Alva or halva is a candy that originates from the Middle East. As a dessert, it is most often prepared in the Balkans and the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. The name is common for several similar desserts based on flour, fat (oil or butter) and sweetener (sugar or honey), with various additives (seeds, nuts, dried fruits, etc.). It can be found in different colors and flavors, and the texture is characteristically crumbly and crunchy. The most important thing about alva is that it is a delicious treat that anyone can prepare and afford, because it is prepared simply, from basic necessities. As foods of animal origin do not have to be used to prepare the largest number of alvas, those prepared with oil are considered kosher food.
The word halva, like alva, comes from the Arabic word halwa (Arabic: حلاوة طحينية, from halawa - sweetness), or Turkish helva. In the Serbian language, both expressions are correct and are used equally.
Alva has been known as a delicacy for centuries. Almost every Middle Eastern culture claims to come from it. Some scholars assume that it originated in the vicinity of Byzantium (today Istanbul), just before the 12th century. Others believe that it was known as early as 3000 BC. There is evidence that it was originally a slightly gelatinous dessert based on cereals, made from oil, flour and sugar.
The delicacy has spread throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Balkan Peninsula, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and every culture that has accepted it has changed its name and ingredients a little. The Egyptians called it halava and mixed it with pistachios, almonds or pine nuts, while the Indians called it halva and flavored it with regional products such as butter, coconut and dates.
One of the most famous fans of alva was Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), who built a special kitchen next to his palace called helvahane (house of halva) in which about 30 types of this delicacy were produced. One of them, made with tahini (sesame paste), was accepted by the Romanians during the Ottoman rule and passed on to the Ashkenazi in Europe, and they brought it to America at the beginning of the 20th century (tahan-alva).