Living with food allergies—both her own and her family's—has driven Chris Telden's lifelong interest in diet, health, and cooking.
What Do You Think of Joyva Halvah?
I love sesame halvah. It has more nutrition than most other types of candy and it tastes out of this world. I've tried to make it at home numerous times using this, that or the other sesame halvah recipe that asserts you can achieve that flaky store-bought quality. My goal was to make halvah that had the same tender, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth quality that Joyva had. I learned early on that it was doomed to failure. But I kept trying with boundless optimism, for the sake of my pocketbook. Which is, in hindsight, silly since I've since learned that tahini, an ingredient in halvah, and even bulk sesame seeds, cost almost as much as the halvah itself.
But anyway, I made some delicious sesame candy along the way. Chewy candy. Hard candy. But never dissolves-on-your-tongue halvah. I used all the techniques recommended. I let the candy cool before starting to beat it. I beat it a long time. I beat it a short time. I let it rest for 72 hours to develop the supposed crystals. I made it from tahini. I made it from sesame seeds. I undercooked sesame seeds, I burned sesame seeds, I toasted the sesame seeds just right. But no flaky halvah.
And then I did some deeper research online to try to figure out if it was just me or if anybody had ever had success at making homemade Joyva-style halva in a kitchen from a recipe. I found nothing. No success stories. Only a lot of hope, a lot of frustration, and a lot of steering off-topic to the differences in the different types of halvah. (And don't ask me how, but somehow I also ended up on a cool page about the old Carnation Breakfast Bars and how they're no longer being made and how thousands of people miss them so much they've actually taken a petition out to get them made again.)
After further research, I gathered that Joyva Halvah, the major brand of halvah sold in the U.S., is made by hand, with big burly guys beating the heck out of the candy using a musculature I can only dream of. Which meant I, a kitchen DIYer - somebody who makes her own pasta and bread by hand, not to mention popsicles, baby food, and sundry other homemade goodies - must now resort to buying halvah. Only there was none to be had in my area - not for a decent price, not in bulk as I intended to eat it.
Joyva It Is...Joyva it Must Be
Halvah had seriously nostalgic memories for me, even more powerful than my nostalgic feelings about chocolate ice cubes.
My first taste of it came when I was very young. My mom served Joyva halvah to guests at a party. She diced it up into small cubes and put toothpicks in them and served them.
I bit into one piece and couldn't believe what an amazing texture it had or how lovely the bittersweet taste was. It was lucky any of the guests got any of the halvah that year.
Years later, I tried to do the same and serve it with toothpicks. I never did get the trick of it down. All the cubes came apart when the toothpick was inserted. So I had to eat them myself. Pity.
When I was older, eating part of a bar of halvah every day after working in the summer as a college student was about the only thing that saved me from going insane from commuting from the north to the south side of Chicago every day - a good two hour bus ride each way, very long and very hot. Not surprisingly, the halvah was oily by the time I got it home - the oil tends to separate in very hot weather. But that didn't destroy the ecstasy. Not by a long shot. It just made it harder to get rid of the evidence.
Joyva Vanilla Halvah
Joyva Halvah Review - Vanilla Flavored 16 oz Can
So, failing to find a copycat Joyva halvah recipe, I went ahead and ordered the 3 16 oz cans of Joyva vanilla halvah from Amazon.com. I like the marble halvah all right, and I know it's very popular, but I don't like it as much as the vanilla flavor - which doesn't actually taste like vanilla at all, but like the sesame seeds that are the main ingredient. The candy came quickly (though not quickly enough - I wanted it the next day but wasn't willing to pay the sums to indulge myself that far). It was very fresh, with no oil leaking at all.
It was the first halvah I'd eaten in years and it was delicious - flaky, tender, sweet but not too sweet. The peculiar, natural bitterness of sesame is somehow absolutely yummy when it's made into this flaky, delicate deli candy - not bitter tasting at all. Heavenly.
The only problem was slicing it without taking it out of the can. Since I was eating it myself (nobody else in my household is a fan of halvah, more fools them and lucky me), I used a butter knife to dig in and cut out a slice. Sometimes the halvah disintegrated into crumbs before I could get a piece out. So I just shook out the crumbs and ate them.
I didn't mind. I have no pride - or shame either, for that matter - when it comes to halvah. But since they were just crumbs, I felt no compunction about cutting another slice so I could have that utterly joyous sensation of sinking my teeth into that soft flaky sweet mass and feeling it melt in my mouth.
So I bought the halvah intending it to last at least a couple of months. I mean, I bought 3 lbs of the stuff. Maybe you've guessed the moral of this story. My 3 lbs of Joyva halvah lasted a little over one week.
I try not to think about it. I do know I'm going to order more. It's just a matter of time. Actually, it's a matter of convincing my spouse it will last longer this time. (The issue is not so much the tummy line as the expense. But when I point out that when halvah's in the house, I consume less cheese and dairy, which is absolutely not cheap these days, the halvah looks like a positively inexpensive indulgence.)
The ingredients in the vanilla halvah are:
- Crushed Sesame
- Corn Syrup
- Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed, Soya)
- Dried Egg Albumen
- Natural and Artificial Flavor
Buy Chocolate Halvah
Camel Halvah Bars Have No Hydrogenated Oils
No freebies were handed out in this review (alas!) See the author's disclosure regarding compensation for this article.
gary becker on January 30, 2018:
That is good to know, because less likely I will try to make it myself again. The one time I tried using a recipe several years ago it was a wasted failure. Luckily, There are several brands in the Detroit Metro area. My favorite is a small international deli store's unbranded made from scratch kind similar to the marble flavor. I think its made from sunflower seeds, honey, treacle, and a couple other ingredients. It is one of my biggest weaknesses.
Danny on May 09, 2013:
Like some others, I am also on a quest to make homemade Joyva-style halva. This has been quite the ordeal. You seem like you have tried a lot of techniques. One thing I noticed at my grocer is that Joyva has egg albumin (egg white) in it. I have seen a few recipes around that call for egg white, but I have not tried them. Have you?
Stacy on January 31, 2012:
When I was a kid, my mother used to bring Halavah bars home for a treat every-so-often. I loved them! I haven't been able to find them since, so thank you for this post.
Good golly, they're expensive now, though. :o
Ann on January 27, 2011:
I am also on a quest to duplicate that wonderful taste/texture of Joyva Halvah. Everyone has a recipe online, every country has different halvah--semolina based, tahini paste, honey, crushed sesame seeds, etc. I'm on my second recipe (the first was awful)which promises that if I put it into the fridge for 36 hours the sugar crystals will grow forming that wonderful texture. It's 12 hours so far and it still looks like a smooth taffy (but delicious). Just not the texture I'm looking for. The recipe was super easy though--only honey heated to the soft ball stage and beaten tahini folded in, then poured into a pan to chill for 36 hours.
Problem is most of these old traditional foods are made without exact measurements but with a pinch of this and a scoop of that. Doesn't always translate.
Renee on August 19, 2010:
My grandpa was a profesional halva maker. He told me that the special ingredient that made halva/halawa melt in your mouth is called shursh al halawa. It's sold in small spice shops in old palestinian markets. I bought it, and it looks just like light-colored dried thick roots. In making halva, this root is pounded down to a fine powder and added to the tahini mix. You can buy value priced halva at any middleeastern grocery store for around $6.00/ nice-sized container.I hope this helps.
trose on March 17, 2010:
I have never had this kind of candy before. Just when I thought I've tried it all, here's another fun thing to try! Thanks!