Product Guide: marzipan
What makes marzipan so fine and bitter almonds so essential?
Marzipan tastes good at any time of year, in Easter baskets, on plates of Christmas treats and served as a snack at board game evenings. Marzipan, that almond-based delicacy which was reserved for kings in the Middle Ages, is always welcome at family gatherings, festivities and cosy evenings at home.
If you look closer you will discover various kinds of marzipan. We basically differentiate between fine marzipan and marzipan. Marzipan is sold plain or filled with fruit or nougat, and it comes in different shapes like potatoes, loaves and eggs, bars and little pralines, meaning there’s always the right product for every palate and every occasion.
But what ingredients is marzipan actually made of, and how is it produced?
Every marzipan product begins with raw marzipan mixture. The composition of this raw mixture is governed in Germany by principles formulated in the German Food Code (-> ‘Guidelines for oil seeds and the mixtures and confectionery made from them’). These regulate exactly how the quality and composition of raw marzipan mixture is described.
Only the following ingredients may be used in raw marzipan mixture:
- Peeled almonds (sweet almonds and a small amount of bitter almonds),
- a bit of water,
- possibly rose water,
- and a maximum of 35% sugar (proportion of total quantity).
No other ingredients may be added. The amount of sugar added, and the fat content of the raw marzipan mixture which comes from the almonds, may vary depending on the moisture level in the raw mixture, which may be no more than 17%. The amount of almond oil produced by the almonds must be at least 28% in raw mixtures.
Raw marzipan mixture has an especially high almond content and a relatively low sugar content. Because it tastes distinctly and strongly of almonds, it is often very popular with marzipan lovers and enjoyed on its own. Raw marzipan mixture is also used for baking and marzipan decorations, and is the basic ingredient of all other marzipan products.
And what is the difference between marzipan and fine marzipan?
More sugar is added to turn raw marzipan mixture into marzipan or fine marzipan. This makes the mixture more malleable and easy to shape. Marzipan and fine marzipan differ from each other in how much sugar is added to them.
All in all, the amount of sugar used to produce marzipan may not exceed 50% of the total weight, otherwise it must be referred to as confectionery. Glucose syrup and sorbitol (a sugar substitute) may also be used to make marzipan, where they replace some of the sugar.
Different levels of fine marzipan
The quality of the marzipan varies according to the amount of added sugar. The more raw marzipan mixture and the less sugar it contains, the juicier and higher quality the marzipan will be.
The German Confectionery Guidelines contain an exact definition of fine marzipan (‘Edel-Marzipan’) and marzipan.
If a product consists of at least 70% raw marzipan mixture and a maximum of 30% added sugar, it is referred to as fine marzipan (70/30 products).
If a product consists of 90% raw marzipan mixture and 10% added sugar, it is also referred to as fine marzipan.
Theoretically, fine marzipan may have a ratio of raw mixture to sugar of anything between 70/30 and 99/1. But the aforementioned mixture ratios are the most common ones found in retail.
Products containing less than 70% raw almond mixture are referred to as marzipan.
The commonest and most popular grade in Germany is referred to as 50/50 marzipan, which consists of 50% raw marzipan mixture and 50% added sugar. According to the law, marzipan may not contain less than 50% raw marzipan mixture.
It’s all about the ingredients
Manufacturing high-quality marzipan products involves using raw materials of impeccable quality. The raw materials are purchased according to strict quality criteria. Before the almonds enter production, they have to be subjected to strict quality control. Only if they are freshly harvested and of perfect quality and uniform size may they be processed.
What steps are necessary to turn almonds and sugar into delicious marzipan?
Skinning and selection
The almonds are blanched briefly in boiling water to allow their skins to be removed easily. There is then an inspection process to ensure that all of the almonds really are skinned; unskinned almonds are removed from the production process. The skinned almonds are then washed again.
Mixing, crushing and roasting
Skinned, selected almonds are then ground and mixed with part water, part sugar. In the subsequent roasting process, the crushed almond mixture is heated vigorously. The temperature is kept high until the moisture content reaches the level stipulated by law. It is this roasting process which unlocks the familiar marzipan aroma.
The raw mixture remains in a cooled maturing store for two to three weeks or at least 7 to 10 days. During this time it cools down and is given its familiar texture and the special scent and flavour of marzipan.
The marzipan we’re familiar with in the shops is made by blending the raw mixture with different amounts of icing sugar, depending on quality (90/10, 70/30 or 50/50 marzipan). This process is called blending.
Here’s the rule once again as a reminder:
The less sugar used, the higher the quality of the end product.
In the final stage of the production process, the marzipan or fine marzipan is given its final form. This might be marzipan potatoes, eggs or loaves, depending on the product required. These delicacies are then packaged and sent out for shipping onto the supermarket shelves.