Culture, Mediterranean diet


Nougat is a traditional Christmas delight and one of the most appreciated desserts in many countries around the world. There are many legends about this particularly fine sweet, in which honey was whipped into egg white together with almonds or other nuts and then sun-dried. However, its origins date back many centuries. Even in ancient Greece, people knew about the benefits of nougat.

Before competitions, athletes were served a delicacy made from nuts and honey, which was known as “nux gatum” and served as a source of energy. The name persisted throughout history, later reappeared in Roman recipes and is very similar to the French word “nougat“. Other recipes that date from the 10th century in Baghdad also suggest that nougat was well known in the area what is now between southeast Turkey and Syria.

More recently, historical data has been verified which ensure that nougat already existed in the early 15th century in the city of Sexona (now Jijona) in Spain, on what was then the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs, who lived there for 800 years, were the ones who first introduced turrón to the northern Mediterranean countries. It was only a matter of time before this specialty reached Italy and France.

There are three types of nougat: white, black, and Viennese. The white nougat is made by mixing honey or sugar with eggs and roasted almonds, while the black nougat is prepared without egg and therefore has a firmer, often crispy texture. The German nougat – also called Viennese nougat or gianduja, is made with three ingredients: hazelnuts or almonds, chocolate and sugar.

In Italy, torrone is very popular with countless types available and each city and region having its own traditional style. The first known documented mention was in the year 1441 in Cremona, where at the wedding of Francesco Sforza to Maria Bianca Visconti, a new desert was created in the couple’s honor.

There are still different views of where the torrone really comes from, it is assumed that the name appeared for the first time in translations of Arabic works by some scholars. The delicious sweet consists mainly of the same ingredients as nougat from France or turrón from Spain. Sometimes coated in chocolate and refined with spices and a wide variety of flavors such as lemon, orange and pistachio, it can be hard, soft, chewy or brittle.


In France, nougat was long time seen as a valuable gift. The agronomist Olivier de Serres, who has been associated with the production of nougat, was the one who replaced first walnuts with almonds. From then on, industrial production took its course and the first nougat factory was built in Montélimar in 1770. Since then, both nougat noir and nougat blanc are very popular Christmas desserts that are traditionally served on Christmas Eve.

In 1993 the Association of Nougatiers applied for Nougat de Montélimar to be designated as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which was granted in February 2003. To be qualified as Montelimar nougat, the candy must be made to contain 28% peeled almonds, 16% lavander honey and 2% pistachio nuts.

This article was first published in Issue 15


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