These days, Ispica is known for the intensive production of early-season produce, mostly grown in greenhouses and polytunnels, but it was also an important agricultural center in the past, thanks to its abundant water. One very particular, ancient crop is still grown here, after being introduced to Sicily during the time of Arab rule: sesame.
The Ispica variety was selected two centuries ago by local growers and has a small seed, amber in color, with a strong flavor. Until 50 years ago, around 450 hectares were planted with sesame in Sicily, 400 of which were in the province of Ragusa, and particularly around Ispica in the southeast. This area was once rich in swampy land, which in the spring would dry up while maintaining the perfect moisture level for growing crops without the need of irrigation. Later production fell dramatically due to the laborious harvest and strong competition from imported sesame.
The seeds are sown between April and May and harvested between the end of August and September. The annual plant is very hardy and has few needs. It reaches a height of around 150 centimeters and each pod contains up to 70 precious seeds. Each plant can produce up to 150 pods, and each hectare yields just over 20 quintals of seeds. The harvest is the most delicate moment; the plants are reaped manually, when they change color but before the pods have naturally opened and released their seeds. The cut plants are left to dry in the sun for a few days then threshed manually over a cloth to gather the seeds. The graduated nature of the harvest means the operation must be repeated several times, until the pods are completely empty. The seeds must then be cleaned using special sieves: a tricky operation requiring great experience.
Sesame seeds are an important ingredient in Sicilian tradition, used in recipes for various breads, cookies and other dishes. Ispica sesame is mainly used to make cobaita (locally known also as giuggiulena), a special-occasion candy made with honey, sugar and sesame, with the possible addition of citrus peel and almonds.
The seeds are harvested in early September, and sesame seeds and cobaita are available all year round.
Ispica municipality, Ragusa province
Presidium supported by
Ragusa Chamber of Commerce
Contrada Rio Favara
Tel. +39 340 3501614
Members: Loredana Agosta, Carmelo Calabrese, Agatino Candido, Corrado Cassar Scalia, Bartolomeo Conti, Emanuele Denaro, Salvatore Fidone, Antonino Gambuzza, Corrado Gambuzzo, Fabio Gambuzza, Michele Gambuzza, Salvatore Gambuzza, Sandro Gambuzza, Giovanni Parisi, Pietro Peligra, Giovanni Puglisi.
The Cubaita (a crunchy sweet made of honey and sesame) can be purchased here:
di Giovanni Puglisi
Via Ariosto, 94
di Salvatore Asta
Via Ruggero Settimo, 17
Tel. 0932 951350 - 338 2613930
Via Vittorio Emanuele,76
Slow Food Presidium Coordinator
tel. 392 6188743