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Cookbook explores the Middle East’s obsession with sweets | Post Magazine

You don’t have to get on a plane to enjoy Arabic treats. Make them in your own kitchen with a little help from author Anissa Helou

By Susan Jung

Sweets play an important role in the cultures of the Middle East. If you’re a tourist in the region, you’ll experience this as you wander through stores – if you display even a remote interest in a shop­keeper’s wares, he’s sure to offer you a glass of heavily sweetened mint tea to help lure you in; if you start to shop seriously and are spending big bucks, he’ll probably send out for a selection of sweet treats.

In her book, Sweet Middle East (2015), Anissa Helou writes: “Most people in the Middle East and North Africa have a penchant for all things sugary. Sweets occupy an important place in our lives, and every important occasion, rite of passage or religious event has a specific sweet associated with its celebration. In fact, any occasion is good enough reason to visit the sweets maker, whether to enjoy a snack while going about your daily business or to buy a treat to take to friends or family.

“It’s possible that this love of sweet things is a result of the Muslim prohibition against alcohol, with sugar from sweets replacing the sugar derived from alcohol. Perhaps sugar (from the Arabic word “sukkar”, derived from the Persian “shakar”) was so plentiful in the Middle East that a tradition of candy and pastry making was established […] Sugar was not the only sweetener available in the Middle East (honey and molasses from grapes, dates, and carob were and still are used as well), though it was plentiful there long before sugar became common in the West […] Sweets are an essential part of the legendary Middle Eastern and North African hospitality, and they are ever-present in people’s…

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