Turkish delight or lokum is a family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar. Premium varieties consist largely of chopped dates, pistachios, and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel; traditional varieties are mostly gel, generally flavoured with rosewater, mastic, Bergamot orange, or lemon. The confection is often packaged and eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar, copra, or powdered cream of tartar, to prevent clinging. Other common flavours include cinnamon and mint. In the production process, soapwort may be used as an emulsifying additive.
According to the Hacı Bekir company, the sweet as it is known today was invented by Bekir Effendi, named Hacı Bekir after performing the haj. He moved to Istanbul from his hometown Kastamonu and opened his confectionery shop in the district of Bahçekapı in 1777. The company still operates under the founder’s name. Ottoman confectionary was originally sweetened with honey and molasses, using water and flour as the binding agents, with rosewater, lemon peel and bitter orange as the most common flavours (red, yellow and green). Hacı Bekir introduced the use of glucose in 1811, shortly after it had been discovered by Gottlieb Kirchhoff. Lokum was introduced to Western Europe in the 19th century. An unknown Briton reputedly became very fond of the delicacy during his travels to Istanbul and purchased cases of it, to be shipped back to Britain under the name Turkish delight. It became a major delicacy in Britain and throughout Continental Europe for high class society. During this time, it became a practice among upper class socialites to exchange pieces of Turkish delight wrapped in silk handkerchiefs as presents.