Asal Aswed: Egyptian Black Honey

In Upper Egypt, a centuries old recipes for molasses satisfies all Egyptians sweet cravings.

Breakfast in Sakkara (2020-08-25) by NawayaNawaya

Honey not made by bees

Asal Aswed - in Arabic black honey - is a sweet thick syrup which is a permanent feature in Egyptian kitchens. In traditional breakfast it is often consumed with feteer, the multilayered pastry made with ghee. 

Feteer served with molasses, tehina and gebna adima (2019-09-08) by NawayaNawaya

Asal we tehina

Asal Aswad is delicious, but it is not easy to eat alone, hence the famous Egyptian comfort food: asal we tehina (molasses and sesame paste).  

Breakfast with Tehina and Molasses (2020-10-23) by NawayaNawaya

Delicious molasses

Some put the molasses first and cover it with tehina, and each piece of bread or feeter, removes some of the lighter tahini liquid to reveal some of the darker, thicker molasses underneath. 

Tehina mixed with cane molasses (2020-09-08) by NawayaNawaya


Some pour the tahina first, then add the black honey on top. The Tahini travels up the sides of the bowl trying to cover the honey. Some just mix both creating a stripped mix color of pure goodness. 

Traditional factory for asal aswed - sugar cane molasses (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

How to make Asal aswed

Extracted from sugar cane,  the black honey carries all the sweetness of the original tall juicy bamboo like plants. Sugar cane is grown in Upper Egypt, and the town of Naga Hammadi is renowned for its high quality sugar cane products that until this day are produced in traditional family run factories. 

Asal aswed from Naga Hammadi

It is remarkable that these small family run factories still operate with machinery over 100 years old. This high quality molasses made from pure sugar cane from the surrounding farms. This fancy molasses is not a derivative of the sugar making industry which is what is widely available on the market, and doesn’t carry the same nutritional properties. Asal aswed from Naga Hammadi is truly an Egyptian food to be proud of! 

Clearing the sugar cane plant waste (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

Tons and tons of molasses

It is hard to believe that the thick black molasses originates from sugarcane plants. It takes tons and tons of raw canes to create a just one ton of molasses. This is why asal aswed needs to be made in a small factory setting. 

Machine in traditional asal aswed factory (cane molasses) (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

100 years old

These small scale factories operated using machinery that is almost 100 years old, originally installed as the time of the British rule in Egypt. The process of extraction requires a juicer to squeeze all the liquid from the canes. 

Shredding the suagr cane stalks at a traditional factory to make asal aswed (cane molasses) (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

Pressed and boiled

The canes stalks are cleaned and brought to the factory press, where they are pressed and then boiled in a series of stage, until it become molasses. 

Pressing sugar cane plants to make juice (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

Sugarcane juice

As soon as the canes are pressed fresh, the light green opaque sugarcane juice is funnelled into the factory boilers. 

Traditional factory stove using cane plant residue to boil the cane juice (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

Burning the furnace

The leftovers are carried to the back of the factory and used to burn the furnace of the factory to boil the juice. Then entire factory can operate completely off grid, but fueling itself. 

Skimming the particles at the surface of the boiling cane juice (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

The boiling point

The juice is then heated to boiling point in a very large basin, while removing impurities from the surface. 

Disposing of particles on the surface of the boiling cane juice (2017-03-25) by NawayaNawaya

The “first”

A long stick is used to continually clear the froth forming at the top of the boiling sugarcane juice. This creates a light mild tasting syrup called “first” molasses. 

A countryside breakfast in Sakkara (2019-08-25) by NawayaNawaya

That special color

The liquid then requires two more rounds of processing. The second round of heating removes more sucrose from the syrup, and further thickens and darkens it. The third round of heating caramelizes the sugars resulting in its very dark color and thick viscosity.  

Breakfast with Tehina and Molasses (2020-10-23) by NawayaNawaya

Ready to indulge

The factory packages the asal aswed ready for sale in the market in whole sale and small packaging. This traditional product has a high demand because its flavour is unlike the industrial molasses found in supermarkets. 

Credits: Story

Curator: Laura Tabet
Research: Bianca Fliss
Photography: Bianca Fliss, Nada Elissa

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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