Mahleb, or mahlab, is the seed of a particular sour cherry tree native to Iran and the ground spice is used widely in Middle Eastern baking, for a flavor reminiscent of both sour cherries and bitter almonds.
What Is Mahleb?
Taste: Bitter, sweet
Most Popular Use: Baked goods
Mahleb seeds are extracted from the cracked cherry pits and then dried before being sold as a spice. The kernels are tan-colored and quite small, only about 1/4 inch or so across. The whole spice can be easily ground in a grinder, or using a mortar and pestle.
How To Use Mahleb
It's nutty, slightly sour flavor is found in a lot of traditional sweet breads throughout the Middle East, as well as Greek tsoureki and Turkish kahvalti corekleri. Even if the recipe doesn't specifically call for it, try adding a scant teaspoon per cup of flour in your favorite sweet breads.
Like nutmeg and cinnamon, this spice can do double duty in savory dishes as well. Whole seeds can be added to a hearty braise, or use the ground spice in spice rubs and marinades. We also think this flavor would go especially well with lamb.