The loukoumia (commonly known as Turkish delight) from Syros are famous, and their history is as old as the city of Ermoupolis. This capital of the island, and of the Cyclades, was founded in 1822 with the wave of refugees from Chios, Kasos, and Psara. As part of their cultural heritage, the refugees – especially the ones from Chios – brought with them their knowledge and experience of making the sweet treats, and established the first loukoumi factories on the island. Then, with the second wave of refugees to reach the island following the Asia Minor disaster in 1922, came another boost for the industry. By 1945 there were 128 confectioners registered in the city, the majority of them of refugee origin. Their main products were halvadopites (nougat pies) and, of course, the loukoumia. Until today, new masters of the craft learn alongside the old ones, and the sugar-covered sweets have become synonymous with the island.
A product made with skill and slightly salted water, the luxurious Syrian delights gained great fame, became a sought-after delicacy, and won awards at international food fairs of the time. Exported to other countries, they found their way into royal courts, embassies, and consulates. They also played a key role in the social life of the island, in every aspect of everyday life as well as at weddings, baptisms, and funerals. If it was important to the locals before, with the industrial and shipping boom it became an important pillar of the economy. Thanks to the need for uncountable workers, a vibrant community developed around it: box makers, lithographers, graphic designers, model makers, basket sellers on ships… Finally, an entire starch production factory was built on the island to serve the production of the loukoumia. In 2019, the Syrian delights were added to Greece’s Directorate of Modern Cultural and Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Today, six producers continue to make their pillowy Syrian loukoumia in the traditional way. These are the loukoumi workshops Sykoutris, Leivadaras, Korres, Kanakari, Denaxa, and Georgiou, who all still make their delights in small quantities by boiling sugar, water, starch, and a touch of citric acid together in traditional copper cauldrons. In the last stage, they add the chosen flavorings, and sometimes almonds, which must be small-sized with a very delicate peel. The mixture is poured into special wooden crates, where it is left to set for 24 hours, before it’s finally cut and covered in powdered sugar.
The most classic flavors are rose, bergamot, and Chios mastic, with or without almonds, but they also make other flavors – contemporary variations such as walnut and honey, coconut, lemon, and vanilla.
The two oldest workshops are those owned by the Leivadaras family, which turns 100 years old this year, founded in 1923 by the refugee Antonis Leivadaras; and the Sykoutris family, founded in 1928 by Smyrna refugee Georgios Sykoutris.
The Korres loukoumi workshop was founded in 1967 by Vasilios Korres from Naxos, and later sold to his close friends and Syros locals Ioannis Sampsonidis and Ioannis Vamvakousis; the workshop of Maria Denaxa, which she opened in 1972 with her husband Panagiotis, now belongs to her godson, Yiannis Aggelikas. The loukoumia from Kanakari, produced since 1952 in a workshop founded by Syros local Panagiotis Kanakaris and now run by his grandson, Kostas Kokkalis, can be found onboard Greek ferries. The newer little workshop of the family Georgiou, meanwhile, is located on the Vrodados Hill.
This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.
The six loukoumi masters of Syros were awarded at the Gastronomos magazine’s 15th Quality Awards in December 2022 – an evening in honor of the culinary heritage of Asia Minor, and the producers and businesses run by the children and grandchildren of Asia Minor refugees.