National Nougat Day
National Nougat Day falls on March 26 and is one of those food holidays that comes and goes unnoticed by most people. Don’t be so quick, however, to miss out on this ancient treat. Nougat has centuries of history and is considered a special delight in many countries, especially around holidays. In Italy it is often called torrone, cupeta, mandorlato, or cubbaito with each area’s version boasting a subtle difference. In Spain and France it is torrón. Iran calls it az nowgaand and has another variation known as gaz (more surprising facts about that later!) And you thought it was just something inside of a Three Muskateer bar!
Both France and Italy have an interesting history of nougat production that you ought to peruse when you are in one of those moods to completely disassociate with your normal routine and read French nougat trivia. I mean France even has designated career nougat makers called nougatieres. (The risk of that career might be your waistline.)
They used nougat in international trade as early as 1701. France alone produces 4500 tons annually and planted thousands of acres of almond trees through the centuries, simply for nougat production. Yet the origin of nougat greatly out dates France.
It was brought from the Middle East to Europe aboard Phoenician ships as early as the twelfth century. Although many countries like to claim it as their very own, history tells us that the award probably goes to the Arab world. A big thank you to the Middle East!
Iranian gaz has its own unique story. Authentic traditional gaz is made with honey dew, which is not what you are naively picturing. The honeydew we are talking about is a sweet nectar taken from the back end of a live insect nymph, left on plants to be collected yearly. It’s also called Psyllid manna. I’m totally serious. But then again, if you are not so happy about that information, we enjoy honey in our culture. And….well when you think about it, it’s a pretty unusual operation including insect regurgitation. So…it’s all okay!
Hosts and hostesses often serve gaz with tea or a scoop of sherbet. Just as Europeans look forward to their nougat around the Christmas season, Iranians traditionally offer it in homes during Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
Although there are variations of this confection called Black Nougat, most of the world is more familiar with White Nougat. The most common ingredients are egg whites and honey, though some confectioners use other variations of sugar and sugar syrup combinations. Then come the nuts and seeds. Hazlenuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios are the most common. Occasionally you will see pistachio candy with a light green tint but usually it is white with telltale green pieces of nut. Some versions contain rose water, especially in Iran and Iraq where you might find an occasional pink hued candy.
Give It a Try
What if you want to try some but first of all you have no connections within any of the aforementioned cultures? Well, I suggest you widen your friend base. You are missing out! But the next option is to try your hand making it. Remember, it is a bit tricky to modulate the syrup you are introducing and to watch moisture. So what if you don’t want to risk a kitchen flop? There’s always good ‘ole Amazon. We ordered La Florentine Torrone in almond and pistachio with lemon, orange, and vanilla. The box was lovely with little individual candies in a beautiful presentation but this one was much more delicious. Or go to your nearest candy section and purchase Brach’s Jelly nougats, an affordable pretend version that everyone loves but might make some French nougatieres be aghast! Pretty delicious though. Enjoy a nougat soon. You’ve been missing out.