It wouldn't be a good idea to pull your Phalaenopsis or Oncidium orchids from their pots in the living room in an attempt to make salep (also spelled sahlab and sa'alab). For one thing, committing orchid-cide might alarm your other houseplants (if you're the type who believes that plants have feelings) but, more importantly, those aren't the orchids used for this spice.

Salep is made from the tubers of several types of orchid that grow in the Middle East, Turkey, Greece and India. It's used more for its starchy, thickening qualities, than it is for its mild taste.

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, salep is often used to make a hot or cold drink that can be flavoured with sugar and orange water, rosewater or cinnamon; it also gives an elastic quality to certain ice creams. In the book, author Alan Davidson writes, "Salep itself is almost tasteless and its thickening qualities are not readily distinguishable from those of arrowroot, potato starch and cornflour."

To make salep, the orchid tubers are blanched, dried and then ground. It's said to be nutritious and is fed to children and invalids.