Friday, June 11, 2010
Nory Rahat Locum
Sometimes I look at photos of the markets in Turkey, with stalls piled high with different kinds of lokum (also called Turkish Delight, locum or lokumi - I’ll just call it locum for this review) and wish that places like that existed a bit closer to me.
But it turns out that they do. No, they don’t sell in big open air markets. Los Angeles has its own classic locumist (is that a word?) called Nory Rahat Locum. In 1964 a Romanian-Armenian confectioner named Norayr settled in Hollywood and started making classic locum using his family’s 100 year-old recipes. Norayr retired and sold the company to the Jibilians in 1979, who in turn sold it to Sahakians last year when they retired.
They’re dedicated to making a local product, right down to the citrus flavors and nuts in it, the boxes for packaging. The only non-American content is the mastic used for the Mastica flavor, imported from one of the few sources, the island of Chios in Greece.
Locum is made from simple ingredients: sugar, water, starch and perhaps corn syrup and citric acid, some nuts, flavorings and colors. It’s rather like a dairy-free pudding. The mixture is boiled until the starch combines completely with the liquid and sugars to form a silky smooth paste. Then it’s poured and cooled in a shallow baking pan until it’s ready to be cut into squares. The traditional method of storing and serving involves tossing the cubes with a mixture of confectioners sugar and corn starch to keep them from sticking.
Nory Rahat Locum makes a huge variety of Locum products. They have the traditional rosewater, mint and orange as well as the nut versions including pistachio, almond, hazelnut and walnut. But what caught my eye were flavors like Bergamot, Licorice and Mastica.
I don’t know much about Mastic (or in this case Mastica). I looked it up of course, since the whole point of Candy Blog is to explore new flavors. I know that it’s a natural plant resin that can be chewed like chicle. You might even recognize it as the root of the word masticate (to chew). The mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) is part of the Cashew family and is closely related to the Pistachio. I’ve had mastic gum before, I picked up some samples at some trade show along the way and it like the name implies, it’s like chewing on tree sap when you get it in its pure form. (Still stimulating and fresh-tasting, if a little hard to chew after a while.)
The idea of using mastic as a flavoring was new to me, even though the internet tells me it’s a classic confectionery flavor in the Middle East and Mediterranean.
The pieces appear uncolored, just a pale yellow. The texture is smooth and moist, with an easy bite.
The flavor is lightly woodsy, a little earthy. It reminds me of ginseng gum. A cross between tongue depressors, rosemary with a slight whiff of golden beets. At times it reminded me of office supplies, like Scotch tape, envelope adhesive and laser printers. There’s a fresh, slightly jasmine aftertaste. I know this all sounds unappealing but it’s soothing and comforting, like the smell of rain.
8 out of 10
Mint was bright green on the inside, like a traffic signal. This was some powerful peppermint. Probably too minty for me. It was smooth and had an excellent texture, the mint was so strong that it had a bit of a warm sensation for me but it did cut the sweetness. 7 out of 10
Rose - flowery and a bit like honey but without the over soapy notes that florals sometimes have. 7 out of 10
Orange - instead of orange blossom or orange zest this was like a whole orange flavor. A little like sweet, low acid orange juice without the pulp. It wasn’t my favorite in the bunch, I would have liked more zest in it. However, I can see this being a very accessible and easy flavor for those new to lokum to enjoy. It’s very similar to Orange Slice jellies, though so much smoother since there’s no granulated sugar crust. 7 out of 10
Pomegranate was deeply colored and had a scent that was a combination of rose and raspberry. The floral and berry notes were good, but I think this one suffered with an overuse of food coloring, which gave it a weird metallic/bitter tone that was inconsistent with a desirable flavor. 7 out of 10
Licorice (not shown) was a polite dose of anise, like those Anise Bears except so much smoother and a little warmer, like there was a touch of ginger in it. Again, the food coloring gave it a weird taste as well. At this point I should note that part way through my tastings of the locum I emailed with Armand Sahakian and noted the difficulties I had with the heavily colored flavors. He confirmed that he was planning to take the products all natural by the end of the year, so this will not be an issue in the future. 7 out of 10
Bergamot was uncolored, which really helped the flavors to take the center stage. It wasn’t as strongly flavored as I thought I could tolerate, just a light kiss of what most people know as the essential flavor of Earl Grey tea. Not too sweet, soft and smooth. 8 out of 10
The same locum also came in a nutty version: Bergamot and Pistachio. The floral and grassy notes of the soft and chewy pistachios go so well with the light herbal and citrus flavors of bergamot. If it weren’t so messy I’d probably eat the whole box.
The other nutty varieties were supplied to me in the more mainstream combinations. Hazelnut was in a vanilla locum as was Almond. They were mild and pleasant, sweet but then again the lack of the addition flavor really let the nutty notes come through. The hazelnut was really nice because the roasted flavors go so well with vanilla. It got me to wondering how this variety would do with a few cacao nibs tossed in.
8 out of 10
Part of me wanted more nuts, but that’s where it’s lucky that Nory has another line called Supreme Squares.
Supreme Squares (they also come in bars) are a thicker version of locum with far more nuts. I tried two versions, one is the Pistachio and Rose shown above, which had a light floral note with the sweet and grassy crunch of the pistachios. The chew of the locum was fun, not quite a caramel, but still a bit on the stringy side but ultimately smooth. I ate them all. Just to let you know, I had eight pounds of locum (yes, 8 full boxes) that I’d been eating over the past two months, this was the only box that I finished all by myself.
The second version I tried was the Almond which has a vanilla base, like the locum I tried. It reminded me a bit of a translucent jelly version of Nougat de Montelimar. In fact it would benefit from a little dash of honey. The vanilla gave it a sweeter taste but the super crunchy nuts balanced it out. I definitely preferred it to the standard, less-nutty variety.
The ratings for the nutty Locum and the Supreme Squares are a solid 8 out of 10.
Armand Sahakian has done a great job of updating their product website and doing more outreach in social media (facebook and twitter), it’s fun to see a candy with such a long heritage stay current. He tells me that the packages will also be updated as well. The boxes that I got all looked the same with simple stickers denoting what flavor was inside, the new ones will be specific to the contents.
The only issue I actually have with lokum in general is how messy it is. It’s a sitting down candy, not an on-the-run candy. It’s messy, though thankfully already portioned. The Brits have a great idea there with dipping it in chocolate, but that just adds another flavor to it. Also, in the case of Nory, the package sizes are just too big for me. I don’t want a pound. I have a short attention span for candy (even in my pre-blogging days). I might want 8 ounces, but not a whole pound. I might like even smaller - like 4 ounces or “bar format” that would just be a little tray with 2 ounces. The Supreme Squares are apparently available that way.
Nory has mostly California distribution (via Indo-European Foods and Kradjian Importing Co), though I believe it’s also available online. Markets that carry Turkish, Armenian, Greek and Persian foods are most likely to have them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.