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Invented by the Arabs sometime in the early Middle Ages, halva (also spelled chalvahalawaalvaxalwo) has crossed many borders and transcended many cultures, from Yemen to Russia, from India to Greece, from Iran to Italy. The word ‘halva’ comes from the Arabic word ‘hulw’ meaning simply ‘sweet’.

Various Types of Halva sold in Jerusalem

During its long and continuing history halva has been made in so many different ways that it is truly impossible to speak about the original halva, since there are so many originals. Halva is pretty much diverse today and the new varieties are constantly being invented, but the most widely found type of halva today is known as the Greek halva, made from the sesame oil and crushed sesame seeds (a mixture called ‘taan’) honey, sugar and cocoa or pistachio. It is a common confection in the Balkans and the Middle East. Of course, other varieties of halva can also be found in these countries, such as the famous Greek farsala halva made of cornstarch and syrup.

Halva with Pistachio

In India, Iran and the neighbouring Asian countries the most common halva variety is semolina (suji) made of wheat semolina,  honey, and butter or vegetable oil. In the Eastern Europe a sunflower halva is very popular. Halva is also very popular in the Jewish communities all over the world and the Hebrew spelling, ‘halvah’ refers to the kosher type of halva specifically.

The cultural impacts of halva are as varied as halva recipes – in Iran and Turkey halva is usually served after funerals. In Greece, when you want to offend someone, you say ‘Ante re halva!’ or ‘Get lost, halva’, In Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia the phrase ‘Ide k’o alva.’  meaning “sells like halva” is a common slang expression for a high selling rates of a product, while in Egypt, however, halva is a luxurious product shared only among the closest relatives and friends to show respect and love.



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