The ensaimada is a typical Balearic pastry which is highly valued by tourists and locals alike. Although its origins are relatively unknown, we know that its name comes from the Mallorcan word ‘saim’, which means pork lard.
In terms of when it was created, it is impossible to trace its origins and, although it appears documented for the first time in the 17th century as a typical sweet for special occasions, we know that its origin dates back further and it closely tied to the island’s history.
History of the ensaimada: its Arab origin
To discover the history of the ensaimada, we must pay attention to its origins. One of the origins attributed to it is Arabic. Present on the island since 1109, the Arabs make a sweet in the shape of a snail called bulema with the same ingredients as the ensaimada except for the pork lard.
Another of the less orthodox reasons that an Arabic origin has been attributed to the ensaimada is its coiled shape like a turban or the Arabic origin of the word saim. If we stop to analyse the possible reasons, these two seem less credible, especially due to the Koran’s prohibition of eating pork.
History of the ensaimada: its Jewish origin
Another possible origin of this sweet is Judaism. Legend has it that, in 1229, a Jewish confectioner gave an ensaimada to Jaume I during the conquest of Mallorca. It isn’t possible to check whether the legend is true or not, but it is true that there are some Hebrew traditions that lead us to believe that the Sephardic culture could have had an influence on the creation of this pastry.
As with the Arabs, Jews make a bread called bulema for the Sabbath. The Hebrew version was made in a plaited spiral shape and was full with symbolism. On the one hand, round-shaped foods symbolise the vows for a long life and, on the other, the plaits represent the union of the divine and the human, so it makes a lot of sense that ensaimadas have this symbolic meaning and are used to celebrate special occasions.
The coexistence of both cultures may have given rise to the birth of this Balearic sweet, but it is still surprising that one of its main ingredients is pork lard, a food prohibited by both religions. According to experts, this is due to the fact that, after the conquest, one of the ways the Arabs and Jews that stayed on the island had to demonstrate their conversion was through eating forbidden foods such as, in this case, pork lard.
The designation of Protected Geographical Indication and the ensaimada of Menorca
Despite there not being a history that enables us to specify the origin, the recipe has been defined and protected. In 1996 and 2003, the Balearic government obtained its protection as a specific Name. Furthermore, it is recognised as a Protected Geographical Indication.
Currently, the products made under this indication bear a guarantee seal and a label numbered and issued by the regulating board.
However, outside Mallorca they also make extremely high quality products and with a great tradition as is the case in Menorca, where there are patisseries that have been making the recipe for more than a century.
The Menorcan ensaimada is one of the most highly demanded typical pastries and also has its own master artisans whose products compete with the Mallorcan ones, regularly receiving prestigious prizes at international competitions.
History of the ensaimada: beyond Balearic gastronomy
In addition to being a very important recipe in Balearic gastronomy, the ensaimada has crossed borders and influenced the cuisine of some Latin American countries where it is also a typical sweet. An example of this is in Puerto Rico, where migrants took their recipe. Its influence has been of such importance that they can be found in practically all of the Latin American country’s patisseries under the name of mallorcas.
Another country that was a predecessor of this national sweet was Argentina, where the recipe evolved and they have added other ingredients such as aniseed or sesame seeds.
How to make Ensaimadas
We have talked a lot about which are the best ingredients to make them authentic, but we haven’t listed them until now. The base, which is what they were exclusively made with until the 1970s is made from water, pork lard, sugar, strong flour and sour dough flour. All of the ingredients are mixed together and, after resting for hours, they are baked.
The first variation appeared in the 1970s when they started to be filled with ‘angel hair’ pumpkin syrup. Nowadays, other versions are appearing filled with chocolate, cream and even savoury foods such as sobrasada (raw cured sausage).
As we have seen, the ensaimada is a pastry that has gained national relevance, delighting those who try it and influencing the gastronomy of other places.
At Sa Sucreria we continue to maintain our hundred-year old legacy when it comes to making our ensaimadas in the traditional way, following a recipe that dates back to the 19th century.
We invite you to try them!