Sahlab is the perfect drink for a cold wintery night. It is made with only two main ingredients and comes together in a few minutes. It's the cold weather cozy hot drink of the Mediterranean.
Sahlab is a popular drink throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa: it's a warm, comforting, and healing drink that is slightly thick and often flavoured with floral water, cinnamon and topped with nuts. Each Region has its own way of preparing this drink, but my favourite version is the one I'm sharing today.
During the winter, drinking sahlab is as symbolic to the Eastern Mediterranean as is the Western tradition of cozying up to a fireplace and drinking hot cocoa with marshmallows. To be honest with you, I love sahleb way more than Hot Chocolate. 🤫
This drink was a trendy winter drink in the former Ottoman Empire, where it was a traditional hot beverage sold on the streets. You can find this drink still being sold on the streets in many Mediterranean countries to this day.
However, nowadays, it's become much hard and more expensive to obtain real sahlab due to the overexploitation of wild orchids in Turkey and Iran. This is why you'll find so many recipes calling for sorghum flour or cornstarch instead of the sahlab.
If you're like me and want the real deal, you can purchase it easily on Amazon, but it's a bit expensive, and you must read the labels. Many companies say their drink is sahlab, but it's actually sugar-flavoured cornstarch. It should be made of 100% sahlab and be of Turkish origins.
What is Sahlab?
Sahlab also spelled salep or sahleb, it's a flour that's made from the tubers (roots) of the orchid genus Orchis (including species Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris). These orchid roots go through some interesting stages of preparation before becoming the drink we know has sahleb.
The orchids are very gently removed from the ground; due to the gentle nature of the orchid's roots. The roots are washed and then boiled in milk and water. Then they're strung on a rope under the sun to let it dry. Once completely dried, it’s ground into a fine powder to become ready for the drink.
These tubers contain a nutritious polysaccharide called Glucomannan, a natural dietary fibre that acts as a thickener that gives the sahleb drink its signature texture. 
What Does Sahlab Taste Like?
Sahlab has a very light floral taste and a slightly thick texture. You can also add Rosewater, orange blossom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to the milk to give it a distinctive Middle Eastern flare.
What are the best toppings for this drink?
When preparing this drink, it's common to serve sahlab with ground nuts like pistachio, almonds, walnuts or coconut. You can also add ground pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds if you have a nut allergy. It's also common to add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to the drink's top.
Is Sahlab Healthy?
One of the reasons this drink is so highly prized is thanks to its healing qualities.
- Gives skin a radiant glow and thickens hair.
- Helps with digestion such as heartburn, flatulence, and indigestion
- It helps to relieve diarrhea, particularly in children.
- Relieves chest congestion and bronchitis
Sahlab has been consumed for 3000 years by the Turks! It was recorded that they started consuming it around the 8th century when Turks started converting to Islam. However, it wasn't used for medical purposes in the 17th century.
I can't drink milk. Can I use almond milk? Yes, you can use any plant-based milk. My favourite is cashew, but oat milk, almond and rice milk are also great options.
I can't find sahlab. I strongly recommend ordering the sahlab, for the best results and the most authentic taste. However, I understand this option may not be available for everyone. In that case, swap the sahleb for cornstarch and add rose water or orange blossom water to the milk.
For More, Mediterranean Sweets Try These.
- 1 cup milk
- 21/2 tablespoon sahlab powder
- ⅛ teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
- 1 tablespoon pistachios (optional)
- Lightly toast the pistachios in a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Toast until they become bright green. Approximately for about 5 minutes of toasting.
- Transfer the nuts to a cutting board. Allow them to cool and start making the sahlab.
- Add the milk to a small pot, add the milk and salhab powder. Whisk to combine.
- Heat the milk and sahlab over medium and frequently. Once the milk becomes hot, the sahlab will thicken. This will happen pretty quickly once the milk is hot, it's important to stir frequently, or the milk will burn to the pot's bottom.
- Once the sahlab has thickened to a point, it coats the spoon. Then remove the sahlab from the heat. Pour in the orange blossom water and stir. Then pour it into a thick glass cup. Set aside.
- When the sahlab is cooling a bit finely chop your pistachios. Add the nuts to the top of the sahlab and serve.
You can use any nut or seeds of your choice. Cinnamon is also a great topping option too.
You can use any floral water of your choice. I like to mix the rose and orange blossom water when adding to my sahlab.
☝🏼 Go easy on the floral water! A little goes a long way. If you add too much to your sahlab, it will taste like soap, and no one likes to drink soap.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 169Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 20mgSodium: 170mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 10g