ancient Arabic medical preparation called lohoch: a kind of gummy melting throat lozenge, which was made in the 9th century.
Species of the dessert are made all over the Middle East, Russia, and the Balkans. It is also very big in Greece where it is served with strong coffee after dinner.
Turkish Delight was imported into Britain from the Ottoman lands during the 19th century. Coffee drinking was another Turkish import and you can get a helluva good cup of coffee in Turkey if you don’t mind a tiny and strong cup with the grinds in the bottom. If not, you can get “American” coffee..just say Nescafe.
There is a British candy bar called Fry’s Turkish Delight which reportedly is nothing like a lokum should be. Its a chocolate bar with a gooey center that is supposed to be inspired by Turkish delight. If you tried that and wondered if Edmund was out of his mind, you’ve got it all wrong! He was out of his mind for something quite different than a Fry’s candy bar, although perhaps not that much better, by American tastes. Why it became so big in Britain…well, you’d have to ask a British person. As for me, Edmund led me astray. Come on, you knew he couldn’t be trusted..at least before he was redeemed. As Tim Richardson describes in Sweets: A History Of Candy, it seemed just like the advertising slogan for Fry’s Turkish Delight claims: Full of Eastern Promise! Richardson, however, was crazy about the stuff.
Homemade Turkish Delight, Rose Flavored
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup cornstarch + 1 or 2 tbs extra
1 cup water
2-3 tbs rose water
confectioner’s sugar (10x powdered sugar)
7 or 8 inch square mold pan
Line the pan with a layer of cheesecloth and then coat the cheesecloth with the extra cornstarch.
Mix the sugar and water together in a heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, to make a syrup. Now, put the cornstarch into a separate pan and mix well with the one cup of water. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to create a smooth and creamy mixture.
Gradually add the cornstarch mixture into the hot syrup mixture and stir vigorously so that lumps do not form. Continue stirring and bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook on lowest heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently to keep the sugars from caramelizing and sticking to the bottom of the pan. When done, the mixture should be very thick and should stick to a spoon, just barely dripping off. Add the rose water, plus a little red coloring if you desire. Test the mix by dropping a small bit into cold water. It should form a lump of soft gelatin.
Pour the finished gelatin into the lined pan and leave it to cool and set. Once set, spread a layer of confectioner’s sugar onto a flat surface and then invert the molded gelatin onto the sugar layer. Remove the cheesecloth from the bottom (now top) of the mold and brush off any excess cornstarch. Cut the loaf into small pieces and roll each in the sugar to coat well.