halva recipe history culture origin

Узнайте как готовить халву!

Halva: Ancient and Nutritious

Published: July 23, 2018

Halva (Халва), the rich, crumbly dessert well-loved across many cultures, is so densely filling it almost manages to feel like a meal – and not an entirely unhealthy one at that. There are more than one hundred types of halva, which is generally ground and sweetened nuts and/or seeds.

Its role as a staple dessert extends across so many centuries and cultures that it can hardly be said to belong to any one nationality. Enjoyed and widely available in shops and bazaars across the former Soviet Union, however, it is there most associated with Central Asia, the entry point from which halva made its way to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Central Asia is historically and geographically closer to Turkish, Arabic, and Indian halva-eating cultures.

How “Halva” Got Its Name

(Почему она носит такое название?)

Halva gets its name from the Arabic word “halwa,” meaning sweets or desserts. The origins of halva are disputed, although many Russian-language sources claim that it originated in Iran as many as 2500 years ago.

In the 7th century, it seems the word referred to a paste of dates and milk in Arabia, and by the 9th century it indicated a paste made of flour and sugar. Now, halva can refer to two categories of sweets. One is a gelatinous mix of fried flour and sugar, popular in Greece, India and the Middle East. The other, the one most popular in the former USSR, is made of nut or seed butter and sugar, and is popular in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and parts of the Middle East and India. In some countries, halva is also made from fruits or carrots.

In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, halva is called “лавз.” There, it comes in two versions. The soft version is made from sugar syrup, egg white, and sesame seeds. The solid version is made by adding sesame seeds to pulled sugar. Pulled sugar is produced by boiling sugar and water, and then churning the cooked sugar until it turns into a white, thick, flexible substance.

How and When to Eat Halva

(Как правильно есть халву?)

In the post-Soviet world, halva almost exclusively refers to a seed- or nut-based version of the dessert. Sesame is a common base, as are sunflower seeds. Sunflower halva is a particularly Eastern European variety, since sunflower seeds are widely grown and consumed in Eastern Europe. Nut halva is also common and can be made from walnuts, peanuts, or pistachios, to name a few varieties.

Marketplaces and bazaars across the former USSR will often have sellers offering large blocks of halva of varying colors, spotted with nuts or raisins, which can be bought by weight. Halva is also mass-produced by most major confectioners operating in the former USSR and sold in stores and shops as smaller chocolate-covered bars or as pre-packaged blocks.

It is also used as an ingredient in candies and cakes. Moscow confectionery company Рот Фронт (“Red Front,” from German) makes halva candies – small cubes of halva coated in chocolate, and wrapped in shiny red-and-gold foil – that are particularly popular. Wafer cookies, or “вафли,” with layers of halva are another well-known treat. Russian recipes for home-made halva cakes vary, but many involve layers of cream made from combined halva and condensed milk (сгущёнка).

halva recipe history culture origin
Marketplaces in Russia and Central Asia are usually stocked with a large assortment of халва.

How to Prepare Halva

(Как правильно готовить халву?)

Nut or seed halva, when mass-produced, consists of three primary ingredients: ground nuts or seeds; sugar, honey, or molasses; and a foaming agent such as licorice root, soapwort, or marshmallow root. The foaming agent helps create the fibrous, layered consistency so specific to halva. Other flavoring ingredients, such as chocolate, cocoa powder, vanilla, or dried fruits may also be added.

In Russia, halva is more often bought than prepared at home. In other countries, however, making halva by hand is a long-standing tradition. In Uzbekistan, the term “кандалатчи” refers specifically to someone who knows the secret of preparing halva, for instance.

Making halva in a modern kitchen is in fact relatively simple. Honey is used more often in “домашняя халва” (home-made халва) than in mass-produced versions. Some recipes for “тахинная халва” (tahini halva) are as simple as combining tahini (sesame paste) and honey. Others include egg whites, and still others call for flour, butter, and/or milk.

halva recipe history culture origin
Massproduced by RotFront, a Russian confectioner, these are bite-size pieces of individually-wrapped халва.

Given the long history and great geographic span of the food, there are many, many different ways to make.

Let’s Cook!

(Давай приготовим!)

You can generally find tahini in the ethnic foods aisle of many grocery stores or in shops specializing in Middle Eastern or Asian foods. You can also make your own relatively easily by combining 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil per cup of sesame seeds and running that through a food processor until it is a homogenous paste.

The simplest recipe for sesame halva involves simply mixing honey and tahini paste in a 1:1.5 ratio (i.e. 1 tbsp honey and 1.5 tbsp tahini). After a few hours in the refrigerator, the mixture will solidify.

If you would like to try something a little more complex, the following recipe is the next step up.

See below for a free recipe for halva. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our full, free Eurasian Cookbook online! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we’ve enjoyed:

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Тахинная халва
Tahini Halva
  • Тахина – 1 кофейная чашка
  • Сахар – 1 кофейная чашка
  • Вода – 1 кофейная чашка
  • Орехи по вкусу – горсть
  • Ванилин – щепотка


  1. Для сладкой составляющей (так как тахина абсолютно пресная) нужен мёд или сахарный сироп, уваренный до состояния мягкой карамели. Если вы хотите халву на мёде, возьмите его один к одному с тахиной. Если на сиропе, то сахар уварить с водой до состояния густого сиропа, но не допускать изменения цвета. Масса должна чуть загустеть и обильно пузыриться при кипении (варить около 6-8 минут).
  2. Пока готовится сироп, приготовить орехи: очистить от кожуры, легко поджарить на сухой сковороде.
  3. Орехи перемолоть до средней крошки. Засыпать орехи и ванилин в сироп, размешать и прокипятить 1 минуту.
  4. Смесь убрать с огня, добавить тахину и очень тщательно смешать до пастообразного состояния.
  5. Форму смазать маслом, выложить халву и хорошенько утрамбовать.
  6. Оставить в холодильнике на 2-3 дня для кристаллизации сахара.
  7. Выложить с форму, порезать или поколоть на порционные кусочки и наслаждаться вкусом!
  • Tahini – 1 coffee cup (2/3 cup)
  • Sugar – 1 coffee cup
  • Water – 1 coffee cup
  • Nuts to taste – handful
  • Vanilla – dash


  1. In order to make the dish sweet (since tahini is absolutely unsweetened), you will need either honey or sugar syrup, boiled until it becomes a soft caramel. If you want to use honey, the amount should be one-to-one with the tahini. If you use syrup, boil the sugar and water down to a thick syrup, but don’t let the color change. The syrup should thicken slightly and bubble while boiling (boil for 6-8 minutes).
  2. While the syrup is boiling, prepare the nuts: shell, and lightly roast in a dry frying pan.
  3. Coarsely grind the nuts. Pour nuts and vanilla into the syrup, mix and boil for 1 minute.
  4. Remove the mixture from the heat, add tahini, and thoroughly mix to a paste.
  5. Grease a mold or dish, and fill it with the halva mixture; pack firmly.
  6. Leave in the refrigerator for 2-3 days to allow the sugar to crystallize.
  7. Remove from mold, slice or break into pieces, and enjoy!


If you would like to try something a little more complex, the following recipe is the next step up.

Тахинная халва Tahini Halva
  • Кунжут (сезамовые семена) – 1 стакан
  • Мука пшеничная (высшего сорта) – 1 стакан
  • Сахар-песок – 150 грамм (2/3 стакана)
  • Молоко цельное пастеризованное – 75 миллилитров
  • Масло растительное – 3-4 столовые ложки
  • Сахар ванильный – 1 чайная ложка


  1. Пересыпаем сезамовые семена на дно сухой, широкой, желательно тефлоновой сковороды и ставим ее на средний огонь. Вооружаемся деревянной кухонной лопаткой и начинаем жарить кунжут, интенсивно помешивая. Когда кунжут приобретёт светло-золотистый либо лёгкий коричневый оттенок, снимаем сковороду с плиты. Пересыпаем сезамовые семена в глубокую сухую тарелку и остужаем до комнатной температуры.
  2. Снова ставим сковороду на средний огонь и просеиваем туда через сито с мелкой сеткой пшеничную муку высшего сорта. Обжариваем её до светло-жёлтого цвета, интенсивно помешивая кухонной лопаткой. Как только мука подрумянится, перекладываем её в отдельную глубокую тарелку и полностью остужаем.
  3. Когда обжаренный кунжут остынет, всыпаем его в чистую сухую чашу блендера и измельчаем на самой высокой скорости до получения однородной массы. После этого соединяем в глубокой миске перемолотый сезам с обжаренной мукой, а также растительным маслом и перемешиваем их до однородной консистенции.
  4. Теперь вливаем в небольшой сотейник нужное количество пастеризованного молока, добавляем туда два вида сахара: обычный и ванильный, тщательно перемешиваем и ставим на средний огонь. Доводим жидкость до кипения, провариваем пару минут до образования пенки и снимаем с плиты.
  5. Переливаем горячий молочно-сахарный сироп в миску со смесью из кунжута, муки и масла. Повторно перемешиваем все составляющие блюда до однородной консистенции.
  6. Выкладываем получившуюся массу на влажное большое плоское блюдо, противень или разделочную доску. Разравниваем её чистыми руками так, чтобы получился пласт толщиной от 1 до 2 сантиметров, и оставляем в таком виде при комнатной температуре примерно на 20–30 минут.
  7. Когда халва полностью остынет, разрезаем ее на порции, это могут быть ромбики, полоски, или квадратики. Дальше сервируем десерт к столу!
  • Sesame seeds – 1 cup
  • Flour (high grade) – 1 cup
  • Granulated sugar – 2/3 cup
  • Pasteurized whole milk – 1/3 cup
  • Vegetable oil – 3-4 tbsp
  • Vanilla sugar – 1 tsp


  1. Pour sesame seeds into a dry, wide, preferably Teflon frying pan and put it over medium heat. With a wooden spatula, begin to toast the sesame seeds, stirring vigorously. When the sesame seeds acquire a light gold or light brown color, remove the pan from heat. Pour sesame seeds into a deep, dry dish and allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. Put the pan over medium heat again and sift the flour into it through a fine sieve. Fry the flour to a light yellow color, vigorously stirring it with the spatula. Once the flour has browned, transfer to another deep dish and let cool completely.
  3. When the roasted sesame seeds are cool, pour into the clean, dry bowl of a blender and grind at the highest speed until smooth. Then, combine the ground sesame and fried flour in a large bowl with vegetable oil and mix until smooth.
  4. Now pour the pasteurized milk into a small saucepan, and add the two sugars, regular and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and set over medium heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, and cook for a couple of minutes until foam forms, and remove from heat.
  5. Pour the hot milk and sugar syrup into the bowl with the sesame, flour and oil mixture. Mix all the ingredients again until smooth.
  6. Spread the resulting mixture on a large, damp platter, baking sheet or cutting board. Flatten with clean hands to a thickness of 1-2 centimeters, and let stand at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes.
  7. When the halva has cooled completely, cut into pieces – these can be diamonds, stripes, or squares. Serve the dessert!


A basic recipe for nut halva:

Халва «Орешек» Nut Halva
  • Мёд — 250 г
  • Грецкие орехи (очищенные) — 500 г


  1. Грецкие орехи обжарить, очистить от шелухи, растирая руками, и разломать на кусочки (или растолочь).
  2. Мёд проварить на небольшом огне до тех пор, пока капля, влитая в холодную воду, не загустеет. Затем снять с огня, всыпать орехи, перемешать. Пока халва горячая, быстро выложить её в посуду, предварительно смазанную маслом.
  3. Поставить в холодильник для застывания.
  • Honey – 7 oz
    Walnuts (shelled) – 1 pound


  1. Toast the walnuts. Remove the shells, rubbing them between your hands, and break the nuts into pieces (or crush them).
  2. Boil the honey over medium heat until a drop of it thickens when poured into cold water. Then remove from flame, add nuts, and mix. While the halva is hot, pour quickly into a pre-greased dish.
  3. Put in refrigerator to solidify.


A slightly more complex walnut halva recipe:

Халва из грецких орехов Walnut Halva
  • Орехи грецкие – 800 г
  • Масло сливочное топлёное – 200 г
  • Сахар – 450 г
  • Вода – 450 г
  • Мука пшеничная – 50 г


  1. Поджаренные грецкие орехи пропустите через мясорубку. В котелке растопите масло, всыпьте муку, перемешайте деревянной лопаткой, поджарьте до золотистого цвета. Убавьте огонь и, перемешивая, всыпьте орехи, жарьте в течение одной минуты.
  2. В котёл, не снимая с плиты, залейте горячий сахарный сироп, вымешивайте до однородной густой массы.
  3. Выложите горячую халву на стол, смажьте маслом. Затем нужно сформировать пласт круглой или квадратной формы толщиной 2,5–3 см. Когда пласт немного остынет, нарежьте его ромбиками. Можно подавать с мёдом.
  • Walnuts – 28 oz
  • Melted butter – 7 oz
  • Sugar – 16 oz
  • Water – 16
  • Flour – 1.7 oz


  1. Toast walnuts and mince. [Boil sugar and water to a thick syrup, 6-8 minutes. While syrup is boiling,] melt butter in a pot, add flour, and stir with a wooden spatula, frying until golden. Reduce heat and, stirring, add nuts and fry for one minute.
  2. Without removing the pot from the heat, add the hot sugar syrup, and mix until smooth.
  3. Pour the hot halva onto a greased surface. Form the paste into a circle or square 2.5-3 cm thick. When it has cooled slightly, cut into diamonds. Can be served with honey.

Our Favorite Halva Videos

This is a simple version of “тахинная халва.” The primary ingredients are ground sesame seeds and honey, but the chef adds a spoonful of coffee grounds for extra flavor.


This video is largely wordless (with a bit of Uzbek heard) but it is a fascinating look at the traditional recipe for halva still used in Uzbekistan. Ingredients are measured out on a balance, and sugar is whipped into a thick foam in a large cauldron.


This video, from a Russian program devoted to science and technology, has excellent, mouthwatering clips of sunflower halva being mass-produced using a traditional recipe in Tver. Chefs hand-stir the mixture of syrup, seeds, and soapwort until it reaches the perfect consistency.

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About the author

Sophia Rehm

Sophia Rehm graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in Russian Language and Literature. Sophia is currently SRAS's Translate Abroad Scholar. She hopes to return to Russia and to pursue literary translation and further studies of Russian literature.

View all posts by: Sophia Rehm