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Turkish ice cream recipe is bad news for orchids

Who would have thought that a love of ice cream could be driving some varieties of orchids toward extinction? Not any ice cream, mind you, but a special variety favoured mostly in Turkey, called “dondurma,” which in Turkish means “freezing.”

Dondurma is more resistant to melting than our ice cream and has a thicker, stretchy consistency, as well as a characteristic flavour. The texture and flavour are mostly due to the inclusion of the hardened sap of the mastic tree that grows mostly on the Greek Island of Chios. The sap hardens into a resin composed of a complex mixture of simple carbohydrates and polysaccharides that can impart an elastic texture when pressure is applied artificially or by chewing. Indeed, the name “mastic” for the tree derives from the Greek verb for “gnashing the teeth,” which also is the source of our English word “masticate.”

The resistance to melting is mostly due to the addition of “salep,” which is flour made from the roots of a genus of orchid. Its main component is “glucomannan,” a form of dietary fibre composed of glucose and mannose molecules joined in long chains. It has a remarkable ability to absorb water, which means it can keep ice cream firm even when it is melting. This is also the reason that glucomannan has been marketed as a diet aid.

Orchids are difficult to cultivate on farms and the main supply is wild orchids. Harvesting these has raised the spectre of local extinctions, not only in Turkey, but in Africa and Iran as well, with millions of tubers being illegally harvested for export to Turkey.

Read more at the Montreal Gazette (Joe Schwarcz)

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