The cold months of the year are on the way and with them the street vendors who sell the popular drink salep. This traditional Ottoman drink is usually sold on the streets as a hot beverage, but also on the ferries that cross the Bosporus and in some restaurants like Mado.
Salep is a flour made from the tubers of the Anatolian orchid. They contain a nutritious starch-like substance. Salep flour is consumed in desserts like ice cream and pudding too, especially in places that were formerly part of the Ottoman Empire.
Salep was a popular beverage in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. Its consumption spread beyond there to England and Germany before the rise of coffee and tea and it was later offered as an alternative beverage in coffee houses. In England, the drink was known as “saloop”. Popular in the 17th and 18th centuries in England, its preparation required that the salep powder be added to water until thickened whereupon it would be sweetened, then flavored with orange flower or rose water. Substitution of British orchid roots, known as “dogstones”, was acceptable in the 18th century for the original Turkish variants.
The beverage salep is now often made with hot milk instead of water.
In the Turkish province Kahramanmaraş they produce most of the salep, known as Salepi Maraş.
I was there a couple of years ago to do research for a story on all things Salep. In the city Kahramanmaraş is also the biggest and most well known producer of salep ice cream – Mado – Maraş dondurma.
The popularity of salep in Turkey has unfortunately led to a decline in the populations of wild orchids. As a result, it is illegal to export true salep. Thus, many instant salep mixes are made with artificial flavoring.