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 (firm-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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48 Comments

  1. Posted December 10, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Nice Joumana
    The recipe seems similar to Nougat
    How are you and how is the family
    take bare

  2. Joumana
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    @Arlette; it is like a soft nougat, very strongly flavored with cardamom. Everybody is fine, keep in touch! J.

  3. Posted December 10, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    A bit like French nougat… Lovely candy. Something I’d easily get addicted to.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. Posted December 10, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    waou! quelle délicieuse découverte!! et quelle jolie histoire!! j’espère que tu passes d’agréables moments!! bises!

  5. Posted December 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Bonsoir Joumana, ils sont trop beaux on dirait des petits rochers tombés d’une montagne gourmande, bisous et bon dimanche

  6. 7alim
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Two really random questions:

    Is this not also an Iranian delicacy?

    What camera do you use for your pictures? They’re always so stunningly beautiful!

  7. Posted December 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Joumana, I love taffy and every Christmas our family has a tradition (from my father’s side) of making and pulling taffy. His family called it French Chewing Candy. Anyway, it was a caramel-ly, creamy delight. I’ll have to try your recipe as it add nuts and is a departure from what I’m used to. Looks delicious!

  8. Posted December 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    That looks splendid. I have now tried 2 versions of manna and love them. They are sweet but in an interesting complex way… one of them almost has a menthol-like camphory edge to it. The stuff was very pricy so I see why they stopped using it for candy… it would be crazy expensive.
    I can’t wait to try this… lovely recipe.

  9. Posted December 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know which one fiscinates me the most these sweets or the story behind them. All the area around Persia and Middle East is so full of myths, stories and history so rich in cultural aspects and fables. I hope one day I will be able to visit these places and just get a small touch of all this history!

  10. Joumana
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    @7alim: I use a Canon Rebel and thanks! I am not an expert on Iranian cuisine and I consulted the book of Najmieh Batmanglij to check and she does not list these anywhere; now I do notice some similarities the Persians use cardamom and there are a lot of dishes that are similar.

  11. Posted December 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    They really sound delicious, now I need to look for corn syrup :) Diane

  12. Posted December 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    What an interesting story about these candies. I am going to try my hand at these, I bet they will be the perfect addition to my goodie bags this year. Love the burlap sack idea. ;)
    thx for the kind words on my tahini soba noodle dish over at LC.
    happy holidays.

  13. Posted December 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Manna from Heaven indeed! I would love these confections! What a gorgeous and HUGE tree!

  14. Posted December 11, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    vous ne faites pas les choses en petit beyrouth au niveau sapin !!!!pierre

  15. Posted December 11, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I love the story behind these candies – from the ancient legends to the modern recipe! Thanks so much!

  16. Posted December 11, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Ils sont très jolis.

  17. Posted December 11, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I’ve had manna in the Middle East but it was flavored with coriander seed. This version with cardamom sounds wonderful, Joumana!

  18. Posted December 11, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    You always make the most innovative and beautiful sweets Joumana.

    That tree is huge!! What a photo!

  19. Posted December 11, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Lovely story – I love when food is infused with lore. And these look like French nougat which I adore! Wonderful holiday treats!

  20. Mark Wisecarver
    Posted December 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Ohhhh I love you for sharing this, so awesome!

  21. Posted December 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Dear Joumana – Such a nice and wistful story – cloudy with a chance of candy, eh??

    Part macaroon, part nougat, this is just so lovely with the flavors of cardamom. I do however always cringe using corn syrup and never store it in my pantry. I would love your take on this ingredient – is ti all in my head?

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  22. Posted December 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    The background of these treats is so interesting and they look delicious!

  23. Posted December 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    They look splendid! Thanks for sharing :-)

  24. Posted December 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I love when food comes with a story. Beautiful recipe.

  25. Joumana
    Posted December 11, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    @Devaki: I don’t use corn syrup much, only in this case, a one time deal! I heard (and people have written books on it!) that it is real bad for you. Still, if you don’t consume it on a regular basis. I tend to agree with the advice of the Mayo clinic
    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-fructose-corn-syrup/AN01588
    avoiding too much sugar, of any kind, on a daily basis.

  26. Posted December 12, 2011 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Wonderful background on this candy, Joumana. They look like little clouds. And look at great deal like nougat.

  27. Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always loved Italian nougat, and cardamom is among my favorite spices. CAN’T wait to give this one a try!

  28. Posted December 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Joumana, these are delightful, and I love the story/history behind the name :)

  29. Posted December 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Wow that is one tall tree! It’s gorgeous! I like the stories you have with your beautiful, flavorful dishes and goodies. As a kid I loved that, and would love candy falling from the sky!

  30. Posted December 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Oh, am I glad I found a few moments to return to your blog and see what you are up to. Here I find my favourite: manwa salweh! Yum. I will try your recipe although I fear it will not taste like the decadent pillows of heaven that I have eaten. I ate some given to me from Iraq and from Turkey. In fact, an Iraqi man introduced me to these yummy pillows once years ago when I was a twenty something.

    Manwa salwah is a specialty of Isfahan, Iran. I know because my Iranian Canadian’s mother brought a box to Canada with her when she came to visit. They call it gaz.

    all the best in your business making and showing delicious food.

  31. Joumana
    Posted December 16, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    @Tainia: So glad to hear from you again and thanks for the info. I wonder why this was not mentioned in Najmieh’s book. Will look into it.

  32. Posted December 16, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    That is one tall tree! And I love your childhood story.

  33. Zeina
    Posted December 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joumana, these are my husband’s favorites so I tried them. They were DELICIOUS !!! Only one question I have…….mine turned out a little on the soft side. How do I make it a little firmer?
    Zeina

  34. Joumana
    Posted December 17, 2011 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    @Zeina: Ms. Nasrallah suggested in her recipe leaving them out for a couple of days; since her recipe does not specify the temperature of the syrup, I don’t know what temperature the candy needs to be exactly; but if 260F was too soft, try a harder syrup cooked a little longer; where it gets tricky is that if too hard, it is difficult to combine with the meringue in a home kitchen without the benefit of commercial tools. Mine was on the soft side too, but the taste was fine.

  35. Zeina
    Posted December 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joumana, just wanted to give you an update. I did as you recommended and let the syrup cook a little longer. They came out perfect! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for this delicious recipe!
    Zeina

  36. Joumana
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    @Zeina: So GLAD it worked out! :)

  37. Lucy
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    This looked so wonderful , that I had to try it .
    Ack , Something went wrong somewhere. I wish I took a photo of the Taffy.
    Here is what happened : after the taffy was rolled and placed on a serving plate , they spread. and molded into one. They were still delicious , heavenly actually.
    HELP !
    Thank you for the wonderful recipes ,that I so enjoy !

  38. Joumana
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    @Lucy: I actually had this problem; it is a tricky recipe and I should have warned people about that. The sugar syrup needs to cook for a longer period in order to make a stiffer taffy. How long did you cook your syrup and did you measure the temperature?

  39. Lucy
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Joumana,

    I used a candy thermometer and heated it to 260 ..perhaps I should of cooked it longer at that temperature, either way I will try again.

    Thank you for all your recipes ! You inspire me !

  40. Joumana
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    @Lucy: The original recipe did not call for a specific temperature. Your struggle with it is inspiring me to try it again and see if I have better results with a higher syrup temp; I will let you know!

  41. Mona
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Seriously ~ It never fails ~every time I eat mann al sama ~ I feel as if I have died and gone to heaven!!! One bite of this amazing sweet and it reminds me of all the warmth of the Middle East ! This is truly-the most amazing sweet ~ Thank You for sharing the recipe

  42. Walid
    Posted August 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you very much for the history. I have been trying to figure out for years where to get mann al sama. I grew up in Beirut and my mom had a lot of Iraqi relatives who would visit – always with a box of mann. Even as a kid I knew the stuff that came in the wooden box was better than the cardboard. Alas that was the late seventies, and I have not seen or eaten mann since. I found something called divinity in the US, but it looked awful. I will try your recipe; I like nougat a lot, but remember mann al sama as something different. Thanks again.

  43. Posted October 10, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    You can’t imagine how happy I am to see this recipe. I was lucky enough to have some of these delicious sweets last Eid when a friend of my husband brought some from Iraq. The taste really is something unlike anything else and further reinforces my belief that Iraq is a magical place. Hopefully I can recreate these and make a homesick husband very happy! Thank you so much for sharing.

  44. Penelope C Purchase
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    I have had the “original” kind that fell from the trees in Iraq. I was sent a “cardboard shoe box” full one just before one Christmas from a friend in Iraq about 44 years ago when this was still available before the 1st Iraqi war. I lived on it that Christmas and didn’t want any other food. I have been informed that the “wars” recently have decimated those particular trees and it is no longer possible to get the original manna from heaven! I feel very privileged to have been able to have tasted it.

  45. Joumana
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    @Penelope: It is indeed very lucky that you were able to taste the real thing! I have been trying to get the anbar rice from Iraq, another delicacy from the South and have not had much luck so far! On the other hand, I bought a couple of boxes of a candy from Iran called gas I think, and it tasted a lot like the manna; I was not able to find out more because this particular bazaar was shut down after 3 days and gone; I amhoping they will come back this year and I will get to the bottom of the story!

  46. tovie
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    OMG I just had this for the first time and it is to die for!! Unfortunately I bought like 2 pieces on vacation 12 hours away so there is no more. Can’t wait to try this recipe. Thanks so much for posting it :))

  47. Raman
    Posted February 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi. I’m an Iraqi Assyrian and your Mann Alsamma looks authentic. I remember it as my favorite treat as a child in Dora, Baghdad. My mother made it occasionally. I’ll have to make it for my kids soon. Thank you for the memory!

  48. Joumana
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    @Raman: I have found this recipe challenging; I made a different mann al-samma for an iraqi cookbook on worked on recently (in arabic) using the formula of a marshmallow flavored with cardamom. I will revise the recipe and post it soon. Thanks! :)
    http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2013/12/iraqi-cuisine-al-tabekh-al-3iraki-a-giveaway/

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    [...] Iraqi Taffy (Mann al-Sama) [...]

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