Imagine, you are inGeorgia. You already tasted amazing Georgian dishes rich with unique spices and nuts, experienced unique Georgian Qvevri wine and now it’s time for dessert. You will probably be offered Churchkhela, one of the most appetizing Georgian sweets.
Whether you are walking tourist streets, attending traditional tours outside the city or just visiting festive supper, new year table or shopping in any grocery market, Churchkhela is everywhere in Georgia. This delicious sweet is all-time favorite snack for many Georgians and visitors of this county. “Georgian Snickers” – that’s how street vendors in Georgia explain to tourists, what Churchkhela can resemble, but in reality, Snickers has nothing to do with this Georgian candy.
What is Churchkhela?
Churchkhela is nut-based, candle-shaped, traditional Georgian confection, made from flour-thickened grape juice mass, that locals call Tatara or Pelamushi and with walnut, hazelnut or almond stuffing. The ancient production of Georgian Churchkhela is confirmed by the special clay pottery found during archeological excavations, which was used both for storage and transportation. Historically Churchkhela also was a snack for warriors and because it’s highly nutritious, well transportable and can be stored for months, soldiers consumed it when they were away from home. Today, the traditional technology used to make churchkhela in Georgia’s Kakheti region was inscribed within the Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2015.
The main ingredients to prepare smooth thickened mass are grape juice, corn flour and sugar, mixed and boiled, until it gets thick and ready for filling. Traditionally, standard sewing needle and strong thread is used to string 15-20 walnut halves or hazelnut kernels onto the thread, which then is dipped in prepared thickened mass and after dried carefully for several days on specific climate conditions. Generally, Churchkhela is 20-35 cm long, not too soft and not too stiff and it’s not an easy process because if the water content is lower than necessary, Churchkhela will dry out and if the water level is more than needed, mold will grow. That’s why it is crucial for this snack to be dried and aired properly, to prevent the growth of mold.
Types of Churchkhela
Generally, there are two main types of Churchkhela – Kathetian(Eastern) and Western. Kakhetian Churchkhela is made from walnuts and local grape varieties, with dark brown color. Western or Imeretian Churchkhela is made from hazelnuts, is thinner and has a more golden-brown color. Nevertheless, there are many variations with dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, raisins, almond and other stuffing, especially modern variations of Churchkhela. Mainly all making techniques are the same and any type you try out, is extremely delicious, if it’s natural and made properly.
Dessert or Snack?
Churchkhela can be made throughout a year but is usually prepared during the harvest season in autumn. Traditionally, locals in villages help their neighbors to prepare a fair amount of Churchkhela, hang them for drying and stored for Christmas holidays. Yes, it’s hard to imagine new year table without Churchkhela, but in addition, in today's modern world, when grandma from village is not the only option and Churchkhela is now available from many manufacturers, locals consume them everyday as a snack for children, treat after a long working day, energy food for workout and most importantly, as a perfect pairing for Georgian wine.
So, delicious and energizing Churchkhela can be a dessert, a snack and even a source of nutrients.
Churchkhela is a very nutritious product and a great addition to a healthy diet, especially for people living an energetic lifestyle. Containing walnuts or hazelnuts, Churchkhela is a great source of healthy fats(Omega 3-6-9) and beneficial for brain functioning.
Real Churchkhela is an all-natural and perfectly healthy snack. It does not contain colorants, artificial additives and does not require preservatives for long-term storage. Only thing you should consider is that Churchkhelas are highly caloric and if you are on a diet, we suggest to consume these irresistible sweets in moderation.
Modern variations of traditional Churchkhela
These days, when there are many options and variations of churchkhela available on market, this traditional snack does not have to be candle-shaped only or limited with only one type of nuts. You can discover small Georgian enterprises that offer Churchkhela variations enriched with different nuts, dried fruit, healthy seeds and even chocolate. Sometimes, modern variations are even more comfortable for consuming and smaller versions of good old Churchkhela. Fruitchkhela is a perfect example of the new trend.
However, there are many traditional variations available on the market. Moreover, Georgian tourist companies offer special tours, when visitors are available to attend the process of making Churchkhela and even make one with their own hands.
How to choose Churchkhela
With so many options on the market, not every Churchkhela is natural. We offer basic suggestions to help you enjoy delicious Georgian sweets:
Churchkhela color matters – natural Churchkhela has dark brown or golden-brown color, sometimes if it’s made from red grape varieties, Churchkhela can have dark ruby color. If it has vibrant red, green or other colors that are not typical for this product, this means that Churchkhela is not natural and may contain confectionery dyes, which is artificial and not so healthy additive.
Proper texture – natural Churchkhela is not too soft but you can easily break it and feel the crunchy nut stuffing. It should not have rubber structure. If grape juice mass (Tatara) is not boiled enough, then Churchkhela will easily become stiff and hard to chew, it’s still delicious, but not as soft, as it should be. You can easily see signs, if Churchkhela has a crack in length. On the other hand, if it has a crack in width, this means the mass was overboiled. The only way this can affect Churchkhela, is its appearance.
Natural sugar – after months of storing, Churchkhela releases glucose by itself and becomes covered with a white layer of powdery sugar. The layer differs from flour as it has more airy structure. Some even prefer Churchkhela that is stiffer and already covered with this natural sugar.
Tips – In order to keep Churchkhela soft for a long time, locals wrap them in cotton cloth, then in plastic bags and store in a dry, cool place. Occasionally, these handmade Churchkhelas should be unwrapped and aired to prevent the growth of mold. If you happen to buy handmade Churchkhela that local street vendors sell, that’s the way to store it. But, if you buy branded Churchkhela in a supermarket, it already has proper conditions and packaging.
Along with Gozinaki (caramelized nuts, fried in honey), Churchkhela is a crucial confection on any Georgian New Year table. This nutritious and healthy snack has a positive effect on mood and gives a boost of energy. Favorite dessert for locals and a great gift idea for amateurs of exotic cultures is now available in many countries, as Georgian small enterprises aim to make Churchkhela popular and favorite sweets for as many people as possible, since it is a healthier option when you seek a delicious treat. Moreover, new year is not the only occasion when Churchkhela plays an important role – you can enjoy it on any season with famous Georgian Qvevri wine.
We offer a wide range of traditional and modern versions of Churchkhela on our website, that are 100% natural, without colorants, preservatives and other artificial additives. Find your favorite one and enjoy your treats.