Sweet success of turron in Alicante

No Christmas hamper would be complete without a bar or two of turron. The sweet treat crammed with almonds and honey is made in the little town of Jijona, near Alicante. Some varieties are rock-hard, like eating crunchy nuts covered in honey, while others are soft and chewy. The sweet is on sale through the year but in Spain, it is traditionally eaten in winter. From November onwards supermarket shelves will be piled high with bars of turron to be sent to sweet-toothed Spaniards all over the world. The Italians make a similar confectionary as do some South and Central American countries. 
Turron museum in Jijona, Alicante
 

The nutty sweet is thought to date back to when the Moors ruled over Spain. The Arabs ruled many parts of the country, including the Alicante region, from 711 to the end of the 15th century when the Christians took back their homeland. During their reign, the Moors introduced many new foods, farming methods and building designs to Spain. These included irrigation, rice production, spices such as saffron and cinnamon, vegetables and citrus fruits. They also planted almond groves where they settled in Spain and some areas are still growing the same crop today.

The Moors used the local almonds and honey to make a dessert, which is believed to be the early origins of turron. The sweet has certainly been around for about 500 years and is now a major player in the local economy. Without the Moorish influence, many traditional Spanish foods, such as turron, may never have come to fruition. 

In Spain, the main production of turron takes place in the small town of Jijona, just 25 kilometres inland from Alicante, which has a population of just 7,500 people. As you turn away from the coast on your way towards Jijona, the landscape changes dramatically. Scarcely a property can be seen from the roads as you travel through stark countryside with the mountains providing an impressive backdrop. 

The region’s wild flowers and blossom provide pollen for the bees to make honey and the abundance of almond orchards have made Jijona the perfect place for producing turron. Indeed Jijona has grown up around turron production and now there are 25 companies, some employing just a handful of people while others, like Almendra y Miel (which translates as Almond and Honey) have 100 people working for them. 

Old photo in the turron museum of workers in Jijona, Alicante

The most important economic activity in Jijona in the 20th and 21st centuries is the production of turron, marzipans and sweets. As you head towards the turron museum, you can smell these sweet ingredients in the air. Almendra y Miel is the most famous turron producer with 290 years of history. It was set up by the Sirvent Selva family in 1725 and now the 10th generation of this family runs the company. You can take a tour of the turron museum inside the Selva family factory to see turron production in action plus get a chance to try before you buy some of their products. In the museum, you can see the first mechanised system, traditional posters for advertising campaigns, old turron tins, a vintage Rolls-Royce used by the factory, and a family tree for the Selva family. 

Rolls-Royce in the turron museum in Jijona, Alicante

Traditionally the sweet would have been made by hand, which would have taken a lot of churning. Nowadays the company uses the best traditional methods with state-of-the-art technology to produce the finest – and some of the most expensive – turron in the world. 

Visits to the museum are in the company of a guide who will explain how turron is produced as you take a tour of the plant. The factory employs 100 people who work six months of the year from summer to winter, when the sweet is traditionally eaten. Most of the workers are women because the work is seasonal, although the cooking section has more men working there. This is mostly because they are working in 40º heat as the turron is beaten and then cooked in the large ovens. After that, it is left to cool, cut and packaged before being distributed to countries in five continents. 

Advertising material in the turron museum, Jijona, Alicante

Turron has been compared to nougat but there are some notable differences. There is also a choice between hard and soft turron. Alicante turron is hard with whole, crunchy almonds, which takes just 20 minutes to cook. First the almonds are roasted and then mixed with honey. This is heated and stirred with large spoons. The egg white is added to help to bind the mixture and it is then cooled. Once cool, it is cut into bricks and wrapped in thin wafer before being packed. 

Jijona turron is soft because the almonds have been pounded into a paste before being added to the mixture, which is cooked at 80º for four hours before being put into the fridge for 24 hours. This is then also cut up and packaged. 

Other flavours such as chocolate, coconut,dried fruits, vanilla and nuts are also available today. It is also similar to marzipan but turron is made with almonds, sugar, honey and egg white whereas marzipan is just almonds and sugar. Cinnamon turron is a new flavour along with toasted egg yolk turron. 

Selection of turron in Jijona, Alicante

The Selva firm, Almendra y Miel, has three brands and is among the best, as well as the most expensive turron, in the world.  The El Lobo brand is made with 60% almonds and rosemary honey while the 1880 brand has 70% almonds and orange honey. The company now exports turron to five continents and includes new healthier lines including gluten-free varieties and turron with no added sugar. The third brand is the newest, Clair de Lune, which is a line of chocolate truffles.

As well as eating as a sweet, you can use turron to make ice-creams or a variation on Spanish flan. Turning turron into ice-cream means you can enjoy this treat all year round. You can add sherry or a sweet mistela wine as well to add to the Spanish flavour. 

To make sure, you are buying top-class turron look for a stamp saying Jijona Denominacion de Origen y Geografica Protegida, which guarantees quality.        

Old machinery used in making turron in Jijona, Alicante             

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