It’s no coincidence that occidental classics like C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion, The Witch, The Wardrobe’ mention Turkish delights as a bribe. Nor is it any wonder that travel-writer consistently launch into the exotic fantasy of desserts from this section of the world. Perhaps it is the result of the mingling of various cultures in the Ottoman Empire, or maybe it is the genealogical history of the Turkic people immigrating from Far East Asia to Asia Minor today. Still, there is something in the dessert section for everyone.
Whether your sweet tooth needs to overwhelm or whether you need a more refined taste, we’ve collected a list of some of the best Turkish desserts. Beware, these hedonistic goodies are so enticing; they will have no trouble seducing you away from your diet.
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The pinnacle of Turkish desserts, this treat made from crispy layers of phyllo dough stuffed with ground pistachios is served everywhere in Turkey. After being baked, it’s drenched with sweet, honey-like sugar syrup infused with lemon. The creamy, buttery smell emanates from each satisfying crunch. The sound, the taste, the texture – this is a sensory experience.
Notoriously made in the southeast city of Gaziantep, the name ‘baklava’ was registered by the European Commission as a Protected Geographical Indication. Invented in Ottoman Topkapı Palace kitchens in the middle ages, today, you can find versions with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, fresh clotted cream fillings, and even a chocolate version!
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Also known as Knafeh to Arabic speakers, this iconic dessert has been around for centuries. This is also made with string pastry (shredded wheat or kadayıf) soaked in sweet sugar syrup. However, the surprise is the creamy, unsalted goat’s cheese inside. Mostly popular in the Arab world, the Turkish version hails from Hatay, a region that borders Syria.
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3. Lokum (Turkish Delight)
The star of the show. Not only literature, but this creative candy has also inspired artists of different industries: from being a precursor to the jellybean to even being included in perfumes. Previously called ‘rahat ul-hulküm’, which is derived from Ottoman Turkish, the Turkish Delight lives up to the name: the comfort of the throat. A small piece of heaven.
Although they are delicious enough to be embedded in various desserts, like chocolates, a common complaint seems to be that the ones back home aren’t as chewy. The ones floating around in Istanbul seem to have that perfect ratio of starch to sugar and flavor. Offered as something to drown away the bitterness of Turkish coffee, you may also find those with nuts, shredded coconut, or even exotic flavors like rose.
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4. Tavukgöğsü (Chicken pudding)
This is a fun prank to play with your friends. Take a carnivore to a dessert shop in Turkey. Order the tavukgöğsü. Let them finish the whole thing before you translate what they ate: The Chicken Breast. (seriously, do not do this prank to your vegetarian friend) Yes, you heard right. This viscous milk pudding is considered to be one of the signature dishes in Turkey.
Previously a delicacy served to the sultans; this milk-based pudding has its roots in the Roman Empire. Usually topped with a generous helping of cinnamon, the thick pudding is shaped like a log. You’d never guess what’s inside!
For the vegetarians, rest assured. There is a meat-free version available. Usually called Muhallebi, ask around for the type of dessert that’ll shock your senses.
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5. Fırında sütlaç
There are rice puddings and then there’s “fırında sütlaç”. The concept is pretty basic: throw a rice pudding in the oven. The taste, however, is extraordinary. The pudding goes through the Maillard reaction to create a caramel-colored, sweeter version of the rice pudding. Experts on Turkish gastronomy know the secret: the darker, the more burnt, versions are tastier than the slightly caramelized version. Typically served cold, they’re a delight to eat when warm too.
The first time you taste it, you’ll recognize it for what it truly is: comfort food. This is what you turn to during rough times. This warming dessert is somewhere between a rice pudding, a souffle, and a custard.
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The fragrant orange-scented, syrup-soaked semolina cake is out of this world and one of Turkey’s most home-cooked desserts. The light dessert is highly respected: it is said that you cannot consider yourself a Middle Eastern/Greek/Albanian pastry chef if you don’t know how to make this dessert. Originating in the 16th century, it was known as revani i.e. “the precious” in Ottoman Turkish.
Revani has a sister, known as İrmik Helvası (Semolina Halva)
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Fans of Jalebi and Churros can delight with this golden-colored delicacy. Those with a fiendish sweet tooth will find that this will hit every spot. If you’re curious as to what it tastes like, think of the juiciest doughnut you’ve ever eaten and now imagine it to be twice as moist. Just like a doughnut, this is deep-fried in oil before being bathed with sweet syrup. The tulumba manages soft and crispy all at the same time.
Although known to be a treat for Ramadan, the tulumba is available year-round as the ultimate street food.
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8. Un helvası
Helva is a popular yet versatile dessert found across the Balkans, Africa, and Asia. Although Turkey has a huge selection of different types of helva, the flour helva is typically shaped like small biscuits. This silky soft treat will melt away in your mouth just like butter (made with flour roasted in butter), and this is the perfect accompaniment to help balance out the bitter taste of tea/coffee.
There is a tradition that the flour and semolina versions of the helva are eaten after fish to help cleanse the palate. It’s also known as the “halva of the dead” due to it being customary to hand out at funerals. So, if you’re super into Halloween, consider this orangey treat the ideal trick-or-treat candy.
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Also known as Noah’s pudding, this traditional Turkish dessert is said to have originated when the ark rested on Mount Ararat. Allegedly a pudding was made from the exhausted supplies on the ship. Hence, if you spend any time living in Turkey, don’t be surprised if someone knocks on your door to offer you a plate as a symbol of peace and love.
This is an unusual dessert that you absolutely have to try to understand. There isn’t any classic recipe as everyone puts their spin on it. A cross between a pudding and porridge, you may find grains, nuts, dried fruits, pine nuts, and various surprises couched in the pink porridge. This fragrant dessert may have up to twelve, maybe more, ingredients and is usually vegan friendly.
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10. Ayva tatlısı
The quintessential quince dessert. If you’re a fan of Christina Rossetti, this popular Turkish dessert will remind you of the famous Goblin Market. Just like in the poem, it would be advised not to underestimate this seductive Turkish dessert.
It is made by poaching quince fruit in hot, sugary water. Then it’s thickened up with pectin to make a viscous, soft, delicate yet aromatic dessert. The yellow quince transforms like the ugly duckling into a majestic pomegranate pink. As cozy as a fireplace, this sweet treat is one for the winter. Perhaps it’s the Christmassy spices like cloves and cinnamon that give this treat its treasure-like quality. Usually served with a touch of cream and a sprinkling of nuts, this may become your new annual tradition.
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11. Cevizli sucuk
It’s disheartening that the sucuk with walnuts (cevizli sucuk) is not better know. Named after its resemblance in shape to the Turkish sausage, this dessert doesn’t contain any meat. In fact, this vegan-friendly indulgence is more like a delicious trail mix than candy.
It’s simple in its execution: walnuts hugged by a thickened grape molasses sauce. They throw a little bit of rope on the inside to ensure that this enticing treat can be hung. That’s it. The explanation may be simple, but the taste is absolutely not. Grape molasses is famed in Turkey for helping anaemics due to its iron content. Walnuts are known for their omega 3 qualities and for lowering cholesterol. With the minerals, it contains, this is the only companion a hiker ever needs.
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Turkish ice cream belongs to a league of its own. The star of the ice cream in Turkey is the notorious Maraş ice cream. If you’re fortunate to see it in real life, you may find that this ice cream is loaded up on a stick the way the doner is. Known for its crazy feats, this ice cream is so tough that (thanks to salep, a.k.a orchid bulbs) it has both lifted and broken cars. Producing one bit of this ice cream requires the same strength of carrying 5 tonnes.
Thick, chewy, and slow to melt, this ice cream originates from the city and region of Maraş. When the street vendors, dressed in exotic Ottoman clothing, aren’t playing pranks on their customers, this ice cream can be consumed with a knife and fork.
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This edible cloud was first mentioned in physician Hu Sihui’s 14th-century health book: Yinshan Zhenyao. Completely Turkish/Mongolian, this sensuously soft, cotton-like dessert is considered the precursor of the famous baklava.
However, those put off by the extreme sweetness of the baklava will find joy in the gentler, classier, lighter flavor.
The layers of thin, corn-starch-based ‘pastry’ are immersed in warm milk with rose water. Flavored with pistachios and pomegranate seeds; this delicate treat is as beautiful as it is tasty. Imagine a more delicate Tres Leche cake without the sponge.
The light’ pastry’ is sold in shops during Ramadan in a packet with instructions. Known for being a winter treat, something about this delectable dessert will have you feeling like a sultan from the Ottoman era. If not that, this seems to be the perfect symbolism of Hades kidnapping Persephone.
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Typically called ‘Turkish candyfloss,’ or ‘cotton candy’ there is a huge difference between buttery smooth, wool-like Turkish treat and the airy, pink, sugary candyfloss. It’s closer to its Asian sibling, Dragon Beard’s Candy, but with a smoother approach and a deeper flavor.
You can find the original or even a chocolate version in gift shops as a lovely souvenir. Saray helvası, the twin sister of pişmaniye is a great alternative to this Turkish sweet.
Legend has it that a confectioner created this after falling in love with a curvy lady. Although he won her heart, her jealousy and mood swings left him pişman (regretful), hence the name. Despite the reality being that this nomenclature is likely derived from Persian or Coptic, this is the candy that’ll have loads of puns about tourists regretting not trying it.
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An international star, each country has its own version. Turkey, however, has a multitude that you can pick from. The warm, semolina version is comfort food for the soul. However, the cold tahini block is crumbly yet soft is the kind of confectionary served to strengthen the eater. The block helva’s nougat consistency is the food version of a Byronic hero, so it’s no wonder that this beloved sweet is served on special occasions.
If you’re popping into one of the bazaars in Istanbul, keep an eye out for the picturesque blocks – some with nuts, fruits, and various other stuffing.
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Translated as a ‘bite’ or a ‘morsel’, this doughtnuty delight used to be known for being a honey-token gift given to the victors of the Olympic Games. Whether they are dowsed in honey, sprinkled with cinnamon, or served with cheese, there’s happiness in a small bite of this deep-fried dough. Further, unlike the doughnut, the lokma is a small representation of modern and ancient Turkey’s cultural and social zeitgeist. Sometimes made by close relatives of a recently deceased person, they are exchanged to pray for the soul.
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Also known as ‘Groom Katmer,’ the groom’s father would send a helping of katmer to the house of the newlyweds and the bride’s father on the first morning of the wedding. This butter and sugar-based sweet treat was a symbol of wishing a sweet marriage – as well as allowing the newlyweds to regain their strength after an exhausting wedding.
Although it’s known to be prepared in a similar manner to a börek or baklava, this pastry is made via the lamination of the dough. In other words, it has that same flaky, buttery feel of a croissant but far sweeter and with a pistachio coat.
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Known as a beggars-bowl, this fluffy, smooth, and creamy almond pudding got its start from undercover Ottoman officials feeding the poor. Served with a touch of shredded coconut or pistachios, this is a rarely found treat. There’s an urban legend that when a man wanted to declare his love to a woman, he’d take her to a muhallebici (pudding shop). The keşkül may still be found in an intimate corner of a pudding shop or patisserie in Turkey.
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In this article, we have listed the best Turkish desserts and sweets. We hope you will enjoy reading about them! If you are looking for a tasty way to spend your vacation in Turkey, these dishes may be just what you need. So visit Turkey to taste the best Turkish desserts!
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