From the ancient ages people used to drink tonic beverage which comforted the soul and the body during the cold winters, long trips and generally on the dire days. The drink was widespread in China, India and Middle East, as well as in the other regions of the Old World. It was coffee forerunner. It did not cause addiction. The healers suggested that the drink was able to relieve multiple inner and mental malignancies, to improve the sex life and childbirth, to tope up all the body. It even suppressed the sense of hunger!
The magic beverage was called salep, saloop, sahlab or hasyu al-tha`lab, which means “fox testicles” in one of the Middle East languages. They prepared salep from the dried tubers of the local species of the orchid called Orchis, e.g. O. latifolia, O. mascula, O. maculata, O.anatolica. The tuber-derived powder mixed with hot water creates jelly-like palatable liquid. The powder consists of complex starch-like substance called salepum or bassorin. The plant uses this substance energy and water storage, as well as antifreeze during the cold season. The modern medicine is aware of the taping up (but not aphrodisiac) features of salep. Salep is prepared from orchid powder, sugar, milk and cinnamon.
Probably once in the paste the drink was forgotten and frozen under the cold weather conditions, and that accident started the tradition of preparing of famous Turkish ice-cream “salepi dondurma”. Dondurma means ice cream. Recently this ice cream comes with various tastes and toppings, but the original “plain” salepi dondurma is off-white and resembles vanilla ice cream. It should be served with fork and knife because of the dense structure.
All the salep produced from orchids is prepared from naturally-grown plants which are collected by locals. They suggest that, because the weather fluctuations, in each season they collect in another area or collect the other species, and the overall populations remains intact. In Ankara University, the investigators started to be concerned about uncontrolled tuber collections. However, no studies were performed thus far to determine whether the collecting is harmful for the natural population.
Turkey remains the only developed country which does not conserve the wild orchids. However recently there is a project of substitution of tubers collection by their commercial cultivation in the local farms. The alternative income variants will be offered to locals. Now the project is in the planning stage.
In Israel and other countries the surrogate salep is sailed. This drink is cheap and contains nuts and cinnamon.
“Orchid Fever” E. Hansen, Lexicon by V.I. Dal.