sicilian granita with brioche

Sicilian granita: origins and curiosity.

One of the usual behaviors of Sicilians is to have breakfast with granita and brioche (in sicilian brioscia), behavior that is now imitated by the many tourists who come to visit our beautiful land every year.

But do you know how sicilian granita is born?

In this article we will see how this recipe was born and how it was produced when the modern equipment did not yet exist.

- 'A rattata -

Grattata (in Sicilian rattata) was the original name of the granita. The name comes from the procedure with which it was prepared. But first, let’s take a step back.

The origins of the granita are usually traced back to the Arab domination in Sicily (827-1091). The Arabs, in fact, used to make the sherbet, an ice-flavored fruit drink, which is none other than the ancestor of our granita. Thanks arabs!

The preparation of the rattata required snow as the main ingredient. So it was the task of the nivaroli to collect the snow that fell in the winter in the mountains, storing it in the neviere, waiting for the summer.

Nivaroli collect the snow

Nivaroli press the snow into the neviera

The snow was covered with ferns and earth, and pressed until it became ice to be cut and sold in the summer. Even today, on some mountains, you can find the holes used for ice storage, sometimes finished with bricks or stones. In fact, a curiosity is that the shape of these neviere was not the same everywhere, but changed according to the territory (an example you can see from these two photos).

Neviera on Mount Scuderi, not finished

Neviera on the Iblei mountains, finished with bricks and stones

The wealthiest families used to buy blocks of ice from the nivaroli and keep it in private neviere, in order to have their own personal stock during the summer.

The mass of ice was so scratched (in italian grattata, hence the origin of the name) and used in the preparation of sorbets and ice cream to taste in the hot summer moments. Initially, to give a taste, the lemon was squeezed and a little honey was added. Over time, many new tastes have been tried and tested up to the present day (almond, coffee, strawberry, mulberry, pistachio, etc.).

- The evolution -

Around the 16th century, a considerable improvement was made to the preparation phase of the sherbet, discovering that it was possible to use snow mixed with salt as a means of refrigeration. The collected snow, used like ingredient, became refrigerant.

The first pozzetto (ice-cream cockpit) was born, which was nothing more than a wooden vat with a zinc bucket inside, which could be turned with a crank. The space between the wood and the cockpit was filled with the mixture of salt and snow, which froze the content inside the zinc bucket. The rotary movement of some blades  has been permitting the unique consistency that immediately distinguished the Sicilian granita.

Ancient cockpit for granita

During the 20th century, the snow was replaced with water, honey with sugar and the cockpit with the ice-cream maker. These important improvements improved the production of that unmistakable creamy consistency that is known all over the world under the name “Sicilian Granita”.

- 'A brioscia -

I can not imagine a granita without its brioche (in Sicilian brioscia). To give you the idea, to say Granita & Brioscia is like saying Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, Bonnie and Clyde, Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger and so on. They represent the perfect couple, there can not be one without the other.

The origins of Sicilian brioche, however, are not as clear as we have seen for granita. In addition, the brioche exists for less time, in fact, our grandparents will remember when, in the summer, they used to dunk the zuccarata in the lemon granita. This is nothing but a biscuit (usually donut-shaped) that is covered with sesame seeds (in Sicilian called ciciulena).

Zuccarata from Messina

Of course, even today you can taste one of these cookies, usually recommended with lemon granita. However we prefer to combine the brioscia, if possible freshly baked. 

The Sicilian brioche has a particular requirement, it must have the tuppo. In Sicily, this term is used to describe the typical hairstyle of the Sicilian woman, corresponding to the chignon. It is said, in fact, that the shape of Sicilian brioche derives from it.

I enjoyed combining the two meanings of the word “tuppo” in a single image, to make it clearer 😁

Sicilian brioscia with tuppo 😋

- How to eat granita with brioscia -


Damiano Marisca
Founder of

Blogger for passion, I write for SikeBlog talking about Sicily at 360 degrees: food, curiosity, culture, events and much more. If you have any questions, please comment below.

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