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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Ice cream threatens Turkey's flowers
Several rare orchid species found only in Turkey are facing extinction - because of the Turks' love of ice cream.

Salep orchid, Swedish Museum of Natural History
The orchids are disappearing from the mountains (Image by Swedish Museum of Natural History)
Ice cream made from salep - a flour produced from the tubers of dried, wild orchids growing in the mountains of south-eastern Turkey - is a great delicacy in the country.

It is so popular that part of the city of Istanbul has become known as the "ice cream district" and regularly jams up with traffic, such is the demand to sample the dessert.

But scientists have warned that the ice cream industry is threatening a major collapse in the number of orchids.

"The orchids in Turkey are under very serious threat," botanist Ozdemir Ozhatay of Istanbul University told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"For this reason it is forbidden to export - but they are still using it in Turkey for the ice cream."

Shepherds' evidence

Ms Ozhatay added that the quantities needed to supply the booming industry were putting the flower under great strain.

"For one kilogram of dried Salep, around 1,000 orchids are needed," she said.

"If you can imagine how many kilograms they are using, this is quite big damage."

Local shepherds - traditional pickers of the orchids - have also offered evidence that the flower is in steep decline in the country.

"Everyone here depends on ice cream," one told Outlook.

"We sell the milk of our goats, and collect orchids. But the flowers are more and more difficult to find - more and more ice cream producers are using them, and it is disappearing.

"You have to go higher and higher into the mountains to find them."

The damage is so great that environmentalists are now calling for a total ban on the use of salep in ice cream.

But such drastic action appears to have little support among the ice cream fanatics in Turkey.

"For a very long time, we have been eating ice cream - why should we stop?" said one. "[If it is banned] we will just eat illegal ice cream."

Home demand

The locals' attitude is backed by the ice cream manufacturers, most of whom are based in the city of Marash - Turkey's ice cream capital.

Factory owner Mehmet Kumble, whose family firm uses up to three tonnes of salep, or twelve million flowers, every year, said he had no plans to cut back on production.

"Ice cream has been made here since the time of the Ottoman farmers," he said.

"It has always been special because the roots of wild orchids are used."

Orchids were initially popular because the Ottomans believed they were an aphrodisiac.

"It gives the ice cream its unique strength and special taste," Mr Kumble added.

Indeed, since the export ban on orchids came into force, salep ice cream has been available almost exclusively in Turkey.

But how long it will remain on the market even there remains to be seen.

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