Turkish Delight is a candy, of fragrant cubes of jelly with a gummy inside and a sugary powder outside, dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Typically offered with tea and coffee, or as an after meal treat.
The Turkish name, originally derived from an Arabic phrase ‘rahat ul hulkum’, translating to ‘soothe the throat’, which was later abbreviated to the word ‘lokum’, that is still in use today. The name ‘Turkish Delight’ was coined by a Brit who was traveling to Istanbul. However in 1861 importation to England began and Punch Magazine ran an ad that read: “Latest Importation in Sweets. Rahat Lahkoum or Lumps of Delight!”, thankfully ‘Lumps of Delight’ never became popular.
A masterpiece of Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, when he changed the original candy mixture to create a new chewy jelly, which resulted in him being appointed as the Imperial Confectioner of the Ottoman Court.
An improvement on an old mixture of honey, grape molasses, flour and water, he replaced the grape molasses and flour with Germany’s new product – sugar! Since 1777, him and his family have continued to create one of the oldest confections in the world.
Made up of sugar, cornstarch, cream of tartar, rose water and mixed with nuts or fruit flavors, the ingredients are cooked and boiled together into a paste consistency. Once cooled and set, it is sprinkled with powdered sugar and cut into bite-size pieces.
The earliest flavors were plain, rose, hazelnut or pistachios – which are still popular today. Additional flavors range from ginger, blueberry, coffee, sour cherry, apricot, strawberry, orange, apple, lemon, mint, cloves, to cinnamon.
If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’s classic novel ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’, you’ll be familiar with this treat as Edmund loved to eat Turkish Delight and asked the witch for it. Also to note, Narnia’s hero, Aslan, is named after the Turkish word for lion. It seems that C.S. Lewis was influenced by Turkish culture.
There are shops all over the city and country that sell Turkish delight, but be sure to stop into one of Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir’s shops. Feel free to try the flavors before buying, some are sweeter than you’d think. Also note, the rubbery texture-consistency and flavors for that matter are not for everyone. This is a common souvenir to bring back home after visiting Turkey, or an appropriate gift to bring to a host’s home.