Sweet Middle East: Anissa Helou


I have a strong sweet tooth and often say it’s because my family name, Helou, means “sweet” in Arabic. In truth, that has nothing to do with it. Most people in the Middle East and North Africa have a serious penchant for all things sugary. Sweets occupy an important place in our lives, and every important occasion, rite of passage, or religious event has a specific sweet associated with its celebration. In fact, any occasion is a good enough reason to visit the sweets maker, whether to enjoy a snack while going about your daily business or to buy a treat to take to friends or family.

It’s possible that this love of sweet things is a result of the Muslim prohibition against alcohol, with sugar from sweets replacing the sugar derived from alcohol. Perhaps sugar (from the Arabic word sukkar, derived from the Persian shakar) was so plentiful…

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