Halva is a popular confection that has many varieties and a rich history. Numerous cultures had an influence on halva as it traveled the world through the ages to make it what it is today.
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Although many people believe that halva originated in India, experts such as Alan Davidson of The Oxford Companion to Food claim that halva is an Arabic invention. The name “halva” comes from “hulw,” the Arabic word for “sweet.”
In the 7th century, hulw was a paste made from dates and milk. It evolved into a thicker confection with the addition of semolina, to which fruit sweeteners, honey, nuts and even rose water were added.
As it made its way to Naples, carrots, cardamom, barley and ghee were added; Middle Eastern influences included nuts, dried fruit, yogurt, honey and spices. The Turks made it with cooked eggs, syrup, nuts and fruit.
“Hulw” became “halva” in India, and many varieties grew out of the early forms. Indian versions contained semolina, ghee, zedoary flour, spices, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit and sometimes coconut milk, eggs and custard. South Asians often added pistachios.
Europeans created sesame halva using sesame oil, crushed sesame seeds, honey and sugar. Today, the diversity of halva continues to grow with recipes such as raw vegan and pumpkin halva.