Jordan Almonds – The Delicious Mystery
A very good friend of ours recently traveled to Jordan. He brought back a big bag filled with wonderful candies for us to try. Most of the candies are new to us but one is instantly familiar. It is the ubiquitous Jordan almond.
Jordan almonds brought to us from Jordan. Is Jordan really where the sugar-coated almond got its start? Why is the Jordan almond a worldwide favorite at weddings? We had never given them much thought before but now we had so many questions. At Candy Atlas, we live for candy history and are delighted to have learned many surprising new things!
Since the almond is native to the Middle East, it is easy to assume that the confection we commonly call the Jordan almond originated in Jordan or, at least, the Middle East. However, candy historians generally agree that the Jordan almond is not a Jordanian confection but that the name is either a corrupted version of a French word or it is a reference to a variety of almond that first grew along the Jordan River.
Some believe that “Jordan” is a corruption of the name of the town of Verdun in the northeast of France. You see, what we call a Jordan almond is a type of confection called a dragée — which means a sugarcoated nut, candy, or pill — and the method of coating almonds with sugar was developed in Verdun in the early 13th century. How did a confectioner get the idea to do this? Two points of inspiration: First, honey-coated almonds and seeds were introduced in 177 B.C. by a Roman baker and confectioner named Julius Dragatus. His confections were called dragati and were served by the nobility at weddings and births. Second, when the medieval crusaders brought sugar to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, it was very valuable and considered medicinal. It was also the only alternative to using honey as a sweetener. During that time, an apothecary began coating other medicines with sugar (calling them dragées) to make them easier to take. Guess where that chemist lived? That’s right, Verdun. The town of Verdun became very well known for its dragées de Verdun.
Others point out that “jordan” was the Middle English pronunciation of the shared French and Spanish word “jardin”. “Jardin” means “garden” in both languages. Did you know that wild almonds are toxic to humans and they have a bitter taste but cultivated almonds are as good for us as they are delicious? Well, somehow somebody way back in history figured out a way to domesticate almonds for human consumption. Eventually, the almonds were grown in gardens and became very popular and easy to grow in certain regions of France and Spain. For a very long time, some of the finest almonds in the world have been cultivated in each of these countries, and these prized nuts were called garden almonds to differentiate them from the wild varieties. Now, of course, Jordan almonds are made with nuts grown all over the world. We learned that the almonds in our bag were grown in Spain but roasted and panned in Jordan.
So, why is it that what we now call Jordan almonds are the default wedding favor? Although Jordan almonds at American weddings seems to be a long-lived fad, these sweet treats have a rich history of symbolism around the world. Italians have served the sugar-coated nuts as “confetti” at weddings for over 500 years. This is after serving honey-coated nuts for thousands of years! The Italians present the nuts in groups of five to symbolize five wishes for the bride and groom: health, wealth, fertility, happiness, and longevity. In the Middle East, Jordan almonds are considered an aphrodisiac so there are always plenty on hand for the newlyweds and their guests. Like at the Italian weddings, Greek brides place the almonds in groups of five, an odd number that is indivisible to symbolize the unity of husband and wife. Across many cultures, the bitterness of the almond covered by the sweetness of the sugar is a reminder that life is both bitter and sweet.
We may never know why these dragées are called Jordan almonds. For now, we’re content to enjoy the delicious mystery.