Halva, the sweet sesame seed confection that’s hugely popular in Israel, is the latest Jewish food to be getting the artisanal treatment. One company is aiming not only to increase the quality and diversity of halva in the US, but simply to popularize it further.
Halva is made from tahini, the sesame seed paste commonly used in hummus and other Middle Eastern dishes. The tahini is mixed with a sweetner (usually honey), and sometimes with nuts, more seeds, or other flavorings.
In Israel, halva stands can be found in every marketplace. Huge blocks are available in every flavor imaginable, and regular “halva” itself is a popular ice cream flavor.
But the dish has not had similar popularity in the US. The largest producer is Joyva. The Broolyn-based company was founded in 1907 specifically to sell halva, but now may be better known for its tahini or Passover candies.
One new company is trying to shake things up in the US halva world. Brooklyn Sesame says it is making a whole new product: “halva spread.” Israeli-born former dancer Shahar Shamir makes the spreadable sweet with tahini and raw honey, but doesn’t harden it into candy form. The spread also comes in varieties with pistachios, coconut, almonds, and even cocoa. The resulting peanut butter-like dish is great on toast, with cheese, or “straight from the jar,” as Shamir himself suggests.
Brooklyn Sesame is available at Brooklyn markets The Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, online, and in iconic New York Jewish and Middle Eastern stores like Russ and Daughters and Sahadi’s. After just four months as a company, the halva spread was picked up by a Whole Foods in Brooklyn, and Shamir tells Tablet magazine that his goal is now “to be in as many regional Whole Foods locations as possible.”