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Marshmallow Dessert?
Althaea officinalis (marshmallow)
Click to enlargeAlthaea officinalis (marshmallow)

Tantalizingly, the Althaea officinalis – marsh mallow plant – is indigenous, inter alia, from North Africa along the North Sinai coast to Syria and the confection, made from the root (commercially imitated synthetically), was known to and consumed by ancient Egyptians. "The root extract (halawa extract) is sometimes used as flavouring in the making of a middle eastern [confection] called halva."

Additionally, like the Haloxylon salicornicum "beach asparagas" attested below, the Althaea officinalis marshmallow plant is similarly infested by an aphid (the Macrosiphum artemisiae). Further research may confirm whether it produces a similar sweet residue.

Ancient Egyptians used the leaves of the marshmallow plant either raw or cooked "as a potherb or to thicken soups". The root is also eaten either raw or cooked. "When boiled and then fried with onions it is said to make a palatable dish that is often used in times of shortage. The root is used as a vegetable, it is also dried then ground into a powder, made into a paste and roasted to make the sweet 'marshmallow'. … The water left over from cooking any part of the plant can be used as an egg-white substitute in making meringues etc. … The root is best harvested in the autumn, preferably from 2 year old plants, and [may be] dried for later use. … Its roots were at one time the source of the sweet 'marsh mallow', but this sweet is now made without using the plant."

Althaea officinalis, the marshmallow plant popular with ancient Egyptians, is found on "[t]he upper margins of salt and brackish marshes, sides of ditches and grassy banks near the sea,"

Or "Beach Asparagus"?
manna Sinai Haloxylon salicornicum Avinoam Danin 1968
Click to enlargeManna/​رمت in Sin•ai – "Fig. 5.7.1: White drops rich in minute air-bubbles on Haloxylon salicornicum from the Sinai desert." photo: Avinoam Danin 1968)

Tender tips and stems of various subspecies of H. salicornica are edible as, reportedly, are the roots. It would, then, seem viable to ground the root (which is normally fed to livestock), form dough and bake it into a (bland or unappealing salty in taste, but life-sustaining) bread.

H. salicornica is often called seaweed (perhaps alluding to its texture and color), sea beans or sea/​beach asparagus, due to its inherently salty taste. Related species can be eaten raw, especially added in salads, steamed or "nuked". Apparently not a food of choice, at least some variants are regarded fodder for livestock.

While the stems and roots are high in cellulose (i.e. tough and stringy or woody), in emergency situations, I surmise that it could probably be ground, formed into dough and baked into a brackish, but life-preserving, bread. Such a foul-tasting bread would benefit greatly from a sweetener – and "manna" seems to have perfectly fit that bill, a gift from heaven transforming foul-tasting bread into sweet cakes.

Particularly, as Zohary notes (below), the sweet drops found on salicornicum, alone, could never have fed close to a million bivouacked people (600k in their standing army alone) – but it could sweeten a terrible, salty-tasting, salicornica (or other) bread made from plants in coastal marshes, which are otherwise very unpalatable and relegated to animal feed.

When combined with the sweetener beads from H. salicornicum and honey "dew" collected under Acacia trees (see Danin, below), the dough made from coastal or marshy plants seems the best candidate to be baked into "manna" (sweet bread, loaves or cakes). See views of Prof. Emeritus of Botany Avi•nōam Dan•in, Hebrew University of Yᵊru•shâ•layim, Prof. of Botany Michael Zohary, Hebrew Univ. of Yᵊru•shâ•layim and Iranian scholars commenting on their local "manna":

Prof. Emeritus of Botany Avi•nōam Dan•in, Hebrew University of Yᵊru•shâ•layim
"Manna on Haloxylon salicornicum – a New Source

"A few months after the end of the Six Days War (in 1967), research expeditions of the Hebrew University and other scientific institutes were organized. Prof. Naftali Tadmor (“Kofish”) was the main initiator… He and his team departed Sinai after the Israeli Defense Forces had already left. The expeditions after 1967 were better organized. Following a few excursions of the botanical team we organized an excursion for the entire Department of Botany, which took place in 1968.

"I remember an observation and collection stop in lower Wadi Feiran. Bilhah Nakhman showed me white drops on young green stems of Haloxylon salicornicum (also known as Hamadda) (Fig. 5.7.1). We asked a passing Bedouin: “What is this? He answered: “This is mann-rimth (rimth = the Bedouin name of H. salicornicum in most places around the Middle East) that you ate when you left Egypt.

manna Sinai Anabasis setifera Avinoam Danin 5.7.7 1968
îÈï, Sinai: on Anabasis setifera (Avinoam Danin, 5.7.7 1968)

"I postulated that in a year with much rainfall the H. salicornicum shrubs would have a strong fresh growth. A strong development of the insect may lead to extensive development of the white drops. Such an event could have been listed in the nation’s memory as a gift from heaven. In additional trips I made to the Negev and to Sinai I found similar white drops on young stems of Anabasis setifera (Fig. 5.7.7).

"A special event took place in S. Sinai (Fig. 5.7.8) where I saw a small herd of goats resting in the shade of an Acacia raddiana tree (Fig. 5.7.9). It was an area where goats had already eaten all the green or dry plants available to them. They seemed to like licking the stones under the Acacia tree (Fig. 5.7.10). I approached closer; the soil and stones were moist and when standing in the shade of the tree I felt minute drops “landing” on my arms and face. I found scale insects there (Fig. 5.7.11) on the stems of the “dropping” Acacia. I then understood the term “honey dew” and added it to the list of donors of available sweetness in the desert…"

acacia in Negev (Roger Gelfand)
Click to enlargeAcacia trees in the Nëgëv (Roger Gelfand)

" It is written that the manna arrived as dew from heaven and accumulated as a layer around the Israelite camp. Being the world expert on dew he asked me to show him “my” manna. The participants of this mini-expedition with me were Dr. S. Duvdevani and his grandson Ben Ofarim. We drove to the Dead Sea shores near Enot Tzukim (Ein Fashkha). I showed him tamarisk branches with aphids (Figs. 5.7.4-5.7.6), resembling those reported by Bodenheimer (1947) from Sinai. On our way to Masada we collected green stems of Anabasis setifera which had white drops similar to those on Haloxylon salicornicum (Fig. 5.7.7). Dr. Duvdevani looked after the new treasure carefully, and two days later I got a phone call from him. He told me that “my manna findings” are very interesting, but he declared that it is not and cannot be the “Biblical manna”. He advised me to search in old Muslim writings in order to solve the dilemma…


"I opened the Hebrew translation of the Koran (written in the 6th century). The Biblical story is repeated. I went to Tel Aviv, by chance, with Avner Giladi who was working on his doctorate at Tel Aviv University at the time. When I asked him about his research he told me something I did not know to search for, and did not know whom to ask: he was studying “ancient Muslim scriptures”. Here I started to hold the end of the string that I had to roll up in order to arrive at an appropriate answer for Dr. Duvdevani, who was the only one interested in “my manna”. I have to admit, I felt a certain tension waiting for the answer. Several weeks or months later Avner informed me that he had found some comments on the manna, in dictionaries for the Koran written in the ninth century in Mesopotamia. The Koran interpreters wrote that manna is the sweet drops found on Taranjabin shrubs. Another source of information explained that Taranjabin is the local name of Alhagi graecorum which abounds in Israel and Sinai as well. One of the common scientific synonyms of this plant brings about the traditional relationship with the manna – Alhagi mannifera…

"The term Taranjabin is the Mesopotamian term and gives a hint as to the source of this information. For me, this means that the perception that manna is the honey-dew came to Sinai from Mesopotamia with the Arabic language and the Muslim belief is not information that passed from father to son starting from the Bedouin who met the wandering Children of Israel.

Hints from neighboring countries

"I talked with my neighbor in Kiryat Hayovel, Jerusalem, who was born in Kurdistan. He told me that during his childhood there he enjoyed sweets that were called “mann es samma” = Manna of Heaven. A search in literature then gave me a hint that it’s origin is honey-dew collected under trees of Quercus brantii which resembles our Tabor oak. It grows in large quantities on the Zagros mountains at the boundary zone of Iraq-Iran. Tzvi Shuraki, who lives in Jerusalem called me and told me that he has mann of similar origin that was brought from Kurdistan in recent years. Following Elbaum’s TV program, Avner-Yaacov Yaron from Tel Aviv wrote to me: “As a native of Baghdad, living there until my departure for Israel. I remember that lumps of something sweet were brought from northern Iraq. After dissolving this in water and straining it, there remained various leaves resembling those of Cupressus. The lumps of material were named “mann of heaven” and a special candy was produced for the Jewish community there, named “mann el samma”. People from Iraq who live in Israel still produce it under this name.”

"In 1996 I accompanied a trip to N. Jordan. While walking in the streets of Irbid I saw a small grocery, which looked as if it was part of the Jerusalem Market at Makhane Yehuda. Among the dozens of products displayed there, were boxes decorated with a drawing of white elliptical balls of ping-pong ball size, displayed as “mann wassalwa = manna and quail – peace sweets (Fig. 5.7.12). It is possible that such sweets, containing pistachio nuts and almonds, may be found in markets in Israel – I did not search further. I recently spoke at length to Pini Amitai, a well known “Jerusalemite”. In his childhood memories of Jerusalem, in the days before the founding of the state, there is an honored place for a ball of “mann”. This was part of the gift his grandmother used to give her grandchildren for the 15th of Shvat = the beginning of the tree-year and known as “fruits of the fifteenth”…

"in 1972 I indeed wrote an article declaring Haloxylon salicornicum to be a source of mann, but in my English-language book in 1983 I proved that the article from 1972 should not be used."

Prof. of Botany Michael Zohary, Hebrew Univ. of Yᵊru•shâ•layim

"Flueckiger (1891) was among the first to suggest that manna was a sweet exudation produced by small, scaly insects feeding on the tamarisk tree, among others. The expedition of Bodenheimer and Theodor in 1927 found that the insects in question were Trabulina manifera or Najacoccus serpentina. They exude a sweet liquid which hardens quickly, drops to the ground and is collected by the Bedouin as a substitute for sugar or honey.

"For a long time this was considered the scientific explanation for the miraculous 'bread from heaven'; but since the activity of the insects is seasonally limited [not a great problem], the number of tamarisks in the Sinai small, and that of the Sinai wanderers large the story of the manna, though realistically based, still remains mysterious and legendary despite the fact that this exudation has been observed also in a few other plants such as… and, most particularly, Hammada salicornica. This last is a plant extremely widespread in southern Sinai. A. Danin [1972] describes how its sweet exudations are collected by the Bedouin and used as a conserve in cakes. But all these sources together could not provide much more than a tidbit for the hungry people wandering in the desert."

The phenomenon, the term and the historical experience are all corroborated from ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia:

"Taranjebin (TA) or Persian manna is a kind of manna[,] which [is] produced on some camel's thorn shrubs. The word etymology of Taranjebin shows it is derived from the Persian word “Tar-angabin” that means wet honey… Taranjebin consists of white to brown small tears, soluble in water with [a] sweet and pleasant taste… Taranjebin is the most economically important manna in [the] Persian herbal market… The amount of [the] crop is dependent [on] rainfall in spring[,] and hail[] increases the production of the manna in summer." 

Previously Unsolved Anomalies

(Long Regarded As Supernatural)
  1. On weekdays, îÈï would spoil overnight; but on Sha•bât, it didn't spoil overnight — On weekdays, they assumed they could wrap it in cloth and allow it to rise overnight like they had done back in Mi•tzᵊrayim with regular dough. But this sweetened dough, besides containing liberal amounts of sugar, was undoubtedly thriving with everything from bacteria to fungi, some of the sweet beads and honey-dew residue from aphids, had been gleaned from direct contact with the ground. Kept overnight, a combination of bacterial growth and fungal growth, were practically inevitable. That's no surprise.

    Why did this not happen on Sha•bât? The answer is embarrassingly conspicuous: Bᵊn•ei-Yi•sᵊrâ•eil were forbidden to cook on Sha•bât. So they had to do all of their cooking – and baking – before Sha•bât, which means that, on Ërëv Sha•bât, they were keeping baked îÈï overnight, not the uncooked îÈï! Baking killed the bacteria and fungi, allowing the îÈï to keep over Sha•bât.

  2. Why did gleaners, who, defying Mōsh•ëh, went out searching for îÈï on Sha•bât, find no îÈï on Sha•bât? This enigma is far more vexing. But a supernatural theory, because it contradicts the Laws implemented by é‑‑ä, cannot be. A priori, we will only find a viable solution by confining our search within the constraints of the real world. Here is one possible solution for an example:

    This was not a half-dozen folks looking around a couple of clumps of plants. This was an effort supporting the feeding of nearly a million people. Every day, large teams of gleaners were dedicated, their entire day's work, to go out and glean assigned areas while others.

    Although both the beads and honey-dew are produced every night and morning, it's likely that the gleaners collected not only the fresh beads and honey-dew produced the previous night and that morning, but also the darker-colored and dried-out, sticky, longer beads representing a number of nights production by the insects. Thus, if gleaners searched the same area the next day would not find an adequate supply. In this, we find a solution.

    It is likely that gleaners were organized to avoid this catastrophic eventuality, dividing the search area into several — some multiple of 7 — production areas. Gleaning only one search area each day, and two areas on Day6 to double the production (simultaneously solving the question of why they found twice as much on Day6), the size of the search areas, and the number of gleaners needed, could be defined to avoid duplication.

    But the rebels who went out to glean on Sha•bât, in their very defiance of Mōsh•ëh, demonstrate that they were disconnected from that system, out of that loop. Not knowing where to search, predictably, odds were we should expect that they'd search an area close by that was recently gleaned and find nothing substantial.

    Inability to grasp how these events happened never justified turning to a supernatural displacement mythology (= idolatry) in the first place.

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