Mahlab, Mahleb, or Mahlepi, is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of the St Lucie Cherry (Prunus mahaleb). The cherry stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5 mm diameter, soft and chewy on extraction, but ground to a powder before use. The flavour is similar to a combination of almond and cherry (Christian 1982).
It has been used for centuries in the Middle East and the surrounding areas (especially in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Kuwait, Armenia, Iran and Greece) as a sweet/sour, nutty addition to breads, cheese, cookies and biscuits. In the United States it has long been a staple in Greek-American holiday cake and pastry recipes. Thanks to renewed interest in Mediterranean cooking it has been recently mentioned in several cookbooks.
Mahleb is used in Greece, where it is known as "Mahlepi" for holiday cakes such as tsoureki and similar egg-rich yeast cakes and cookies. In Turkey it is used for "Poğaca". In the Middle East and Anatolia it is also associated with Ramadan sweets, including "Çörek", "Kandil simidi", "Ka'kat" and "Ma'amoul". It is also used to flavour the traditional Armenian holiday cake, "Choereg". In Cyprus, it is used in a special Easter cheese pie or cheese cake on Cyprus called 'flaounes' (φλαούνες).
There are many alternative spellings of this spice: محلب, مَحْلَب, mahlab, mahalab, mahleb, מהלב, mahaleb, mahlep, mahalep, μαχλέπι, mahlepi, machlepi or makhlepi.
- Christian, G. (1982). Delicatessen Food Handbook. Macdonald ISBN 0-356-09746-3.
- Davidson, A. (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-211579-0.
- Haroutunian, A. der. (1982). Middle Eastern Cookery. Century Publishing.