Pasteli, Or That Sesame Seed Candy I Hated As a Kid

That's Nuts

A weekly dose of nutty history, pop culture, and recipes from Lee Zalben, aka The Peanut Butter Guy.

"I guess you could think of pasteli as the original energy bar."


[Photograph: Peanut Butter and Co.]

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I remember that as a kid, my brother and I would sometimes spend weekends with my grandparents, which often entailed being toted around to visit relatives and family friends. The only reward for being dressed in uncomfortable "nice" clothes and enduring what seemed like hours of boring adult "small talk" while sitting on plastic slip-covered furniture was the hope of being presented with ice cream, some fresh baked cookies, or maybe even a slice of cake, by our host.

At one great aunt's house I remember feeling disappointed after being presented with a candy dish filled with nothing but individually wrapped Sesame Crunch candy. My brother and I had been on especially good behavior that day, resisting the urge to fight and carry on about whatever it was were always skirmishing about.

We were promised a treat and these sesame candies did not meet our expectations. I had long spied those things in candy dishes, always managing to pick my way past them, suspicious of what was inside their crinkly clear wrappers.

I turned up my nose at the offering. My brother however was fooled into trying one, and the image of him running around the room, mouth agape, trying to spit out the seedy candy is still ingrained in my mind to this day. So much for trying to keep us quiet.

Thirty years later, my palate is a bit more refined, and I can appreciate this confection more (though I'd still take a Coffee Nip, another candy dish staple, any day). "Those sesame candies" are actually known by the Greek name pasteli,and have a rich history.

Pasteli originated in Greece and the Middle East over 6,000 years ago. The traditional recipe contains just two ingredients: sesame seeds and honey. While pasteli is considered candy in modern times, historical references portray it as a health food. In the Iliad, warriors eat pasteli in order to build energy before battle.

Pasteli was also endorsed by the Green historian Herodotus as "both a delicacy and a benefit to one's health." I guess you could think of pasteli as the original energy bar.

You can find pasteli in candy shops and can also order it online. One good source for the stuff is Economy Candy. You can even try making your own pasteli at home. There are only two ingredients and it's quite easy to prepare.

As much as I have learned to appreciate the unique flavor of candied sesame, it will still always be the last piece I'd go for in a candy dish. Many people also enjoy a piece after dinner with a cup of tea, coffee, or espresso.

Do you enjoy Sesame Crunch, or pasteli? Have you ever made it from scratch?