From Orchard to Table: Most Popular Turkish Fruits
Turkey’s diverse geography and climate have transformed the country into a fruit treasure trove boasting hundreds of varieties. This cherished bounty holds a unique place in Turkish culture and cuisine, embodying a rich blend of history and natural wealth.
A standout characteristic of Turkey lies in its geographical and climatic diversity. Stretching across two continents, Europe and Asia, the country features a wide range of terrains, offering a vast spectrum of climates, from the Mediterranean coast to the high plateaus of Anatolia. Each region’s fruits offer distinct tastes and characteristics, contributing to the incredible array of fruits cultivated throughout the country.
So, let’s embark on a delectable adventure across Turkey’s diverse landscapes and relish the vibrant flavors of Turkish fruits.
Exploring the Rich Tapestry of Turkish Fruits
When we think of Turkish cuisine, our minds often drift to the delectable world of kebabs, baklava, and Turkish delight. However, Turkey is also a land where an astonishing variety of fruits flourish, each with its unique characteristics and uses. Let’s embark on a fruity journey through the vibrant orchards and vineyards of Turkey.
Topping the list of popular Turkish fruits are grapes. Turkey is one of the world’s leading grape producers, and these succulent fruits find their way into a multitude of dishes and products. They are used to make wine, rakı (an anise-flavored alcoholic drink), fresh snacks, dried delights, pastes, vinegar, and molasses.
With approximately 1,200 grape varieties grown across the country, every region has its signature grape type. People also enjoy table grapes, particularly during the grape season, and unripe grapes, known as “koruk,” are used to add tanginess to dishes.
2. Figs: The Summer Sweetheart
Despite their relatively short season, figs are a beloved and widely produced fruit in Turkey. They also claim a prominent place in the international fig market. Predominantly grown in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions, figs are enjoyed fresh and dried, in jams and marmalades, and even in the production of fruit vinegars.
Figs, particularly the dried variety, are a popular snack, and there are even desserts like “incir uyutması” (fig dessert) that showcase their unique flavor.
3. Apples: The All-Season Favorite
Thanks to favorable climate conditions, apples are another beloved fruit in many regions of Anatolia. Turkey ranks high in apple production and export. With over 500 apple varieties grown, apples are widely appreciated for their accessibility and long shelf life.
They are frequently used in sweet pastries, often infused with cinnamon. In addition to fresh consumption, apples are transformed into apple juice, apple vinegar, apple wine, apple molasses, and compote. A historical dish, “Elma dolması” (stuffed apples), once a staple of Ottoman palace cuisine, has retained its cultural significance.
4. Watermelon and Cantaloupe: The Summer Staples
Karpuz (watermelon) and kavun (cantaloupe) are two more Turkish fruits that dominate summer tables across the country. Grown in various regions, watermelon is not just a sweet ending to a meal but is also paired with white cheese for a refreshing snack.
Karpuz, scientifically a vegetable, is considered a fruit in culinary contexts due to its usage. Its close companion, cantaloupe, is equally popular and consumed in the same way.
They are also an integral part of the Turkish rakı culture, gracing every rakı spread. Kavun seeds are used to create a beverage known as “sübye,” introduced to Turkish culinary culture by the Sephardic Jews and still savored, especially in Izmir.
5. Olives: The Heart of Turkish Breakfast
As a cornerstone of Mediterranean agriculture, olives hold a special place in Turkish cuisine and culture. Turkey is among the world’s top olive producers, with the majority of production centered in the Aegean region.
Olives are a staple in Turkish cuisine, used in a multitude of dishes, from salads and mezes (appetizers) to bread and even desserts. Olive oil, extracted from these versatile fruits, is a primary cooking medium, used extensively in Turkish dishes for its rich flavor and health benefits.
However, the most iconic use of olives is in the traditional Turkish breakfast, known as “kahvaltı.” A typical Turkish breakfast spread is incomplete without a dish of olives. Both black and green olives, often marinated with herbs, spices, and lemon, are served as part of the breakfast spread.
They provide a delicious contrast to the other breakfast items, such as white cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and various types of bread.
6. The Pomegranate: A Symbol of Abundance and Tradition
We can’t talk about one of Turkey’s most popular fruits without mentioning the pomegranate. Pomegranate has a history dating back thousands of years and is considered an important fruit for many societies. Pomegranate holds special meanings in different cultures and religions and is frequently depicted in places of worship.
It’s not just a fruit; it’s also considered a national symbol and has given its name to certain settlements. In addition to its health benefits, pomegranate has a special place in various cultural events. Every year, Turkey hosts scientific and cultural events related to pomegranates.
Pomegranates are typically consumed fresh, but they are also transformed into products like pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, syrup, jam, vinegar, pomegranate seed oil, and wine. Pomegranate molasses, in particular, is an essential element in Turkish cuisine, commonly used in salads, legume dishes, and stuffed vegetables.
7. Apricots: The Golden Gems of Anatolia
Turkey holds the prestigious title of the world’s leading producer of apricots, with the Malatya province often referred to as the ‘Apricot Capital of the World’. The unique climate of this region, with its hot summers and cold winters, provides the perfect conditions for apricot trees to flourish.
Apricots, known as “kayısı” in Turkish, are celebrated for their sweet and slightly tart flavor, vibrant orange color, and soft, velvety texture. These golden gems of Anatolia are harvested in the summer months, with the harvest season typically starting in early July.
They are enjoyed fresh during the season, but a significant portion of the harvest is also dried, allowing for year-round consumption and use in various dishes.
Aside from their use in cooking, apricots are also transformed into jams, compotes, and juices. Apricot jam, or “kayısı reçeli,” is a staple at Turkish breakfast tables, while apricot compote, or “kayısı kompostosu,” is a refreshing beverage served chilled, particularly during the hot summer months.
Role of Fruits in Turkish Cuisine
Fruit is an indispensable component of both sweet and savory dishes in Turkish cuisine.
The use of fruit in Turkish cuisine is an crucial part of both traditional and modern dishes. Fruits add taste and flavor to dishes, increasing the richness and diversity of Turkish cuisine. It also forms the basis of a healthy and fresh food culture. This close relationship between Turkish cuisine and fruits makes it unique and special.
These are all examples where the rich heritage of Turkish cuisine is skillfully combined with the use of fruit. Fruits add different flavors and aromas to traditional dishes, highlighting the uniqueness and diversity of Turkish cuisine. These dishes show how the use of fruit is carefully practiced in Turkish cuisine and captivate the palate.
A unique feature of Turkish cuisine is the skillful use of fruits in traditional dishes. In this context, Yaprak Sarma (Stuffed Grape Leaves) with sour cherry is a flavor that first attracts attention. Cherry makes this traditional flavor unique.
The tangy sourness of the sour cherry that meets the rice inside the leaves enriches the flavor of the stuffing. This dish adds a different dimension to the traditional flavors of Turkish cuisine.
Celery with Orange in Olive Oil:
The taste of celeriac combines with olive oil and freshly squeezed orange juice, adding a fresh flavor and a light citrus note to the dish. The sweetness of the orange perfectly balances the celery, making this dish special.
A unique dish in Turkish cuisine, is crafted exclusively using loquats and meatballs. This extraordinary culinary creation relies solely on the harmonious combination of the tangy loquats and succulent meatballs. With its unparalleled fusion of flavors and textures, the dish defies traditional expectations and presents a captivating twist on the concept of using fruits in Turkish cuisine.
Mutancana: An Ottoman Apricot Delight
Mutancana is a classic Ottoman dish that beautifully showcases the use of dried apricots in Turkish cuisine. This unique recipe is a delightful blend of meat, primarily lamb or beef, and dried fruits, with apricots playing a starring role.
The apricots, rehydrated to intensify their sweet, slightly tart flavor, are cooked with tender meat, creating a captivating mix of sweet and savory. The dish is further enriched with traditional spices like cinnamon and allspice, and often garnished with almonds or pine nuts for added texture.
Turkish Fruit-Based Desserts
The use of fruit in desserts creates the most special flavors of Turkish cuisine.
Turkish cuisine is famous for its many traditional desserts where fruits add flavor to the desserts. Fruits make Turkish desserts both flavorful and visually appealing. Each dessert reflects the creativity and originality of the use of fruit in Turkish cuisine. Fruits are an essential component of desserts and enrich the diversity of Turkish desserts. Here are some examples:
This dessert, prepared by cooking quince with sugar and adding cloves or cinnamon, is one of the indispensable flavors of cold winter days. The sweetness and slight sourness of the quince adds a unique aroma to the dessert.
Stuffed Figs with Walnuts
Dried figs stuffed with walnuts and cooked slowly, this dessert is a traditional delicacy. The sweetness of the figs and the texture of the walnuts make this dessert special.
Some turkish delight flavored with fruit juices like orange and pomegranate. These Turkish delights contain the flavors of different fruits.
Pepeçura, a pudding-like dessert unique to the Black Sea region, is a flavor made with grape. It gets thicker by simmering it with flour. Sometimes cornmeal can be used.
Preferred to cool off in summer, bici bici is a dessert prepared with crushed ice, starch and fruit juice. Fresh fruit slices or fruit compote are added on top.
Fruit cakes are also very common in Turkish cuisine. Especially fruits such as oranges, dried figs, raisins, add sweetness and freshness to the cakes. These cakes are pleasant snacks accompanied by coffee or tea.
Drinks made from fresh fruits, such as compote and hoşaf, are preferred to cool off on hot summer days.
Pickles and Jams
The use of fruit in Turkish cuisine is not only in desserts or dishes, but also in pickles and jams. Various types of pickles such as plum pickles, gherkin pickles, hawthorn pickles, lemon pickles are indispensable in Turkish culinary culture.
These pickles are prepared to preserve the freshness of seasonal fruits and to use them for a longer period of time. The pickles are flavored with special spices and brine and have a refreshing taste while preserving the original flavor of the fruits.
Jams, which are eaten especially at breakfast, are made from different fruits and color the tables. Jams made with fruits such as orange, strawberry, apricot, fig and plum are indispensable for Turkish breakfast. Jam making is also very skillful in Turkish cuisine. In this method, which increases the use of fruit in a practical way, jam can be made from almost every fruit type.
Especially when the fruits of fruit trees are harvested, fruits that are not fresh or have limited storage time are turned into jam, preventing waste. In addition, parts of some fruits that are not normally consumed are also utilized. For example, watermelon rinds are used to make jam, while citrus peels form the basis of special jams.
In Turkish cuisine, pickle and jam making is considered part of a sustainable approach to preserving the flavors of fruits through traditional methods. These practices reflect a rich heritage of local cultures and are an important example of zero waste and sustainability.
This way of using fruit has great potential to reduce food waste and use natural resources more effectively. Therefore, looking back at local culinary cultures can help reassess these valuable practices and take steps towards a more sustainable future.
Drying fruits is both a traditional and sustainable feature of Turkish cuisine. Dried fruits such as dried apricots, prunes, raisins and dried figs retain their freshness even after their season has passed. These fruits are often used in desserts, dishes, breakfasts and as snacks. In addition, dried pomegranate seeds are used to make extracts and play an important role in making pomegranate syrup, a traditional delicacy.
Dried fruits offer the possibility of long-term storage, intensifying the original flavors of the fruit. This practice also contributes to a waste-free use of fruits and sets an important example for sustainable food production. The richness and diversity of Turkish cuisine offers the opportunity to enjoy fruits all year round through the fruit drying process.
Pekmez (Molasses), an essential component of Turkish cuisine, represents the rich tradition of using fruits in various culinary applications. Made from sweet fruits like grapes, rose hips, figs, carob, or mulberries, this thick and sweet syrup has been a staple in Turkish households for centuries.
Not only is it a common breakfast spread with tahini, but it’s also a key ingredient in many traditional dishes, enhancing their flavors with its unique sweetness.
Methods such as making molasses, extracts and fruit syrups not only allow fruits to be stored for longer periods of time, but also open up a wider world of food. These creative practices of Turkish cuisine not only intensify the flavors of fruits, but also create new tastes. For example, desserts made from molasses such as pestils, köfter, and walnut sausage enrich the dessert adventure of Turkish cuisine.
Fruit extracts are also an indispensable part of Turkish cuisine. Pomegranate syrup and Sumac extract are a must-have ingredient in many dishes. When used in cooking, the sourness determines the actual flavor and character of the dish.
For example, fruit souring enriches and balances the flavor of traditional Turkish dishes such as dolmas (stuffed dishes), kısır (fine bulgur salad), mezes, reflecting the uniqueness of this culinary culture. These methods encourage the use of fruits without waste and at the same time help to spread the flavors of Turkish cuisine far and wide.
A Flavorful Journey Through Anatolian Culinary History
Anatolian lands, where many civilizations have thrived since ancient times, serve as the birthplace of various fruit species and the cradle of fruit cultivation culture. Fruit-bearing trees have consistently provided a vital source of sustenance to the societies residing in Anatolia throughout history.
Today, you can find a variety of fruit species growing in different regions of Turkey, including wild apples, pears, quinces, medlars, mountain ash, plums, sour cherries, cranberries, figs, and pomegranates, among others.
These fruit species have not only thrived in these lands but have also evolved over the centuries. Additionally, Turkey is home to many wild fruit species, such as hawthorn, rosehip, blackberry, trellis, mahlep, and sumac, all of which contribute to the diverse range of fruits.
Out of the 138 fruit species cultivated worldwide, Turkey is capable of growing nearly 75 species, including 16 subtropical varieties.
The historical significance of fruits in Turkish culinary traditions can be traced back to ancient civilizations and empires that once flourished in this region, such as the Hittites, Phrygians, Byzantines, and Ottomans. These civilizations played a pivotal role in popularizing the use of fruits in Turkish cuisine.
The Hittites not only cultivated fruits like apples, pears, and grapes for consumption but also utilized them in the production of alcoholic beverages, employing various preservation methods as an early example of fruit preservation and consumption.
The Byzantine Empire introduced a wealth of fruits, including cherries, plums, and various citrus fruits, to the region, using these fruits in both sweet and savory dishes. This contributed to the melding of flavors that now characterize Turkish cuisine.
Turks, who migrated to Anatolia from Central Asia, brought with them the tradition of drying fruits to store them for the winter and the practice of making molasses for use as a sweetener. These uses of fruit played a crucial role in enhancing its place in culinary culture.
The Ottomans, who had a profound influence on Turkish cuisine, frequently incorporated fruits into their dishes. Meals like stuffed vegetables and fruit sherbets made from dried fruits became integral parts of Ottoman cuisine.
All these effects have determined the way the fruit is used in today’s Turkish cuisine, and since there is a large amount of production and an abundance of varieties, it has led to the development and use of various methods of consumption and storage.