Salep and Boza – History and Recipe of Special Turkish Winter Drinks

A glass of salep (sahlep) served in a cafe in Istanbul, Turkey.

by Erlend Geerts

in Cafés, Restaurants

When the winter comes two traditional and historic drinks, salep and boza, color up the cold grey days. Salep with its ancient medical history warms you up. Boza with its nutritious thick texture cools you down. If you happen to be in Istanbul during winter, these drinks most definitely offer a different experience to your taste buds.

Boza – One of the Oldest Turkish Drinks

Boza is one of the oldest Turkish beverages, and is made from fermented grains. In Turkey mostly durum wheat is used and in other countries corn, barley, rye, oats, wheat, buckwheat … It contains nutritious values like protein, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. It gives your stomach a full feeling, so it’s better not to drink boza during or right before your meal.

History of Boza

A glass of Boza served in Vefa Bozacısı, Istanbul, Turkey.

A glass of Boza.

Central Asian Turks began to make boza in the 10th century. In the 16th century boza was banned by Sultan Selim II because of the opium used in the mixture. Also in the 17th century, boza got its share from the alcoholic drinks prohibition of Sultan Mehmet IV since excessive fermentation caused a higher alcoholic level.

In the 17th century Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi reported that boza was largely drunk by janissaries in the army and it contained a low level of alcohol. So, it was tolerated due to its warming and strengthening effect for the soldiers.

In the 19th century, the sweet and non-alcoholic version became popular at the Ottoman Palace, and also in society. Hacı Sadık Bey is the founder of today’s most well-known boza brand Vefa.

In 1870 he immigrated from Albania and settled in the Vefa district in Istanbul. He reinterpreted the thin and sour boza. His version was thicker, less tart, and became a brand in 1876. Today the brand still produces boza between October and April.

Where to Drink Boza

The facade of historic Vefa Bozacısı in Istanbul, Turkey.

The facade of Vefa Bozacısı.

A few decades ago you could hear boza sellers shouting to sell freshly prepared boza on the streets during winter evenings. Parallel with the industrial development and rapid growing consumption patterns, boza claimed its place in the stores since the early 2000s.

During the winter you can find boza almost everywhere: in supermarkets, patisseries and cafes. I recommend paying a visit to the historic Vefa Bozacısı in Vefa Fatih, Katip Çelebi Cad. No:104/1. Atatürk drank boza in this shop, and his glass is still on display.

Salep

A wild orchid, the basis of the Turkish drink salep.

A wild orchid, the basis of salep.

Orchids have fascinated mankind for more than 3000 years, not only with its aesthetic beauty but also with its medical might. The idea of making a drink out of this enchanting flower belongs to Turks, thanks to their religious belief. In the 8th century, Turkish people converted to Islam. According to the belief, they are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages. So they came up with the idea of salep, a hot milky drink to warm you up during the cold winters.

Tubers of wild orchids are washed, boiled, dried and finally grinded into flour. This is the essence of this soft and warming, but also medical drink. The healing power of salep comes from glucomannan, which heals respiratory problems like bronchitis and cough. It empowers the heart and the mind, stops diarrhea and warms up the body. Especially if it’s consumed with ginger and/or cinnamon, its effect is amplified.

Where to Find Salep

A delicious cup of salep found in Istanbul, Turkey.

A delicious cup of salep.

This precious flower grows almost everywhere in Turkey, and there are lots of varieties. Yet, some varieties are facing extinction. To get 1 kilo of salep flour, more than 1000 orchid tubers are pulled out of the soil. And it takes up to 7 or 8 years for the orchid’s tubers to grow sufficiently to use for salep production. Therefore, export of salep is prohibited. However, instant versions with salep flavor are exported.

The two common places to drink a nice warm cup of salep are Emirgan Sütiş (Sakıp Sabancı Caddesi, No:1/3; Emirgan, Sarıyer) and Öz Süt (İstinye Park AVM).

Home-made Salep

It is easy to make salep at home … as long as you can get the salep flour. For six people, mix 2 tea spoons of salep flour with 2,5 tea spoons of sugar. Slowly add 3,5 glasses of cold milk, and stir. Finally boil the mixture while stirring on low fire for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot in a cup dusting with grinded cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger on top.

Instant and Ready to Drink Versions

Or you can also get the instant versions. Warm milk, add the flour, stir and finally add cinnamon. Unfortunately, they have more salep flavor than real salep, some as little as 0,3%. Some brands have even ready to drink versions. Those you just need to heat, add cinnamon and you’re ready to serve.

Photo Sources [1] [2] [3] [4]

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolina_D February 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

I went to uni in Ankara and often had this (salep) at local bakeries, along with a sweet baked treat. I had no idea of how it was made, but it made it much easier to go to school on cold winter’s days. I miss it a lot, and will certainly try making it myself now from your recipe. I actually thought it was dusted with nutmeg rather than cinnamon, but that could be a ‘false’ memory. Thanks for this.

Reply

Erlend Geerts February 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Hi Carolina,

Thanks a lot for your sweet remarks.

Erlend

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Wuggy March 31, 2014 at 2:12 am

Salep is often sold from big brass urns on barrows, with a flame keeping it hot. And it can be VERY hot, so watch yourself! Turkish friends seem to regard it as a drink for babies, old people, or people recovering from illness. It has a comforting milky taste, especially nice with a sprinkling of cinnamon on the frothy top!

Reply

Lynda November 25, 2014 at 4:01 pm

I disagree with the above comment in that many young people can be seen in the cafes here drinking Sahlep. I live in the south of Turkey and a popular treat here is to have the Sahlep with a scoopful of good vanilla ice cream. Mado make it very nice..

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