Mahleb or Mahlab is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry, Prunus mahaleb (the Mahaleb cherry, aka the St Lucie cherry). The cherry stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5 mm diameter, soft and chewy on extraction. The seed kernel is ground to a powder before use. Its flavour is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry.
It is used in small quantities to sharpen sweet foods. It has been used for centuries in the Middle East and the surrounding areas as a flavoring for baked goods. In recent decades it has been slowly entering mainstream cookbooks in English.
In Greek American cooking, it is the characteristic flavoring of Christmas cake and pastry recipes. In Greece it is called μαχλέπι (mahlepi) and is used in egg-rich yeast cakes and cookies such as Christmas vasilopita and Easter tsoureki breads (known as cheoreg in Armenian and çörek in Turkish). In Turkey it is used in pogača scones, and other pastries. In the Arabic Middle East it is used in ma'amoul scones. In Egypt powdered mahlab is made into a paste with honey, sesame seeds and nuts, eaten as a dessert or a snack with bread.
In English, mahlab is sometimes spelled mahalab, mahlep, mahaleb, etc. For information about the cherry tree that produces the spice see Prunus mahaleb.
- Levitt, Barbara, ed. (November 2008), Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Food Plants, National Geographic Society, p. 294, ISBN 978-1-4262-0372-5, Preview, p. 294, at Google Books
- MacMillan, Norma, ed. (October 2010), The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients (1st American ed.), Dorling Kindersley, p. 354, ISBN 978-0-7566-6730-6