This is an unusual condiment used in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine, generally in the context of baked goods.
Mahlepi in Greek (also seen it as Mastixa) or Mahlab in Arabic. It is a spice condiment made from Persian cherry kernels that are ground into a fine powder.
I am told that the aroma of Mahlepi spice evokes Easter & Christmas in the Greek community, this is particularly true with freshly baked Tsoureki.
There is a significant Greek community around where I live in the Riverland in South Australia and the fact that I can find this ingredient in our local supermarket confirms that this condiment has a significance to them.
Basically it is a spice that has been used for centuries in the Middle East for flavouring baked goods, particularly in egg rich yeast baking. It is like a combination of bitter almonds and cherries, dare I say it has marzipany notes… but also an aroma of roses. It is used in small quantities to balance out any intense sweetness. Egyptians mix it into a fine paste with honey and sesame and then use it as a spread on their bread. It is mainly used in baking, a spoonful added into flour will give subtle notes to your biscuits & breads. In savoury cooking it can be used in tagines. The spice also pairs very well with dairy products, think of anything you may add rose water to in this instance.
If you cannot get hold of the Mahlepi/Mahleb spice, recommended substitutes are: 2 to 1 proportions of ground all spice, cinnamon and carraway seeds. I have also seen recipes where they use ground anise or fennel seed as the spice component in Tsoureki.
Speaking of Tsoureki, if you would like to have a Tsoureki for this Easter you can place an order via my contact page I will be supplying these to the Riverland Farmers’ Market to order, deliveries can also be arranged for pick up at Angoves Cellar Door in Renmark
Main thing to remember is that use the spice with discretion to add a beautiful final note to your creations, do not drown anything with it.