While Israel is enjoying its two annual weeks of winter, I decided it was time to return to yet another classic. Behold the Krembo, a somewhat controversial chocolate-covered sweet that originated in Denmark and somehow found its way to Israel, where it became one of the country’s fabourite winter treats. Similarly to a Tunnock’s tea cake, It’s composed of a biscuit base, topped with a sort of marshmallow fluff (made out of egg whites) and dipped in a thin layer of dairy-free chocolate (to make it parev Kosher). The fluff is usually of a plain, sort of vanilla flavour, but you can also get a mocha flavoured filling. There used to be some bizarre chemical-tasting fillings like banana and strawberry, but those never made it very far. The whole thing is then wrapped in a colourful foil wrapping, which has stayed more or less the same for as long as I remember.
I tried one with the standard filling – a fluffy, not quite creamy, super sweet mass, less dense than the tea cake filling. The unwrapping of the Krembo is an important part of the overall experience. As kids, we used to roll out the foil wrap and save it inside books and things till our parents made us throw them away. Nowadays, you chuck it away, but something of that original excitement remains.
Biting into the chocolate covering, you realise this is actually the weakest link, having very low cocoa content and generally just tasting sweet, rather than chocolatey. The biscuit is a bit less dense than a digestive but loses its freshness quickly and becomes somewhat soggy. When eaten fresh, it’s a pretty standard, slightly chemical biscuit. For me, it’s the fluff that seals the deal – the texture, as well as the flavour, which is reminiscent of Italian “winter ice cream” I’ve had. It does, however, need the biscuit and chocolate elements to tone down its otherwise soon-to-be-sickly flavour. Being quite light and fluffy, means you can eat one (or several) without feeling too weighed down by the experience.
And why is the Krembo so controversial, you may wonder? Well, to begin with, the Danish chose a rather unfortunate name for it when they came up with it over 200 years ago – a name inspired by its dark colour and starting with N. You figure it out.
Those were innocent, non-PC times indeed, but a derivative of the name lasted in Finland till 1998, which is weirder still. In Israel, the Hebrew equivalent of the offending name was done away with in the 60s, when Vitman, a local company, started mass producing the Krembo and gave it its first local brand name. Later, it got bought out by Strauss who now make the official Krembo.
Another uniquely Israeli bit of weirdness is that the Krembo attracted a lot of interest from the religious orthodox community, when a whole load of rabbis debated about various aspects to do with its consumption – are you allowed to separate the biscuit from the cream and chocolate parts on the Sabbath? Should you bless the biscuit or the cream? Never before has a humble chocolate-covered treat drawn so much interest from religious leaders. The interesting thing is that this debate came about because the Krembo is composed of three different elements and opinions are split as to which of the three is the most important. For me, it’s fluff all the way…