Meet the Turkish Viagra: Mesir Macunu

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Sex tourism is big business in the world today – and sad to say some countries seem happy to exploit their own citizens in pursuit of the mighty dollar, or whatever other foreign currency they can get their hands on. As far as I know, Turkey is not one of those countries – but that’s not to say the three-letter s- word doesn’t play a part in attracting visitors from abroad.

Male tourists especially may find themselves being offered a product only half-jokingly referred to by touts as ‘Turkish Viagra’. Mesir Paste (Macunu) is a time-tested concoction whose history can be traced back to the 16th century. Better still, no rhinoceroses, bustard birds or any other living creatures have been slaughtered or maimed in the production of this substance. As far as I can learn, it is totally herbal in content.

Like most of the culinary delights found in Turkey, Mesir candy is best sampled in the town famous for its creation – Manisa in the Aegean region not far from the coastal metropolis of Izmir. Few short-term visitors to Turkey will have Manisa on their itinerary, though it is an ancient city with some historical and mythological significance. Fortunately, for those in need of an energy-boost (and who isn’t these days?) a range of products made from the Mesir recipe is readily available in Istanbul.

Just so you know what you’re getting, I feel I can do no better than translate a brochure published by the Maccun Company, one of Manisa town’s purveyors of mesir products to the discerning:

The Story of Mesir Paste

‘Sultan Selim I, known in English as Selim the Grim, came to Manisa with his wife, the Sultana Hafsa, while on a journey in the year 1539. The Sultana had been ill for some time and many doctors had been trying to cure her, without success. 

‘Eventually word reached Merkez Muslihiddin Efendi, chief teacher and doctor at the medical centre in Manisa. Merkez Efendi spoke with Sultana Hafsa and examined her, then made a list of herbs and spices and gave it to an orderly. He prepared a paste with measured amounts of the ingredients, sweetening it with sugar. After eating the mixture, the Lady Hafsa made a complete recovery. 

‘Noticing that she was now even healthier and more spritely than before, the Sultana commanded Merkez Efendi: ‘Let’s make a large quantity of this potion and give it to our people so that all can benefit from this amazing panacea.’ Large cauldrons were set up forthwith, ovens were heated and tons of mesir paste were prepared. As news of the preparations spread, all the people gathered in front of the Sultan’s Mosque. Seeing that it would be difficult to feed the people one by one, the officers started to distribute the mixture wrapped in small pieces of paper. The whole country heard that this event took place on Nevroz Day and afterwards greater amounts of mesir paste were prepared in larger pots and doled out to ever increasing crowds. The Sultan arranged for the potion to be delivered to aged and infirm people who couldn’t come to the square so that they too could reap the benefits. 

‘Apart from the few years when Manisa was under enemy occupation, this tradition has been carried on through the centuries to the present day.’

The Benefits of Mesir Paste

‘It strengthens the body, invigorates the heart, soothes the nerves and improves memory and brainpower. 

It is especially good for stimulating the appetite and easing urinary difficulties.

It cleanses the blood, acts as a natural detoxifier and is the oldest known and most effective aphrodisiac.

 

‘Also, according to popular belief, mesir paste has these further benefits:

Anyone who eats it will be protected for a year from the bite of poisonous creatures.

If you eat mesir paste on Nevroz Day it will be alleviate even the worst diseases.

It is believed that girls of marriageable age who eat mesir paste will marry within the year, and that childless couples eating this miraculous concoction will have children before long.

It is furthermore known to be beneficial in the treatment of childhood illnesses.’

 

Well, you probably don’t need it, and maybe you don’t believe the story anyway – but you may want to take some with you to impress the friends back home. 

Postscript - A reader has pointed out to me that Sultan Selim I actually died in 1520, so it is unlikely that he was in Manisa or anywhere else on Earth in bodily form in 1539. Thanks Kaan! In my defense, I was only translating someone else's document, but still I should have noticed that error. Not sure what that does for the credibility of mesir paste - but as with most of these kinds of things, the benefits are probably largely psychological.


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Alan Scott

Alan first came to Turkey in 1995. From the first he was captivated by the country – the incredible layers of history, the diversity of cultures, the music and the legendary hospitality of the people. Since then he has spent most of the intervening years living and working in Istanbul as a teacher of English. He lives in that Queen of Cities with his Turkish wife, Dilek; visits regularly an ever-increasing whanau in Australia, New Zealand and the USA; writes a blog about Turkey; rides a bicycle, and escapes to Gümüşlük whenever the opportunity arises.

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