Armenian Desserts and Sweets You Should Taste
Armenian cuisine boasts a rich tapestry of flavours and ingredients, and its desserts are no exception. Rooted in tradition and influenced by the region's history and geography, Armenian desserts are a delightful culmination of unique tastes and textures. They are frequently served alongside strong coffee, after meals or in honour of special occasions.
Classic Armenian Desserts
Baklava (Paklava) is a favourite across Armenia and many other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. Made from thin, flaky dough (phyllo) layered with chopped walnuts or pistachios, baklava is spiced and sweetened with honey or a fragrant sugar syrup. The texture is a bit crunchy, a bit chewy and quite sweet. Usually, the iconic pastry is cut into diamond shapes. You can find baklava all over Armenia, but if you happen to be in the town of Gavar on the south side of Lake Sevan, make sure to try theirs; it’s famous.
Gata is a type of rich sweet bread typically prepared from a yeasted dough enriched with butter, eggs, and sugar. The filling varies by region, but often includes a mixture of crushed nuts, sugar, and spices. Depending on the occasion and the individual baker, gata is often formed into a circle and adorned with braided designs before entering the oven, resulting in a delightful combination of texture and flavours when it's ready to eat. Gata from the villages near Garni and Geghard is particularly legendary. Buy a large fresh round from a street vendor to share with friends when you visit.
Known for its unique nutty flavour, delicate sweetness, and satisfying texture, halva is made from a base of ground sesame seeds or wheat flour and sugar. Nuts and aromatic spices are often added to augment the flavour. Halva is made by cooking the ingredients together to form a dense, sweet paste-like consistency. The mixture is then typically poured into a mold, allowed to cool and solidify, and then cut into individual portions for serving.
Nazuk is another delectable pastry that combines flaky layers of dough with a rich filling made from butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and walnut. The layers are folded and rolled to create a distinctive swirl pattern. Nazook can be enjoyed as a dessert or a snack, and its addictive taste is sure to leave you craving more.
At Western Armenian restaurants and sweet shops in Yerevan, you will find a selection of sweets inspired by middle eastern flavours. Enjoy sari burma, nutty and honey-soaked pastries made from finely shredded kataifi dough, and many types of pistachio and walnut baklava in multiple shapes and sizes.
Many desserts still enjoyed in Armenia today have a Soviet-era heritage. Ponchik, a filled, deep-fried doughnut powdered with sugar, is one of the most iconic sweets and very popular with kids. Try both chocolate and vanilla custard-filled ponchik in Gyumri. Traditional cakes include intricately layered bird’s milk cake and honey cake, as well as jam-filled perok cake. During hot Armenian summers, everyone eats ice cream to beat the heat. You’ll find it everywhere, from packaged frozen desserts, to soft-serve to gelato. Some ice cream shops even offer lactose free sorbet.
For those opting for healthier desserts or gluten-free options, you’re in luck. Armenia is renowned for its succulent fruit – especially apricots. Although best enjoyed fresh in season, they are delicious when dried (“chir”), made into fruit leather (“ttu lavash”), turned in a fruity drink (“kompot”) or preserved in syrup (“muraba”). Sweet sujukh is a traditional snack jokingly called “Armenian snickers.” Due to its shape, it is named after its savory counterpart, a beef sausage. The sweet confection is made by threading nuts (typically walnuts or hazelnuts) on a string, dipping them into a boiled reduction of grape or mulberry juice and hanging them to dry. The resulting treat is a sticky, slightly chewy delight with a rich, nutty flavor. It makes for a great hiking snack.
What are some gluten-free and vegan Armenian desserts?
It’s difficult to find traditional gluten-free Armenian desserts, but many restaurants offer ice creams, and internationally beloved sweets like flourless chocolate cake. For vegans and gluten-free eaters alike, sesame halva is a delicious, wheat-free and animal-free option! Fresh seasonal fruit, dried fruit, sweet sujukh and nuts are also safe alternatives.
Which desserts are commonly served during Armenian weddings?
Gata plays a traditional role in Armenian weddings. It may be shared during various rituals and moments throughout the celebration, symbolising unity, abundance, and the sweet beginnings of the couple's journey together. It's a way to express the couple's gratitude to their guests for joining them on their special day and to wish them a prosperous and joyful life ahead.
How do Armenians celebrate Christmas with desserts?
Anush apur, often served at Christmas time, translates to "sweet soup." A spiced rice- or wheat-based pudding, anush apur is often garnished with chopped dried fruits and nuts, adding both flavour and texture to this comfort food.
Armenian desserts, with their centuries-old recipes and cultural significance, provide a delectable glimpse into the heart and soul of this ancient land. They embody the spirit of hospitality and celebration that Armenians hold dear, inviting you to savour both the flavours and the stories of a proud and enduring culinary heritage.