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Dear all,

 

I’ve been trying to broaden out my ice-cream making to some of the middle eastern styles (perhaps in a vain attempt to recreate the magic of my one trip to Bakdash in the Damascus souk!).

 

I started with the Persian receipe from my all-time favourite cookery book: Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij which is made without eggs and is flavoured with saffron and rose water, with chucks of frozen cream and pistachio.

 

It also calls for the two usual middle-eastern ice-cream ingredients: mastik and salep / sahleb. Mastik is not too difficult to track down in the UK but I have hit a complete blank with salep. Whilst Turkish supermarkets carry powdered drinking salep, including one by Dr. Oetker, none of them actually seem to contain any real salep, instead being mixtures of dried milk, sugar, cinnamon and some “flavourings”.

 

If I have a look online, there seem to be a few Greek-based ebayers selling whole orchid bulbs which they describe as salep but seeing as the adverts seem to be targetting the alternative health market as much as the culinary ones (“Salep Orchid salip misree Salab Misri for mens stamina, vigour and vitality” is a typical advert!), I’m not sure if these are the right things. Or even if these are legitimately harvested. Preservation of wild orchids is quite a big issue in the UK, although that may be because we have fewer of them than many countries.

 

Does anyone have any suggestions? Or is there something I could use instead? I have a feeling that salep doesn’t have much flavour (unlike the mastik) so it is probably a question of finding a suitably similar starch.

 

Thanks!

 

Jacob

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As far as I can see, the orchid used for salep is endangered (e.g. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3126047.stm), which would make selling this problematic, unethical, and possibly illegal (i.e. your concerns are well-founded). It's likely that this orchid's tubers were selected as much for their availability as anything else, so finding something that gives a similar taxture/flavour profile may not be that difficult: however, globally, orchids are having a bad time of it, so it may be necessary to consider another family of plants entirely. If there are conservation-minded Middle-Eastern ice cream producers out there, you might try getting hold of one, and asking what they use instead of the traditional orchid tuber.

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Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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On 12/27/2019 at 11:55 AM, Mjx said:

As far as I can see, the orchid used for salep is endangered (e.g. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3126047.stm), which would make selling this problematic, unethical, and possibly illegal (i.e. your concerns are well-founded). It's likely that this orchid's tubers were selected as much for their availability as anything else, so finding something that gives a similar taxture/flavour profile may not be that difficult: however, globally, orchids are having a bad time of it, so it may be necessary to consider another family of plants entirely. If there are conservation-minded Middle-Eastern ice cream producers out there, you might try getting hold of one, and asking what they use instead of the traditional orchid tuber.

Thanks for that. That’s a shame, although I suppose I am reassured that it is so hard to buy unlike many unsustainable foods.

 

So I suppose the question is what to use as an alternative. This abstract says “salep is a good source of a stabilizer as glucomannan (17.7-54.6%) and contains starch (5.44-38.7%)”. I presume glucomannan is what we are looking for, and a quick detor via the wikipedia page for that takes me to an article in the NYT which includes the following:

Quote

The traditional Turkish salep dondurma is milk sweetened and flavored with mastic, an aromatic resin, and thickened with salep, the powdered bulbs of several wild orchids. The bulbs contain a mucilaginous carbohydrate called glucomannan, which the orchids use to retain water during dry periods. When dissolved in milk, the long coiled glucomannan chains bind up and block the movement of water molecules, and thicken the milk. [...]

 

Salep ice cream was probably discovered when someone accidentally let the salep drink freeze. As the water forms ice crystals and the glucomannan chains become more crowded in the remaining liquid, their coils overlap and bond to form an interconnected network. [...]

 

Genuine salep is expensive and hard to find. But it turns out that the commercial stabilizer guar gum (from the tropical cluster bean) and Japanese konjac flour (from tubers of a taro relative) contain closely related carbohydrates that behave in much the same way as salep glucomannan. Guar gum is sold on specialty-ingredient Web sites, konjac in Japanese groceries. [...]

 

I made an ice cream that flaunts its additive content by putting one tablespoon of guar gum in a quart of sweetened milk and cream, blending the mix until it thickened, and freezing it in a bowl along with a large wooden spoon. When the spoon was almost immobilized, I used it to work the mix until it developed some elasticity — and until my arm gave out, well short of 20 minutes.

Konjac flour strikes me as most similar since it also made from tubers, and so, presumably, has a similar ratio of starch to glucomannan as the orchid tubers. Curiously, it has also become a fad food since 2007: it’s the stuff that those “zero carb; zero calorie” noodles and pastas are made from. You also seem to be able to get a refined version which is the pure glucomannan, although I bet it takes a careful hand not to produce something so stiff it destroys the ice-cream maker!

 

I will have to buy some and experiment...

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