Traditional Turkish Delight

Rose flavored Turkish delightEvery time I visit my colleagues in our other offices (Paris, Rome, Philadelphia…), I take along a box of Turkish Delight with me. Everyone at Context loves this not-too-sweet, colorful sweet, known as lokum in Turkish. As they finished the last box, Sara, our Paris specialist, asked me: “So, what is the traditional behind Turkish Delight? How do you determine the very good kind from the not-so-good?”

So, I popped up this question to our culinary docent in Istanbul, Renan Yucel.

Renan visits Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir shop in Kadikoy during our Markets of Istanbul  walk. Haci Bekir opened his little shop in [1777] where he produced and sold early varieties of lokum and other sweets. He was eventually named the Chief Confectioner to the Palace where he made lokum for the Sultan and harem women.

During a recent visit, Renan met Murat Poyraz, a 20-year employee of Haci Bekir and spoke to him about what traditional Turkish Delight is and what makes a good lokum.

The most popular Turkish Delight is the pistachio lokum, but the traditional ones are plain and rose flavored. At first honey, molasses, water and simple flavors were the main ingredients. In the 18th century, Haci Bekir combined the newly discovered refined sugar and starch in his unique manufacturing technique, then added natural flavors and colorings such as rose and cinnamon which led to the production of today’s Turkish Delight.

Good Turkish Delight shouldn’t be too sweet. Lokum should be elastic. However, it shouldn’t stick to your teeth. A perfect Turkish delight should whet your appetite, not kill it.  While eating, it shouldn’t burn your throat with its sugar.

Freshness is key.  Turkish Delight should last 8 to 10 months. To achieve a longer expiry date some manufacturers use glucose. But this ruins the taste; makes it too sweet. Haci Bekir uses sugar beet, and this is essential for a good taste. It must not be left open nor kept in refrigerator. The best Turkish Delight is stored at room temperature, in a sealed package. Mr Poyraz adds: “Turkish delight is not made from a special potion. The chewiness comes from the love of the creator and the enthusiasm of the customer.”

Or, as a common Turkish aphorism put it: “Eat sweet, speak sweetly” 

For more tips on Turkish Delight, also read our earlier blog post here.