Considering how much Angelenos have embraced Mediterranean flavors and spices, it’s a wonder that Hebel & Co. is the first local company to take a serious stab at halva, the sesame paste dessert that’s ubiquitous in countries like Israel and Lebanon, but a rare treat here.
Hebel & Co. is an artisan effort from New Jersey native Scott Hebel and wife Katie Gurvin, who I met while she was working with Farmshop. Hebel’s parents immigrated from Israel and halva was a regular part of their diet, and he would even spread it on bagels for breakfast. “It was as much a part of my childhood as waffles to other kids,” Hebel says. It wasn’t until adulthood that he realized other people weren’t so familiar with halva. Years later, he decided that needed to change.
“I just wanted better halva than I was able to get here in the States,” he says. “I wanted good halva, the kind that hits you over the head with that beautiful tahini flavor, that melted in your mouth, but only after giving way to that slightest bit of bite, the strands, the molecular miracle that is halva.”
Hebel’s journey to halva nirvana was not easy. He recounts, “It’s surprisingly difficult to make good halva. Thus I spent my free time, over the duration of many years, reading the most obscure science journals—often in other languages—and old Arabic texts (Annals of the Caliphs Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraqs Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook), learning about hygroscopicity, the Maillard reaction, sugar molecule breakdown, the difference between all the various types of sugars, inversions, emulsions, the roots and barks of trees, etc—just what the hell was going on with this seemingly simple food?!? It was quite an adventure, and yes I became obsessed. No sleep obsessed.”
Hebel started by making halva for his wife before introducing it to friends and family, including his parents, “connoisseurs of halva,” who were impressed. The couple started taking halva more seriously by selling it professionally. Now they sell three flavors: vanilla, pistachio nigella, and chocolate hazelnut made with an organic spread from Italy called Rigoni di Asiago. Their halva is a wonder, combining melt-in-your-mouth texture with crispy caramelized shards.
So far, Hebel and Gurvin are selling their halva to restaurants like Friends & Family, FIG, Farmshop, and Spread Mediterranean Kitchen. You can also order Hebel & Co. halva through their website and find their booth at the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market.