Helva is a group of sweets found in Turkey and throughout the Balkans and the Middle East. In modern Turkish cuisine, there are two kinds of helva. (It is also known as halva, halvas, and halwa in other parts of the Arab world.)
The first is the dessert type made with a starch base, sugar and butter and other ingredients like nuts and flavorings. Turkish flour helva and semolina helva are served as desserts and on special occasions.
The second type of helva is the confectionary type. It’s made with sesame nut butter (better known as tahini) and sugar. It’s sold in blocks and sliced or cut into cubes to serve. It has a soft, crumbly, slightly crystalline texture. It often has other additions like nuts, dried fruits or cocoa inside.
How Tahini Helva Is Made
Tahini helva is made with two basic ingredients: large amounts of sesame seeds and sugar. It also contains small amounts of citric acid, natural vanilla extract, and soapwort flower extract which helps regulate the consistency. Other ingredients like cocoa powder, nuts, and dried fruits are added after the initial helva mixture is prepared.
First, the sesame seeds are ground up to an ultra-fine, smooth paste called tahini. The sugar is boiled with the soapwort extract until it thickens and takes on a nougat consistency.
Finally, it’s kneaded with the tahini. Well-known helva producers say the kneading is the most important stage and must be carried out carefully and thoroughly for the best results.
Once the consistency is correct, any added ingredients are kneaded in and the helva is molded and packaged.
Health Benefits Of Tahini Helva
Tahini helva may be sweet, but it packs a lot of energy and nutrition. It’s high in protein, calcium, vitamin E, and phosphate. Like other nut butters, it also provides a lot of energy.
That why it’s a favorite snack for children and athletes. It’s also often served along with traditional Turkish breakfast to start the day off right.
Where to Get Helva
If you live if Turkey, the Balkans or the Middle East, you can find helva in nearly every market. In Turkey, there are several large companies producing tahini helva in the traditional way with no artificial additives.
You can buy prepacked blocks of tahini helva plain, with pistachio nuts or marbled with cocoa. They come in bulk sizes all the way down to single-serving packs for snackers on the go. You can also buy tahini helva by the kilogram in most bazaars and delicatessens. If you live elsewhere and want to try this delicious, satisfying snack, you can find Turkish-style tahini helva in Greek and Middle Eastern markets and on websites that sell Turkish food.
If you want to make tahini helva at home, you can use this recipe. It won’t be quite as firm as the blocks you would buy in the store, but it still has a wonderful, nutty sweet flavor.
- 1 pound sugar
- 16 ounces tahini, or sesame paste
- 1 teaspoon crystal citric acid
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios, dark hulls removed (optional)
- Put the water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Add the citric acid and continue to boil the sugar until it darkens and stiffens to the consistency of thick honey. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Add the tahini to the thickened sugar. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture by scraping the sides and bring it to the center.
- Repeat this motion evenly all around the pot, always kneading the mixture toward the center. When you have a smooth texture, add the optional nuts and mix through.
- Press the mixture into a square or rectangular dish. Let it cool down to room temperature. Cut the helva into squares and serve. You can garnish each serving with additional chopped nuts if you like.