Halwa – History of Halva,Types & Ingredients

Halwa – A Delicious Mouthwatering Sweet Dessert

wheatHalwa is a tasty enticing sweet that is really yummy and a favorite dessert worldwide. The word halwa is actually Arabic and it derived from the word ‘hilwa which means ‘sweet’ and in Arabic, it is pronounced as ‘hull waa’ and is served with tea or coffee. It is delicious, wonderful and healthy sweet. Halwa refers to dense, gelatinous sweet confection that is very popular in India, Pakistan and many Asian countries, European countries and Jewish world. Halwa is also available as crumby form made from nuts and stiff square varieties like the ice halwa found in India.

Halwa names

The word halwa is referred to in various ways in different countries; like in Libya it is halwa shamiya; it is hallve in Albanian, halwa Bahraini in Bahrain, halua in Bangladesh, halawa in Egypt and Myanmar, halvardeh in Iran, Chalva in Poland and Lithuania, alva in Serbia, Xalwo in Somalia, aluva in Sri Lanka and helva in Turkey.

Halwa ingredients

Halwa has many varieties and is made from fruits, vegetables, lentils, nuts and flours being the main ingredient and with sugar or condensed milk, ghee, cardamom powder being the common ingredients. Milk may be added. The main ingredient is grated or cut into small pieces and cooked and blended with the other ingredients to form a smooth jelly like or pudding like texture and then garnished with dried fruits. The tahini based or sesame based halwa is very popular throughout the world. It was created by the Europeans with crushed sesame seeds and sesame oil.

Halwa history

gajar halvaThe origin of halwa starts in Arabia, and history says that the halwa was first made with dates and milk in the 7th century, and with the influence of various countries, many variations were made and many ingredients were added to reach what it is today and it has spread around the world. There are more than hundreds of varieties of halwa’s. Today most of the fruits and vegetables can be made into halwa with the combination of ghee and sugar and it is a very popular sweet served for festivals, occasions and functions. Traditionally halwa was made by cooking and stirring the ingredients continuously for a long time to get the right consistency. But today, people have started making halwa in the pressure cooker and microwave to make the cooking process easier.

Halwa types

There are two types of halwa’s

  • Flour based halwa
  • Nut based halwa

» Flour based halwa

The flour based halwa are made with flour such as sooji/semolina, arrow root, corn flour, rice flour, wheat flour, maida flour and besan (gram flour). The flour is fried and combined with sugar, ghee, cardamom powder and milk (optional) to make a thick jelly like mixture which is then garnished with nuts and eaten hot, or spread on a tray and cut into slices. Sometimes food color is also added.

» Nut based halwa

The nut based halwa is made by grinding oily seeds like sesame seeds or sunflower seeds into paste and cooked with sugar syrup till it becomes hard. Ingredients like nuts, essences, cocoa powder, vegetables and lentils were also included later. Apart from this, halwa is also prepared using various types of nuts like almonds, badam, dry fruits, dried figs and walnuts. The nuts are soaked in water and ground with milk or water and then cooked with sugar, ghee, cardamom and saffron.

Halwa can also be made with fruits like apple, pineapple, papaya, banana, jackfruit etc; vegetables like carrots, bottle gourd, potato, beetroot, ginger, white pumpkin, yellow pumpkin etc; lentils like moong dal and channa dal, and also with egg, coconut, bread and China grass. These are just a few kinds of halwa’s, there are still many more.

5 popular world halwa’s

  • Arabic halwa – Made by adding all purpose flour to sugar syrup and cooked by adding ghee, saffron and rose water and garnished with nuts. The halwa is served for festivals or occasions in earthenware bowl in different sizes. Black halwa made of dates is also a popular halwa in Arabia.
  • Pakistani halwa – Halwa is a traditional dessert cuisine of Pakistan served for occasions. The halwa puri is a popular Pakistani breakfast/brunch consisting of halwa, puri and channa curry. Pakistani halwa is made from semolina/sooji, which is cooked in milk by adding sugar, ghee, and saffron and cardamom powder and garnished with nut. Sooji halwa is the most famous dessert for festivals like Shab e Baraat.
  • Somali halwa – Somali halwa is made by cooking white sugar, brown sugar and corn flour with butter, oil, nutmeg powder and cardamom powder. The halwa is served with traditional Somali coffee Qaxwo.
  • Sri Lankan – Gram flour, maida and coconut milk is cooked along with sugar and ghee to make Sri Lankan halwa and it is garnished with raisins, almonds and cashew nuts.
  • Turkish halwa – The sesame halwa is the popular Turkish halwa. It is also called tahini halwa and it is made by cooking sesame paste with brown sugar and milk and flavored with cocoa or vanilla essence. You can also add nuts of your choice. Irmik Helvasi (semolina halwa) is another popular Turkish halwa pudding. This halwa is a combination of semolina, sugar, milk, butter and pine nut and it can be served warm or cold with ice cream.

4 popular regional variants of India

In India halwa is a popular sweet served during festivals and important functions. Halwa is also served with tea or coffee as tea time snack for children or as a dessert after lunch or dinner. Semolina halwa can be made very easily if you have the ingredients ready, and if you have a packed of semolina stocked in your kitchen cupboard, you can make it anytime for your children, or if unexpected guests walk in to your house.

  • Bombay ice halwa – The Mahim halwa is the famous ice halwa in Bombay, now called Mumbai. Unlike other types of halwa which are soft, dense texture, this halwa is thin dry square slabs. Legend says that the ice halwa was created by Giridhar Mavji in 1780’s, who along with his son used to roam the streets of Mahim to sell this halwa sheets which later became a very popular sweet in Bombay. He was named Booda Kaka which means ‘Old uncle’ and the halwa was named after him and a shop called Joshi Booda Kaka Mahim Halwawala was started in Mahim, which even today, after 225 years, sells the best ice halwa.
  • Tirunelveli halwa – Tirunelveli halwa is a specialty halwa of the city of Tirunelveli in the district of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, South India. Because of its divine taste, there are hundreds of Tirunelveli halwa addicts in Tamil Nadu. The halwa is very soft and just melts in your mouth. It is said that the zamindar of Tirunelveli first tasted this halwa in Kasi and fascinated by its taste, requested the makers, Jegan Singh and family to move over to Tirunelveli to prepare the halwa in his palace. Jegan Singh is claimed to be the father of Tirunelveli halwa. The halwa is prepared in three days when the wheat milk from samba wheat is extracted, fermented the next day and halwa is prepared the third day cooked with sugar and ghee and garnished with fried cashew nuts. The halwa is made manually by stirring for more than an hour. The heavenly taste of this halwa is contributed by pure ghee and the sweet water from the Tamarabarani River which has copper content. The most popular shop selling halwa in Tirunelveli is the ‘Iruttukadai’ which means ‘dark shop’. It is called so because from the time it was started it has been operating with minimal lighting. The halwa was sold at night with the help of kerosene lamps and now they use only a 40W bulb and from the taste of the halwa to the interior décor, nothing has changed since the day it was started.       Even today the halwa is only sold only in the evening when the shop opens only from 5.30 pm to 7 pm. Halwa fans should definitely taste the Tirunelveli halwa at least once in their life time.
  • Kozhikodan halwa – The Kozhikodan halwa is a delicious soft rubbery texture halwa that belongs to Kozhikode district in Kerala, South India. This halwa is made from fermented all purpose flour and pure coconut oil and cardamom powder and garnished with fried coconut slices. In Kozhikode you can find halva in various flavors and colors. In fact there is a street that is named as Sweet Meat Street by the Britishers, that sells on halwa’s. In Kerala, halwa is made in a cooking vessel called the ‘Uruli’, which is wide mouth vessel made of bell metal. The Black halwa made with raw rice and jaggery is a delicacy of Kerala cuisine.
  • Karnataka halwa – The traditional halwa of Karnataka State, South India, is the Kasi halwa, made with Ash gourd/winter melon, made during festivals and weddings. The halwa can be made with or without using milk. The halwa is made by cooking grated ash gourd with sugar, ghee and cardamom powder and garnished with fried raisins and cashew nuts.

Whichever part of the world it is made, or with whatever ingredients it is made, ‘HALWA’ is certainly an enticing, mouthwatering sweet, which is loved by millions of people, young and old, all over the world.