Bois de Panama

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

bois de Panama a name applied to two plant products which some would classify as spices but which are valued for their foam-making ability rather than for any aromatic quality.

The first of these, and the one which has prior claim to the name bois de Panama, is the dried inner bark of Quillaja saponaria, an American tree. It is clear from Seigneurie (1898) that this dried bark was an article of commerce at the end of the 19th century, and that it had a food use. If it is brought to the boil in plenty of water and then left to simmer for a couple of hours, or until the volume of water has been greatly reduced; and if the result is strained and left to cool, and then whisked, it becomes foamy and brilliant white. A warm sugar syrup can then be incorporated in this foam, producing a white elastic mousse with excellent keeping qualities. This mousse is called naatiffe (spelled in various ways, e.g. natef) and is used in the Middle East—especially Egypt and the Lebanon—to accompany sweetmeats such as karabij (finger-shaped pistachio nut pastries). The naatiffe has a faintly bitter-sweet (almondy, say some) taste and plays a role more or less comparable with that of whipped cream in western countries.