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Mahlab or mahlepi is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of the St Lucie Cherry (Prunus mahaleb). The cherry stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5 mm diameter, soft and chewy on extraction, but ground to a powder before use. The flavour is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry.
It has been used for centuries in the Middle East and the surrounding areas as a flavoring for baked goods. In Greek American cooking, it is the characteristic flavoring of Christmas cake and pastry recipes. Thanks to renewed interest in Mediterranean cooking it has been recently mentioned in several cookbooks.
In Greece it is called μαχλέπι (mahlepi) and is used in egg-rich yeast cakes and cookies such as Christmas vasilopita and Easter tsoureki. In Cyprus it is called μέχλεπι (mehlepi) and is used in a special Easter cheese pie or cheese cake called φλαούνες (flaounes). In Turkey it is used for pogača. In the Middle East and Anatolia it is used in Ramadan sweets including çörek, kandil simidi, ka'kat and ma'amoul. In Egypt powdered mahlab is made into a paste with honey, sesame and nuts, eaten as a dessert or a snack with bread. In Armenia it is used to flavour the traditional Easter bread, cheoreg.
There are many alternative spellings of this spice: محلب, مَحْلَب, mahlab, mahalab, mahleb, מהלב, mahaleb, mahlep, mahalep, μαχλέπι, μέχλεπι, mahlepi, machlepi or makhlepi. The final 'b' of the original Arabic word becomes 'p' in Turkish due to the phonologically regular unvoicing of the final 'b'.
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