Lebanon is a country famous for its tradition – whether you are in the mood for something in fashion, music or food, you can always have it. Now everyone knows that we are avid food lovers and always on the hunt for that perfect treat, we think we found it and you will love it too – Debes. Don’t scratch your heads just yet, it is the Arabic name for Molasses which is a sweet syrup made from fruits, and one place that has been making it the same way for almost 100 years is Al Qobba Press, a family owned business up in the mountains of Lebanon. We couldn’t help but jump at the opportunity to meet them and, luckily for us, get a better view of how they make their yummy products.
Hopping into the car, we hightailed out of Beirut, and headed south till we hit the city of Chouiefat. Once we came to a halt, our eyes lingered for a moment at the old building and we weren’t exactly sure what to expect until Taher Haidar, dressed in his traditional outfit, stood at the entrance with a welcoming smile. Before we began our tour, we wanted a little more insight about who this young man was. As soon as he started explaining, we were quite mesmerized at the story that showed how much determination it took to keep the business within the family. “My grandfather, Aman Ismail Haidar, started the business in 1920. The location was way up the hill in Chouiefat and no one could really find it so he moved closer to the main road in 1938 to make sure people knew the name,” Taher said.
There was no doubt in our minds that the man before us loved the business we could feel that he was willing to go on for hours about the press. His father, Nasouh, had taken control of the business in 1965 but for as long as Taher could remember he would always lend a helping hand whenever it was needed. Now at the age of 23, he runs it himself and was quite excited to show us around. This is where our tour began and our first step across the threshold was greeted by the scent of antique equipment that lay by the entrance.
Finally we get to the Debes! Taher began to tell us what process they go through to sell their products, “We have a field up in the mountains filled with Carob trees. When they sprout in September, we all go up together to start picking and gather around 25 bags at a time. The Molasses is made by pressing them in our machines. Once we grind the Carobs, we have to make sure that we separate the seeds from the liquid. This is done in another machine which easily takes in all the pulp and sends it out a tube so that we can use it later.” He gave us a glimpse of what they looked like and we couldn’t tell them apart from lentils. We got a little curious about what they usually do with them and his next sentence blew us away, “A small fraction of the seeds are used for planting but most of them are exported to Europe where they could be used in medicine and cosmetics.” With a little digging, we found that the seeds are great for digestion, to maintain the cholesterol in the blood, and even has anti-allergic actions.
Taher, then, guided us to the next step where we found a row of four massive tubs that seemed quite rustic. We wondered how long they had been around, but he assured us that everything was made spotless before it was used. He explained that after the Molasses is separated from the seeds, it is moved here to be kept in ice water. Taher began moving from the first to the second to tell us that the journey of the liquid didn’t stop in one tub. In fact, the Molasses begins in the first until it has reached a certain level of thickness, which it is then moved to the next to repeat the process. It was quite warming to see the man chuckle as he explained that it would keep going until it reached the final one.
When the Debes is nice and cold we would move on to the final touches, so we followed Taher as he took us to an odd contraption. There were two parts to this machine, the top was where the liquid is placed to be stirred, his eyes glistened when he began to explain the best part. “If you look under it, this is where we light the logs. When we were kids, we named it the Lake of Fire and everyone still sticks to that. We would watch our father start the fire and help him throw in some logs.” Our eyes quickly dropped to understand what Taher was talking about and the sight reminded us of a quaint fireplace.
Taher concluded his tour by explaining that you could have Debes alone as dessert or even mix it with your tea to give it that extra sweetening. We didn’t really want to go without a final word from the man who made us feel incredibly welcomed so when asked, all he said was, “We are still here, even after 90 years, and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
So make sure you stop by Al Qobba Press, buy a bucket or two, and show us how you’d like to have your Debes.
You can find Al Qobba Press in Chouiefat, Lebanon. For more information call 76692252