Turkish Salep Recipe

A creamy and silky-smooth beverage, perfumed with rosewater, cinnamon, and pistachios.

A cup of salep on a plate.

Serious Eats / Lauren Rothman

Why It Works

  • Using glutinous rice flour as a substitute for the hard-to-find Turkish thickener makes this beverage easy to recreate.

Many moons ago, I spent one fantastic week in Istanbul with friends, walking everywhere, visiting countless mosques, and, inevitably and gloriously, eating and drinking Turkish specialties that I had never encountered at home. Yes, the kebabs were moist and beguilingly spiced; the baklava, in dozens of shapes and colors, divine. But my Favorite Thing I Tasted in Turkey award went to a humble hot beverage that I chanced to sample mere moments after emerging from the airport: salep.

This smooth, frothy drink is made with whole milk that's thickened with starch, sweetened with sugar, and flavored with rosewater or orange blossom water, cinnamon and, sometimes, a dusting of ground pistachios. It's sold by street vendors all over Istanbul, who keep the beverage hot inside the small aluminum carts they wheel through the city's streets: order a cup, and the vendor will quickly ladle some salep into a little styrofoam cup, hand it over, and charge you about fifty cents.

Salep is unlike any other hot beverage I've ever tried: thick and silky, like a watered-down porridge, it's much more substantial than any steamed milk-based drink, the warming spices perfuming each sip.

A bottle of rose water and a bag of glutinous rice, ingredients for salep.

Serious Eats / Lauren Rothman

Before I left Istanbul, I picked up a packet of instant salep mix. But when I mixed it together at home, it tasted nothing like the magical drink I remembered. I wanted to develop my own recipe but encountered a major obstacle: the starch used to thicken salep is made from ground orchid tubers—good luck finding that on this side of the Atlantic.

So I gave up on salep for a time, consoling myself by occasionally visiting Sofra in Cambridge, where they make a mean version. But some weeks ago I got re-inspired, trolling the internet for ideas for an orchid-root alternative. To my surprise and pleasure, a few blogs recommended the use of glutinous rice flour, a superfine starch used all over Asia, notably to make Japanese mochi dough. It's available in any well-stocked Asian supermarket.

At home, I whipped up a test batch, flavoring my salep with rosewater and garnishing it with cinnamon and chopped pistachios. I took a sip and it was just as I remembered: velvety with just a hint of sweetness, it called forth memories of padding through Istanbul all those years ago.

March 2014

Recipe Facts

Active: 5 mins
Total: 5 mins
Serves: 2 servings

Rate & Comment


  • 2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour (see notes)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon rosewater
  • Ground cinnamon, for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped pistachios, for garnish


  1. In a small saucepan, combine glutinous rice flour and milk, whisking well. Set saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When mixture has thickened, about 2 minutes longer, add sugar and rosewater and stir. Divide salep between 2 mugs and garnish with cinnamon and chopped pistachios.


Glutinous rice flour is used in many Southeast Asian recipes and can be found at any well-stocked Asian supermarket.