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Borrowed from French salep, from Turkish salep, from Arabic سَحْلَب (saḥlab, type of orchid).[1] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Arabic word is said to be a contraction of خُصَى الثَعْلَب (ḵuṣā ṯ-ṯaʿlab, fox testicles) (الثَعْلَب (aṯ-ṯaʿlab, fox) + خُصًى (ḵuṣan, testicles)), referring to the testicle-like root tubers.[2]



salep (countable and uncountable, plural saleps)

  1. A starch or jelly made out of plants in the Orchidaceae family, such as the early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula).
    • 1800, Erasmus Darwin, “Sect. XI. Of Draining and Watering Lands.”, in Phytologia: Or The Philosophy of Agricuture and Gardening. With the Theory of Draining Morasses and with an Improved Construction of the Drill Plough, Dublin: Printed for P. Byrne, 108, Grafton-Street, OCLC 941833168, section XI.2.4.5, page 245:
      Where finally the draining of marſhy grounds can not be effected at a reſponſible expence, ſome plants may perhaps be cultivated with profit to the cultivator; as in ſome ſituations the feſtica fluitans, floating feſcue, callitriche, ſtar-graſs; or in others the orchis for the purpoſe of making ſaloop by drying the peeled roots in an oven.
    • 2014 April 5, “Quite interesting: A quietly intriguing column from the brains behind QI, the BBC quiz show. This week; QI orchids you not”, in The Daily Telegraph (Weekend), page W22:
      The tubers of one [orchid] species, Orchis mascula, produce a flour called salep, which was made into a drink known as "saloop" in 18th-century London, as an alternative to coffee (Charles Lamb thought it the ideal breakfast for chimney sweeps). Salep is a Turkish word with an even more precise derivation (it's from the Arabic for "fox's testicles"). Despite this, the Turks still use it to make a strange elastic ice cream, eaten with a knife and fork, which carries a pungent aftertaste compared by one commentator to the scent of "goats on a rainy day". Salep ice cream is so popular that O. mascula is now a protected species in Turkey.

Alternative forms[edit]

Related terms[edit]

  • saloop (aromatic drink originally made with salep)


  1. ^ salep” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2018.
  2. ^ salep” (US) / “salep” (UK) in Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press.

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