What’s The Oldest Dessert In The World?

The dessert options available to us nowadays span a wide range of tastes, from a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to good ol’ apple crumble and custard. But how did the glorious concept of dessert begin?

To find out, let’s travel back to the ancient Middle East, a region that nowadays covers countries like Turkey, Armenia, and Iraq. This period began around 6,000 years ago, continuing through to roughly the seventh century. Though it’s not known exactly when, at some point during this timeframe a tradition began that oriented around the landing of Noah’s ark.

The legend goes that after rocking up on Mount Ararat in Turkey once the flood receded, Noah and his family celebrated the world being a bit less wet by preparing a porridge-like dish out of the ingredients left on the boat – and thus was born ashure (pronounced ah-shoo-ray), or “Noah’s pudding”.

It’s thought that people in ancient times began eating ashure as a way of commemorating the ark’s landing, and this has remained a tradition through to the modern day. In Turkey, for example, it’s celebrated on Ashura, the 10th day in the Islamic calendar month of Muharram, with people preparing Noah’s pudding for family, friends, and neighbors.

However, ashure isn’t just eaten in Turkey, or even by people belonging to one particular religion. Though it can have different names, ashure is also eaten in places like Armenia and the Balkans, and is prepared by some to mark holidays in Judaism and Christianity too.

But whilst its popularity might have transcended time, any specific recipe certainly hasn’t. Granted, it’s primarily wheat-based and often features white beans and chickpeas, which doesn’t sound especially pudding-y. 

However, people usually throw in a whole array of nuts, fruits, and spices – think apricots, pomegranate seeds, figs, pistachios, and cinnamon – to make a sweet and rich dessert. What you find in a bowl of ashure is likely to vary from region to region, and even person to person.

Whilst its primary ingredients might seem unconventional to those not in the know, there’s more to this ancient dessert than satisfying your own tastebuds. Though it can be found in restaurants, often, at its heart, ashure is prepared to share amongst the community, tying people together regardless of their beliefs.

As Suna Çaaptay, professor of architectural history and archaeology at Istanbul’s Bahçeşehir University, told BBC Travel: “I loved how ashure or its slight variants symbolises sweetness, commemoration, new beginnings and so on. I think very few recipes have the power of ashure: widely known, bearing Biblical and Muslim references, and directing us to think along similar lines.”

Leave a Comment