Outside of Turkey, the Middle East and Greece, Mahlab is little known. This spice is the inner kernel of the pit of the St. Lucie Cherry, Prunus mahaleb. In these countries and others the name is slightly different and can be found spelled as Mahaleb, Mahleb, Mahalabi, Mahiepi and others. The tree is deciduous and can grow to 40 feet in the right climate. The bark is smooth and red. The fragrant flowers are white, on long stalks and in clusters. The fruits are small, only up to about 3/8 inch, turning black when ripe. It grows wild in southern Europe, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Turkey. It is also grown as an ornamental tree as it has a somewhat weeping habit. It can be grown from seed, is quite disease resistant and its strong root stock can be used for grafting. |
The tiny inner kernel of Mahlab is an oval, 3/16 inch long, buff or tan colored with wrinkled skin and a creamy colored interior. The scent is a pleasant mix of sour cherries, bitter almonds and a hint of rose. This lends most greatly to baked goods such as breads, cakes and cookies, but this should not have to be its only use. Biting into a kernel raw will leave a bitter note, but once baked the flavors transform to fruity and rich, but subtle. A little can go a long way. Think of nutmeg when using Mahlab. A spare hand will yield excellent flavors, but it can make all the difference between a plain dessert and something uniquely alluring.
Suggestions for Using Mahlab
When using this spice, it should be ground just before use, as the flavors dissipate quickly once ground. It is easy to grind with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. If grinding by hand, use some of the sugar and or salt called for in the recipe, as the grains help with the grinding action on the seed kernels and yields a nice powder. As for amounts to use, approximately 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per 2 cups of flour in a recipe is a good rule of thumb. Mahlab is a good addition to breads, sweet pastries, cookies and biscuits. It would also be a great way to transform simple pudding or rice pudding. The flavors lend themselves to milk based foods and cheese.
As the spice is native to the Middle East, Turkey and Greece, most recipes that use this spice are ones from these cultures. Sweet, rich egg dough calling for mahlab is made into rolls called Choereg in Turkey and Armenia. Similar bread called Lambropsomo is made in Greece at Easter time. All over the Middle East are cookies called Ma’moul. The spelling is different in different countries, but these are filled with either a nut or date mixture and pressed into a mold before baking. Each different filling has a different patterned mold to distinguish between them. Many recipes for Ma’moul on the internet do not call for mahlab, mainly because it is less known here in the States, but if you can find it, this spice makes these authentic.
Try to find mahlab kernels and use a new spice flavor the next time you make cookies or breads. Search out one of the many recipes for Choereg or Ma’moul and try out a recipe from a different culture. There are so many rich cultures using less known spices that just cry out to be made.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was informative and helped you along your own culinary journey. Visit my Web site A Harmony of Flavors my Blog at A Harmony of Flavors Blog my Marketplace A Harmony of Flavors Marketplace or Facebook page, A Harmony of Flavors. I hope to see you there soon.
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Mahlab Kernels, Spice, St Lucie Cherry, Baking, Bread Baking, Cookies, Cakes, Nutmeg, Ground Mahlab, Ethnic Cooking, Ethnic Cuisine,