Heart, Soul and Sugar

Overview of the tradition of Licitars

By Croatian National Tourist Board

In gift shops

In virtually every gift shop and souvenir stand in Croatia, licitars are ubiquitous. The bright red, decorated hearts, birds and other shapes aren’t just colorful mementos—they’re part of Croatia’s intangible cultural heritage and a symbol of the country itself. 

Licitar dryingCroatian National Tourist Board

Licitars

Licitars are hard, sweet, decorated biscuits that have been made, in one form or another and with many different names, across Europe since at least the 1500s. In cultural and culinary terms, they’re considered a type of gingerbread but in reality, there is no ginger in the classic licitar recipe.

While the tradition of decorated gingerbread ornaments, gifts and keepsakes is widespread across central and eastern Europe, in Croatia, the recipe and style of licitars developed over time to have characteristics and motifs that are unique to the country.

Flour on the rolling surfaceCroatian National Tourist Board

How are licitars made?

You may find shortcut recipes posted online, and mass-produced licitars don’t follow traditional recipes. But the historic method of making licitars is a very long process—it can take up to two months from start to finish. The dough, a simple mix of flour, honey, eggs and yeast, is left to leaven for a few days.

Placing the dough on the trayCroatian National Tourist Board

It’s then shaped, stamped or molded into hearts or other forms, and baked. Once baked, licitars are left to completely dry out for about two weeks.

Baked biscuitCroatian National Tourist Board

Coloring licitarCroatian National Tourist Board

The distinctive red coloring is applied, after which they’re left to dry another two weeks. On top of the red base, piped confectioner’s frosting is applied—most often white but other colors are also used.

Green decorationCroatian National Tourist Board

LicitarCroatian National Tourist Board

The significance of licitars

In a tradition that continues to this day, licitars are given as tokens of affection and as gifts, and are purchased as souvenirs or keepsakes of a vacation, a memory or an event. Sweethearts exchange the bright red, heart-shaped licitars so pervasive in Croatia on Valentine’s Day—they’re said to be as significant as roses.

LicitariCroatian National Tourist Board

Licitar ornaments, in the shape of hearts, wreaths and other forms, are used to decorate Christmas trees and as wall hangings in homes, and even dangle from rear-view mirrors.

Croatian licitar biscuitCroatian National Tourist Board

They vary widely in size and degree of detail. A small, simple licitar heart costs around US$1.50, while a large, elaborate heart or other shape may run upwards of $30. And, they have a long shelf life—really long. 

When treated with care, a licitar can last for a decade or more, and make an enduring memory of a visit to Croatia.

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