Food: Halva | Halwa | A Sweet of India and the Middle East, Lebanon and Greece


Halva, or Halwa, is a sweet with a long history. Records of halva go back to the 7th century when Arabs make it by kneading dates into milk to form a thick, sugary paste. It then evolved with toasted gains such as wheat flour, almonds, sunflower seeds, lentils, peanuts or semolina mixed with honey, sugar, date or grape syrup. Over the centuries, love of halva spread to Greece, Turkey, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India.

In the Middle East, halva is made from sesame seeds that are toasted and ground into a paste and mixed with boiling sugar. Lebanese halvas are sweeter than Arabian types, and flaky Greek halvas are sweeter again.

In Turkey and India there are more than 100 varieties each.

Halwas in India

India is considered by some to be the birthplace of halwa, whose origins stretch back to the origination of the word halwa itself from the Sanskrit language, India has many types of halwa, some unique to particular regions of the country. Various types of Indian halwa are distinguished by the region and the ingredients from which they are prepared.

Although it bears the same name, halwas in India are quite different from the Middle Eastern ones. Indian halwa is a aromatic sweet pudding made from cereals, fruits or vegetables. usually it is made with ghee which imparts a very nice taste and flavor. Consequently they are often wet rather than dry dishes, served warm, and are fragrant with spices such as saffron, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Chewier than their Middle Eastern or Greek cousins, they can be studded with  raisins, nuts, poppyseed and coconut. Semolina is often the base, but lentil, mung bean and peanuts also feature. Even more popular, fruit and vegetable halwa, essentially a dense puree cooked down with milk and ghee, is extremely popular.

Halwa has been traditionally offered as fortification to those who fast. But it is more typically served with as a dessert, with coffee after a meal, or as a snack.

Try fresh pita bread sandwiches of thinly sliced Middle Eastern halva and banana!


Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Cooking Tips and Information here. Or you might like to browse our Indian Essentials series here. Check out our easy Halwa recipes here and here.

browse some Indian Halwa recipes