Deliciously soft and naturally sweet, real deal lokum from Turkish Deli
“The story?!” Graham exclaims, when we ask him for the story behind Turkish delight. “The legend, I think you mean.” Its precise origins are murky, but the most popular creation tale for this soft, pillowy little lokum starts in the 1700s, with a sultan of the Ottoman empire.
“The tradition was for sultans and their courts to have hard boiled sweets after dinner. When this sultan broke his tooth, he demanded his confectioner make him a softer sweet: Turkish delight was born.”
Soft it most certainly is—sweet too, with at least 19 per cent pure sugar. But it’s the texture and flavours which make the Turkish Deli’s lokum stand out from the mass-produced, chemically processed crowd. “It’s not mushy, and it’s not chewy,” says Graham.
“When made properly, it’s based on three ingredients: sugar, water and corn starch, and boiled for two and a half hours before adding the flavour.” And by flavour, Graham means actual, natural ingredients—not synthetic flavourings and chemical colourants.
He means flashy green pistachios, or black figs dried in the sun and mixed with walnuts—“Our own creation,” he grins, “because I love figs. Some makers in Turkey have started copying us.” He means maple syrup, pomegranate juice or the pine resin known as mastic gum, one of the most traditional of Turkish flavours. “Though ironically, the tree originates from Greece.”
After boiling, the mixture is left for at least 24 hours to set before cutting into pieces, which is why it doesn’t cling to your teeth in the way your average delight would. “A big industrial producer would use setting agents,” explains Graham. “Making Turkish delight the traditional way is a skill, because there are so few ingredients to work with. It can take two and a half weeks.”
A velvet slipper
It is worth it. Soft as a velvet slipper and piquant with pine, pomegranate or crunchy walnut, the flavours are hidden from view with a veil of icing sugar and corn starch until the moment you take a bite. “Try it with Turkish coffee” says Graham. “The flavours complement each other really well.”
It’s like stumbling through the wardrobe, like Edmund, and meeting the White Witch with her round box of Turkish delight “tied with a green silk ribbon”. It is like magic. It’s not King Arthur, but when it comes to legendary endings, we’ll take Turkish delight from Turkish Deli over the holy grail any day.