Turrón – Spain’s traditionally crafted nougat-style candy – is a mixture of high-quality natural ingredients including almonds, sugars, and honey which, according to the EL PAIS newspaper, is an industry that generates about €400 million a year. Not many foods can boast such an impressive global market but these Spanish delicacies made – as tradition demands – with the highest quality ingredients have gained a high level of international status over the years.
The recipe was likely brought to Al-Andalus, the area of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule for more than 700 years, from the Middle East. The Moors brought with them a large array of recipes and a rich culinary heritage. One of the first references to a treat named “turun” appears in an 11th century document named ‘De medicinis et cibis semplicibus‘ which was written by an Arab doctor. Food historians agree that the earliest form of turrón was made in the Arabic peninsula before the culinary treat would spread across other parts of Spain to Italy, France and gradually, the rest of the world.
All versions of the confection’s name appear to have been derived from the Latin ‘torrere’ (to toast), leading to the belief that a similar sweetmeat may have existed in Ancient Rome, where their poets alluded to a similar confection named cupedia or cupeto. The ancient Greeks are also believed to have their own particular version.
However, contemporary turrón, was first made about 500 years ago in the Spanish town of Jijona (Xixona).
Traditionally, its production was small scale and mostly domestic, carried out by individual families for high days and holidays, but most especially during the lead up to Christmas.
According to information dating back to 1582, certain employers would offer turrón to their workers as a special Christmas gift in appreciation of their work throughout the rest of the year.
King Felipe II, who ruled Spain during the second half of the 16th century was said to be a great fan of the product and praised it so much, its popularity at Court and beyond increased significantly. With this royal seal of approval demand for turrón spread across the country and eventually, on to Cuba, across parts of the Caribbean, and later to Latin America.
There are two major families of turrón, based on the cities from which they originate.
Turrón de Alicante (also known as turrón duro), from the southeastern coastal Spanish city, uses whole Marcona almonds, which are bound together with whipped egg whites, honey, and sugar. The candy is crunchy, nutty, and sweet.
Turrón de Jijona (also known as turrón blando), from a small town 30km inland from Alicante, is made with ground Marcona almonds, whose extra oil gives the turrón a rich, chewy texture.
Many families keep a box of turrónes on hand for parties or last-minute guests, as it makes a perfect accompaniment for afternoon coffee or an after-dinner bottle of Cava.
Thirty years ago almost all turrón recipes followed the same specifications, but more recently, new products and methods have been added to the original products. There are currently dozens of varieties: chocolate with puffed rice or whole almonds; a variety of chocolate pralines, with or without liquor, candied fruits or whole nuts; fruit pralines; and even sugarless variations. Quite what King Felipe II would have made of such changes, we can only imagine.