Dondurma: Turkish orchid ice cream / Helado turco de orquideas (Q & A)


My mother used to refer to an ice cream she called Dondurma. Are you familiar with this?  Have you ever made it.  Once, when I was a small child my mother took me somewhere in Brooklyn to eat some and it was divine.  My mother was from Monastir, now known as Bitol.  Our food were greatly influenced by the Turkish.   — healthgal

Well, healthgal, this is a good example of a food that isn’t Sephardic per se but which, as a Turkish delicacy, was – is – consumed by Sephardim along with everyone else in that part of the world.  Your mother’s city was within the Ottoman Empire, thus the Turkish influence on her food.  Manastir, today called Bitola, is a city in southern Macedonia that lies roughly mid-way between Puglia (the southeastern spur of Italy) and Salonika.

Dondurma (don-DŌŌR-mä), is simply the Turkish word for ice cream, although the similarity pretty much ends there.  Elastic, dense and slow to melt, dondurma is made from a mixture of milk, mastic resin and salep.  Mastic is an ancient Mediterranean evergreen in the pistachio family and salep is a flour made from Turkish wild orchid tubers of the same name.  Salep Dondurma – orchid ice cream – is only about 300 years old; the conventional wisdom is that it was invented in a part of southeastern Turkey where all three key ingredients were plentiful.  Dondurma is made by beating the ingredients into a smooth, elastic mass using a long metal rod.  Fresh dondurma is draped on large hooks and dense enough to eat with a knife and fork.  It is eaten cold, but not frozen.  Unlike other ice creams, if allowed to freeze it turns rock hard and brittle.  Today, it is impossible to make dondurma outside of Turkey; mass production has so seriously depeleted Turkey’s supply of wild orchids that there’s a government ban on their exportation.

While investigating dondurma it struck me that the texture, if not the temperature, might be reminiscent of Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, a favorite candy of my childhood.  Lo and behold,  the Bonomo Candy Company was founded in Coney Island in 1897 by one Albert J. Bonomo (Benhamou, I presume), a Sephardic immigrant from Turkey.  Apparently, the Bonomos of Brooklyn loved dondurma as much as your mother did, or at the very least understood its appeal; it was Albert’s son, Victor, who invented “Turkish Taffy” in the 1940’s.  How do you like that.



Filed under History, Your Questions Answered

4 responses to “Dondurma: Turkish orchid ice cream / Helado turco de orquideas (Q & A)

  1. Estelle

    Oh Janet, thank you for clearing that up for me with so much detail. It sounds divine and exotic and I would have loved to taste the real deal. Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy was very much part of my childhood as well. I didn’t realize it was created by a Sephardic man. What I wouldn’t give for some of that now. There is a site that says they have reproduced the candy but I tried it and it’s a poor replication of the delicious authentic Bonomo’s Taffy.
    Thank you for this site and all the history you provide that, at least for me, clears up so many questions.

    Las horas buenas,

  2. Hi, Janet,

    In Iran, we had “bastani keshi” (stretchy ice cream) with that mastic-sahlep base. It is manufactured in Los Angeles and sold all over the US for the large Persian expat community and is excellent. There is a saffron variety with chunks of cream (my favorite) and other flavors in pints and quarts, as well as individually wrapped sandwiched with thin wafers (which is how we ate it in Teheran). For a similar experience to the one described in your post, Persian stores in all US cities also sell it.


    • Janet Amateau

      Schelly – I can’t tell you how many people have been reading this particular post in the hope of finding dondurma. Thank you so much for the information!! One of the difficulties in tracking down certain foods is the name change from one language to another – especially when you don’t speak either. Armed with the Persian name you gave me I dug a little further and found that there’s also an all-natural brand that’s made in L.A., called Mashti Malone’s, and it’s apparently widely available on the west coast. Looks like not every country’s got a ban on exporting salep orchid tubers. I can’t endorse the brand because I haven’t tried it, although, to read the flavors, ingredients & reviews it sounds like a no-brainer. (Estelle, this one’s for you!)

  3. Estelle

    Oh, how much fun this is. THank you Janet and Schelly. In my part of Florida we don’t have a Whole Foods market but in Sarasota, FL they do have one and I will be there next month. I can’t wait to taste this exotic ice cream that my mother raved about.
    And then, I could also mail order some if I wish. How wonderful is this?

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