the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of
the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost
on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to
another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto
them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. This is the
thing which the Lord hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to
his eating." -- Exodus 16:14-16
Literature is full of references to manna from Heaven, but this is the
real thing. Tasting vaguely like fresh maple sugar, manna eletta, a sweet
product (about 45% d. mannitolo) of the manna tree (fraxinus angustifolia),
the narrow-leaf ash or manna ash, frassino in Italian, actually contains
only about three percent glucose by volume and is high in zinc. In Sicily
this tree grows wild in the Madonie Mountains,
and is now cultivated on farms in the area around Castelbuono and Pollina.
The whitish sap flows in July and August, forming thin stalactites which
hang like icicles from the trees' branches. It is possible to harvest even
more of it by splicing slits in the bark. The comparison to maple syrup
is appropriate, though the composition of manna differs considerably from
that popular American product. Manna is sold in small rods cut from the
Much folklore has developed around manna, and also a great number of
health claims, many of which are not scientifically substantiated. Yet the
laxative value of the substance is well established, and as a natural sweetener
(especially for diabetics and others who must watch their sugar intake)
containing very little glucose manna is a true rarity.
We don't really know when the domesticated trees were introduced in Sicily.
There are several obscure Greek references to manna trees. The Biblical
descriptions are difficult to reconcile with the trees present in Sicily,
whose name, however, certainly derives from the term used in the Book of
The narrow-leaf ash, as distinguished from the closely-related European
ash, has brown buds, and grows to a height of thirty meters. Its range is
essentially central and western Mediterranean, though it is cultivated into
central France. A subspecies (fraxinus oxycarpa) grows in eastern Europe
as far north as the Czech Republic and in southwest Asia as far east as
Iran. The wood of the manna ash is similar to that of other ashes.
About the Author: Roberta Gangi has written
numerous articles and one book dealing with Italian cultural and culinary
history, and a number of food and wine articles for Best of Sicily Magazine.