Fake Fryable, Brûlée-able Salep Dondurma Ice Cream: A Legal Recipe

posted by Dave Arnold  

While trying to make an ice cream that could be fried or brûléed, I accidentally produced a recipe that very closely resembles Salep Dondurma –the fabled Turkish stretchy ice cream.  

Salep dondurma. Stretchy Turkish ice cream made from orchid powder.
Fake salep dondurma.

Dondurma means ‘ice cream’ in Turkish. Salep dondurma is an ice cream made with flour from the ground tubers of wild Turkish orchids.  Some say the word Salep is derived from the word for fox testicles, which makes sense if you look at the picture below.  

Salep orchid (from wikimedia commons).

Salep flour contains a hydrocolloid that produces  a stretchy, chewy ice cream.  The ice cream has to be worked long and hard to make it stretchy –almost the way you would to make gluten develop in a bread dough.  Vendors in Turkey beat and pound the hell out of it with long rods to get the consistency right.  When the texture is right you can cut the ice cream with a knife and eat it with a fork.  

Harold McGee told me about Salep Dondurma in 2007.  He wanted to cover ice creams with alternative textures in a class he teaches with us at the FCI (the next one is in April, by the way). Nils and I decided to make some for the class, but we couldn’t -  turns out it is illegal to export Salep, which only grows in Turkey. The Turks love Salep so much that they are hoarding the world’s supply.  It takes something like a thousand salep orchids to make one kilo of flour. You can’t increase Salep production; it is wild, not farmed.  So McGee suggested we use guar gum as a substitute.  Guar made a very chewy ice cream, but it wasn’t like the pictures and descriptions of Salep Dondurma.  After the class, McGee wrote a piece on Salep and other non-standard ice creams for the New York Times, which includes a photo of the most amazing mustache I’ve ever seen.  

Mc Gee’s article piqued the interest of  our friend Professor Kent Kirshenbaum of NYU and the Experimental Cuisine Collective.   He and a Turkish graduate student wanted to find a way to reproduce  Salep Dondurma legally here in the US.  Under the auspices of scientific research they smuggled some Salep flour out of Turkey.  The ice cream they made at the FCI with that Salep,  flavored with gum mastic (Chios Mastic), was my first authentic Salep Dondurma.  Indeed, guar was not a substitute for Salep.  Guar, as Kent pointed out, is a galactomannan (a type of complex polysaccharide).  Salep, on the other hand, is a glucomannan –like Konjac flour.  We tried Konjac, but unfortunately it didn’t work.  We seemed to be out of luck. 

Fast forward to last week.  I wasn’t thinking about Salep.  I had a hydrocolloid class coming up, and I wanted to demonstrate a few new recipes: how about a fryable, brûlée-able ice cream using a fluid gel?  Fluid gels are made by blending a solid gel, usually agar or gellan (a type of hydrocolloid made by CP Kelco).  Once blended, the fluid gels have some properties of a liquid, and some of a solid.  When they are standing still they act like gels; when force is applied they give way like a fluid. Thick fluid gels look like purees, but have the mouth-feel of a sauce.  Thin fluid gels look like a liquid, but can suspend particles.  I chose gellan because I wanted a thick fluid gel that wouldn’t melt. There are two types of gellan: high-acyl and low-acyl.  High-acyl gellan is freeze-thaw stable –  great for ice cream. Unfortunately,  it melts at high temperatures, especially in milk. Bad for an ice cream that you intend to fry.  Low-acyl gellan won’t melt when fried, but it isn’t freeze-thaw stable; I decided to add Guar to increase freeze-thaw stability (thickeners like guar can do that).  Most Guar tastes pretty crappy, but we have some nice guar from TIC Gums with a dead neutral flavor. 

The result:  ice cream with a texture almost exactly the same as Salep Dondurma! I was surprised and excited.  It gets better: this same month my Turkish intern, after many botched attempts on our behalf,  made her first successful Salep smuggling run.  We whipped up some authentic Salep Dondurma to compare with our fake batch.   We were still impressed.  Real Salep is slightly more stretchy, but the mouth-feel of our imposter is almost exactly the same.  Plus, unlike Salep Dondurma, this stuff can be brûléed or deep-fried.  

Making fake salep part one: Left,the blended fluid gel; right, freezing with liquid nitrogen.
Making fake salep part 2: Beating in a Kitchen Aid, and the final product.
You can fry it (in a crust).
You can brulee it.
Making real salep dondurma at the FCI with salep smuggled in by our Turkish intern, Deniz. Unlike a traditional dondurma maker, we used liquid nitrogen.
Beating real Salep at the FCI, a multicultural extravaganza. The Salep is from our Turkish intern, the ice cream is being beaten by Cliff, our intern from Palau, and the whole thing is filmed by Wipop, our intern from Bangkok.

I called CP Kelco.  They said they were not aware of any strange Salep-like behavior when Gellan and Guar are combined. I had to figure out whether the Guar was needed for the Salep texture, or whether gellan would work alone. If gellan alone worked, was it necessary to use dairy to get the Salep texture? Many hydrocolloids have weird interactions with dairy, including gellan. If gellan alone didn’t work, would another thickener other than guar work in concert with gellan to give the Salep texture? Maybe Xanthan? CP Kelco had asked why the hell I used guar to help with freeze/thaw instead of Xanthan, which is what they would use.  I had some more experiments to do.  

We tested Heston Blumenthal’s flaming apple sorbet, a non-dairy gellan fluid gel, and confirmed that gellan alone in a non-dairy system does not yield a Salep feel.  I then made a milk-based ice cream with  gellan and no guar.  It was creamy and delicious; many people in our class loved it.  It could be brûléed and fried, but it didn’t have Salep-ness either. Gellan and dairy alone were not sufficient. Next I tried ice cream with gellan and xanthan –nope.  There is something special about gellan and guar together. Tests yet to run: Gellan and locust bean gum, gellan and Konjac flour, and gellan and guar in a non-dairy system.

As luck would have it, one of the students in our Hydrocolloids class was Turkish.  She gave us a two-thumbs up for authentic Salep texture!  

Class tested, Turkish approved!

Here is the recipe for our fake Salep.  This version is flavored with tea.  

Fake Fryable, Brûlée-able Salep Darjeeling Dondurma  

24 grams Singell Darjeeling tea leaves (A second flush Darjeeling from Harney and Sons with a fruity, muscatel note)  
500 grams cold milk  
500 grams cold cream  
5 grams KelcoGel  F Low Acyl Gellan Gum  
3 g salt  
5 grams TIC Flavor Free Guar (TIC is a company; they make a neutral tasting guar.  Most guar is “beany” tasting –not delicious borlatti bean tasting either, just guar bean tasting.)  
150 grams granulated sugar  
2 scraped vanilla beans  
3 egg yolks (beaten)  
2 grams Calcium Lactate Gluconate  

Combine the milk, cream, and tea leaves. Infuse the mixture in a vacuum bag at full vacuum plus 30 seconds. Allow to steep till flavor is developed (about 1 hour). Strain tea from milk/cream mixture and add gellan, salt, and guar. Whisk vigorously to combine (this step disperses the gellan and begins to hydrate the guar). Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring (to hydrate the gellan). Simmer for 1 minute (ensures the gellan is hydrated). Remove from heat.  Add sugar and vanilla and stir (drops the temperature a bit). When mixture drops to 83 or 82C add the egg yolks and stir (if you go higher you might curdle the eggs.  The yolks increase the creaminess of the recipe). When the temperature drops to 70C mix in the calcium and stir (I read a reference that calcium added to milk/gellan systems might cause problems if added above this temperature.  Calcium added below this temperature will also cause problems).  Put mixture in an ice bath to set. When mixture is completely set, blend in a high-speed mixer till creamy.  Freeze with liquid nitrogen in a Kitchen-Aid mixer fixed with a paddle attachment.  Beat until the ice cream gets stringy and stretchy.  

To make creamy ice cream without the Salep feel omit the guar gum and increase the gellan to 7 grams.

40 thoughts on “Fake Fryable, Brûlée-able Salep Dondurma Ice Cream: A Legal Recipe

  1. Reading this just makes me want to hunt down Salep. Assuming I find it, how would one make this recipe without LN? Could you run it in a traditional ice cream maker then after 25 mins (or when it’s set), transfer it to a KitchenAid to get it stretched out with the paddle attachment?

    1. Hi Sygyzy,
      With the real Salep I hear some people do the initial churn in a traditional ice cream machine and then finish off by beating. With our fake Salep (gellan-guar) you could probably do the same.

  2. Hi Dave-
    Kent and I got konjac to work pretty well…but I don’t think we could fry it! We also found that beating->freezing->beating gets stretchiness if you don’t have LN2.

    1. Hi,
      I don’t have LN to freeze the mixture, so I was wondering, if anyone had done it without it. If follow the suggestion of “beating–freezing-beating” – Beating with high speed blender – churning for 20-25 min. in ice cream maker and then beating in Kitchenaid mixer will it develop elasticity as it was described.

      Do I have to put the ice cream into the freezer after the ice cream machine or I can just put directly into the Kitchen aid mixer, also how long usually the ice cream needs to be whipped in the Kitchen aid mixer.

  3. It’s possible to deep-fry well-chilled and battered ice creams already — how specifically does the gel change the fryability?

    1. They don’t need to be hyperfrozen with this stuff. The batter coating can also be quite light and the scoops can be much smaller than you would do traditionally. I remember my dad used to take me to a Mexican restaurant every week as a kid. Every week for 52 weeks running I would order the deep-fried ice cream. Every week they would tell me their freezer wasn’t cold enough to make it that week. They never took the item off the menu. Frikkin chain restaurants!

      1. And from that moment forth, little Dave vowed never to be without a supply of liquid nitrogen.

  4. very cool!!…..konjac and xanthan are old friends and when combined make very strong, very elastic gels….have you tried them together in ice cream?….with gellan???…..gellan and xyloglucan are also known to get along well….

      1. Dave:

        Maybe we should give the konjac/xanthan mix a whirl when I get back to New York. FMC kindly sent me a kilo of their konjac flour, which Arielle (see above) used to make a dondurma knock-off legal for street sale. You can see video of Arielle stretching her “konjac dondurma”, along with clips of the shenanigans by the dondurma vendors in Istanbul:


        By the way, ethnobotanist Nat Bletter just e-mailed me from Bangkok to report that an Asian dondurma knock-off is now being peddled in the outdoor market Chatuchak. I am wondering what hydrocolloid component they are using and I suspect konjac is in the mix.

        Also, you refer to mastic as a flavor component in some salep dondurma. We have been very curious whether the polymer component in mastic (poly-beta-myrcene) could also be a functional ingredient and may also synergize with the glucomannan polysaccharide to enhance stretchiness. Mastic is the original chewing gum, of course.

        Nice advance. The wild orchids thank you.

  5. Great work on a more easily obtainable dondurma recipe! I didn’t like the product I had with guar at all, although I admit I fudged it a little.

    I did have a konjac batch going on at the same time, but I’ve been making frozen yogurts and should have dispersed and hydrated with time + immersion blender rather than heat. (Separated)

    Dondurma isn’t fryable/brulee-able? http://www.bob-stanton.com/Food/Blog/post/Toasted-Salep-Ice-Cream.aspx

    I think this recipe is legal, you just need to get gum mastic, afaik the watered down drink mix flavour is not illegal, just the flour. Pretty sure you don’t have to get mastic specifically from chios.

    1. I think most of the recipes I’ve seen have attributed the properties to mastic, perhaps because of they’re all using the drink mix salep. I remember cautions about using less or consuming it quickly if you want to avoid the sharp flavour of the mastic.

      Re: asian copy. I wouldn’t know about konjac–outside of japan its still pretty expensive (compared to the ubiquity of agar, at least). I bought a box of ‘crystal’ konjac powder in the supermarket: the back says LBG and carageenan iirc. Carageenan is used in boh boh lai cha pearls anyway (ballball milk tea).

      1. Hi Justin,
        Kent thinks there is some functionality to the mastic. I haven’t looked at his data recently, but I hope to do some work with him on it soon. We have the mastic. I like the flavor quite a lot. I sometimes melt it into bacon fat and work it into hamburgers.

  6. Often the best foods and drinks happen by accident! I have never tried stretchy ice-cream before but adding a lot of gum would have that effect I would guess.

  7. Hi Dave,

    I’ve been trying to make the “real thing”, but it seems I’m doing something wrong. The ice-cream doesn’t become chewy and stretchable at 1% salep, and the salep doesn’t dissolve at higher concentrations. How did you manage to make the ice-cream work?


    1. What kind of salep are you using? The stuff sold here as salep (the drink) isn’t the real deal. Even in Turkey, I am told much of the salep is cut with other stuff. Did it hydrate properly? Add Salep cold and blend, bring to boil. Also, how long are you beating it? It takes a while to become stretchy.

      1. I’m using “Pure Sahlab Powder” from Second House products (Lebanon). From what you’re saying, I guess my problem was the beating, I haven’t really paid attention to that.

        1. This product appears to be the real deal. From their web site:
          “Product description: The Original Sahlab (Or salep) is a white (yellowish) flour like powder obtained from the dried tubers of the wild orchid, Orchis mascula.
          Process description: Flour made from grinding the dried tubers of Orchis mascula”

          I am concerned that we may be encouraging additional consumption and harvesting of the wild orchid. We’ve heard that these plants are becoming endangered. Unless there are some contrary reports, maybe we should continue to focus our attention on finding good substitutes. And by good, I mean from a molecular perspective, from a culinary perspective, and from a sustainability perspective.

          1. Hi Kent,

            I’m trying to make the salep ice-cream for my thesis, and my goal is to find an alternative for salep. For now, I think konjac flour and locust bean gum give good results (and in my opinion, taste better :P).
            I’ll let you know when my thesis is finished, and what my conclusion is.

  8. Could you freeze this in your freezer after the mixture is set in an ice bath before beating again?

    Additionally, where can the average person hope to find that flavor free Guar?

    1. Hi Lou,
      I think that might work. TIC gums will sell directly to consumers (at least to chefs).

  9. Hi,
    I read this article and it increased my interest to Salep icecream, whitch I’m going to taste the next time I’m in Turkey, in summer I guss, so can you tell me how to get Salep flour there, so that I can smuggle it like your Turkish intern did?

  10. Another Turk here. I’ve been making an “ok” dondurma using guar gum. The texture isn’t right though its close enough, but the flavor is right. I really appreciate the writeup on this and intend to get my hands on some gellan to try this out. I like the use of the stand mixer for kneading the ice cream.

  11. Hi all, I know this is an old thread, but can someone please give the recipe for making the ice cream with real salep? I am Greek, and of course have access to both salep and chios mastic, and if possible I would like the recipe your Turkish intern used. I am not a big fan of ice creams, but dondurma is the only ice cream I really enjoy due to the texture

  12. Hi Dave,

    Thank you for recommending Anissa. I am here in Istanbul and found some pure salep for 250 Turkish Lira a Kg, or about 166 USD a kg. I bought 30 TL worth ~ 120g. Will that be enough to make a few batches? Also do you Kent’s recipe? Thanks again! Val

  13. The reason Salep flour has to be smuggled is because Salep is made from miscellaneous orchid species that are protected under CITES; Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Note the word endangered. Salep flour is derived from orchid tubers which are picked while the plants are in bloom. Therefore they don’t get a chance to set seed and the plant is also destroyed. Current harvesting is reducing populations of these orchids. So until a sustainable method of cultivation and certified sustainable production systems are established exporting Salep (without CITES permits and documentation) remains illegal and best avoided on ethical grounds too. There is a big difference between plants being harvested for local use and quantities harvested for export. Its great to hear about people experimenting with alternative ingredients so that an interesting texture can be enjoyed without destroying our biodiversity resources.

  14. I am very impressed with this recipe and I am very interested in making it at home. However not only I need to order the salep replacement online, but I also need to get a lot of cooking machine (like the vacuum infushion and liquid nitrogen)… Is it possible to make it with ice cream maker or something simple?

    1. Hello Mankun,
      I’m not sure if a regular rock-salt and ice ice cream maker would make this recipe properly because the dasher isn’t typically that strong. I have serious doubts the little electric powered machines will work either. One of my former interns was able to get the recipe to work using the ice cream attachment for the kitchen aid. For the tea part of the recipe you can just let it cold steep for several hours or overnight. The flavor will be different but still good.

  15. Thank you for this wonderful piece. Do you need the gellan to make dondurma that won’t be fried/bruleed? Would the guar be enough on its own? Also, what does the calcium lactate gluconate do for the recipe?

    1. Howdy Max,
      You need the gellan. Guar on its own will just get thicker, not make it salep like. The calcium lactate gluconate is there for the gellan. There might be enough free calcium in the milk but I don’t like fooling around.

  16. Thank you for wonderful recipe! I’ve done it a few times, but without the liquid nitrogen, and even made ​​no- dairy and no-egg version.

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