Spreading the Joy: Halva Gets a Healthier Makeover


Photo by: Julien Zeitouni ©Julien Zeitouni

Julien Zeitouni, Julien Zeitouni

Halva, the Middle Eastern sesame candy, is a dessert favorite. Dense and rich, it tastes like peanut buttery fudge and is often layered with ribbons of chocolate. What could be better? Just one problem: It's traditionally loaded with sugar. Israeli native Shahar Shamir was a huge halva fan too, but as a former dancer keen on keeping healthy, he was hesitant to dig in.

A home cook since the age of eight (his mother taught him everything he knows), Shamir decided to fiddle with a recipe of his own, grinding sesame seeds with honey and roasted nuts, and making something that more closely resembled a nut butter than a candy. His rendition also dispensed with the usual hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors. He served his new-fangled halva spreads to friends at dinner parties. They went wild.

In July 2013, he launched Brooklyn Sesame, an all-natural, gluten-free halva spread ($9 to $15 a jar) that he peddled at a booth at the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg food markets in New York City. One year later, Shamir's little halva experiment has boomed into an artisan halva business, with six Brooklyn Sesame flavors: roasted sesame, black caraway, toasted coconut, raw almonds, roasted pistachio and cocoa and sea salt (think Nutella, but thicker and nuttier -- and with a mere 5 grams of sugar per serving).

Shamir says the best way to eat his spreads is straight from the jar, and while it's tough to argue with him, a thick slice of whole-wheat toast slathered with the roasted pistachio makes a fine start to any morning. You could spoon the toasted coconut over ice cream, use the cocoa and sea salt as a cookie filling, pair a few spreads with a beautiful plate of ripened cheeses, or even entice kids with a fruit and halva feast.

Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work often appears in Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She's probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Brooklyn with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.

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