Spices - Mahlab Seeds

Arabic Mahlab
Dutch Weichsel, Weichselkers
English English cherry, Rock cherry, St. Lucie cherry
French Cerisier de Sainte-Lucie
German Felsenkirsche, Turkische Weichsel, Turkische Kirsche
Italian Ciliegio canino, Pruno odoroso, Ciliegio di Santa Lucia
Swedish Vejksel

Maahlab is one of the medical and aromatic plants from the Rose family. It has been planted in Syria since the old ages. The word has been speculated to be of Semitic origin (Assyrian karshu), but, of course, the Assyrian name might be yet another loan from an unknown tongue of the near or Middle East. Mahaleb is a name of an ancient town in today's Lebanon.

The soft interior of the fruit stone (embryo), which is beige to light ochre. The embryo is soft-textured and tastes bitter and aromatic. After some time of chewing, a weak bitter almond fragrance develops. It is found in Eastern especially in Syria, where it prefers warm and dry climate. It is also exported from it to many countries.

Main Constituents

From the seeds, a fixed oil can be extracted that contains unusual conjugated fatty acids: 9,11,13-octadecatrienic acid (cis,trans,trans form: eleostearic acid, cis,trans,cis form: punicic acid).

It’s usage all over the world
Mahalab plant, being rather robust and insensitive to diseases, is commonly used as stock in grafting cherries, especially in the USA. The thin-fleshed and small fruits of mahalab cherries yield this unusual spice, whose delicate fragrance is, however, dominated by a rather strong bitterness. It is used only in Near-Eastern cuisines; adding the ground kernels to the dough sometimes flavors Turkish bread. Furthermore, they appear in sweets from Greece and Cyprus. Mahaleb cherrystones are difficult to obtain in the West; So they import a huge amount of mahlap especially from Syria.

Usage of fried or cooked garlic is, however, much more common. On heating, the pungency and strong odor get lost and the aroma becomes subtler and less dominant, harmonizing perfectly with ginger, pepper, chilies and many other spices. Therefore, it is an essential ingredient for nearly every cuisine of the world. Different Asian cuisine makes different use of this very versatile spice. Many Indian recipes add garlic in an early phase, and it is fried for a long time together with onion and other spices to provide the basic masala; in the finished dish, the garlic taste is no longer discernible, but has merged totally with the other components. In contrast, although Indonesian and even Chinese stir-fries usually start with frying a few cloves of garlic, a faint garlic aroma persists until serving.

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