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What Are the Different Types of Middle Eastern Desserts?

By C.B. Fox
Updated Feb 12, 2024
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Middle Eastern desserts frequently make use of the fruits, grains, spices, and nuts that have historically been grown in this part of the world. Milk, yogurt, and cheese from cow's, sheep's, or goat's milk are also often incorporated into these desserts. Though many Middle Eastern desserts are sweetened with sugar today, historically they were sweetened with fruit and honey, which are still used in many desserts. There are many different desserts found in Middle Eastern nations, including pastries, breads, puddings, and cookies.

One of the most recognizable of the Middle Eastern desserts is a pastry dish called baklava. This Turkish dessert is made from phyllo pastry and nuts, especially almonds and pistachios, and is soaked in honey, making it very sweet. There are other types of Middle Eastern pastries in both Turkey and other Middle Eastern nations, some of which include dried fruits, other nuts, mild cheeses, and custards.

Puddings and custards are also common types of Middle Eastern desserts. These desserts usually contain a grain, such as rice or pasta, which is either cooked in or allowed to soak in milk. They may be sweetened with sugar, honey, or syrup that has been flavored with oranges, roses, or other fragrant foods. Nuts, dried fruits, and spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, are also often used in Middle Eastern puddings and custards. Custards also contain egg, which helps give the dessert a more solid form than pudding.

Middle Eastern desserts can also be in the form of sweet bread products. Donuts are an example of this type of dessert and are common in Israel. The bread dough in a donut is sweetened, usually with sugar, and is fried in oil until cooked through. Cakes are also common types of Middle Eastern desserts and often utilize ground nuts, spices, and citrus fruits.

Cookies and candy-types desserts can also be found in Middle Eastern cuisine. Like cakes, cookies often contain almonds, pecans, pistachios, and other nuts. Dried fruit and nuts may be cooked with honey or sugar to make simple candies. Nuts can also be ground into a paste, mixed with honey and formed into a dessert that is similar to fudge. This type of dessert is called halva, or a similar sounding word, which comes from the Arabic word for sweet, an appropriate name given the intense sweetness of these types type of Middle Eastern desserts.

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Discussion Comments

By Viranty — On Aug 25, 2014

To be honest, many of the Middle Eastern desserts don't seem that much different than from what's served in the states. For example, many Americans eat puddings and custards. On top of that, we eat sweet bread products all the time. Whether it's donuts or even cakes, it really shows that some countries have a lot more in common than at first glance, at least in terms of food. On a final note, I do however, wonder what those in the Middle East would think of our food if they got a good look. While it's true that we share many similarities, there are quite a few differences as well. As seen on the side of the page, Halva is one example, as it has a similarity to fudge, though it's not quite the same thing.

By Krunchyman — On Aug 24, 2014

My friend is from the Middle East, and she has told me about plenty of desserts that have interested her. Unfortunately though, because I am from America, I haven't tried any of this dishes. In fact, this leads me to another question. Are there any Middle Eastern restaurants in the United States, or even any at all? The reason why I'm asking is because unlike certain types of food that are a lot more distinctive than others (such as Chinese, Japanese, and even Thai), Middle Eastern food doesn't seem to have much of an identity. Yes, the country has unique dishes, but you don't hear about the food very often, if at all. However, if I ever take a trip to the Middle East, I will certainly see what all the fuss is about.

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