|Mahaleb Cherry – Prunus mahaleb |
Cultivated for a bitter spice, mahlab, made from its seeds. Also called St. Lucie cherry or rock cherry
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Cultivated for a bitter spice, mahlab, made from its seeds, this versatile cherry is also an outstanding ornamental with fragrant, profuse spring flowers. Mahaleb cherry is naturalized in North America in 39 United States and 2 Canadian provinces.
A deciduous tree or large shrub, growing to 12 m, with a trunk up to 40 cm diameter. The bark is grey-brown, with conspicuous lenticels on young stems, and shallowly fissured on old trunks. The leaves are 1.5-5 cm long, 1-4 cm. wide, alternate, clustered at the end of alternately arranged twigs, ovate to cordate, pointed, have serrate edges, longitudinal venation and are glabrous and green.
The flowers are fragrant, pure white, small, 8-20 mm diameter, with an 8-15 mm pedicel; they are arranged 3-10 together on a 3-4 cm long raceme. The flower pollination is mainly by bees. The fruit is a small thin-fleshed cherry-like drupe 8â€“10 mm in diameter, green at first, turning red then dark purple to black when mature, with a very bitter flavour; flowering is in mid spring with the fruit ripening in mid to late summer. 
Mahlab, Mahleb, or Mahlepi, is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of the mahaleb cherry. The stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5 mm diameter, and ground to a powder.
Mahlab has been used for centuries in the Middle East and North Africa as a flavoring in bread, cheese, cookies and biscuits. In the United States it is a staple in Greek-American holiday cake and pastry recipes. Many recent cookbooks featuring Mediterranean-style cooking have reflected the growing interest in this spice.
Mahleb is used in Greece, where it is known as Î¼Î±Ï‡Î»ÎÏ€Î¹ (mahlepi) for holiday cakes such as tsoureki and similar egg-rich yeast cakes and cookies. In Cyprus, it is used in a special Easter cheese pie or cheese cake called flaounes. In Turkey it is used for "PoÄŸaca". In the Middle East and Anatolia it is also associated with Ramadan sweets, including "Ã‡Ã¶rek", "Kandil simidi", "Ka'kat" and "Ma'amoul". In Egypt the powdered Mahlab is made into a paste with honey, sesame and nuts, eaten as a dessert or a snack with bread. It is also used to flavour the traditional Armenian holiday cake, "Choereg" .
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Many of these plants are of vital economic importance, the fruit of which contain vitamins, acids, and sugars and can be used both raw and for making preserves, jam, jelly, candy, wine, brandy, cider and other beverages.
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