Biotechnological production of salep from terrestrial orchids

The project aims at the development of a biotechnological propagation process; meaning in vitro production of diverse terrestrial orchids, containing and inducing substantial amounts of glucomannan. Acclimatization and the following cultivation to production maturity. (Prerequisite for salep)

"Salep" is a plant product used in food production in Turkey and many countries of the arabic world.The word “salep” is derived from the Arabic (khus yatus salab – “fox’s testicles”). In addition to its excellent food-technical properties as a thickener and non-comparable aroma, aphrodisiacal and various medicinal effects are ascribed to salep powder.The raw material and myth had been distributed from the Orient into Europe already in Roman times. It contains of dry, pulverized root tubers of various terrestrial orchid species. Diverse species of orchids can be used for food purpose - salep production: especially species of the genus Orchis, O. morio, O. anatolica, O. mascula, O. lactifolia, O. militaris and O. ustulata and species of the genus Dactylorhiza, D. maculata, D. incarnata, but also species of Serapia, Ophrys and Anacampris. They grow in light forests and mountain steppes of central and southern Europe, Turkey, Caucasus and Asia Minor and prosper in limy soils up to 2,700 m a.s.l. Orchid roots are collected at the end of summer, when seeds are mature and the tubers have accumulated a maximal amount of storage substances for following season. Tubers are washed, scalded, dried and ground into a yellow powder. Based on species, between 1,000 and 4,000 fresh tubers are necessary for one kilo of dried salep. The polysaccharide glucomannan and amylosis are the main constituents; both substances are highly water-binding and ensure plant survival during drought or frost periods. The special rheological characteristics of salep glycosides get great attention by the food industry and are the aim of intensive research. Their medical effects are still studied. Furthermore the characteristics of chemically-modified molecules of glucomannan seem to be interesting for the technical development of hydrogels, possessing superabsorbent properties in various industrial branches. The consumption of orchids collected from wildlife stock has increased during several centuries with increasing popularity and distribution of salep powder. It reached its peak in the 1980s at approx. 500 tons of fresh material (it corresponds to several billions of plants) yearly. Many salep orchids are endangered by over-collection (especially in Antalya). Therefore they are protected by national and international laws. Due to the dramatic reduction of wildlife stock caused by over-exploitation the Turkish government prohibited export of orchid roots and salep from Turkey in 1996. Within the EU all orchid species are protected and trade with salep is also prohibited. However, tubers and salep products are further illegally traded worldwide as a delicatessen, probably not to insignificant extent. The legalization of raw material availability could result in opening new markets. Between 2002 and 2005 first attempts were made to domesticate and propagate salep orchids in Turkey in cooperation of Cukurova University and Wädenswil University (FH Zürich) to maintain salep production and provide a long-term traditional source of income for village people. The commercial growing has not been established yet. The aim of the announced project is to develop a biotechnological production process of terrestrial orchids. The creating of such biotechnological process would lead to supply the market and so the exploitation of natural sources would be limited. One main focus of the project is to investigate the principles for an enduring biotechnical output of the endangered wildtype geophyts. Plant tissue culture makes it possible to produce millions of genetically identical offsprings from one selected plant. In vitro culture production system is a presumption for the future development of ex vitro cultivation to obtaining plant material as a source for salep. Through cooperating with the Czech partner, a scientific exchange is enabled, as well as the utilisation of synergies concerning tissue culture techniques, know-how transfer in both directions and the market expansion.
Project ID: 
8 770
Start date: 
Project Duration: 
Project costs: 
1 200 000.00€
Technological Area: 
Plant selection/production technology
Market Area: 

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