Bite-sized, smooth and colourfully satisfying confection that temptingly invites you to pick up more than just one from a Christmas salver, marzipan is to Christmas what sheer kurma is to Eid, and modaks are to Ganesh Chaturthi!
Requiring the least amount of time and the shortest ingredient list to prepare, the origins of marzipan lay shrouded in mystery, with some attributing the discovery of these little packets of delight to Eastern Europe and others insisting that it was the Chinese who ‘invented’ marzipan and then moved the recipe to the Middle East and Europe.
Whatever the ancestries, marzipan adds colour to any Christmas platter, and are enjoyed by all, with scant attention being paid to the caloric significance of these tiny confectionery products that line shop shelves when the season begins.
HOW IT’S MADE
Sugar and almond meal are the primary ingredients that go into making marzipan, with commercial products utilizing glucose syrup or honey and almond oil, almond extract, and rose water in their recipes.
Shaped into various figures, including fruits and vegetables, homemakers may also use egg whites to make marzipan.
Brought to Goa by the Portuguese, many Goan households and confectioners use cashew nut, instead of the more expensive almonds, to make marzipan.
Popular in Goa, cashew nut powder gives the marzipans a different flavour, akin to the diamond-shaped Indian traditional sweet kaju barfi, also referred to as kaju katli.
The two are often spoken about synonymously, although the proportion of ingredients used and the method of preparation vary – marzipan is often uncooked, although some may prepare it by melting together the sugar and almond/cashew nut powder on a low flame, much like how kaju barfi is made.
SHELF LIFE & FLAVOUR
The protection against spoilage that the use of sugar affords to the confection makes it easy for one to store marzipan in an air-tight container at room temperature. However, the use of egg whites in your marzipan recipe may require you to refrigerate them if you intend to keep these confections for longer than a week.
Do remember to bring the refrigerated marzipan to room temperature before you indulge in them – cold marzipan, besides being hard to bite into, will not allow you to actually ‘taste’ this delectable delight.
CALORIE & NUTRITION CONTENT
Light on the palate, but heavy on the hips, 100 grams of marzipan will add between 450 and 500 kilocalories to your dietary intake, with protein value being noticeable due to the almonds and egg whites traditionally used to make these sweets.
The use of cashew nuts, however, detracts from the health value of the sweet as these Goa-grown nuts contain a marginally lower per gram protein content compared to almonds.
Cashew nuts also have a higher saturated fat and a lower (healthy) unsaturated fat composition than almonds.
The use of high amounts of sugar in the preparation of marzipan – like any other sweet – is also a cause of worry to diabetics and those with cardiovascular ailments.
Delightfully…. and slowly savouring… four marzipans, will, however, do you no harm, whatever your medical condition, as long as you keep an eye out on all the other carbohydrate- and fat-laden foods that are sure to be on your table this season.
A word of caution – if you have an egg allergy, it is best to read the ingredient label on a packet of marzipan sweets, or ask your host before you sink your teeth into these sinfully small, but heavenly delicious, Christmas confections.
The author is a Clinical Nutritionist (Norbert’s Fitness Studio, Goa) & Assistant Professor (Goa College of Home Science, Campal, Panjim)