The Origin of Nougat and its history

The origin of nougat is uncertain and is not in Italy, as many believe. With great certainty, the origins of the artisan nougat, the Christmas sweet that is currently made in Jijona (Spain) are somewhere in the Mediterranean basin.

Dozens of anecdotes have been told about the history of nougat. From the surname of a Barcelona pastry chef ‘Turró”, an Arab cooking contest or the legend of the Scandinavian princess nougat, the medicinis treatise. Be that as it may, many peoples have claimed its origin and invention, although throughout time, we always find its indelible mark in gastronomy, traveling from continent to continent and sweetening the great palaces of the whole world.

Over the years, the traditional nougat built its own identity and characteristics until it became a sweet linked to Christmas and the economic engine of an entire town, Jijona (Alicante). Do you want to know the history and origin of Jijona nougat? Don’t look at the encyclopedia, we tell you all the information here:

First indications of the origin of nougat.

Currently, both Jijona nougat and Alicante nougat are produced in an artisan way in Jijona. However, all indications suggest that its birthplace, the origin of the first nougat, is not in this town of Alicante.

It is true that the soft nougat was invented in Jijona and the hard nougat (Alicante) to some extent too, but it took about 1000 years of history to be elaborated as it is known.

As if it were an epic, the history of nougat must have begun somewhere near the Mediterranean Sea and before Christ. Very probably the ancient Greeks and Romans already knew a very similar food and ate it on their long journeys. It is impossible not to think that its origin lies in a mixture of nuts and honey. Food of a very nutritious nature, easy to process, resistant to the passage of time and perfect for the few existing preservation methods.

Another possible origin of Spanish nougat, indirectly, is found in ancient Mesopotamia (Middle East) around the 2nd century B.C., as it has some similarity with the traditional Baklava, Turkish/Arabic pastries made with filo dough and filled with crushed nuts and mixed with honey. The same ingredients of the nougat but presented differently.

The origins of nougat in Spain came from the Arabs who inhabited the country from 711 to 1492. Possibly it was the Muslim people who introduced the custom of mixing nuts with honey in our lands for confectionery.

In Spain, the region of Alicante (especially in its mountains) was strongly linked to the cultivation of almond trees and there were hives of raw rosemary honey and thyme. Ingredients, again, of the nougat. That is why the circumstances were ideal for its elaboration, origin and evolution of nougat in our geographical area.

The original nougat

As we have said, the current Alicante and Jijona nougats do not have much to do with theoriginal nougat that we currently have in our nougat catalog.

Originally, historical nougats looked similar to the Guirlache nougat we know today. Its easy preparation (toasting almonds with skin and mixing them with cooked honey made it an ideal food as well as being very energetic and versatile, since not only toasted almonds were used to make nougat, but also hazelnuts, pine nuts and walnuts.

In fact, by the year 1400, a geographical specialization had already been created in the peninsula according to the nut that was cultivated to a greater extent: On the northern Mediterranean coast, hazelnut nougat was made. In the southern plateau and Andalusia, the nougat of pine nuts or walnuts and on the southeast coast, in the region of Alicante, the
toasted almond nougat

One of the first written mentions in the history of traditional nougat appear in the middle of the 16th century. when the popularity of nougat is such that it appears in plays such as “La Generosa Paliza” by the Sevillian Lope de Rueda, precursor of the Golden Age, where the main plot revolves around the theft of a pound of nougat from Alicante.

It is said that Philip II was the one who introduced the history of nougat in the Christmas gastronomy of the Court, however, by the time of the reign of his father, Charles V, it was already well known.

Something that is documented from that time is the waste of money that the Alicante authorities caused by giving nougat at Christmas to lawyers and managers of the capitals. There is even data indicating that the different types of nougat served as payment in kind replacing part of the salary.

One of the first official mentions of the origin of nougat appears in 1582, in a document from the municipality of Alicante, which states that:

"From time immemorial, every year, it has been customary, for the Christmas holidays, to pay (...) their salaries, partly in money and partly in a gift that is given to them, of an arroba of nougat (...)."

For this reason there is also a letter signed by King Philip II in 1595 in which he exhorts to reduce expenses at Christmas:

"that in nougat and fig bread to present Christmas, I forbid and command that you can not spend that my city [de Alicante] more than fifty pounds each year".

The commercialization of nougat throughout history: The XVII Century

The nougat had great potential and its artisans knew this very well and set out to sell it to as many countries as possible.

The nougat makers of the early 16th century improved the presentation of their product and prepared the nougat for long journeys throughout Europe. Just as exotic products from North Africa and Italy (spices and jams) arrived through the port of Alicante, nougat was exported all over the world as a luxury item.

One of the main innovations in nougat during the 1500s was the use of egg white as an emulsifier for the honey and acquiring a white color, more appetizing and improving the mixture, thus giving birth to the Alicante nougat we know today.

In order to improve the transportation of nougat, 300 years ago, poplar wood boxes began to be used. This wood does not transmit odors or flavors to the nougat and also absorbs part of the oil given off by the almonds, thus keeping the nougat away from humidity and improving its preservation.

In 1608 the historian Gaspar Escolano relates in his decades of the general history of valencia that:

"Admirable collection of nougats that, thrown in boxes, run through Europe as a great gift".

From 1622 there is a list detailing the price of each Turrón. The image on the left shows that the number one on the list is Alicante.

The history of Jijona as the Cradle of Nougat

It was not until the 18th century that Jijona became the cradle of the nougat we know today.

During the Middle Ages and later, professionals tended to belong to guilds. A guild is a group of professionals who have the same trade. In some places they were so notable that even today, there are still streets named after those trades where the guilds were located. At this time, nougat makers were not considered to be tradesmen, like potters or shoemakers. They were mainly farmers who, during a specific time of the year, were typically engaged in the production and sale of nougat.

Very quickly, as sales continued to grow, the confectioners’ guild, the only ones allowed to use sugar and make marzipan, complained and the Madrid guild quickly managed to limit the sale of nougat to 15 days before and 15 days after Christmas.

For their part, the confectioners of Valencia insisted that the activity of making nougat should be subject to their Statutes, authority and their consent, and thus obliged the nougat makers to open and close stores whenever they wanted, to earn the title of master confectioner after examination and to pay the corresponding fee to the guild. Don Vito Corleone but from the XVII Century.

In the municipal archives of the province of Alicante there are documents of the “Pleito del Turrón” between turroneros and the confectioners’ guild of Valencia (Gremi de Sucrers i Cerers). The Alicantinos argued freedom and historical elaboration of the sweet and the Valencians the privilege to control the manufacture and use of sugar and honey.

The judicial process that began in 1665 finally ended on May 6, 1671 in favor of the Valencians. This attempt of control meant the end of the nougat industry in the city of Alicante, as Francisco Figueras y Pacheco states in his book “Historia del Turrón y prioridad de los de Jijona y Alicante” (1955).

When that trial ended, the inhabitants of the town of Sexona, now Jijona, were the ones who took over the entire production of nougat. Being a small population, they went completely unnoticed by the guilds and would remain so until the abolition of the privileges they had with sugars. From that moment on, Jijona became historically the Cradle of Nougat.

The origin of the soft Jijona nougat

In the 18th century, nougat grew so much in history and fame that, in addition to the appearance of different varieties, there was a lack of raw materials for its manufacture: Marcona almonds were scarce and there was not enough honey. The Jijonencos then began to add a small amount of sugar to the mixture, which helped to create a more comfortable texture to chew , thus giving birth to the origin of the Alicante nougat recipe we know today.

The origin of Turrón de Jijona was born in the 19th century. This contribution is very successful in gastronomy: A sweet with a soft texture, totally original and different from all the other varieties (such as, for example, the chocolate nougat or the marzipan nougat or the toasted yolk nougat).

In the beginning, the soft nougat of Jijona consisted of grinding in a stone mill and cold the nougat of Alicante (the hard one) until obtaining a soft paste mass that allowed children and old people to eat it. But the recipe was improved by applying heat and giving it a second boiling after grinding to break up the honey crystals.

This is why the boixet was invented some time later. A hot mortar that after crushing the Alicante nougat, makes all the ingredients agglutinate again, creating the fine and soft mass of soft nougat. This new item soon achieved the status of a luxury product.

The birth of the nougat industry.

Throughout the 19th century the proliferation of the world industry also did proportionally with the nougat industry . This produced the birth of many brands of nougat among them ours in 1854 under the name of Hijos de Antonio Monerris: Wenceslao Monerris.

It should be noted that Turrones la Colmena is the first turron brand registered in the Patent and Trademark Office on 04/12/1897.

Other manufacturers from the end of the 19th century that still survive today are turrón 1880 historia, or Antonio Monerris Planelles (El Almendro).

One of the real revolutions in the history of nougat was the introduction of steam. In 1905 a turronero operator named Francisco Mira Miralles, adapted the “Boixet” to steam. This made it possible to control the processing temperature, thus increasing production considerably.

The installation of steam engines multiplied and in 1914 Jijona had 25 industries and at least 150 artisans selling turron in Spain and abroad. The adaptation of steam to the nougat industry became an advertising claim, as shown in our company’s advertising of the time.

Anagrama de la primera marca turronera registrada. La Colmena. 04/12/1897

The history of nougat, a typical sweet, shows us that entire Jijonenca families traveled around the world selling their nougat and sweets at fairs and, in November, the coldest part of autumn, they would set up shop in the doorways of houses near the centers of all the cities. There is still some Jijonenco in these primitive stores of turron varieties in the portals of Barcelona, Madrid, etc…

The demand grew so much that throughout the 20th century the Jijonencos built dozens of nougat factories wherever they were sold. Not only in our country: Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Venezuela, Oran, Algiers, Fez, Rabat and Casablanca were territories where artisan nougat workshops were founded. Up to 4 factories were established in Oran, then a French colony. These factories closed with the countries’ independence and with the Spanish Civil War.

An important event in the history of nougat occurred on August 18, 1939. On this date the Regulatory Council of the exclusive Designation of Origin Jijona was founded and constituted. Predecessor entity of the current Consejo Regulador IGP Jijona y turrón de Alicante. Council that works for the protection and quality of nougat. This council was the successor of the Gremio de Turroneros, created in 1904.

In the mid-1940s, large shopping centers and supermarkets such as Galerías Preciados, among others, proliferated. That triggered that marzipans and polvorones were bought directly there and caused the closure of many stores that occupied the aforementioned portals.

Nougat in the 20th Century: International success.

The success of nougat was unstoppable in its history and 1962 became one of the best years on record for nougat sales.

A historic request made Jijona had to multiply its nougat production several times over: A state delegation from Castro’s Cuba asked Jijonencos manufacturers for a tablet of nougat with denomination of origin for each adult Cuban and a smaller one for each child. This caused Jijona to grow both in population and urban extension. As Fernando Galiana (mayor and chronicler of the time) relates

Video: El Turrón in NO-DO

"The orders are shipped on their date and religiously charged when they are stowed in the holds of that vessel".

These shipments lasted until 1971, when Cuba stopped making that historic order, most likely due to the political and economic situation in Cuba. This caused difficulties in Jijona as it did not receive from one year to the next a whole order of nougat from one country. This is documented in the Spanish newsreel of the time NO-DO. Here is a video compilation.

1990: The nougat crisis

At the end of the 20th century, a severe crisis hit the world economy and our country’s agri-food sector was particularly affected. It was mainly driven by the bursting of the real estate bubble in Japan and by the price of oil due to the Gulf War. The effects were not immediate, thanks mainly to public investment from the 1992 Olympics and the Seville World Expo.

The crisis reached Spain in mid-1995, when the worst drought of the twentieth century was recorded, causing water supply cuts in many places in the south of the country, causing enormous losses in agriculture and the agricultural sector.

This considerably increased the price of Marcona almonds, pure bee honey and egg whites and caused the closure of several important companies in the sector. It is said that no peladillas were made that year. This crisis lasted until 1997.

The nougat of the XXI Century

The 21st century is bringing many things to nougat. Although nougat is a product with hundreds of years of history and that has changed very little with respect to how it was originally. Currently, the philosophy in Jijona is to continue with the same respect for the tradition of producing a unique treasure.

The main change in nougat in the 21st century has been the Internet. Technology has given way to new sales channels that did not exist in the past, such as the sale of nougat online. The proliferation of websites, Smartphones and the internationalization of nougat has meant that this food can be sold directly to the consumer from its origin in just a few clicks. Too bad it’s only a tablet.

Another of the changes that nougat has undergone in the 21st century is the increase in production in a controlled way without changing the recipe and using new intelligent machinery such as scales, thermometers, cutters, packaging machines…

Finally, the innovation of nougat in offering different formats is latent. The commitment to consume nougat in all seasons begins with the incorporation of our historic nougat in current dishes and recipes. An example of this is our nougat cream, ideal for recipes and desserts, or our nougat paste, ideal for the confectionery industry.