Sahlab recipe: hot milk drink from Turkiye

sahlab recipe original

When the temperature drops in winter and the narrow streets of Istanbul are covered in snow (or simply wet…), he arrives: the salepçi.


The salepci is the sahlab seller, a seasonal worker who pushes his cart with a copper samovar through the streets and revives the night with a loud "Saaaaleeeeepciiii - SALEPCI". Passers-by then get their cups of the hot, creamy sahlab and residents stop the salepci from their windows to run down and get some sahlab too. This picture is commonplace in wintry Istanbul – and officially illegal. 


Although it is common here for street vendors to offer fish, fruit, milk, yoghurt, bean stew, rice with chickpeas or even sahlab on carts, it is still not allowed. Only sellers of simit, chestnuts and corn are allowed to register their business. Yet professions such as salepci have a long tradition dating back to the Ottoman Empire. A tradition that lives on, but is also punished and slowly but surely being erased.


But salep, sahlep or sahlab is not only enjoyed in Turkey. The hot milk drink also has a long tradition in the Arab world. Here is a little anecdote from a Syrian mini-market in Istanbul:


The Syrian mini market, which sells a few Arabic items, such as mainly Arabic bread, basmati rice and pickles, has a samovar in the narrow store. While I'm talking to the cashier, young Syrian men walk in and out every second. Why? To refill the sahlab. Someone is constantly coming in, buying a plastic cup of hot sahlab, drinking it in one gulp and then buying the next cup. Not just one person – everyone did it. No joke, I've rarely seen anyone drink or eat anything with such passion. It was so noticeable that I immediately bought myself a cup of sahlab. Peer pressure.

What is Sahlab?

A drink that gets you out on the icy road on a cozy winter evening? It must be extraordinary delicious! We've already told you more about salep in our Maras ice cream Recipe. Because the well-known Turkish milk ice cream is basically frozen salep. The key ingredient in the salep drink is the salep of the same name. Salep (also known as sahlep or sahlab) is basically grounded orchid tubers. Yes, that's right: orchid tubers. 


Because the whole secret behind the great taste of the Turkish hot drink lies in the dried and grated root tubers, it is this salep powder that gives the milk its incomparable aroma and sticky consistency. The only other ingredients added to the hot milk drink from Turkey are sugar and possibly cinnamon.


Buy salep for the sahlab recipe

Curious? We have prepared an original salep recipe with real salep for you! It's not so easy to find "saf salep", i.e. pure salep in the West. Please note that 'salep powder' in Turkish or Arabic supermarkets is usually an instant mixture with no or a minimal amount of real salep. Nevertheless, you can buy salep powder online. If you have a Turkish spice and herb store (Aktar) nearby – we actually had one in Vienna – you can also ask there. 


Fake salep: what you should know

Most salep recipes online are fake. Fake in the sense that they don't contain any salep. Instead, the consistency and taste are imitated from the real sahlab recipe. Such salep recipes consist of milk, cornstarch, sugar and cinnamon.

Delicious? Yes.

Really a sahlab recipe? Well....


The reason for this, by the way, is that salep powder is quite expensive. However, you can't really compare the results, which is why we would definitely advise you to try the real Salep recipe. In addition, you don't need a lot of Salep per portion, which is why a tiny bag, for example, will last a while.


How to make our salep recipe

It's not actually our salep recipe, because it's a genuine original salep recipe from Turkey. Preparing it is child's play. All you have to do is mix the milk, salep and sugar and bring to boil. This creates the unique consistency and you can enjoy the salep hot straight away. It is also particularly delicious (and decorative) if you decorate the salep with cinnamon. Children also like to sprinkle cocoa powder on top. You can adjust the sweetness to suit your taste. The salep recipe is served in simple coffee cups.

Questions about the Sahlab recipe

Can children drink Salep?

Yes, definitely. Salep has no harmful ingredients or effects. The sugar in the Salep recipe can also be adjusted. In Turkey, Salep is also a popular hot drink for the whole family.


Can pregnant and breastfeeding women drink Salep?

In this case, too, our salep recipe is no problem. 


Is Salep healthy?

In Turkey, salep is said to have numerous positive effects on the body and health. The salep recipe is said to be particularly good for colds. Is it really? We don't know, but apart from the sugar, salep is really just milk with ground orchid root tubers.


What does Salep taste like?

Salep has a very unique taste. The consistency is sticky and a bit like watery pudding. The aroma and smell are reminiscent of woody vanilla... try it for yourself!

Personally, we are huge fans of Salep. Especially on a cold winter evening, a hot cup of sticky, milky salep will warm your heart.


How can I vary your salep recipe?

You can adjust the amount of salep and sugar in our original salep recipe. The more sahlab, the thicker the Turkish milk drink will be. You can also make your salep Arabic style. Rose water or chopped nuts and grated coconut on the hot drink go well with this. The salep is also sprinkled with ground cinnamon or cocoa at the end. When it comes to cinnamon, the Turks know no bounds – there is often a really thick layer on top of the salep!


What can I use instead of sugar?

You can use sugar alternatives for our salep recipe. One idea is to boil the salep with just the salep powder and milk and stir honey into the cup at the end. 

salep recipe original
Here you can see the consistency of salep (cinnamon is already stirred in)

One more thing before we introduce you to our ingenious salep recipe: We ran out of ground cinnamon - so we simply ground cinnamon sticks! We used our food processor, which also has a grinder. We've linked you to our machine right here.


Salep recipe: hot milk drink from Turkey

Ingredients for two portions

  • two coffee cups of milk
  • 1 full teaspoon pure salep
  • 2 tsp sugar (or according your taste)


  • cinnamon or cocoa powder




Step 1: For the salep recipe, mix 1 cup of milk with the sugar in a Turkish coffee pot* or a small saucepan. Heat the mixture until the milk warms up and the sugar dissolves.

Step 2: Stir the salep into another cup of cold milk until there are no more lumps. 

Step 3: Pour the cold milk/salep mixture into the warm milk and sugar and bring the salep recipe to boil, stirring constantly. Serve hot and sprinkle the salep with cinnamon or cocoa powder as desired.

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