Mahleb

A reader has asked: I recently visited an Armenian grocery store and saw something called mahleb among the spices. When I asked, they said it was used for flavoring cookies. What is it?

A: Mahleb is made from the tiny nutmeats inside cherry stones and has a vague flavor of cherries and bitter almonds. It is sold in whole form and looks like irregular white peppercorns, or it may also be sold already ground. In my experience, stores that sell the mahleb whole will grind it for you.