Turrón: The Spanish Holiday Treat
Decadence in simplicity.
Every season bears its own brand of sweetness. From summer’s bright citrus to autumn’s sugar and spice, nature’s tastes change throughout the year, offering certain ingredients when the time is right. But the flavor of a season doesn’t just depend on what the ingredients are or when you can enjoy them—it is also rooted in geography, in the customs, culture, and cuisine of a place. Experts in crafting a range of divine desserts, the Spanish-speaking world doles out delicacies all year long, but throughout the Iberian Peninsula, winter tastes a lot like turrón.
Turrón is a deceivingly simple confection. In its most basic form, it contains just three components: toasted almonds, egg whites, and honey. But as a chameleonic and ubiquitous sweet, turrón’s original recipe has endured countless metamorphoses, crossing continents and changing shape over the course of several centuries.
While its origins are inevitably opaque, most historians seem to agree that it was introduced to Spain by the Moors during the Middle Ages. One of the earliest known references to turrón appeared in a 12th century Latin translation of writings from Abdul Mutarrif, an Arabic physician who examined the healing qualities of certain foods. In his culinary pharmacopeia, Mutarrif sang the praises of something called turun, a honey-based candy used to treat respiratory conditions and indigestion.
Turrón is a deceivingly simple confection. In its most basic form, it contains just three components: toasted almonds, egg whites, and honey.
So, if the Moors can be credited for turrón’s creation, they were also responsible for introducing it to other Mediterranean countries where they once held sway—in France, turrón is known as nougat; in Italy, torrone; in Greece, mandolato. And as a result of the Spanish conquest, Central and South America also relish this seasonal sweet. Each country offers its own unique variation, some using hazelnuts instead of almonds or incorporating chocolate, whisky, or fruit for a more complex flavor. Yet despite its global influence, no country celebrates turrón more than Spain.
Wandering a Spanish supermarket, one’s periphery is dominated by whole aisles bursting with festive, colorful boxes of the stuff. Hundreds of varieties urge you to indulge their spectrum of sweetness, their different tastes and textures. From artisanal small batches sold in ultramarinos—a sort of Spanish boutique cornershop—to gourmet mass-market brands spilling from store shelves, it’s no surprise that Spain is the largest exporter of turrón in the world, generating revenues in the of millions of dollars each year.
Beyond widely enjoying almond turrón’s subtle yet indulgent ambrosia, it’s clear that Spain is deeply proud of its traditional treat. Through efforts to recognize its defining regional attributes, the main producers of turrón — Xixona, Alicante and Agramunt—all claim their own specific iterations (Alicante is famous for crunchy almond turrón with a hard, brittle bite, while Xixona’s is soft and pliant), and each region offers an array of elite products with EU Protected Geographical Status (think: the champagne of Christmas sweets). Indeed, while there exists a plethora of accessible supermarket brands, true turrón connoisseurs are sure to indulge only in those made with the finest local ingredients.
If you want your winter to taste like turrón, you needn’t travel far—Spain is quite accustomed to sending it overseas, and it’s simple enough to try making yourself. No matter how you get your hands on it, que aproveche!
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