The word “marzipan” is derived from German Marzipan or Italian marzapane, most likely after St. Marcus; the Estonian name is martsipan. This product is an elastic paste made of grated, powdered almonds and powdered sugar. Due to its elasticity the mixture is used to make (in molds or by hand) a variety of marzipan products without any bonding additives: candies, figures, marzipan fruits and flowers, cake and dessert decorations, and much more. Sculptured figures are painted with edible colors or covered with glaze (chocolate, sugar, lemon, etc.). “Pure” marzipan, without any painting or glazing, is also sold and consumed (marzipan mass, marzipan bread without glazing).
Real high-quality marzipan is defined by the proportion of almonds and sugar: the greater the proportion of almonds, the better and more expensive is the marzipan. The average content of almonds is between 1/3 and 1/4 depending on the product. Marzipan figures, for instance, require more sugar so that they are stronger and last longer.
Marzipan has a sweet and long history, closely related to advent of almonds, the primary component of marzipan. As legend has it, marzipan was invented in Italy in a year of especially bad harvest when at certain point the only remaining product was almond. This is when Italians started adding almonds to bread and pizza, and making sweet marzipan. French, however, claim that it was them who invented marzipan. Germans even have their marzipan capital – the former Hanseatic town of Lübeck (Tallinn once also was a Hanseatic town). For many centuries masters of Lübeck make delicious marzipan paste of the highest quality (using an ancient secret recipe) that is then used by confectioners all over Europe! Most likely, the word itself originates in the German language. And, of course, Estonia also has a legend on the origins of marzipan, which became widely known thanks to a wonderful book of an Estonian writer Jaan Kross.
According to this book titled “Mart’s Bread” (Mardileib in Estonian) a bright student pharmacist called Mart once worked in the first pharmacy of Europe (Tallinn Town Hall Pharmacy, Tallinna Raeapteek in Estonian, first mentioned in 1422). Once a member of the city council Rathmann Kalle got sick and master Johan promised to make a miraculous cure called “mitridatsium”. But the master himself had a bad cold, he sneezed continually, and every sneeze swept all of the powders laid out in dishes. And so it was Mart who had to make this medicine. He included other ingredients to make the medicine tastier, as he himself had to take it first in the presence of the Rathmann (what if it is poisonous?). If the medicine was disgusting the Rathmann could have guessed so by Mart’s facial expression. In the end the Rathmann liked the medicine prepared by the student pharmacist very much and it was really able to cure his stomach! It was the Rathmann, who called the medicine the “Mart’s Bread”.
In fact, the beneficial properties of marzipan were known and marzipan itself was made in that pharmacy as early as in the beginning of the 17th century, when Arent Passer made for the Tallinn Town Hall Pharmacy two marzipan molds shaped as the city emblem. In 1806 Tallinn confectioner Lorenz Caviezel started production of marzipan figures. Physician Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (865-925) made this Eastern delicacy known primarily as a medicine. He emphasized its positive effect on the brain, but also warned that its excessive consumption can cause obesity (because of all the calories it contains). Marzipan is indeed good for the brain activity, because almonds contain a lot of lecithin, which according to modern chemistry, stimulates the nerve cells.
Besides Italy, France, Germany and Estonia, marzipan was also enjoyed by nobility in Spain, Holland and Russia (by emperors, too!). Marzipan was widespread in Austria and Hungary. Even today this delicacy is very popular among Europeans.
What better tasty Christmas gift can you think of in Germany, Hungary and of course in Estonia? Won’t a little marzipan heart-shaped sweet melt the heart of a beauty on St. Valentine’s Day?
A person with refined taste will always appreciate such kind of gift.