Nougat is one of the staple treats during the winter holiday season, especially in Europe and Latin American countries. It seems that here in North America we have slowly started paying it the attention it deserves.
In the article below, we’ll be answering the most googled questions regarding the most famous Christmas nougat candy varieties: Spanish turron and Italian torrone.
What is the most popular Christmas nougat candy?
The most popular Christmas nougat candy in the world is Spanish turrón. It’s a confection made with honey, egg whites, sugar, and toasted nuts, typically almonds.
According to various sources, by at least the mid-16th century, turrón had become a staple treat for Christmas in Spain. Interestingly, it had become so prevalent by the end of the century, that expenses the Alicante municipality made on it threatened the royal coffers! Philip II of Spain had to issue a document in 1595, forbidding spending more than fifty pounds each year on turron and figs, as the city of Alicante went overboard and the Monarch was concerned the economy couldn’t afford it.
It's unclear whether turrón nougat was brought to Spain by the Moors, or whether proto-turrón existed before the Moors came to the Iberian Peninsula (scholars have pointed out that almonds and honey were used in desserts of the Mediterranean basin since Roman times, at least, if not the Greek empire).
Another famous version of Christmas nougat is Italian torrone. It’s made with the same basic ingredients as Spanish turron (honey, egg whites, nuts, etc.) but the proportions and consistency of the two are quite different. Spanish turron recipe guidelines are more rigid and put a higher emphasis on nuts, while recipes for Italian torrone vary and often add ingredients you’re not likely to encounter in Spanish nougat candy.
What are the two types of turrón?
Nowadays, there are over half a dozen nougat varieties in Spain, but it’s the two traditional turron types that are widely known: Turron de Alicante and Turron de Jijona. Both of these varieties have been around since at least the 15th century (could very well be older) and are products with Protected Geographic Indication (PGI/IGP), meaning they cannot be made outside of specifically designated areas in Spain.
Turron de Alicante, also known as Turron Duro: hard nougat from Alicant. It’s usually a white (unless flavored with chocolate) compact block containing whole roasted almonds (around 60% of overall turron mass).
Turron de Jijona (Xixona), also known as Turron Blando: soft nougat that’s considered the oldest Spanish turron variety, with the original recipe dating to the 15th century. Almonds are turned to paste and combined with turron mix. About 64-65% of the overall mass is almonds. This turron is soft, crumbly, and often caramel-colored instead of white.
What does turrón taste like?
Turron nougat is typically on the sweeter side of Christmas desserts. Some would describe it as overtly sweet, though the sweetness is mostly offset by the high amount of almonds in the nougat.
Turron de Alicante has a more strongly pronounced almond flavor due to the whole nuts being used in the recipe. It may be comparable to eating candied almonds, with the solid and crunchy turron base acting as a type of thick coating for the nuts.
Turron de Jijona is typically sweeter, even though it has a higher amount of almonds-to-nougat ratio (though nuttiness is very strongly present and well-expressed). Turron de Jijona also has a more noticeable honey flavor than Turron de Alicante.
Why do they eat turrón for Christmas in Spain?
Nobody really knows! Turron’s history between the 11th century (the first documented appearance of a similar-sounding treat turun in a written document) and that infamous edict issued by Philip II of Spain is shrouded in mystery.
Allegedly, the first turron recipe was published in 1475, so we can assume it had become somewhat of a common treat among the elite by that time. By 1582, the turron had become a form of currency (at least during the Christmas season) and a beloved treat among the masses.
But how it went from a barely-known sweet to a seasonal staple? Nobody has managed to answer the question, at least as of yet.
You can check out our overview of the most popular theories regarding turron’s ascension as the seminal treat for Christmas in Spain for more information, but if you’re looking for the exact reason - well, don’t expect one anytime soon.
What is torrone?
Torrone is the Italian take on nougat candy. It’s made with similar base ingredients as turron: egg whites, sugar, honey, and toasted nuts. Its consistency is usually chewier and stickier than turron’s, but the texture itself does range from hard (Duro) to soft (Morbido).
The main difference between the Spanish turron and the Italian torrone seems to be the overall ratio of nuts to other ingredients is higher in turron (around 60% for Alicante-style turron and 64% for Jijona-style).
Italian torrone is also often flavored with different ingredients like citrus, vanilla, chocolate, etc., while Spanish turron doesn’t contain additional flavorings more often than not. Torrone di Cremona, which contains candied fruit, is arguably the most famous type of Italian torrone. However, its recipe is subject to numerous changes, as it’s not a PDO or a PGI product.
The one type of torrone with protected indication is Torrone di Bagnara (PGI): a Calabrian specialty made with sugar, honey, egg whites, spices, toasted almonds, unsweetened cocoa powder, and essential oils. It’s often coated either with granulated sugar (Martiniana) or cocoa (Torrefatto Glassato).
Is torrone for Christmas?
Yes! While torrone can be found in Italian stores year-round, it’s still mainly viewed as a traditional Christmas sweet in Italy. Torrone might not be as prevalent as turron, but it’s still easily found across Southwestern European countries, as well as Latin American countries that were under the rule of Spanish and Portuguese Empires.
What does torrone taste like?
While the flavor of the nougat base is similar to that of turron’s: on the sweeter side, with a noticeably nutty flavor and a strong hint of honey, its overall flavor profile is largely determined by additional ingredients. If there’s candied citrus added to the torrone paste, then the overall flavor profile will be more citrusy. The addition of powdered cocoa makes the nougat taste like honeyed chocolate and augments the nutty flavor. If the almonds are substituted for hazelnuts then the nuttiness of the flavor will be deeper, and more earthy, while pistachios (another popular addition) will be milder.
Overall, torrone nougat candy is often on the sweeter side, sometimes even sweeter than turron, but its flavor profile is determined by a variety of flavoring ingredients used that can often balance out the sweetness.
What is the difference between nougat and torrone?
Nougat is a family of sweets, while torrone is a sub-type of that sweet. Nougat itself is a French word and is often used specifically to describe the sweet made in France, but frankly speaking, any sweet that’s made with honey, sugar, egg whites, and toasted nuts can be qualified as a type of nougat.
If we get more specific, the type of nougat made with egg whites is called white nougat or Persian nougat. There’s another type of it, made without egg whites, which is usually classified as brown nougat (like France’s own Black nougat with honey and, arguably, Viennese nougat).
Interesting tidbit: French nougat, both white and black, is also a traditional Christmas treat, though a less well-known one. It’s one of Provence’s 13 Desserts of Christmas.
How do you eat turrón candy?
Turron is typically eaten as a dessert after a meal, though it can be enjoyed as a snack between meals as well. The nougat is typically cut into small-to-medium-sized cubes and served on plates along with a cup of black coffee (most often espresso) or, if it’s being served at the end of the day, with a glass of brandy.
How do you eat torrone? How do you cut hard torrone?
As torrone is often either sticky or brittle, cutting it can be somewhat of a laborsome task. To simplify the process: 1) use a sharp, preferably serrated, knife; 2) coat that knife with a light layer of neutral oil.
The oil will act as a lubricant and prevent torrone from sticking to the knife. However, unless the knife is sharp and can go through the nougat in the first place, the oil trick won’t help much. This is why it’s important to pick the proper knife in the first place.
Torrone is commonly wrapped in thin wafer paper to prevent the pieces from sticking together or to the box. This paper is usually edible so you don’t need to spend time removing it.
Torrone is often served as a dessert after dinner, paired with a hot beverage, or with a glass of Digestivo liqueur, most often with herbal flavor, like Amaro or Sambuca.
What do you serve with torrone or turrón?
Nothing. Nougat candy is typically enjoyed on its own, as an independent dessert, paired with only your drink of choice: traditionally black coffee or brandy for turron, and either something hot or, more commonly, a Digestivo for torrone.
How long does turrón last?
As it’s mainly made up of honey, sugar, and almonds (all shelf-stable products), turron is a very sturdy confectionery. It can easily last up to a year when properly stored.
Commercially packaged turron will have the expiration date (or, at least, the best-by date) printed upon the label, so as long as the package isn’t damaged it basically protects itself: simply put it in the pantry and you’re good.
Once the packaging is open, you’ll need to transfer the nougat to an airtight container and keep it in a cool and dark place. As long as it’s protected from exposure to direct heat, oxygen, and moisture, turron nougat can last at least additional 3-4 weeks.
How long does torrone last? Does torrone expire?
Italian torrone is a little more delicate than Spanish turron, but vacuum packaging works its magic once again. Commercially packaged torrone has a comparable shelf life to its Spanish brother: the expiration date will be printed on the label and it’s unlikely to be less than 12 months.
Artisanal turron with no preservatives may be more fragile, but as long as its packaging is sealed and it’s stored in a cool and dark place, it, too, can last a couple of months at least.
On the other hand, once the seal is undone, its shelf life will start to decline more rapidly than that of turron. It’s best to consume Italian torrone within 2 weeks after opening the package.
Does Christmas nougat candy need to be kept in the fridge?
No, it’s not necessary. However, it may lengthen the nougat shelf life by an additional week or two, so if you’ve got a large amount on your hands, it may be prudent to keep at least some of it in the refrigerator.
Do keep in mind that the soft nougat will harden if kept in the fridge, so keep it at room temperature for a few hours after getting it out, to help it get to its original consistency.
Can you freeze Christmas nougat?
Well. Technically you can. It’ll expand the candy life span by up to 6 months.
But in practice, we’d advise against it. Being frozen and then thawed will significantly affect the texture and flavor of the nougat, especially soft nougat.
We wouldn’t advise freezing nougat unless you’re leaving the country for a few months and have to choose between freezing and throwing it away. Cut the nougat into bite-sized cubes before freezing, this’ll make defrosting it easier when the time comes.
Explore Yummy Bazaar’s Holiday Assortment for More Traditional Christmas Treats:
Yummy Bazaar hosts one of the largest online selections of gourmet holiday treats, with a wide variety of items from across the globe. Explore the Italian section for a wide assortment of gourmet panettone or pandoro, go to the Spanish section for authentic Christmas turron nougat candy or check out the German collection for high-quality marzipan, far too often overlooked during the Christmas celebrations. Or maybe you’d like to go a little original with your choice of Christmas gingerbread cookies? You’ll find an assortment from all over the world, from German Lebkuchen to Swedish Pepperkakkor to French Nonnettes. All it takes on your part is sparing a few minutes to stock the cart with all your favorites, and we’ll take it from there, ensuring the goodies get delivered to your doorstep ASAP.