Mahlab is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of the St Lucie Cherry (Prunus mahaleb). It is also known as Mahleb, or Mahlepi.

Prunus mahaleb (St Lucie cherry, Rock cherry, Mahaleb cherry) is a species of cherry native to the central and southern Europe, western and central Asia, and northwest Africa. Prunus mahaleb, 2-10 m tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm in diameter. The leaves, 1.5-5 cm long and 1-4 cm wide, are alternate, ovate to cordate, pointed, glabrous and green and have serrate edges. The pure white, small flowers are fragrant, 8-20 mm diameter, with an 8-15 mm pedicel; arranged 3-10 together on a 3-4 cm long raceme. Pollination is done mainly by bees. The bitter-flavored fruit is a small thin-fleshed cherry-like drupe, 8-10 mm in diameter, initially green, turning red then dark purple to black when mature. The flowering happens in mid spring with the fruit ripening in mid to late summer. The 5 mm diameter seed kernel is obtained by cracking the cherry stone, and then ground to a powder before use. The strong aroma powder has flavor similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry.

Mahlab is used as a sweet/sour, nutty addition to breads, cheese, cookies and biscuits in the Middle East, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Kuwait, Armenia, Iran, Libya and Greece. In the United States, it is used as a staple in Greek American Christmas cake and pastry recipes. In Egypt, powdered mahlab is made into a paste with honey, sesame and nuts, eaten as a dessert or a snack with bread.

Author: Jeantosti (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Mahlab flowersMahlab flowers
Author: Sten Porse (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0-unported)

Mahlab fruitMahlab fruit
Author: Jeantosti (public domain)

Mahlab cherry stoneMahlab cherry stone
Author: Steve Hurst (public domain)

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