Turkish Tahini Helva Recipe

sesame helva
Photo © Paul-Biris_Getty Images
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 5 mins
Cooling Time: 60 mins
Total: 75 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
555 Calories
30g Fat
69g Carbs
10g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 555
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 30g 39%
Saturated Fat 4g 21%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 21mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 69g 25%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 57g
Protein 10g
Vitamin C 2mg 12%
Calcium 81mg 6%
Iron 3mg 14%
Potassium 261mg 6%
*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.)

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.

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. 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.

Where to Get Helva

If you live in 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 citric acid crystals

  • 3/4 cup water

  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios, hulls removed, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Put the water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.

  3. 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.

  4. Add the tahini to the thickened sugar. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture by scraping the sides and bring it to the center.

  5. Repeat this motion evenly all around the pot, always kneading the mixture toward the center. When a smooth texture forms, add the optional nuts and mix through.

  6. Press the mixture into a square or rectangular dish. Let it cool down to room temperature.

  7. Cut the helva into squares and serve. Garnish each serving with additional chopped nuts, if desired.