Iranians are great lovers of confections and sweets are inseparable parts of gatherings, ceremonies and celebrations. As it is the land of sweet lovers every city you travel, you can find local mouth-watering sweet stuff to pack in your luggage and give them to your friends as appreciated souvenirs. Gaz, Baklava, Sohan, Kolompeh and Kak are some various sweets with exciting stories and inimitable tastes all over Iran.
During the Achaemenid era, honey and dates were used to make cookies and host the royals and noblemen with Persian homemade sweets in ceremonies. Persian literature and art show the Iranians' intense love for sweets, but the modern confectionery in Iran dates back to the late 18th and the early 19th century. Gathering in cafés and tea houses to have a conversation over a coffee or tea and sweets was a common social phenomenon during the Pahlavi time.
Esfahan and its gorgeous highlights like Vank Cathedral, Si-O-Se Pol or Naghsh-e Jahan Square, can not be completed without tasting "Gaz" or Persian nougat, the most famous sweet of Esfahan. Nougat is a well-known delicacy across the Mediterranean and the Middle East. In Iran, nougat production dates back to Safavid time, over 450 years ago.
There are some stories about the invention of gaz; some connects gaz to Halva Chobe, a traditional sweet made with white eggs, sugar and poppy seeds. It was a popular energy source among farmers. Some relate the creation of this conventional candy to Mohammad Ali Shakkchian, an Esfahani confectioner.
The primary ingredient of this tasty sweet is Gaz-Angabin, the sap of wild tamarisk plant, native to Khunsar, a city in Esfahan Province. Angabin is a natural sweetener. This rare substance is made by a nymph of a small insect sucking the nectar of tamarisk bushes. Late August until mid-October is the best time for collecting Angabin by beating the bushes and harvesting the tiny dried drops of the insects' exudate under the branches. This process is hard and time-consuming; that is why Angabin is so valuable. Today sugar, glucose and corn syrup are used as the common, less expensive substitutes for Angabin.
Although modern machinery has eased the process, following the authentic family recipes and cooking methods, made gaz keep its original high quality throughout decades. Now if you are interested in making gaz, here it is the general recipe. Beat the egg whites in a bowl to stiff peaks. Stir sugar, glucose and water gently over medium-high heat till the mixture bubble up. Add the syrup to the whipped egg whites slowly over low heat. When the mixture began to thicken and looked like nougat, add some rose water and nuts. By adding spices like saffron, gaz will get rosy colour.
Smooth out the thick white substance on a surface to about half-inch thickness. After it gets cool, cut in bite-sized pieces. You can make "Gaz-e Ardi" by tossing the gaz pieces in cornflour to keep them separated.
Gaz production is not restricted to Esfahan. Boldaji, a small city in the southwestern part of Iran, is known as Gaz's capital for having the most significant number of traditional workshops. Gaz is exported to other cities and countries due to its high popularity. During the Qajar era, in the 18th century, this candy was shipped and become popular in Europe.
Any traveller to Iran must taste and enjoy the delicious Iranian sweets. You can find the best gaz in Esfahan confectionary shops and Bazaar. The soft and chewy texture of these little pieces of joy with nuts garnish and rosewater scent can evoke all sweet memories with the first bite! Gaz is a perfect match for a cup of well-brewed tea.
By Samaneh Zohrabi