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Sesame Halvah

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Yossi  
Sent: Tuesday, October 05, 2010 2:42 AM
Subject: Curious about Halva

My name is Yossef [Yossi] . I am an electrochemist and surface science spectroscopist 
in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. I am also an enthusiastic cook, in particular Thai 
and south-east cuisine and Italian. However, I love experimenting with all sort of 
unusual cooking, especially those things that are made commercially and often seems 
beyond the scope of home kitchen.

There are two enigmatic goods that I have never been able to unravel its secrets, but 
I've got the feeling that the key to the mystery shouldn’t be anywhere as hidden as the 
Stone of the Wise. The two intriguing goods are Halva and Humus. Interestingly, both 
foods are interconnected through one of their key ingredients: sesame tahini.

I will start with the more enigmatic and intriguing one, Halva.

Halva [also named halvah, helva, helwa, helvah, etc.] is a Mediterranean sweetmeat made 
almost entirely of sugar and sesame tahini. The later is basically ground and milled 
sesame seeds paste (either raw or slightly roasted), the sesame analogue of peanut butter. 
The very best Halva's are made in Turkey and in Israel, both by Israeli Arabs or Israeli 
manufacturers. I consider the high-end Turkish halva made by "Koska" to be the best.

As to halva, the world is divided into two types of humans (just like the case of okra…) 
those that are addicted to this heavenly stuff, and those that can't stand it. Most 
humans belong to the first group, provided that they got acquainted with this delicious 

Before I continue, I'd like to emphasize two very important aspects: first, I am 
interested only is sesame halva. There are other dishes called halva, mainly from 
India, Iran, some of the 'stan' nations east of Russia and Greece. These other 
dishes are very simple and web and cookbooks have all the information needed to 
prepare them. Second, real halva worth its name only of it acquires the solid-crumbly 
dry consistency. There are a vast amount of recipes that use tahini and sugar 
(or, worse, honey), both is popular and professional cooking books, as well as 
on the web, but unfortunately, without exception, they result is a sweet and gooey 
mass. They usually boast, indeed, the flavor of halva, but without the crumbly-gritty 
texture it's like eating sweetened butter instead of enjoying fool bodied whipped cream…

For those who are interested, I will draw an overlook of information I gathered 
regarding real halva, although, obviously it lacks a secret essential ingredient, 
most probably concerning the preparation method.


Sesame tahini 
Saponaria extract 

The sesame tahini must be very fine milled/ground to the consistency of thick 
flowing paste. Standing undisturbed for a white, some oil will be segregated, 
covering the paste. Mechanical stirring returns it to the initial condition. 
The sesame seeds are used either raw, or slightly roasted. They must be hulled, 
white in appearance. 

I believe that the sugar used to make the sugar syrup make use of regular white 
sugar. I don’t thing corn syrup is being used here, as it is the partial 
crystallization of sugar that contributes to the desired texture. It might be 
that during the sugar cooking into syrup acid is added, like lemon or tartaric 
acid, but I doubt it. 

Old fashioned manufacturers use saponaria extract as an important additive. 
Saponaria, as it name implies, is kind of a natural detergent, or a surface 
active agent, extracted from the roots of a perennial herb called saponaria, 
soapwort, bouncing betty, Sweet William or helwa-root. Its role is critical 
in the halva manufacturing, presumably emulsifying the oily sesame paste with 
the sugar syrup, thus both imparting appealing light color to the solid "emulsion" 
and somehow creating the desired texture. I have noticed that some modern 
manufacturers substitute other emulsifying agents, such as mono and diglycerides 
for saponaria. Some amateur recipes call for egg whites for this purpose, but 
I wouldn’t take this substitution seriously. 

Most Halva's are flavored with Vanilla, cocoa or rose-water. 

High-end halva may contain pistachios, walnuts or almonds added.

The most probable preparation method scheme should be something like this: sugar 
syrup is boiled to the appropriate temperature (or water content) like in candy 
making. Usually the texts indicate something around "soft ball" and "hard ball" 
stage. In some cases the text indicates that the sugar syrup is whipped with the 
saponaria extract, obtaining thick foam. Then, the tahini and the hot sugar saponaria 
syrup/foam are mixed by beating thoroughly, until some stage, at which the viscous 
mass is poured to molds for hardening. I don't know the appropriate ratios of sugar 
to tahini, although the lower the sugar content, the higher ranked halva is obtained. 
Also, I don’t know is the tahini added at room temperature, or heated, and if the 
sugar syrup-tahini is cooked together while beaten.

Anyway, I guess that somewhere here, in the preparation section, the key to the 
ancient secret is missing…

I have some PDF documents dealing with Halva prep, if you are interested. Also, I 
have a bag of powdered Halva-root (saponaria) that I am more then willing to share 
for the experimenter.

I apologize for the length of the email, however, I couldn't find better way to 
convey all the essential information. 

Thank you in advance,


Hello Yossi,

You must understand that I have no way to search for a particular recipe using the texture of the finished product as a search criteria. A description of the finished product is rarely included as part of a recipe. The searching that I do is mostly based on the recipe name and the unique combination of ingredients used in the recipe. So, I have no special way to search for a halvah recipe that will fit your criteria and I am not familiar enough with the different types of halvah to have any special insight about it.

There is a halvah recipe with a photo of the halvah that looks fairly solid here:

There is a discussion about sesame halvah here that might offer you some insight:

sesame halvah

You need to find ways to narrow your search other than just the texture of the finished halvah. Halvah recipes vary from country to country. If the crumbly type of halvah that you want is found more frequently in a particular country such as Turkey, then you might want to confine your search to recipes for "Turkish halvah". "Koska" is a brand of Turkish halva, and I had no success looking for a copycat recipe for this commercial product. Can you purchase the type of halvah that you want locally? Have you talked to the purveyors of this type of halvah in your city? They might not give you their recipe, but they might tell you the origin of their type of halvah.

Sorry that I can't be more helpful. I will post this on my site so that a more knowledgeable reader can contribute.


Particular Elderberry Apple Pie

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Ramona 
Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 4:08 PM
Subject: elderberry-apple pie

Dear Phaedrus,

I am looking for a recipe for Elderberry-Apple pie like my grandmother used to make. 
I've asked family and unfortunately, no one got the recipe from her, but my aunt 
remembers her cooking down the elderberries before combining with the apples. 
I have searched the web and every recipie I have found just adds whole uncooked 
elderberries with the apple slices (it makes a nice pie, but it's not grandma's!). 
In grandma's pie, the elderberries (and sauce - maybe since she cooked them down) 
would infuse the apple slices with flavor and turn them purple. 

Thank you,

Hi Ramona,

Sorry, I had no success locating a recipe like that. I'll post the request. Perhaps a reader has it.


Cheese Tortellini Soup

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Nealla 
Sent: Saturday, October 02, 2010 8:05 PM
Subject: Schwan's Frozen Cheese Tortellini Recipe from the early 90's

I used to fix a chicken/tortellini soup recipe that I believe was on the back 
of the frozen chicken or cheese tortellini bag or a Schwan's brochure.  It was 
quite simple, but it had a "bright" flavor almost as if it had lemon juice in it -- 
although lemon juice was NOT an ingredient.  

To the best of my memory, it used canned chicken broth, parsley and.....I do not 
remember the rest other than the tortellini which was added last.  I am wondering 
if the recipe is in the "Round-Up" cook book that Schwan's published in 1995?  

I live in a remote area of Sumatra in Indonesia, so it's not as simple as just 
buying a copy of the book off of eBay.  I brought back some dried tortellini 
from my last trip to the US.  I have been hoarding it in hopes that I could 
find the recipe, but I'm running out of ideas of where to look.

I have searched Schwan's website, Googled for "old Schwan's recipes", etc., 
but am unable to find anything like the recipe.  Would you give me a hand?



Hello Nealla,

Sorry, I had no success locating that recipe. It might be in the cookbook, which is "Family Favorites: The Best of the Roundup", but I have no way to find out. The various sites that have copies of that cookbook for sale do not list the recipes contained therein.

The best that I can do for you is to post this request on my site and hope that a reader has that particular recipe and will send it to me. If that occurs, I will forward it to you.


John Henry's Rubs

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Louise 
Sent: Saturday, October 02, 2010 11:39 AM
Subject: (no subject)

Some years ago I bought 2 seasons  that I can no longer find . 
The company had at least 10 more .The Label is John Henry's East Texas. 
if possible I would like the recipe. 
The first is "Maple Walnut Rub" ingredients listed are, brown sugar,
spices, paprika, smoke flavour, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon oil
the second "Mesquite Rub".....sugar,salt,brown sugar,spices,paprika, 
natural smoke flavour,garlic powder, onion powder, lemon oil.
thank you........Louise

Hello Louise,

Sorry, I had no success locating a copycat recipe for these commercial products. John Henry's has a website at:

John Henry's

You can buy these rubs directly from John Henry's.

John Henry's Products


Brown Bobby Doughnut Machine (SOLD)

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Dick 
Sent: Monday, October 25, 2010 9:55 PM
Subject: Brown Bobby Donut machine

Hello; I have a brown bobby donut machine in excellent condition . It has not been used 
in over 50 years. I am 78 years old and I remember as a very young boy my mother using 
it a Christmas time, making donuts for the family and friends. It has been on a shelf 
in my storage room since 1956. Not sure what to do with it.Any ideas? Best regards; Dick. 

Hello Dick,

Well, I'm not interested in owning it myself. The thing to do is to sell it on However, if you don't want to deal with E-Bay, let me know and I'll post this on my site. Perhaps one of my readers is interested in it.


From: "Dick" 
To: "Phaedrus" 
Subject: Re: Brown Boby Donut machine
Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 6:15 PM

Hello again Phaedrus; I would sure appreciate any suggestions you might have on finding 
a buyer for my Brown Bobby machine.I have noticed some people wanting to purchase one but 
I am unable to contact them. What would you require of me to post it on your site? 
All the best, Dick.

Hello Dick, I will put the offer on my site.


If anyone is interested in purchasing a brown bobby doughnut machine, please write to me. The seller has sent photos of it and if you are interested I can send you the photos. Any discussion of price will be between you and the seller.

Hello Phaedrus; 

Thanks, the Brown Bobby machine has been SOLD. I had it posted on KIJIJI, 
in Canada where I am,as well as with you. The buyer is in Phoenix Arizona so it is more 
than likely it was sold through your effort.The deal was just completed today, and the 
machine is in transit as I write this.I really appreciate what you did for me. I spoke 
to the buyer on the phone and she told me that she had been looking for one for years..
Again Thank you so much for your efforts. I owe you one. 
Best regards Dick

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