Aside from being one of the most beautiful plant and flower in this planet and the most desired flower for its aesthetic value, orchid has another use, as a beverage called “Salep” or “sahlab”
“Salep” is flour made from pulverizing the dried tubers of orchids. Salep flour is now being used in desserts and most especially in beverages, mainly in Turkey and in countries that were part of the Ottoman Empire. Salep is also used to refer to any beverage made out of salep flour.
The drinking of salep, the orchid beverage, spread beyond Turkey and reached Germany and England before the popularity of tea and coffee and as an alternative drink in coffee houses. In the UK, the orchid beverage was known as “saloop” and was very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Roots of the an orchid native to Britain called “dogstone” are substituted for the original ingredient. Salep powder is added to water until it thickens, then the mixture is sweetened and flavored with rose water or orange flower.
The modern way of preparing salep, the orchid beverage or sahlab ( another name for salep) is with hot milk rather than water and is more commonly called “Turkish Delight” although the term “Turkish Delight” is more generally used for “lokum” a sweet candy from Turkey. Other desserts are also made out of “salep” flour such as salep ice cream or salep pudding.
The popularity of salep- the orchid drink in Turkey caused a decline in the population of wild orchids. This resulted in making the export of authentic salep out of the country. The instant sahlab drink that proliferates in the market these days are now mixed with artificial flavoring as a result of this restriction.
Salep, the orchid beverage, has long been enjoyed as a wintertime drink in Iran, Turkey and other eastern Mediterranean countries. It is milk boiled with sugar and a tiny amount of salep, the powdered orchid tuber. The orchid tuber used for the salep powder is Orchis Mascula but roots of other terrestrial orchids are also used.
Salep has the properties of bassorin and polyssachyride, a thickening agent like agar that thickens hot liquid. It is served when the mixture reaches the consistency of a thin potato puree and sprinkled with ground cinnamon. Photo by Werner Witte