Tahini helva, is one of the most unique Turkish products that reflects the Turkish taste that is known around the world. Tahini helva is a popular dessert not only in Turkey but also in other parts of the world as well. In some countries it is also known as Turkish honey, Turkish dessert and Turkish tahini helva.
Tahini helva is made from two main ingredients; tahini and sugar. It contains high levels of fats, carbohydrates, minerals and proteins therefore it is very good for kids, manual laborers, pregnant and breast-feeding women. High energy levels provided by tahini helva makes it a very important food product. Aside from being nutritious, it is also produced easily, affordable, easy to find therefore an ideal nutrient.
Generally traditions, socio-economic levels and eating habits have differentiating affects on food consumption. Tahini is mostly consumed in Central and Eastern Anatolian region, whereas tahini helva is consumed mostly in Central Anatolian region.
The most basic raw material of tahini helva is tahini, that is made from peeled and grated sesame seeds. It contains high levels of fat and protein therefore in correlation, tahini and tahini helva is rich in these nutrients as well.
Tahini helva, contains an additive that is almost as important as sugar and tahini. This additive is 'helva root'. Helva root is an extract that comes from the gypsophila plant that naturally grows in Anatolia. Helva root extract is processed by boiling the roots of Gypsophila plants that comes from the Caryophyllacaeae family. In the months of June and July, these plants blossom and grow to be 30-50 cm tall. There are a total of 46 different types of this annual plant growing on Anatolian soil. The importance of helva root is increased within helva making process, due to the effects of saponins found in its extract (about 11-20%).
There are 3 phases of making tahini helva;
a)Preparation of tahini;
b)Preparation of helva root extract;
c)Melting the sugar, thickening and whitening of the syrup;
a) Preparation of Tahini
-Cleaning: Sifting or air operated systems are used to remove the impurities found in the sesame seeds. Then sesames are washed in salted water.
-Soaking: Cleaned sesame seeds are placed in soaking pools to help remove the skin.
-Peeling and separating: The most important phase in tahini making is the process of peeling. With the help of the peeling process the color of the peels are not passed on to the tahini. The most important principle in the peeling process is to soak the sesame seeds in water in order to help ease the peeling process which are done by machines and then passed through sieves built for this purpose.
-Roasting: Roasting is done in double walled couldrons or in dry heat dehyrating ovens with indirect heat, in order to keep the unique smell and aroma of the tahini and ease the grinding process. In either situation the mixers are used. Roasting takes place at 100 ?C for about 2.5-3 hours.
-Cooling: The roasted sesame seeds are placed on large clean sheets and cooled naturally by being tossed with wooden shovels.
-Sieving: Cooled sesame seeds are passed through a sieve to get rid of the remaining impurities.
-Crushing and grinding: Stone grinders are used to grind the sesame seeds. In the stone grinders the bottom stone is stationary and the top stone is moving.
-Storing: Tahini produced by crushing the sesame seeds, are kept in stainless steel tanks. When making helva, tahini, which makes the 50% of the helva to be made, is placed in heating tanks and heated to a temperature of 50-60 ?C.
b) Preparation of helva root extract
About 30kg. of helva root is cut into chips, placed in a container with water and boiled. Extraction is done 4-5 times consecutively, in order to yield about 50lt of soaproot extract. This process takes about 20 hours. Although the amounts may change from producer to producer, when producing tahini helva, 0.5 lt of helva root extract is usually enough for 100 kg. of sugar.
c) Melting the sugar, thickening and whitening of the syrup
According to Birer (1985), in steam couldrons with a built-in mixer, 5-15% of water is added to sugar and dissolved. The most important factor is to create the right consistency that is similar to a dough. Therefore the sugar water mixture is stirred constantly. In the middle of the stirring process, 0.1% of helva root extract is added.
According to Yazıcıoğlu (1953); 25kg. of sugar is placed in the couldron together with 25gr. of citric acid and water to cover. Boiling porcess continues until the candy is curdled. Then into this sugar mixture (approximately) 400ml of helva root water is added and sugar is boiled until completely strechy.
-Kneading: The sugar dough is mixed with warm tahini in 1:1 ratio and kneaded in kneading machines. Tahini helva can be plain or with cacao, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts and vanilla. Sometimes instead of sugar, glucose, sugar-glucose mixture or grape molasses can be used.
-Shaping and storing: The prepared tahini helva is placed on a conveyor belt and taken into the shaping machine where it gets shaped, cut into certain sizes and packaged. Packaged helvas are placed in storages with appropriate conditions.
Even though tahini helva is a dessert it is usually consumed with bread. It contains high levels of proteins, methionin and lisin amino acids, therefore it is a suitable accompaniment for bread because of its low protein levels. (Feigenbaum 1965)
T.C. Tarım ve Köyişleri Bakanlığı Yayın Dairesi Başkanlığı, Tahin Helvası Üretimi ve Saponin Analizi, s.9-19, Ankara 2007