Somali halwa


Photo courtesy of Saharla Mohamoud

½ cup (65 g) Corn starch

½ cup (118 mL) Water (for the corn starch mixture)

2½ cups (500 g) White granulated sugar

½ cup (95 g) Light brown sugar (golden yellow sugar)

½ cup (125 mL) Unsalted butter

½ cup (118 mL) Canola oil (or any flavourless oil)

3 cups (711 mL) Water (for the sugar)

1 Tbsp (15 mL spoon) Ground cardamom (you can reduce if you wish)

3 Nutmeg nuts (you can reduce if you wish)

Pinch Orange and yellow food colour

(recipe via

Using a mortar and pestle, break the nutmeg shells then crush the nuts. Next, grind the cardamom into a fine powder and then grind the crushed nutmeg nuts. 

Melt the butter and lightly brown it. When the foam subsides, turn off the heat and add the ground cardamom, ground nutmeg, and the canola oil. Set aside. 

Prepare the corn starch mixture by combining the corn starch, food colouring, and ½ cup of water. Stir well.

In a deep pot set on high heat, combine the white sugar, light brown sugar, and 3 cups of water. When the mixture comes to a boil, stir in the corn starch mixture. Make sure that you wear mitts and use a long wooden spoon to avoid getting burned. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cover for 2 to 3 minutes to control the splattering.

After 5 minutes, start adding the oil, a ladleful at a time and stir well. Keep adding the oil every 2 minutes or so, until all the oil is incorporated.

In the last 10 minutes of cooking, the halwa will start releasing some of the oil. Use a ladle to remove the oil and repeat between stirrings. We removed almost ½ cup of oil. 

It is important to stir well in the last stages to ensure that the halwa cooks evenly. You don’t want parts of the halwa to reach the candy stage. You will know that the halwa is ready when it starts to come together into one mass.

Be extremely careful when transferring the halwa to a bowl. Make sure that you remove the oil from the halwa and that the bowl is secured and doesn’t move. Cool the halwa for 30 minutes before serving.

Author’s comment: Xalwo (The x is pronounced like a h) is a very popular dessert in Somali households, and it’s something that we always had around the house during the holiday season. It has the texture somewhat like jello and it tastes like a holiday cookie, with the heavy cardamom and nutmeg used in it. I always love to pair this with ginger cardamom tea and/or butter cookies, as a snack or occasionally after dinner. Xalwo is honestly so heavy and unhealthy since it’s 90% fat, but it’s so addicting and fulfilling. You can honestly eat a tiny cube of Xalwo and feel ready for anything.