Sahlab, also spelled sahlep or salep, is a flour prepared using the tubers of the orchid genus Orchis (including species Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris). Sahlab is served in several drinks and sweet dishes, particularly in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire, especially in the Levant, where it is a traditional winter drink.
However, a surge in consumption is instigating local extinctions of orchids in several areas of Turkey and Iran. There are several other desserts that are prepared using sahlab flour, such as salep pudding and dondurma.
Origin & Cultural Significance
It is believed that the ancient Romans added ground orchid bulbs to certain beverages, which they called by numerous names, particularly satyrion and priapiscus. As the names suggest, they considered it to be a strong aphrodisiac.
Sahlab was known to be a popular drink in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. It enjoyed a status as a “fattener” for young women, which purportedly helped them become plumper before marriage. Later, its consumption spread to countries including England and Germany before coffee and tea started to become popular.
Sahlab was then served as a substitute drink in coffee houses. In England, this beverage was known as saloop. Today, one can easily find this delicacy in the coffee shops in the Middle East, particularly in The Levant.
Turkish Sahlab Recipe
- Sahlab powder – 1 tbsp
- Sugar – 1 and ½ tbsp
- Milk – 1L
- Cinnamon (for garnish)
- Take a large saucepan or thick-bottomed pot and add milk, sugar and sahlab powder to it. If available, prefer using full-fat milk for the best result. If you want a plant-based alternative, you can use almond milk or coconut milk instead.
- Combine all the ingredients by whisking them well.
- Heat it over a medium-low flame. Make sure to stir continuously.
- Bring the heat down as soon as the milk begins to boil. Keep whisking while the mixture is simmering until it thickens. Remember to not rush, or the mixture will stick to the bottom of the pan. If you try to speed up the process, it might create lumps, and you won't be able to achieve the creamy consistency.
- This might take you about 15 to 20 minutes or longer. If desired, one can also add additional flavours such as orange blossom water, rosewater or vanilla right before removing the drink from the heat.
- Give the drink a taste test and adjust the sweetness according to your preference. It’s completely okay to add extra sugar if you want it sweeter.
- Once done, take the pan off the heat and serve the prepared beverage in cups or mugs.
- Add a little bit of ground cinnamon on top of each cup and offer.
- Alternatively, you can also add some pistachios or other nuts on top as a garnish.
- You can transfer the leftovers to a bottle or jar. Keep in mind to store it in the refrigerator, and it’ll be fit for consumption for about 2-3 days.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 139Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 21mgSodium: 123mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 0gSugar: 15gProtein: 9g