Imlebbes: Sugared almonds, sweet and meaningful candy

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Almonds have been used throughout history in a variety of a dishes, both sweet and savory. But a candy that is still eaten and celebrated to this day are candied almonds. Let’s have a look at its origins.

What is imlebbes?

Imlebbes are almonds that are coated with sugar, in Turkish also called “badem şekeri”.

The origins

With sugar arriving in the Middle East, cooks first would caramelize and toss in nuts to make a kind of brittle, and naturally whole nuts followed soon enough. This invention is attributed to the Persians and their interactions with the Arabs and the Arabs spread it westward so that Europe got its fair share of the candy. (1) Records vary about the exact timing but it is said that since at least the 13th century, candied almonds were all the rage both in the Middle East and Europe. (2)

Thanks to its symbolism of prosperity and fertility, sugared almonds were featured in births, weddings and circumcision feasts throughout the Ottoman empire. One such example would be the circumcision festivities for Mehmed II’s sons Bayezid and Mustafa in 1457, where almonds were served alongside sugared coffee beans, hazelnuts, pistachios, chickpeas and many more. The use of different colors for the coating was first recorded in the 15th century with the color yellow being adding by using saffron. When looking for recipes, the first and only Turkish recipe for the sugared almonds was written by Şirvani in the 15th century. (2)

The traditions of sugar almonds continue to this day and are seen on special occasions such as Islamic holidays or as small wedding nibbles. Naturally over time many different versions emerged. As written records are scarce and one cannot be quite sure if the sugar almonds of Mardin came before or after they became popular in the 13th century. One thing is certain: They are different, so much so that they were registered by the Turkish Patent and Trademark office. (3)

Called “imlebbes” or sometimes written as “imlebes” as well, the almonds used are grown in Mardin and coated with not plain sugar but a mix of cinnamon, cardamom and a variety of other spices. (4)

This avid use of spices points to the still prevalent influence of the Abbasid foodways, where the Turks and Arabs exchanged their culinary knowledge and ways. This influence stretched to the Ottoman kitchens as well but fell out of fashion after the 15th-16th century.

Etymology

The word imlebbes comes from the Arabic “lebbes” for “coated” or “covered”. The Turkish name it is known for “badem şekeri” (almond sugar/candy) comes from the Persian “badam” or “bayam” (بادام/بايام) for almond and “şakar” (شكر) for sugar.

Imlebbes: Sugared almonds, sweet and meaningful candy

While nowadays machines do most of the work, it still requires professional skill to master the art of sugared almonds (or other nuts for that matter). In the old days, before the Industrial Revolution, they would have a pan suspended on a chain and coat the roasted seeds or nuts by rolling them in syrup by swinging that pan construction. (2) The recipe here is the more widely known, non-spicy version of the candy.

Ingredients

  • 600 gr almonds
  • 400 gr sugar
  • water

Instructions

  • Roast the almonds until they have a golden-brown color.
  • Prepare a syrup made out of sugar and water, usually a one-on-one ratio is sufficient but changes from manufacturer to manufacturer.
  • Heat a copper pan to 70-80 degrees Celsius and add the almonds and a bit of the syrup and continuously toss them until they are coated.
  • Add another part of the syrup after 2-3 minutes and repeat this step about 40-50 times.
  • Once they are all evenly covered let the nuts cool off for about 30 minutes and serve.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Gil Marks, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, 2010

(2) Priscilla Mary Işın, Sherbet & Spice - The Complete Story of Turkish Sweets and Desserts, 2013

(3) https://ci.turkpatent.gov.tr/cografi-isaretler/detay/37994

(4) http://www.mardin.gov.tr/yeni-mardin-mutfagi

 

Course: Dessert, Snack
Keyword: almonds, candied
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