Early Confectionery in Southwest Asia

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Around the 6th century CE, both the cane and sugar-making technology were carried westward from the delta of the Indus River to the head of the Persian Gulf and the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where the Persians made sugar a prized ingredient in their cooking. One modern survival of this esteem is the sprinkling of large sugar crystals over a dish called “jeweled rice.” Islamic Arabs conquered Persia in the 7th century and took the cane to northern Africa, Syria, and eventually Spain and Sicily. Arab cooks combined sugar with almonds to make marzipan paste, cooked it down with sesame seeds and other ingredients to make chewy halvah, made great use of sugar in syrups aromatized with rose petals and orange blossoms, and were pioneers in confectionery and in sugar sculpture. There are records of a 10th-century feast in Egypt that was adorned with sugar models of trees, animals, and castles!