Rahat loukoum (Turkish delight)

Les loukoums de la Maison Hacı Bekir d'Istambul.

Les loukoums de la Maison Hacı Bekir d'Istambul.

Loukoum is a sweet popular in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Its cube shape and jelly-like consistency date back to the XIXth century in Istanbul which was the capital of the Ottoman Empire at that time. Its origins are lost in the mists of oriental sweetmaking time.

The traditional recipe for rahat loukoum is based on water and starch sprinkled with rosewater prior to cooking. The wet paste is then divided into sections and sprinkled with white icing sugar. Turkish delight is colourful. It also comes perfumed with other ingredients such as fruit, pistachios, lemon, spices and ginger. If it is hard and dry that means it has been overcooked – a big no-no.

Loukoum is never mentioned without being associated with the name of Istanbul confectioner Haci Bekir, who created the recipe in the early XIXth century. It is thought to have been inspired by the recent disovery of the process of turning starch into sugar by Russian chemist Constantin Kirchhoff: previously molasses and flour were used.

His shop was so famous that it was painted by Amedeo Preziosi in 1851 and hung in the Louvre. He became the confectioner at the Sultan’s Court. His descendants continue the tradition and the confectioner has kept his status throughout the Middle-East.

The origins of the words rahat loukoum are many. Its meaning of respite for the throat  links it to lu’q, a medicinal Arabic honey pastille whose name means throat soother. But loukoum is close to other confectionary made in the Middle East, we don’t know for sure what its ancestor was sweet-wise, maybe it is the end result of a little bit of everything… One (sadly unproven) anecdote recalls that an Englishman  was so taken with this sweet treat that when he suddenly forgot what it was called he dubbed it Turkish delight – a phrase that has endured to this day.

Loukoum is something to give as a gift. In the past it was wrapped in a small handkerchief. Popular tradition has associated loukoum with lovers. Giving this little bit of confectionery to a beloved is packed with meaning and promises love as sweet as its consistency.