In Italy, particularly in Palermo, marzipan (marzapane) is often shaped and painted with food colourings to resemble fruit—Frutta martorana—especially during the Christmas season and on Il Giorno dei Morti (All Souls' Day) on November 2. May 9 and 10 are also special days for eating marzipan in Sicily. In Portugal, where the confection has been traditionally made by nuns, marzipan (maçapão) is used to make fruit-shaped sweets; in the Algarve region in particular it is a very common sweet. There are other regions, as Toledo in Spain in which marzipan is shaped into simple animal shapes, and sometimes filled in with egg yolk (yema) and sugar. In Greece and Cyprus, marzipan is made in a variety of shapes and sizes and is almost always left white. In the islands of the Aegean in particular, white marzipan is considered a wedding treat and is served to guests at wedding feasts. In Malta marzipan is used as a filling in the traditional Maltese Easter treats called Figolla.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, marzipan figures are given as presents to children during Saint Nicholas's Eve. In Germany, it is common to give marzipan in the shape of a bread, which is called "Marzipanbrot" during Christmastime and shaped as small potatoes (Marzipankartoffeln). One traditional new year present is known as a Glücksschwein ("lucky pig"). In Denmark and Norway, it is common to eat marzipan pigs for Christmas and marzipan shaped as eggs for Easter. In Geneva, a traditional part of the celebration of L'Escalade is the ritual smashing of a chocolate cauldron filled with marzipan vegetables, a reference to a Savoyard siege of the city which was supposedly foiled by a housewife with a cauldron of boiling soup. In Tallinn, in Maiasmokk café, there is a small museum dedicated to the history and manufacture of marzipan.
In the Middle East, marzipan (known as lozina, which is derived from the word lawz, the word used in several languages of Middle East for almonds) is flavoured with orange-flower water and shaped into roses and other delicate flowers before they are baked. Marzipan can also be made from oatmeal, farina, or semolina. In Iran, marzipan fruit is a traditional Passover treat, replacing biscuits and cakes.
In Latin American cuisine, marzipan was brought from Spain and is known by the Castilian (Spanish) word mazapán and is also traditionally eaten at Christmas, although Latin American mazapán is generally made with peanuts in place of almonds as the Spanish mazapán.
In the Indian state of Goa, the Goan Catholic dish Mazpon replaces almonds with cashew nuts and is used to make Easter eggs and Christmas sweets. Christmas sweets would be of various shapes like fruits, flowers, stars, tree, santa, snow man and other designs. In the Philippines, mazapán de pili (Spanish for "pili marzipan") is made from pili nuts.
There are two proposed lines of origin for marzipan; they are not necessarily contradictory and may be complementary, as there have always been Mediterranean trade and cooking influences. Other sources establish the origin of marzipan in China, from where the recipe moved on to the Middle East and then to Europe through Al-Andalus.
Although it is believed to have been introduced to Eastern Europe through the Turks (badem ezmesi in Turkish, and most notably produced in Edirne), there is some dispute between Hungary and Italy over its origin. In Sicily it was (1193) known as panis martius or marzapane, i.e., March Bread. Marzipan became a specialty of the Hanseatic League port towns. In particular, the cities of Lübeck and Tallinn have a proud tradition of marzipan manufacture. Examples include Lübecker Marzipan (PGI). The city's manufacturers like Niederegger still guarantee their marzipan to contain two-thirds almonds by weight, which results in a product of highest quality. Historically, the city of Königsberg in East Prussia was also renowned for its distinctive marzipan production. Königsberg marzipan remains a special type of marzipan in Germany that is golden brown on its surface and sometimes embedded with marmalade at its centre.
Another possible geographic origin is in Spain, then known as Al-Andalus. In Toledo (850-900, though more probably 1150 during the reign of Alfonso VII) this specialty was known as Postre Regio (instead of Mazapán) and there are also mentions in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights of an almond paste eaten during Ramadan and as an aphrodisiac. Mazapán is Toledo's most famous dessert, often created for Christmas, and has PGI status. Almonds have to be at least 50% of the total weight, following the directives of Mazapán de Toledo regulator counseil. Another idea to support this line is the important tradition of another Spanish almond-based Christmas confectionery, the turron.
Under EU law, marzipan must have a minimum almond oil content of 14% and a maximum moisture content of 8.5%. Optional additional ingredients are rosewater, honey, pistachios, preservatives, and sometimes hazelnut. In the U.S., marzipan is not officially defined, but it is generally made with a higher ratio of sugar to almonds than almond paste. One brand, for instance, has 28% almonds in its marzipan, and 45% almonds in its almond paste. However, in Sweden and Finland almond paste refers to a marzipan that contains 50% ground almonds, a much higher quality than regular marzipan. In Germany, Lübecker Marzipan is known for its quality. It contains 66% almonds. The original manually produced Mozartkugeln are made from green pistachio marzipan.
Persipan is a similar, yet less expensive product, in which the almonds are replaced by apricot or peach kernels. Many confectionery products sold as marzipan are made from less expensive materials, such as soy paste and almond essence. To control and detect the authenticity of marzipan, polymerase chain reaction methods can differentiate almonds from substitutes and adulterants at concentrations less than 1%. German marzipan is made by grinding whole almonds with sugar and partially drying the paste, and French marzipan (called 'massepain') is made by combining ground almonds with sugar syrup. Some marzipan is flavoured with rosewater. Spanish marzipan is made without bitter almonds. Sugar free marzipan can be made by replacing sugar with polyols such as maltitol.
The German name has largely ousted the original English name marchpane with the same apparent derivation: "March bread". (The word marchpane occurs in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5, Line 9.) Marzapane is documented earlier in Italian than in any other language, and the sense "bread" for pan is Romance. The origin could be from the Latin term "martius panis", which means bread of March. However, the ultimate etymology is unclear; for example, the Italian word derives from the Latin words "Massa" (itself from Greek Μάζα "Maza") meaning pastry and "Pan" meaning bread, this can be particularly seen in the Provençal massapan, the Portuguese maçapão (where 'ç' is an alternative form for the phoneme 'ss') and old Spanish mazapán - the change from 'ss' to 'z' in Latin words was common in old Spanish and the 'r' appeared later. Though, it could also be derived from martis pan, bread of March. Among the other possible etymologies set forth in the Oxford English Dictionary, one theory proposes that the word "marzipan" may be a corruption of Martaban, a Burmese city famous for its jars.
The Real Academia Española suggests the idea of the Spanish word mazapán to be derived from the Hispanic Arabic بسمة pičmáṭ, which is derived from the Greek παξαμάδιον.
Another source could be from Arabic موثابان mawthābān "king who sits still". The Arabic, Latinised as matapanus, was used to describe a Venetian coin depicting an enthroned Christ the King. These coins were stored in ornate boxes. From about the fifteenth century, when the coins were no longer in circulation, the boxes became decorative containers for storing and serving luxury sweetmeats. One such luxury that crept into the box in the sixteenth century is the now-famous almond-flavoured marzipan, named (at least proximately) after the box in which it was stored.
However, if marzipan has its origin in Persia, it is not unlikely that the name may come from Marzban (in Persian: مرزبان, derived from the words Marz مرز meaning "border" or "boundary" and the suffix -bān بان meaning guardian), a class of margraves or military commanders in charge of border provinces of the Sassanid Empire of Persia (Iran) between the 3rd and 7th centuries.
To produce marzipan, raw almonds are cleaned "by sieving, air elutriation, and other electronic or mechanical devices", then immersed in water with a temperature just below the boiling point for about five minutes, in a process known as blanching. This loosens the almonds' skin, which is removed by passing the almonds through rubber-covered rotating cylinders. This process reduces HCN concentration and increases water content. They are then cooled, after which they are coarsely chopped and ground, with up to 35% sugar, into almond flour.
The almond flour mixture is roasted and cooled, after which sucrose (table sugar) and possibly a binding agent such as starch syrup or sorbitol are added. It may then be moulded into any shape. Marzipan must be covered in an airtight container to prevent it from hardening and dehydrating. It should be protected from direct light to prevent rancidity of almond oil, a result of lipid oxidation.
The aroma and flavor of marzipan can partially be attributed to benzaldehyde, which is found naturally in almonds.
Marzipan is a food emulsion that contains 4 phases: a solid phase of suspended particles including almonds and sugars, a suspended air pocket phase formed from incorporated air during mixing, a water phase, and a lipid phase from almond oil. The phases can separate when left alone for long periods of time. It is stabilized by the phospholipids and triglycerides found in the almond cells. The fatty acids found in almonds include saturated fats such as stearic acid and unsaturated fats such as linoleic acid. Emulsifiers can be added during production to increase shelf life.
Marzipan's softness is a balance between the solid and liquid components. It should have a moisture content of less than 10%.