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Turkish delight – An Old Favourite

19th January 2015

Rahat Lokum more commonly known as 'Turkish Delight' is one of the oldest sweets in the world dating back 500 years.

Although Arabic records from the 9th century also speak of sweets and medicines made from starch and sugar, these were referred to as rahat-ul hulküm – translated means “soothing to the throat”. This was later simplified to Lokum.

The person directly accredited for inspiring the creation of this delicate confectionary was Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid ii.

In an attempt to woo his mistresses and placate his harem, the Sultan ordered his confectioners to produce unique desserts that would please the women in his palace.

Much to his “delight” his prayers were answered with the arrival of confectioner Hadji Bekir, better known as Hacı Bekir.

Bekir’s recipe was simple, water, lemon and sugar heated and added to another pan containing flour, water and tartar which then simmered for an hour. He then sprinkled on rosewater, left to cool then dusted with powdered sugar and cut into bite size pieces.

In 1777 Bekir set up his own confectionary shop Hacı Bekir where he continued to produce the finest “locums’. So popular were his varieties of locums’ they were placed in lace handkerchiefs’ and given as gifts amongst the fashionable ladies of the time. They were also tokens of affection between courting couples.

In 1811 Hacı Bekir was able to further perfect his recipe. With the discovery of starch by German scientist Kirchhoff. Bekir used this new substance to replace the flour thus creating a completely unique lokum which has remained largely unchanged from what we see today.

When word of his notoriety reached the Ottoman Palace Sultan, Mahmund II rewarded Hacı Bekir by appointing him Chief Confectioner to the Ottoman Court and bestowing upon him the “Nisan-I Ali Osmani” a medal of honour of the first degree.

It was thanks to an English traveller in the 19th century that these sweets were given their name which has stuck ever since. As he handed them out amongst his friends and family back in England he described them as “Turkish delights”.  

A painting of Hacı Bekir by Italian artist Preziosi hangs in the Louvre, and many contemporary works mention Haci Bekir locums’ compounding its’ significance in Turkish culture.

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