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Drinks

Salep

A flour made from orchid roots makes for a popular Turkish drink.

If it’s a chilly night in Istanbul, many Turks will be curling up with a warm mug of salep. The wintertime drink consists of hot milk combined with spices and a rare orchid-based flour, which thickens the milk and gives it a coating, soothing effect. 

Salep flour is made from the tubers of a purple orchid and is used in a number of Turkish foods. One of its most popular uses is in the taffy-like Turkish ice cream dondurma, contributing to its famously malleable, chewy texture.

Popular within the Ottoman Empire, salep milk has traditionally been thought to provide a number of health benefits, not the least of which being increased virility (salep does come from the Arabic for ‘“fox testicle”). It continues to be a beloved nightcap, often flavored with rosewater, cinnamon, and a sprinkling of ground pistachios. In fact, due to the high demand for the drink and ice cream, salep-producing orchids are in danger of going extinct in some areas. Salep might be good for the body, but might not be so great for the planet.

Need to Know

In Istanbul, salep is sold by most street vendors for about fifty cents a cup. It's tough to find salep flour outside Turkey; many recipes recommend substituting glutinous rice flour (available in Asian markets and online) for a consistency reminiscent of the orchid flour.

Where to Try It
  • Sofra Bakery and Cafe
    1 Belmont St, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138, United States

    This Cambridge cafe specializes in foods and beverages from Turkey, Lebanon, and Greece, including salep.

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