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B - 4 : Meze versus Turkish Delights

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

My intuition yesterday that Turkish Cuisine must have integrated dishes and recipes from all over the Middle East is probably correct. When looking up the origin of Meze I found out that Meze is actually the Persion word for snacks

The rich variety of Meze And that is about as far as my research went. Meze is simply an Ottoman tradition of having snacks before dinner and is found in all places which once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. So, if there is nothing I can write about Meze, what about the sugary Turkish Delights which we find in every corner of the Middle East? Why are Turks so fond of sweets and where did they take the sugar from? Sugar was a rarity until mass produced in the Caribbean in the 17/18th century.

Turkish Delights galore! It is not really clear when Turkish Delights were invented. We know that they were sold in coffee shops in the 18th century, before the Napoleonic wars. But they must have been around for longer. Called lokum in Turkish, their name derives from the Arab word Al-halkum, which means throat comfort.

Throat Comfort with sugar and pistacchio nuts There must be an Arab link. And indeed, sugar production in the Arab world was well developed. Sugar requires heat, water and a lot of labour. Heat is something the Mediterranean has in abundance. Thanks to Arab improvements in irrigation techniques, there was enough water. And labour was supplied by Arab and Turkish pirates who raided and enslaved Christians on the Mediterranean shores for centuries. Remember all the Saraceen watch towers along the Italian. French and Spanish coast? The Arab world also gave us the name for sugar: al-sukkar.

Sugar production in the Muslim world Sugar was actually a crop which came from the very Far East. It originated in Papua-Guinea, made its way to South-East Asia, then to China and to India-Persia.

But since it is a bulky product, it was not really suitable for long distance trade. The Romans knew about sugar but used it as a drug only to strengthen sick people - a sugar boost was always good. The plant and production method had to travel. It is currently assumed that Indians or Persians were the first to figure out how to refine sugar. Of course, the product looked different than what we find in today’s grocery shops.

Iranian merchant selling Rock Sugar

Given humanity’s weakness for sweets, it was no wonder that someone figured out how to use al-sukkar for treating your desire for sweets. The throat comfort al-halkum was invented!

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