Somali Halwa (Xalwa)

Halwa is a glutinous sweet rather like Turkish delight. It is beyond delicious, but calorie laden so be warned!

Somali halwa is synonymous with hospitality in our traditions. During weddings and on major Islamic festivals such as Eid ul Fitr, kilos of halwa are either made or bought from the halwa makers and served to guests.

Halwa is often served with strong black coffee called qahwa. The bitterness of the coffee cuts the sweetness of the halwa.

Various forms of halwa exist in the Arab world and India.  The closest versions to Somali halwa are found in Yemen, Oman and the Kenyan and Tanzanian Indian Ocean coastal region.

Making halwa is a laborious process. This is why it has become the speciality of artisans.  Every Somali neighbourhood has at least one reputed halwa maker.

Sometimes we add nuts or sesame seeds. This gives the halwa a delicious crunch.

Halwa can be preserved for several months and does not need to be refrigerated.

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Somali Halwa (Xalwa)

Recipe by:
Halima Adan


4 cups of water
2kg sugar (¼ brown sugar and 1 ¾ white sugar. You can use white sugar if you want to achieve a golden coloured halwa.  The brown sugar gives it a deep brown colour))
300g cornflour
250g ghee (alternatively substitute half the ghee with canola or sunflower oil if you want to cut down on costs, but the ghee gives it a superb buttery flavour)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 whole nutmeg, ground
Pinch of saffron for colour and flavour (you can use yellow food colour as an alternative)
1 teaspoon instant coffee (this deepens the brown colour. Don’t use it if you prefer a golden coloured halwa)
Crushed or silvered almonds and pistachio (optional)


1. Melt the butter
2. Boil the water in a deep non-stick pan, and when nearly boiling add sugar over medium heat
3. Mix cornflour and coffee with one cup of water to a smooth paste
4. When the sugar and water are almost boiling, add the cornflour mixture, stirring continuously.
5. Add the dry spices, ghee, nuts and saffron. Continue stirring until the halwa is thickly glutinous and the oil separates from the mixture. This should take about an hour of continuous stirring. It is extremely important to keep stirring as a momentary lapse may cause the halwa to harden.
6. Pour the halwa onto a greased flat tray and spread. Decorate with slivered nuts and cut into square or diamond shaped pieces. Serve when cool.

Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 10 + people

4 Responses to “Somali Halwa (Xalwa)”

  1. Farrah

    How can I keep my xalwa from becoming sugary when storing?

  2. The Somali Kitchen

    Hi Farrah, one method that always works for us is to cut up the xalwa into small portions and store them in a freezer bag and freeze! Remove what you need to use and defrost in the microwave. This way you have fresh tasting xalwa anytime you want it.

  3. Abbas Salah

    So this elderly Brit walks into a Somali-owned xalwa joint in London one late afternoon. He and his wife ask about the various glut on display. They ask to try a bite of the xalwa which the elderly man finds absolutely delicious. He asks for another bite and another and another — eventually consuming about a kilo of the sweet, much to the dismay of his concerned wife. Then, he asks the shopkeeper what it’s made of. He’s told basically sugar and oil. In utter horror, the man cries out: Oh, the two killers! Still, a nice way to go eh.

  4. The Somali Kitchen

    Abbas Salah, I have to say I sympathise with the elderly Brit. I too can’t resist xalwa. I’ve done the small bite, then another and then another too often walaalo! Thanks for stopping by and for sharing such a great story about xalwa.


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