|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 7g||9%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 17g||6%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 14g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||3%|
|*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.|
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.
"The halva was delicious with pistachios. I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla to the tahini for flavor, and it was perfect. Try to avoid overmixing the syrup and tahini mixture or it could turn out very crumbly. I couldn't walk by the halva without grabbing a piece, so I had to hide it!" —Diana Rattray
16 ounces tahini or sesame paste about 1 3/4 cups
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, optional
1/2 cup water
1 pound sugar, about 2 1/4 cups
Steps to Make It
Gather the ingredients.
Lightly spray an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line it with parchment paper, leaving some overhang on two opposite sides.
Put the tahini in a large, heatproof bowl. Add the pistachios, if using; stir and set aside.
Put the water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
Attach a candy thermometer to the pot and heat over medium high heat until the syrup reaches 250 F (it should be golden, and not dark), 5 to 8 minutes. Dip a pastry brush in water and brush over the sides of the pan to wash away any sugar crystals as the syrup heats.
Gradually add the hot syrup to the tahini while stirring constantly. Continue to stir for about 20 to 40 seconds, or just until the mixture thickens enough to pull away from the sides of the bowl, then quickly turn it into the prepared loaf pan. Top with more pistachios, if desired.
Let the helva cool. Remove it from the loaf pan using the parchment paper overhang as handles. Remove and discard the parchment. Cut into squares and serve. Garnish each serving with additional chopped nuts, if desired.
If the halva mixture is stirred too much, it will be very crumbly.
- Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the tahini along with the pistachios, if using.
- For lemon flavored tahini, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon zest to the water along with the sugar.
How to Store Tahini Halva
Wrap the halva in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. Alternatively, refrigerate tahini halva for up to 1 month or longer, depending on the freshness of the tahini.
What does halva taste like?
Halva tastes sweet with nutty overtones because of the sesame seed paste (tahini). Other flavors and ingredients may be added to the tahini or swirled into the halva mixture.