SOS Sesame Seeds: Grown-Up Halvah

[This is my first entry for the SOS Kitchen Challenge: Sesame Seeds this month: anti candida friendly, sugar-free, gluten-free halvah.  If you’ve got a sesame-based recipe of your own to share, link up below–and win one of our eleven prizes!]

Have you ever noticed how some of the foods we loved as children seem entirely distaseteful once we’re adults?  (This principle works equally well when you compare your teenaged years or early twenties to your 40s and 50s, too: just replace “some of the foods we loved” with “clothes we loved,” “music we loved,” “heartless cads** we loved”. . . you see what I mean).

These days, when I think of foods I ate–with gusto–as a child, I cringe a little.  A few of them (Cocoa Puffs, Cherry Blossom) still sound appealing in theory, so the cringe-factor arises more from my current (and oh-so-mature) awareness of their nutritional deficiencies (plus the smattering of high fructose corn syrup, FD & C Red dye #40, sulfur dioxide and butylated hydroxytoluene). Others (Cap’n Crunch, Skittles) no longer tempt me at all.

(“Mum, we don’t have that problem.  We still love all the foods we liked as puppies.  In fact, if you won’t be eating that Cap’n Crunch, we’d be happy to help you out with it.”)

When we were kids, for instance, the CFO and I performed a Saturday breakfast ritual that involved soda crackers and peanut butter with huge sploshy glasses of chocolate milk.  Sneaking into the kitchen while our mother slept (Dad had already left for his butcher shop by 6:30 AM), we’d slide a tray from the cupboard and load it up with a box of saltines,  an opened jar of Kraft Smooth peanut butter and two butter knives. Next, we’d add a heaping teaspoon of Nestle’s Quik (after consuming at least one spoonful, dry, first, of course) to the bottom of two tumblers and fill them with milk.  If we were really in luck, there would be a carton of chocolate milk already in the fridge–so we’d fill the glasses with that instead.

Then the CFO would grab the tray, I’d snatch the tumblers, and we’d pad down to the basement TV room where we’d station ourselves in front of Boris and Natasha, Bugs Bunny, The Prefab Four or whoever else danced across the TV screen for the next two hours as we slathered saltine after saltine with peanut butter and slurped our drinks. True, I suppose there were worse breakfasts we could have had (those cigarettes and coffee from my 20s come to mind), but we weren’t exactly poster children for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, either (and just thinking of all that sugar makes my fillings ache).

On the other hand, many foods I detested as a child have since become dearly beloved staples. Some of the obvious examples include oil-cured black olives, roasted garlic bulbs, broccoli or parsnip fries.  It may be hard to believe, but as a tot I couldn’t face even the smallest tidbit of cheesecake.  At my parents’ weekly card games, my mother would serve up cherry-topped cheesecakes, chocolate cheesecakes, no-bake cheesecakes, Farmer’s Cheesecakes, Cheese Danish–and I’d avoid them all.  The thick, gloppy filling would stick in my throat and I’d feel slightly nauseated every time I tried to swallow some (too bad my negative response didn’t also stick). Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately), I outgrew my cheesecake aversion by the time I hit my 20s, and the dessert even became one of my specialties in the days when I used to baked conventional sweets.

Another previously loathed–and now loved–sweet was halvah. It was one of my mother’s two favorite confections (the other was known as “Turkish Delight”–gooey, gelatin-based cubes of candy in an array of popsicle colors, each dusted with icing sugar and sold in a rectangular, waxed-paper lined cardboard box, from the local fruit market).

My mother’s preferred halvah, a Middle Eastern candy made primarily from  tahini (sesame paste) and honey, was always purchased by the pound at the supermarket deli counter.  To me, it resembled a discarded brick of concrete from some abandoned construction site, the oatmeal-gray block streaked with wayward marbling from the chocolate filling.  Its texture was dry and grainy with crunchy layers that stuck in your teeth, a sensation I did not enjoy.  And overriding the sesame taste was the strong flavor of honey, a sweetener to which I reacted rather viscerally as a child. Needless to say, the mere appearance of either one of those desserts on our kitchen table triggered my gag reflex.

It wasn’t until I hit my 40s and tasted halvah again at a raw foods restaurant that I became truly besotted. By that time, I’d been eating a healthy diet for several years, so both tahini and sesame were staples in my everyday cooking.  The halvah this time was soft, with a fudge-like bite and a subtle sweetness (from agave nectar) that encouraged the true sesame flavor to reveal itself.  That early sample was studded with bits of cheery green pistachios as well, and I fell in love.  I’ve been making my own version of halvah ever since.

This recipe is an adaptation from the one in my cookbook, Sweet Freedom. I’ve used ACD-friendly sweeteners here so that all of us anti candida veterans can enjoy it just as well.  Creating the chocolate swirl is easy and lends a bit of elegance to the candy, but if you prefer your halvah plain (or with chopped fruit or nuts), go for it.  You can also simply blend the melted chocolate right into the sesame mixture for chocolate halvah, another decadent treat.

** you knew we had to be talking about Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants), didn’t you? 😉

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This is my contribution this week to Amy’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays event.  Check out the other submissions!

Last Year at this Time: Let’s Get this Party Started: Tempeh Bacon-Topped, Roasted Plum and Baby Spinach Salad

Two Years Ago: “DDD” = Double Dog Disaster–And Lucky Comestible 4(1), Coconut, Begins

© 2010 Ricki Heller

[Disclaimer: this post may contain affiliate links. If you buy using these links, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission from the sale.]



  1. YAAAAY! I just tried halvah for the first time about a week ago and FELL IN LOVE. Both my husband and I devoured the container of it in about 1/2 hour. I am positive,though, that as a child I would have compared it to a block of concrete from an old abandoned construction site, too. 🙂 But, in a strange way, that’s what makes it so GOOD!
    I will be trying this soon. Yum!

    • So glad you like it! Funny about the child/adult differences, isn’t it? And I agree–I really *like* the “concrete” aspect of it now! 😉

  2. That looks so beautiful. But I refuse to make my own halva. You know…it’s too dangerous. A minute after I made it i’ll wonder if the stuff really is in my belly already.

  3. I remember going to Highland Farms on Lawrence when I was young. They used to keep the halva in the deli case there and Mom’d line up for her ‘Chocolate Cheese’. My brother and I could never figure out what it was made of but, boy, did it make her swoon! I, like you, didn’t like it then, but love it now. My mother plays with her own natural, healthy recipes and has come up with some tasty ones. I’ll definitely pass your contest info along to her!

    I’d love it if someone would come up with a Turkish Delight recipe that is vegan, gluten free, and sugar free (even the dusting). How I miss the oddly tasty lemon and rose flavours!

    • I love calling it “chocolate cheese”–it really does resemble a block of cheese! I don’t think I can help you with the Turkish Delight, though–the mere thought makes me feel a little queasy. 😉

  4. The halvah sounds delish! Can you believe I’ve never tried it? I’ve seen it at Whole Foods and thought about buying some…I’m sure homemade is better.

    On childhood foods: Other than meat, which I loved as a little kid, I can’t think of anything that I ate then that I wouldn’t want to eat now. Some of it, I avoid because it’s nutritionally icky. But if Cap’n Crunch were healthy, I’d live off that stuff. 🙂 And I do still eat Skittles since they’re vegan now!! Honestly if Velvetta was vegan, I’d still eat that too. I guess that makes me a junk food vegan…

    • You *must* give it a try! And sorry if I gave the idea that I’m no longer attracted to junk food. . . oh, yeah. I just know what it will do to my symptoms if I give in!

  5. Looks delicious! I don’t think I’ve ever had halvah, but I’d sure like to try it.

  6. The first time I ever saw halvah was at a market in Jerusalem. I was too intimidated to try it, because like you said, it looked like pieces of concrete! My sister loved it though, and she immediately bought some of it to bring home. Your recipe looks like delightful little pieces of fudge (how do you cut your bars so perfectly anyway? They always look immaculate)
    I want to make this for my sister- and I will even try it myself! Thanks for the great recipe.

    • Hope your sister (and you) like it! For the slicing, I use one of the (non-professional grade) Henckels knives that we have at home (and chill the halvah first, so it’s firm). A good blade is all it takes! 😉

  7. My persian hubby LOVES halvah (pistachio is his favorite), but because it is so sweet and often sweetened with sugar rather than honey, I broke him of the habit. He now eats tahini with a little honey spread on whole grain bread. I might have to give this healthier version a try as a special treat for him :).

    P.S. My childhood unhealthy habits are way too long to list – lets just say Little Debbie was a well loved member of the family. These foods all completely revolt me now! Nowadays I am constantly trying new healthy foods and loving every bite – my how things change!

  8. This brings back memories of my childhood. My dad used to buy Halvah and keep it in our refrigerator. Wow…so long ago.

  9. I don’t have breakfast memories from my childhood or young adulthood — I didn’t eat any. I know … I know. Horrible, right? But I can just picture you and the CFO doing your thing in the TV room. I’m envious. I can also completely identify with your cheesecake revulsion. I couldn’t get near the stuff, or even plain cream cheese; it made me gag.

    My father LOVED halvah, but like you, I couldn’t understand it, since it tasted so bad. Maybe I should try it again and see how I feel about it now. After all, cheesecake tastes pretty good. 😀

  10. Could you use maple syrup instead of agave?

  11. I HATED halvah growing up! My mom and sister loved it, and I would always try it and I so wanted to like it because my sister did and I wanted to be her, lol, but…blech. When I got Sweet Freedom I knew I had to make the halvah for my mom and sister (they both loved it, by the way) and, of course, I had to taste it too. What do you know–despite not really liking nuts and seeds at all (I know, I am horrible!) I actually liked it! I swear, Ricki, you are some kind of magic amazing fairy who can come up with recipes that can get me to eat just about anything!!


    • Ha ha, that’s me–just call me the “Dessert Fairy”! You may be just a TAD biased, as you were one of the cookbook testers! 😉 Well, glad you were eating more nuts/seeds that way–they are GOOD for you 😉

  12. So wonderful! I have similar memories of getting a freshly cut slice from the cheese shop owner, and sharing it with my mom on a bench in Caldwell. Sigh. Must make Halvah! Thanks, Ricki.

  13. I’ve never tried halvah but this looks too good to pass up!

  14. Mmmm looks really yummy. I’ve never had halvah, but I definitely see myself loving it whenever I finally try it!

  15. Wow, sounds and looks delicious, Would love to give this a try. I too, have never had halvah before.

  16. your mornings in front of the cartoons sound like the sort of mornings I imagined my friends had all the time but we weren’t allowed to – my mum was strict about us getting stuff from the kitchen

    And your halvah sounds delicious – I have looked longingly at the recipe in sweet freedom and now seeing these photos gets me wanting halvah all over again

    • Most days now, I wish my mom had been more strict about such things (perhaps I wouldn’t be battling candida now?). Go for it, I say! 🙂

  17. Oh yum! Every time I see halvah at the store, I always think to myself that I should make my own (and then promptly forget to look up a recipe). Now I have no excuse!
    I wonder, could you make it with maple syrup instead of agave? I ask because I have an abundance of maple right now, and I’m looking for unique uses!

    • Yes, I’m sure maple syrup would work (see my response to Raylene, above). But be sure to lower the volume a tad (& increase sweetness with stevia if you like). 🙂

  18. I’ve always thought the sound of turkish delights as kind of “eh,” but these look tasty! & I was with you on the cream cheese thing as a kid–it just confused me!

  19. Halvah!!!! Love it! I just wish I could make it less fat…though that is impossible. Let’s turn it into broccoli while we’re at it, hey?
    And I knew it was Rocker Guy! 🙂

    • Something tells me half the point is the high fat! But at least it’s “good” fat. . . . (And guess I’m pretty predictable re: the Rocker Guy thing. . . though I suppose I’m lucky he’s the only cad I ever did date!) 😉

  20. Why have I not made your halvah recipe yet? I claim insanity. Maybe I will totally rip off your SOS entry and I will make the Sweet Freedom halvah too! Mwahahahaha!

  21. Hi, I live in the UK and don’t use Stevia or know where to get it from. I’d love to make this recipe – what could I substitute for the Stevia in both parts of the recipe please?

    • Hi Yona,
      You could use agave or maple syrup. I’d try to keep it to a minimum, however, or the halvah might be too soft. To compensate for the extra liquid, you could add about a tablespoon of coconut oil to the mix, which will help it firm up when cold. 🙂 Let me know how it turns out if you give it a try!

  22. I’ve never tried halvah before because I’ve only seen it in grocery stores and it looks so hard and unappealing. Your version however is one I would love to try!

  23. I remember when I was a little girl and Dad gave me my first little cube of Halva (he loved it) it was so different to anything I’ve ever tasted. I tasted the best halvah I’ve ever had from the deli in the Canberra Centre opposite Baker’s Delight a couple of days ago. It was ‘gluten-free’ chocolate swirl halvah and it was the perfect consistency and texture, kind of dryish with a sharp grainy texture. Sensational flavour. However it gave me anxiety. I am watching everything I eat and a caffeine-free, totally grain-free, alcohol and dairy free diet is the way to go for zero anxiety living. I am sleeping for the first time in many years and I feel utterly brilliant. However this best halvah ever was incredible but it made me feel awful.

    • Jane, so sorry to hear that! I know exactly the type of halvah you’re describing here–and I grew up LOVING it. This one is not as grainy or sweet, but it certainly hits the spot if you’re looking to reminisce. And it won’t upset your tummy. 🙂

  24. So interesting! I just made a boatload of tahini. So why did you choose cashews with it instead of straight tahini? Thanks!

    • Hi Adrienne,
      I just played with the ingredients and liked it better with the cashews. . .just a personal preference! 🙂 You make your OWN TAHINI??? 😀

  25. This is incredibly dangerous and delicious! I’ve been searching for homemade halva recipes upon learning that store bought is often laden with partially hydrogenated oils. Long drawn out whhhyyyyyyy???!!! Your recipe played a big part in crafting my own concoction. If you check me out on Instagram, you’ll see the finished product. I’ll be happy to tag you in my post. Looking forward to checking back here for more inspiration. Thank you!

  26. Love that I randomly stumbled upon this! My husband is Turkish and we love halvah. I just bought some more tahini to make it myself. I will be trying this recipe now. Thanks Ricki!

    • I love that you did, too, Melissa! I was never a fan of halvah growing up, but I just adore it now. I may just have to make another batch for myself tonight, too! Hope you enjoy. 🙂

  27. Patricia Zoline says

    I’ve always loved halvah. Is there some way I could substitute Truvia or Erythritol for the yacon or agave? I can’t use maple syrup, as it’s not sugar free. Perhaps there would be some way to use Truvia or Erythritol by adding a bit of liquid with them?

    • It might be worth a try, Patricia, but if I remember correctly, I tried that when I developed the recipe (it’s been a while!). Some brands of yacon are 0 on the glycemic index, which is why it’s recommended for the candida diet–would you be able to use that?

  28. I also loved halvah as a child! My dad used to buy a block of it from Kensington Market I think…it was wrapped in paper which always ended up oil stained from the delicious halvah. It was such a treat, and nobody else in my family enjoyed it a much as I did, so I ate a lot when he bought it, which luckily was not so often 🙂

    Now I have candida issues and try to avoid sugar, so thank you so much for this recipe Ricki! I had already discovered Yacon syrup (too bad it’s so expensive) and also Lucuma powder (for making cooked ice cream), but I’m having a hard time finding food grade vegetable glycerin…all I’ve found is skin care products. Is there a brand I should be looking for? Does anyone know where to get it in Toronto? or online?

    • Thanks so much, Karen! 🙂 I use NOW brand. They used to have a certification on the bottle that said “food grade,” and after that, “pharmaceutical grade,” but I was told by the company rep that they had to remove the certification for some reason. They assured me it is still the same quality of glycerin. To be sure, I’d call the company myself and just ask if it is, indeed, still food grade. That’s the only brand I know of that is edible, though I imagine there may be others! 😉

      • Thanks Ricki, I’ll look for that 🙂 I’m also hoping to source some more reasonably priced yacon nectar 🙂

  29. Elaine Riel says

    Hi Ricki, I stumbled on your site and enjoyed the comments. I love halva especially the sugar free version that I buy. I would love to try this recipe but I was wondering if I could use a combination of xylitol and stevia instead of agava, maple syrup or honey as my system refuses to accept any form of sugar…urg. As far as childhood (born 1944) so awhile ago, I had never even heard of halva and probably had it first in my 40’s and did love it but abandoned it once I realized my system did not like any form of sugar.. would love to try this w xylitol and or stevia! Cheerio!

    • Hi Elaine,
      I’m sure you could use Xylitol and/or stevia, but beware that the texture might be slightly different. I’m working on updating some of these older recipes with newer and more acceptable sweeteners, so this is going up higher on the list! 🙂

  30. What can I use instead of cashews?

  31. Diane Benner says

    As a diabetic with stage 3 CKD, I was wondering if anybody has ever broken down the nutritional elements of a one-serving square. (am’t carbs, protein, fat, etc.) I exclusively use pure stevia powder (no additives of ANY kind) and I am now researching liquid stevia with the same purity so I can make this recipe. I lived in New York back in the 70’s and fell in LOVE with halva(h). Hard to find in smalltown Oh. & Pa, But now I have other factors to contend with. Also, I know how insanely GOOD this is going to be, and I have to know when to put the brakes on.. So, if anybody has been able to figure this out, please let me know. Also planning to make my own tahini to avoid any additives or preservatives. Thanks in advance. Dee.


  1. […] My cravings for sugar always go away when I eat more savory meals. I’m still enjoying my sugar free desserts – just trying not to make them the focus of every meal and snack. Much easier now that the scookies are all gone! That being said, I’m dying to make Ricki’s Halvah. […]

  2. […] Diet Dessert n Dogs who adapted it from the book: Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or […]

  3. […] This recipe is one of the gluten-free offerings in my cookbook, Sweet Freedom. If you’re curious about a revamped and even lower-glycemic version for those of us on the anti-candida diet, check this one. […]

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