Maltese Biscuits – A delightful assortment

Biscuits are popular all around the globe and Malta is no exception.

A vast selection is on offer, most falling into a category of either Biskuttini, Pastini or Qagħaq, and depending upon where a person may live on the Island, may also determine its name.

An example that comes to mind are sesame biscuits –Biskutelli tal Gulglien, which may also be called sweet biscuits- Qagħaq Ħelwin and depending upon their shape may also be called ‘Ottini’- number 8’s. (As they are shaped as a numeric 8).

Biskutelli tal Gulglien/Qagħaq Ħelwin/Ottini
Sesame Biscuits
Volume 1 ‘Traditional Sweet Recipes from Malta’

The term Qagħaq is an interesting one, that can lend itself to several applications from either a biscuit, as highlighted above in Sesame Biscuits, or to a sweet pastry creation such as Qagħaq tal Għasel– Honey Rings. It is also used to describe a sweet bread such as Qagħaq tal Ħmira– Yeast Rings and even a fried dough- Qagħaq tal Kavatelli– which may be best described as a fritter.

The pronunciation of this word may also differ from Qagħaq to a closer phonetic
pronunciation of ‘Kark’, depending upon the local village from which the person lives. In this instance the spelling may alter to Kagħak.

The term Pastini also presents itself differently in sweets, which may be applied to either a biscuit or as a small pastry tartlet. For example, coconut macaroon biscuits are called-Pastini tal Coconut, as are also Coconut tartlets, again demonstrating multiple applications.

The word used to describe the sweet may also provide a clue as to is origin.

Coconut rounds- Pastini tal Coconut.
Volume 2 ‘Traditional Sweet Recipes from Malta

Biskuttini tal Lewz- Almond Macaroons
Volume 1 Traditional Sweet Recipes from Malta.

For example…

The word Qagħaq is of Arabic origin as is the word ‘Helu’ which still to this day means ‘sweet’ in Arabic. Whereas the word Biscuttini is a derivative of an Italian biscuit which Malta has adopted.

The Italians call Almond Macaroons ‘Biscotti di mandorle’. In Maltese is it called Biskuttini tal Lewz.

Biskuttini is a derivative of the Italian word for biscuit- Biscotto. Whereas the Maltese word for Almond ‘Lewz’ is a derivative of the Arabic word for almonds – ‘Luz’.

Although this particular biscuit recipe, presentation and its description in Maltese – Biskuttini is of an Italian influence, the main ingredient description, in this case being the Almond- ‘Lewz’ is of Arabic decent.

This fusion of multiple languages reflects the historical influences that different cultures and inhabitants have had on the Maltese language, whilst also maintaining various traditional culinary items from these cultures.

It may be interesting to note that Maltese is a semetic language from historical Arabic, which differs from modern and standard Arabic. It has also been significantly influenced from the Italian and traditional Sicilian language. (The traditional Sicilian language was also formed by centuries of foreign influence occupation and conquest, unlike the Italian language which is predominately based on Latin. Since the unification of Italian states and Sicily becoming a part of Italy in 1860 the Sicilian language has significantly changed closer to mainstream Italian.)

The Maltese Vocabulary comprises around one third historical Arabic base. Half the vocabulary is derived from standard Italian or older more traditional Sicilian, whilst English words comprise of around 6 to 20 per cent.

Maltese culinary terms which have multiple uses and applications are an interesting aspect to the Maltese language and its cuisine. This adaptation from one language to another, together with the translation into English for those of us that live abroad who love Malta and its rich heritage, also provides heart-warming and endearing elements all at the same time, highlighting its uniqueness, quirkiness and idiosyncrasies.

Thank you for joining me in this article.

Happy Baking Until next time.


Sharon Catherine