Monday, 3 December 2007

Turron time

Much has been written about the origins of turrón and the conclusions have not always been unanimous. However, it is widely accepted that this sweet bite made with almonds and honey was prepared all over the Mediterranean. It was the Arabs, though, who most probably introduced the tradition of making turrón in the Iberian Peninsula, when they dominated this territory back in the 8th century.

This likely Arab legacy has translated into an important food industry that employs hundreds in the province of Alicante. Specifically, Jijona –Xixona in Valencian- is nowadays the most renowned town dedicated to the preparation of this typical Christmas sweet. Indeed, this land naturally produces the basic ingredients needed to prepare turrón: almond trees inundate the landscape and thyme, lavender, orange blossom and rosemary –essential to obtain honey- perfume the meadows.

Besides Jijona, there are other areas in Spain that produce this traditional sweet. For instance, the town of Agramunt, in the Catalan province of Lleida, prepares a round variety of turrón made with hazelnut. But by far, the production volume of Torró d’Agramunt -Turrón de Agramunt in Spanish- has little to do with this of Jijona, a town that has developed a whole economy based on this product. Turrón from Jijona became popular in the 19th century, when the artisan producers travelled to markets in cities and towns over Spain just before Christmas to sell their almond candies. They first did so in the street, and gradually started occupying the entrances to central residential buildings, where some have remained until today.

The secret lies in the ingredients

Traditional and artisan turrón is produced with local varieties of premium quality almonds. These are peeled and toasted and added to a cooked paste of sugar, honey and egg whites. The mixture is poured over some wafers and let to cool. Finally, it is cut into rectangular pieces. This is known as “turrón de Alicante” and shares a very similar process with Jijona turrón. The main difference consists in the grinding and refining process the cooled paste goes through before being cooked again in order to obtain the Jijona variety.

When buying your turrón, it is worth bearing in mind that the percentage of almonds used determines the quality and category of the product. Shoppers may also find a wide range of products due to the fact that traditional varieties like Jijona, Alicante or “Yema” –egg yolk- have to compete with other types of turrón like these that contain ingredients such as coconut or chocolate.

For a fine selection of Spanish turrones please visit our Spanish food online store.


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