By Pamela Santore
As we ready ourselves to celebrate the great American tradition of Thanksgiving, let’s seek aphrodisiac pleasure not within our native “Turkey Day” meal but instead in the foreign and exotic country of Turkey.
Salep refers to both an aphrodisiac beverage and orchid in Turkey. Salep flour, which is made from grinding dried tubers of a species of plant related to the orchid, is the main ingredient of this drink. The name “salep” is said to come from an Arabic expression meaning “fox testicles,” because of the orchid’s tubers, which are egg-shaped and resemble testes. It has also been referred to as merely “testicles” and “orchid” throughout history. Most likely, however, the Turkish name seems to come directly from the Arabic name “sahlab” for both the orchid and the drink.
Salep is generally offered as a winter beverage. By boiling a mixture of salep flour with milk, sugar, and spices, the drink has been offered by doctors over generations, under the principle of “sympathetic medicine,” to men who experience fertility or virility problems because of the belief that ingesting objects that look like testicles would bestow the assets of healthy testes.
Sometimes referred to as Turkish Delight, salep is also known as cayirotu or cemcicegi and is believed to be an excellent remedy for intestinal disorders, colds and coughs and is thought to improve sexual appetite and increase virility. Ancient folklore declares that salep orchid was an ingredient in love potions brewed by witches. “Witches were supposed to use the tubers in their philters, the fresh tuber being given to promote true love, and the withered one to check wrong passions,” according to Wisegeek.com. “It was tested recently for cases of nervous debility and has been shown to be a nerve stimulant” and reinvigorating tonic, effective for age-related sexual weakness.
In reality, Turkish Delight is most often used when referring to lokum, which is a sweet dessert made from starch and sugar and often flavored with rosewater, mastic, or lemon. It is said that in an attempt to satisfy his many wives, a famous sultan demanded his confectioner to create a blend of sugar syrup, nuts, dried fruits and other flavorings. Combined with a binding agent, the delicately scented and sugary sweet, known as Turkish Delight, was created. From this moment on, a plate of Lokum was served at daily feasts in the Ottoman court.
Salep itself is native to Turkey, although its popularity spread beyond this location to the Middle East, England, and Germany before coffee and tea became fashionable. However, it was still offered as an alternative beverage in coffee establishments. In England, during the 17th and 18th centuries, British orchid roots, known as “dogstones,” were utilized as substitution for the original Turkish salep orchids.
Europeans also believed that the orchid root could determine the sex of their unborn children. It was said that men who ate the larger root of the orchid would have sons whereas women who ate the smaller root would have daughters. Interestingly, the scent of the orchid species led to the belief that the plant arose from goat semen which fell on the ground during copulation and fermented.
Salep has a long history in Turkey and was originally used there as medicinal beverage and as a binder in desserts. The popularity of salep in Turkey has unfortunately led to a decline in the populations of wild orchids. True salep is now illegal to export out of the country and now instant salep mixes are made with artificial flavorings and substitutes in other parts of the world.
Other desserts made from salep flour include salep pudding and salep ice cream, also known as salep dondurma, or “Maras Ice Cream.” According to a New York Times article, the traditional Turkish salep ice cream is sweetened and flavored with mastic, a sweet-smelling resin, and thickened with salep. The ice cream was most likely discovered when accidentally frozen. Salep ice cream is typically stretched for 20 minutes into an elastic mass, creating a firm and chewy frozen concoction that is cut with a knife. Amazingly, this Turkish specialty is so stretchy it can be used as a jump rope.
Turkish Aphrodisiac Festival
Important aspects of the Turkish male’s sexual identity throughout history revolve around his sexual potency and fertility. Pastes and potions were invented to enhance a man’s ability to perform sexually and produce the desired amount of children. These herbal pastes (or kuvvet macunu) are still used today and are handed out freely in certain Turkish regions during special feasts. As part of annual ceremonies, kuvvet macunu are handed out with prayers and are believed to protect the user from disease, impotency and promote the health of children born that year.
Each year during the month of March, the Mesir Macunu Festival is held in the Turkish town of Manisa. During the festival, local authorities throw hundreds of kilograms of a mysterious paste, known as Mesur Macunu, from the top of the sultan mosque in Manisa’s main square. Over 14,000 people flock to the western town to claim a piece of this legendary aphrodisiac, which is actually a spiced candy known as “Turkish Viagra.” The paste, which is made up of 41 different spices, has gained the reputation of being the strongest aphrodisiac in the country due to its energizing qualities, according to The New York Times.
The paste is said to have been invented in 1540 as a medicinal paste to save the life of the mother of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, by a prominent medicine man of the Ottoman Empire. After her cure, the sultan’s mother proclaimed the miraculous paste should be distributed freely to all who wanted it. From that time on, the paste has been distributed in small chunks for free from the sultan’s mosque. The recipe has been secretly passed down from generation to generation from among the town’s ruling class. It is known only to the top municipal authorities and officially appointed producers. Every year, since the creation of Mesur Macunu, Manisa has thrown this special festival to distribute the infusion or Mesir Paste wrapped in paper and thrown from the rooftops of mosques to the local citizens. An announcement declaring that this famous formula has been officially approved by the Turkish Pharmaceutical Standards Institute was made at the 459th Mesur Macunu festival. Forty tons of the paste is said to be produced each year.
In another version of Mesur Macunu, the popular and bestselling “Aphrodisiac of Sultans” is also comprised of 41 spices and herbs. Not only do people believe in its aphrodisiac properties, but that it also is responsible for fortifying the blood, alleviating pain and protecting against snake and insect bites. The paste is most often eaten spread on bread like jam, but it is recommended to eat it alone to receive its best effects. This “sultan’s paste,” is a honey-based mixture infused with nuts, herbs and spices including ginger, cloves, mustard seeds and cinnamon that is ingested by mixing a teaspoon of it in hot water.
Turkey is a land full of aphrodisiac surprises. With limitless aromatic spices and herbs combining to create aphrodisiac specialties for all of the seasons, try incorporating your traditional meal of turkey, stuffing and apple cider this Thanksgiving with a warm jug of Turkish salep. Salep:Turkey’sGifttoMankind
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