July 05, 2020
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An aromatic spice derived from the seed of the St. Lucy’s cherry

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kitchen IQ

Mahlab or mahleb is an aromatic spice derived from the seed of the St. Lucy’s cherry, found in the Mediterranean region. The spice requires drying and cra­cking of the rock hard cherry pits to extract the seed kernel—5-8 mm in diameter, soft and chewy. It tastes of a mix of sour cherries, bitter alm­o­nds and a hint of rose. When baked, the flavour transforms to rich and fruity, making the spice best with baked items such as breads, cakes and coo­­kies. Mahlab is best when ground before use, as its flav­our dissipates quickly. It pairs well with both milk and che­ese. In Greek-American coo­­king, it is a fla­v­ouring in Christmas cakes and pastry recipes. In Greece, it is used in egg-rich yeast cakes and coo­kies such as Christmas vasilopita and Easter tsoureki bre­­ads. In the Middle East, it is used in scones. In Egypt, powdered mahlab is made into a paste with honey, ses­­a­­me seeds and nuts and eaten as a dessert or a snack.

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