Craving a Wholesome Sweet? Try Halvah, the Ancient Candy

My mother used to buy halvah bars when I was young, believing it safe to keep the adult-tasting treats in the refrigerator–that was until I discovered just how delicious they were. After growing up and turning vegan, I rediscovered the wholesome snack.

Halvah of all varieties has been cherished all over the world for at least 3000 years, and is considered “food of the gods” by some accounts. The 2 main types are flour-based and nut-butter based. This sesame-based recipe is my favorite because it contains no animal products or sugar, instead using dates for sweetener. Note that many store bought halvah bars contain dairy products and eggs, so always check labels carefully.

I ground the sesame seeds into tahini without using any added oil, as per the original recipe. The food processor got very warm, and you may need to let it rest a while as you go. Unless you have a high-speed blender, you may prefer to purchase tahini instead of making it from scratch.

The recipe is quite flexible. You can adjust the number of dates you use depending on how sweet you like it (I used about 10 dates per 250g of sesame seeds), as well as stir in any kind of nuts and dried fruits you like. I added some tart dried cherries and vanilla syrup to a recent batch, and it came out tasting like a cherry pie!

While halvah is more nutritious than the typical candy bar, be aware it is far from low-calorie. According to the recipe’s author, it has 528 calories per 100g, and 70 percent of calories from fat. Portion control (and sharing) is advised, or you may devour the whole batch (1600 calories) before you know it.

Yet another reason to avoid added oils

Recently, in the course of looking for recipes using the natural sweetener and wonder food lucuma, I discovered one for butterscotch tahini bars containing tahini and coconut oil, a popular ingredient in raw vegan diets. While the bars admittedly tasted awesome by everyone’s account, the confection became liquid at room temperature (embarrassing to discover after bringing to friends), providing a visual reminder that extracted plant oils are no better than animal fats.

In fact, coconut oil is hazardous to your health, even worse than lard, according to Dr. Matt Lederman, a board-certified internist who specializes in nutrition and lifestyle medicine.

Coconut oil is devoid of vitamins, minerals, and most other nutrients. It is pure fat, and worse than that, it’s over 90% saturated fat. The same saturated fat that raises our cholesterol, clogs our arteries, and contributes to our heart attacks.

In the 1980s, the American Heart Associated recognized coconut oil’s high saturated fat content as being overall destructive to heart health, as well as promoting heart damage and disease. As a result, they continued to advise the reduction of all saturated fats, including coconut oil, to less than 7% of dietary calories.

This opinion is shared by the World Health Organization and the FDA, both recommending decreasing intake of saturated fats, because the reduction of saturated fat, including coconut oil, has been shown to benefit our overall health.

This post is also available in: Japanese