Orchids for Dessert

I’ve blogged several times about the world’s most delicious orchid, vanilla. But did you know that there are other edible orchids? One of the most popular orchid foods is salep, or sahlep. In Turkey and the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, the roots of Mediterranean orchids are milled into flour, and added to ice cream in warm weather, and hot drinks in wintertime.

Salep is traditionally made from the tubers, or thickened roots, of the orchis family. The Early Purple Orchid, or Orchis mascula, is one of the most common sources. Harvested from wild orchid populations, the tubers are made into starchy flour. This is added to water or milk to make ice cream, and flavored with pistachio, apricot, vanilla, or peach. When added to hot water or milk, it’s often flavored with cinnamon.

I’ve never had the opportunity to try salep, but others describe it as tasting sweet, nutty, and earthy. Orchid ice cream has an elastic texture that stays frozen longer than regular ice cream. In the videos below, salep vendors in Turkey entertain their customers.

To learn more, check out this authentic salep recipe. You can also read a tale of buying salep in Turkey, including a photo of dried orchid tubers. Salon explores orchid ice cream and salep’s Turkish birthplace.

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