CIt’s exciting to come across mahlab – particularly whole kernels. This rare spice comes from the stone of the St Lucie cherry. It has a nutty-marzipan sweetness and a hint of cherry blossom, which is harnessed in Middle Eastern pastries and bakes.
Mahlab is a delicate spice. The pale kernels shouldn’t be toasted, but freshly ground on demand. The powder quickly loses potency, which is why it’s always best to buy whole. Lightly crushed mahlab kernels might infuse milk for a fragrant rice pudding, crème brulee or custard base for ice cream.
Mahlab features in lots of traditional, celebratory recipes – from tsoureki bread eaten over Easter in Greece, to kandil rings served in Turkey on Islamic holy nights. We don’t think there’s any need to wait for a special occasion though. Honey and freshly ground mahlab is a great porridge topping. It is delicious worked into shortbread, dusted over chocolate tarts or used to flavour sponge cake mixes or finish bunt cakes and breads.
St Lucie cherry trees thrive in a warm Mediterranean climate, which is why we source our mahlab from Turkey. Once the sour cherries have turned deep purple, they are picked, pitted and then the kernels are dried in the sun.
Whole mahlab kernels retain their potency far longer than pre-ground. Still, they should be kept in a dark, airtight tin and ground on demand.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Prunus Mahaleb , mahalab, mahlep, halub, mehlepi
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