Iraqi taffy (Mann al-Sama)

An Iraqi specialty, these candies go  by the name  mann al-sama which translates into manna from heaven. Every year we’d get a box courtesy of Alaa’din, our Iraqi friend escaping  Baghdad’s scorching summer heat for a few weeks of R&R in Lebanon’s cool mountain air.

As a child, I had  asked : ” Why are these called manna from heaven?” and the answer was swift: “Because they come from the sky”.

Needless to say, this added  to the mystique of Iraq being a magical place where candy would fall onto one’s lap from the skies above.

My father who’d lived in Iraq several years corroborated the story. He said the candy was scraped from leaves on the ground.

Here is the scoop on these  heavenly candies, provided by Nawal Nasrallah in her Delights from the Garden of Eden.

Apparently,  historians attribute it to the same manna mentioned in the Bible and in the Qoran as food that God sent the people of Israel during  their wanderings in the desert.

But where does it come from?

There are certain varieties of trees in Northern Iraq which give out sap after being punctured by insects. This sap falls off the tree, covering leaves on the ground; it  is then scraped off the leaves, cleaned, boiled, and milled; flavored with cardamom, stuffed with nuts, and shaped into large chewy balls: Mann al-sama.


The candies we would get were carefully tucked  in a cardboard box, wrapped  in paper and tied with a burlap string; feverish hands would open the box releasing clouds of flour and the strong scent of cardamom;  in the box, soft balls  of taupe-colored marshmallow-like candy nudged side-by-side.

Today, confectioners in Lebanon  make it  like a taffy, stuffed with  almonds and flavored with cardamom. The real mann al-sama to my knowledge is no longer available (at least not in Lebanon). It is still made in Iraq but only gets exported sporadically into Lebanon. One confectioner to whom I talked, from the firm Oussama Ghrawi told me that to make these candies with the real mann is not profitable, therefore it is made without it!

Apparently making taffy-like (or nougat-like) candy was popular in the Arab world since the tenth century.

In Lebanon it is called mann wa salwa.

Nawal Nasrallah says that even in Iraq it is made as a candy nowadays and no longer from that heavenly sap.

Recipe adapted from Delights from the Garden of Eden.

INGREDIENTS: Makes 30 to 60  balls (depending on size)

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups of corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp of ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup of butter (2 oz or 50 g.)
  • 1 1/2 cups of toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans)
  • cornstarch or flour

METHOD:

  1. Dissolve sugar with corn syrup, salt and water in a pan, stirring from time to time. Let a syrup form (test it when placing a drop on the counter it should be firm and not drip.
  2. Whip egg whites (while syrup is cooking) until firm and still shiny. Pour 1/4 of the syrup over the egg whites and keep whipping. Cook the remainder of the syrup until thicker (hard-ball stage or 260F). Add the rest of the syrup to the egg whites and keep whipping. Fold cardamom, butter and nuts.
  3. Spread the taffy into a pan that is greased and floured. Leave it for 12 hours or longer. Cut into small squares and form into balls; dip in flour or cornstarch to keep them from sticking. They will keep in a cool area for days.

NOTE: I have made this recipe a couple of times and it is tricky. The taffy stays soft. What is crucial is for the sugar syrup to cook long enough to a softball stage. The way to tell is to take a small  (teaspoon) amount  of syrup and drop it in a glass of water; if it forms a ball, it is ready. 

A native Lebanese fir tree is being decorated in a Beirut school.

 

 

 


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57 Comments

  1. Posted May 15, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I just made this and it comes very close to it! I was actually gonna comment that mine came out a little sticky but I just realized I made the mistake and stopped it at firm ball stage instead of hard ball. Bummer! So it’s a little sticky for me but next time I’ll fix my mistake. Is it thicker if I go to the hard ball stage? Just curious. Oh and I LOVE pistachios! I thought 1 1/2 cups was little so I went to 2 and I still find it not enough! (I like it nutty!!) So next time I may go up to 2 1/2-3 cups! Love this recipe! Don’t know when I’ll get the real Mann al-Sama but I’m good with this recipe for now. :) Thank you!

  2. Joumana
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    @Rima: Hard ball is much firmer and harder to handle (that’swhy they have machines making it:)
    Anyway, you are most welcome. I will eventually post my other version with marshmallows a much easier technique.

  3. Posted May 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    hmmmm maybe I’ll take it off the stove before it hits hard ball and see what the result is? :) I used my KitchenAid to mix the ingredients through the whole process and it was wonderful!

    Before I found your *WONDERFUL* recipe, I have been making marshmallows and just throwing in the pistachios, a small cap full of rose water, and a heavy pinch of cardamom! They are perfect and lighter than Mann al-Sama! I’m interested to see your recipe and see if it is similar to mine or different. I don’t mind having many recipes! ;)

  4. Joumana
    Posted May 18, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    @Reima: I use the same mixer, could not live without it! Will make them soon and you will be able to tell. Glad they turned out good! :)

  5. layla
    Posted July 18, 2014 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    how can I get al mann wal salwa sweet ? did you sell it ?

  6. Joumana
    Posted July 18, 2014 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    @ layla: i don’t sell it, just make a substitue version. I would check online just got a box from Baghdad, will give you their address if you wish.

  7. Tom
    Posted August 23, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Layla, you can get Al-mann wal-salwa box of candies from Arab grocers who are serviced by Ziyad (company) distributor. It seems seasonal for making it to the USA. (The above article is fantastic! I didn’t try the recipe though.)
    A company boxing it for export with 1 year expiration dates (which seems fine) is Hammat As-Salaam in Amman.

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