Sunday, 29 November, 2009

The typical Christmas dessert in Spain is a sweet called ‘turrón’. It is made with pealed sweet almonds (raw or toasted), honey and white of egg. Although the translation to English, according to the dictionary, is the word ‘nougat’, ‘turrón’ is actually a different product, with a different texture and a higher content in almonds. Because of its sweetness, this dessert combines well with a sweet wine like an aromatic, fine muscat.

There are two kinds of traditional ‘turrón’: the one made in Jijona (soft, made with a dough of pounded almonds) and the one made in Alicante (very hard, made with toasted almonds, honey and white of egg), both regions are near Valencia. Other traditional variants are ‘turrón de Agremunt’ (with hazelnut), ‘turrón de yema’ (with caramel and egg) and ‘turrón de mazapán’ (marzipan).

‘Turrón’ is a perfect seasonal product that is present in all supermarkets all over Spain since November and till the end of January. The positioning of the product is mainly related to the high quality of the ingredients, together with the artisan production. Interestingly, there is a brand that has been very successful with the statement that their product is ‘the most expensive in the word’, which is true: 5,4 Euro for 300 g of product (Alicante or Jijona), whereas the current brands are 2.5-3.2 Euro for the same amount.

Nowadays there is a huge variety of products called ‘turrón’ as well but in fact the only common characteristic they share with the traditional ‘turrón’ is the shape and the fact that they are present in the market during Christmas. They can be made with ingredients such as chocolate (black, milk and white), gelatine, sugar, glucose, milk, candy fruits, raisins, cherries, pine nuts, walnuts, rice, coconut, peanuts, coffee, tiramisú, vanilla, rum, liqueur, brandy, or any other, the only limit being the imagination of the producers.

In Spain, ‘turrón’ is only consumed for Christmas. In order to try and maintain the business during the whole year, producers are exporting progressively more this product, and they made ‘turrón’ ice cream. ‘Turrón has also become a typical souvenir tourists buy in Spain so it can be found in shops for tourists, and particularly in motorway shops, during the whole year.

It is said that during the succession war (1702-14, when Charles, archduke of Austria and Philip, duke of Anjou fought for the Spanish crown after the death of Carlos II in 1700), a pastrycook named Pau Torrons created the ‘torró’ in Barcelona, as a survival rationing in a besieged city. He employed the sole aliments available: almonds and honey. However, this theory is not very consistent, for it has been proved that in Jijona and in Alicante they made this sweet before the time of Pau Torrons. It is more probable that the ‘turrón’ came to Spain from the Arabic conquerors. In fact, it is known that when the Arabs dominated Iberia, they already made a sweet named ‘halvo’ and now, in Turkey and in Near East a very similar sweet is still present in the local gastronomy, called ‘halva’. The name ‘torró’ probably comes from the word ‘torrar’, that in Catalan means ‘to toast’.