Marzipan

THE ORIGIN OF MARZIPAN

The most likely origin of the name ‘marzipan’ can be traced back to the Arabic spoken during the authentic coexistence of cultures and races that existed in the centre and the south of the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages.

It was derived from Arabic mawthaban, ‘king who sits still’. The first Spanish marzipan was sculpted into shapes with this figure, which is a detail attributed to the Arabic-Spanish miscegenation, since the depiction of humans and animals was generally forbidden by the Islamic faith.The fact that two seated kings appear in the coat of arms of the city establishes a clear link between the city and the first marzipan shapes. On the other hand, the Arabic term mahsabandenotes the cakes and pastries made with almonds and other nuts.

In the history of marzipan, reality and imagination are intertwined. Stories and legends to be discovered are an essential part of marzipan. In Toledo, a legend says that the marzipan was ‘invented’ by the nuns of San Clemente when the city was besieged by the Arabs and people were in great need. To produce marzipan, theymade a paste with the raw materials that were available (raw almonds and sugar) using a mortar and pestle and bakingthe pastein the oven. The besieged were fed with itand the productwas named ‘bread of pestle’ (pan de maza). But then again, these are just hypotheses.