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CHRISTMAS

Turrón: Ten things you didn’t know about Spain’s sweet Christmas treat

Take a stroll through any Spanish supermarket during the festive season, and you’ll surely have seen isles and isles of turrón. Spaniards love it, and it’s everywhere at this time of year. But what is turrón, exactly? And why is it so popular at Christmas?

turrón spain
The economy of the Valencian town of Jijona is based largely on turrón production. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

What is turrón?

Turrón is a nougaty sweet treat made from eggs, sugar, honey and toasted nuts. Almonds are traditionally used, but there are other types sometimes used too, like pistachios. To make turrón, you heat honey until it begins to caramelize, then add the sugar and egg whites. The next step is to add the toasted nuts to the mixture and blend it all together before leaving it to rest and set. It can be kept for up to a year if it is stored properly.

What are the different types of turrón?  

While there are lots of different flavoured turrónes available today, in reality there are only two types of turrón. Hard nougat (turrón duro) is known as Alicante nougat and soft nougat (turrón blando) as nearby Jijona nougat because they were originally made in those locations in Spain’s Valencia region. 

Almonds are usually harvested at the end summer, hence why turrón is traditionally eaten at Christmas in Spain. Photo: Ulrike Leone/Pixabay

What have the Moors ever done for us?

We owe the origin of nougat to the Arabs. Not only did the Islamic Empire leave its mark architecturally and linguistically, but nougat consumption in Spain is believed to have been around since the beginning of the 11th century. The Arabs called it turum and it was a common dessert that today’s recipe remains quite faithful to. The Moors brought the treat to Europe where it became popular in France, Italy, and most of all, Spain.

Renaissance recipe

In fact, the first nougat recipe appears in a cookbook from the beginning of the 16th century in a “Women’s Manual” kept in the Palatine Library of Parma and the recipe is included in an encyclopedia of the tasks that the high-ranking ladies had to do at home back then. 

The turrón tour

Despite Alicante and Jijona’s fame, there are many regions in Spain where nougat is made. Soria is a province with a lot of nougat tradition, having a truly delicious variety of Soriano butter, and another very famous variety is guirlache or guirlache nougat, which without being turrón in the strictest sense, is associated with turrón and is very typical of Aragon and southern Catalonia. They are also traditionally consumed around Christmas time. 

An employee at Madrid’s famous “La Casa Mira” sweet ship where turrón is made by boiling honey, sugar and egg white, and then adding toasted almonds and other ingredients for flavour. AFP PHOTO/ DANI POZO

Not always sweet

There’s also a salty nougat: a delicious snack that is challenging tradition. The idea was thought up by a Michelin-starred chef in…. you guessed it, Alicante.

Turrón that breaks the bank

The festive tradition of turrón is believed to be connected to the high cost that it has always had, which is why it is saved for special occasions. Turrón can be expensive – the ‘most expensive Turrón in the world’ is believed to be from Jijona and sets you back €250 for a half kilo!

G&T (Gin & Turrón)

For the G&T lovers out there, there is nougat gin! Created in 2017, its name nods to the Arab origin of nougat: Turum. 

The dessert of kings

The Spanish Royal Family is reputed to have always had a sweet tooth and a soft spot for turrón. In fact, the first place where nougat was consumed was at the Royal Court, and it has been a dessert of royalty since the time of Charles V.

Turronomics

The economy of the Valencian town of Jijona is centred around turrón production. There’s even a turrón museum that chronicles the process and history of the sweet located within the factory that makes both the famous “El Lobo” and “1880” brands of turrón.

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LIFE IN SPAIN

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand Tails.com.

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham

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