Halva: A Middle Eastern Sesame Candy

Fresh halva candy with saffron and rosewater

Steve Outram / Getty Images

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
363 Calories
23g Fat
37g Carbs
2g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 363
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 23g 30%
Saturated Fat 14g 72%
Cholesterol 61mg 20%
Sodium 6mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 37g 14%
Dietary Fiber 0g 2%
Total Sugars 25g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 11mg 1%
Iron 1mg 4%
Potassium 29mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Halva is probably the quintessential favorite candy dessert in the Middle East. The recipe, however, can vary greatly from region to region and country to country. For the most part, it is a dense, sweet confection and the two most common variations are flour-based halva and a nut and seed-based halva. Halva with flour is often more gelatinous, whereas the nut and seed butter halva tends to be drier, with a more crumbly texture.

The most typical nut and seed base is made from sesame seed paste, or tahini, which is combined with sugar or honey and heavy cream. Then, it can be either flavored with vanilla or with bits of chocolate swirled throughout to create a marbled effect. It also often includes bits of pistachios. In the United States, halva is often sold pre-packaged in specialty stores or in freshly made blocks in gourmet and food stores specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine. In the Middle East, however, the candy is more likely to be homemade.

The flour-based recipe, commonly found in Iran, Greece, Turkey, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, uses semolina, butter, and sugar. It's often flavored with spices such as saffron and aromatics such as rosewater. Cornstarch is sometimes used in the Greek version.

Nut-based halva is common in Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, but it's almost always made with sesame seeds. Sunflower seed versions, however, are popular in eastern European countries. Tahini-based halva is the one most commonly sold in the United States.

In addition to being a delicious confection on its own, the halva candy makes a delicious base for a batch of chocolate brownies, an ingredient in chocolate chip cookies, or as the flavoring in homemade ice cream.

The recipe below uses flour. It's rich and sweet and very aromatic from the addition of rosewater and saffron. Halva is great on its own, but even better when enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea after a meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1/4 cup rosewater

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads

  • 1 cup (8-ounces) unsalted butter

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

  3. Stir in the rosewater and the saffron once the sugar is dissolved. The texture will be syrup-like. Remove from heat.

  4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat.

  5. Add the flour slowly and mix with the butter to make a paste.

  6. Slowly add the sugar syrup and blend together. Remove from the heat.

  7. Pour the mixture immediately into individual ramekins or onto a serving plate.

  8. Allow to cool and either remove the halva from the ramekins or cut into small serving pieces.