World Capital of Marzipan

By Darlene Fuchs on Email

History records marzipan as a valued blend of crushed almonds and honey, which dates back to 1800 BC in ancient Egypt. It is believed that Marzipan was introduced to Europe by returning crusaders in the 13th century. During the Renaissance, the kings of France cherished marzipan and had it baked into small cookies called Masepains. By the 14th century, marzipan had found it’s way through much of Europe. At the time, sugar was a scarce and expensive commodity. Therefore, marzipan was typically found only at the tables of the affluent and nobility.

Marzipan is a culinary paste created of ground almonds and sugar, which is then frequently sculpted into intricate shapes. Marzipan derives it’s characteristic flavor from bitter almonds, and at times a bit of rosewater.  Persipan is a similar but cheaper product, which replaces the almonds with apricot or peach kernels.

Marzipan was first used to form detailed figures of animals, men, trees, castles, and other shapes. The figures, made from sugar paste and jellies, were presented at the end of each course of a medieval feast. In the 18th century, when marzipan became a popular confectionery good, it was still reserved as a treat for special holiday occasions.

Once sugar production from sugar beets was industrialized in the early 1800s, the price of marzipan dropped quite dramatically. In 1806, Johann Georg Niederegger took over a confectioner’s shop on Lübeck’s market square and started producing marzipan in large quantities. The launch of his factory also marks the beginning of Lübeck’s history as the renowned “world capital of marzipan.” Niederegger remains the market leader in Germany to this day, producing up to 30 tons of marzipan a day, making it now an everyday confectionery item.

With the goal of preserving the integrity of the name “Lübecker Marzipan” in mind, eight marzipan manufactures in the Lübeck area formed the “Lübecker Marzipan Association” in 1974.  The manufacturers distinguish their product from other marzipans by requiring strict limitations on the sugar content. “Lübeck Edelmarzipan” is restricted to a sugar content no higher than 41.5%, and “Lübeck Marzipan” no higher than 54.5%. Products must have a sugar content no higher than 67.5% to legally be deemed marzipan. In Germany, as in our own production, the quality of marzipan is taken seriously.

The term “Lübeck Marzipan” has even been given protected status by the European Union (EU). Coincidentally, Lübeck is a “Sister City” with Spokane, Washington, where Marzipan Confections is located.

Marzipan is hardly considered a luxury item any longer. The present uses of marzipan vary according to the region of the world. Countries use different shapes as traditional treats during specific holiday seasons, varying from the novelty New Year “Glückschwein” (lucky pig), brightly colored Easter eggs as well as other holiday shapes, to chocolate-covered marzipan loaves and marzipan bars. It is also traditionally used in wedding cakes, Christmas cakes and Stollen.

Darlene Fuchs