Differences between Polvorones, Mantecados and Marzipan
Christmas is here and with it a whole series of gatherings with friends, coworkers and family which all involve copious amounts of food to enjoy; and more than anything, famous Christmas desserts like polvorones, mantecados and marzipan.
For many, all of these desserts are made in the same way, there are even those who confuse one for the other if they are not used to eating them, whether it’s because they are foreigners or simply don’t like them. But although they all share an earthy texture and an extraordinary and unique taste, they are all actually quite different.
In the first place, they are not made with the same ingredients. Polvorones are made with flour, lard, sugar and almonds; mantecados are also made with lard, but they have a larger variety of flavors, including cinnamon and they don’t use almonds; and lastly there is marzipan, which does contain almonds but which also uses potatoes and sugar.
Shape can help us distinguish between all of these desserts too. Polvorones are long and oval-shaped and their name comes from the powdered sugar used to coat them. Mantecados are rounder and their color and texture can change depending on their flavor, whether it is lemon, chocolate, pastry, etc. And then there’s marzipan, which can be found in a great many shapes; there are the “saint’s bones” which are long and thin (like a tibia bone), the ones called “pan de Cádiz” (or bread from Cadiz) and many other varieties. Even so, generally they are found in small shapes that can be eaten in one bite.
The differences between polvorones, mantecadosand marzipan can even be found all the way back to their origins. Mantecados have been being made since the 16th century in Estepa and Antequera (there is still a difference between those who think they are from one area or the other). The polvoron, in reality, is basically a variation of the mantecado, so its origin is the same, but the places it is mainly made and eaten are clearly Andalusia, along with Castile and León (especially Tordesillas) and Navarra. When it comes to marzipan, its origin is not completely clear, but the first written reference about this dessert puts its origin in Toledo, where it is so popular that it is eaten all year round.
We should note that the polvorones, mantecados, and marzipan that we’ve described here are the kinds found in Spain. In other countries these desserts could have other characteristics and meanings. Mantecados in some areas in Latin America and even in Spain, depending on what they are made for can be made to taste like ice cream, curiously enough still with a slightly earthy texture. Marzipan can even be made without almonds, depending on if they are from the Philippines (where they are made with walnuts), Guatemala (where they are made with rice and squash), or many other countries with many other variations.