Dessert is something that unites all the cultures of the world, though what we eat for dessert can vary. Many sweet treats like candy bars and ice cream haven’t been around for very long considering the course of human history, but there are certain concoctions and combinations that have existed for thousands of years.
The first sweets would have been honey, dates, and fruit. For prehistoric humans, these were all foods that could be easily gathered and didn’t require any preparation. For people trying to follow the Paleo diet, this is the only sugar they can have. Refined sugar can trace its origins to India, where very sweet desserts have been popular since ancient times. Treats include cakes that are fried and soaked in sugary syrup, and candy mixtures of clarified butter, sugar, and milk. The desserts would be offered as gifts to the gods.
Chocolate, arguably the world’s favorite dessert, first existed as a drink for the Mayans and Aztecs as far back as 1,500 B.C. Cacao beans were taken back by European explorers, where it took centuries to perfect a solid form of chocolate. The world’s oldest chocolate might very well be a 110-year old tin of chocolate candy from Scotland, which was released to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. The tin, which will remain uneaten, is cared for by the St. Andrews Preservation Trust.
Western culture is based on ancient Greece and Rome, so what was the oldest recipe from that area of the world? Historians say it is a cheesecake recipe written in 230 A.D. The instructions say to pound cheese until it becomes smooth, and then mix it with honey and spring-wheat flour before heating it, and then cooling it before serving. The Romans added more cheese and eggs, and would bake it beneath a hot brick and serve it warm. They called the dish “libuma” and would make it for special occasions.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, dessert was a luxury reserved for the rich, because sugar was so rare. Even then, sweet treats for the upper class consisted of simple jellies, dried fruits, and sweet wafers, because chocolate wouldn’t arrive until the 16th century. The Tudor era, which lasted from the late 1400’s to the early 1600’s, gobbled up sugared almonds, gingerbread, and marzipan, which is a paste flavored with almonds and sugar. They would make elaborate sculptures from the pliable mixture.
The world’s oldest dessert, however, originates from Turkey. It’s a pudding called “ashura,” and legend has it that Noah (of Noah’s ark) himself made the dish as the boat’s supplies began to run low. There is no one set ingredient list – it’s often made from wheat, barley, apricots, raisins, pine nuts, chickpeas, and even navy beans. Traditionally, the pudding is boiled in rose water, but many like to use lemon or orange-flavored water instead. In addition to being so ancient, the pudding is also pretty healthy. It is high in good carbs, iron, calcium, and vitamin B. Ashura is prepared during the first month of the Islamic calendar (called the Month of Ashura in Turkey) and on the 10th day of Muharram, when Noah’s ark arrived at Mount Arafat. Like all ancient desserts, this one is as rich in history as it is delicious sweetness.