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Loukoumades: From the Ancient Olympics to the Present Day

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Loukoumades have a thousand-year history and were even enjoyed by the ancient Greeks at the Olympics. Credit: Nostimo/Greek Reporter

Loukoumades, a favorite sweet delicacy that can be found in every Greek city, have a thousand-year history. There is even literary evidence that loukoumades were enjoyed by the ancient Greeks at the Olympics.

Many legends are associated with this popular dessert, confirming that its taste made people fall in love with it since ancient times.

Beloved Sweet Treat

Tender and fluffy, loukoumades are deep-fried little donuts topped with honey and syrup, cinnamon, and nuts. A portion includes several of those donuts at once, which are often sprinkled with sesame seeds – it is almost impossible to resist.

The warm and inviting aroma of these bite-sized treats can be felt on the seafront, in cafes, and often from the widely-open windows in any season.

Loukoumades in Ancient Greece and the Olympics

It is believed that loukoumades were the first dessert to be mentioned in world literature.

The Ancient Greek poet Callimachus in his “The Vigil” called them “Honey Tokens”. According to him, these sweets were one of the first awards for the winners of the Olympic Games, which started in 776 BC.

It is not the only connection between loukoumades and the ancient Olympics. Aristotle also mentioned so-called gift pies that were prepared for winning athletes.

Another Greek poet from Sicily, Archestratus, described a similar dish “Enkris” in his work “Gastronomia”. He was considered to be Europe’s first gourmet writer, who also claimed that this dessert was a ball of dough fried in olive oil and flavored with honey.

Other Variations of Loukoumades

Variations of this sweet treat are found in many other countries outside of Greece and also have a deep and rich history.

In terms of etymology, the word comes from the Arabic “Luqmat al-Qadi”, which was eventually abbreviated into “lukma”. And in the Turkish version, it turned then into “lokma”.

Recipes of this dessert began to appear on the pages of Arabic cookbooks in the 13th century. It also quickly became well-loved and widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Loukoumades are also featured in the famous collection of Middle Eastern folk tales, “The Thousands and One Nights.” The sweet is mentioned in the story called “The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad.”

Loukoumades in Other Cultures

In Mongolia, there is a traditional fried dough, which is also served in several small pieces. The so-called Boortsog is usually served as a tea treat. It often goes without syrup but can be accompanied with some honey, butter, or even cheese.

A sweet similar to Loukoumades is also popular in Italy and is called Struffoli. This treat of Neapolitan cuisine consists of small deep-fried honey balls, which are often served with sugar decorations and candied fruit.

In Croatia, they cook Fritule – small deep-fried donuts. The recipe can also include apples and raisins, as well as warm chocolate sauce.

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