Soapwort meringue (Natef)

Congratulations to those of you who knew what these roots were!

Called shilsh al-halawa or soapwort or Bois de Panama roots , these are used to make natef. Natef is a type of meringue, similar in texture to marshmallow fluff, that is served alongside a semolina and pistachio pastry called karabij. 

These roots are also used to clean Persian rugs here in Lebanon (of course, the method is different than for natef!). If you care to know more about these roots, click here.

Their uses and benefits are numerous!

Seek them out in the US at Middle-Eastern grocers or health food stores or Chinese herbal shops. Another option is to plant them yourself! 

The method that I followed was simple; first, soak the roots in water overnight; dump the water and cover the roots with more fresh water. Bring the mixture to a boil and dump the water. Add more fresh water and this time boil the roots for a while until the liquid has evaporated save for a pint. The liquid will have taken on a reddish tint. Cool and drain, placing the liquid in a mixing bowl.

Prepare a sugar syrup and while the syrup is cooking, start beating the soapwort liquid in a mixer at high speed; it will start to froth immediately. Add the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream. The meringue will form within minutes. Add some rose water or another flavoring if you wish. Serve.

NOTE: I will provide an exact recipe once I am done experimenting with it. It will be included in an upcoming cookbook I am working on. If you would like a recipe, I have found one on Anissa‘s blog. 

Please note that this meringue does not contain any egg white. There are recipes for natef using egg white (uncooked) but I prefer to avoid them. 

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  1. Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Loving this treat! How sweet it is….

  2. Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Wow, that is such an interesting recipe and speciality! Wonderful.



  3. Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen soapwart in my local middle eastern market but never knew what it was used for- I’ll have to try this! Merci pour toutes vos recettes delicieuses et bonne continuation! :)

  4. Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    This is really something new to me! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your recipe.

  5. Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    C’est vraiment quelque chose de nouveau pour moi! Merci pour le partage.

  6. Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Wow this is chemistry at its best!

    Would love to try experimenting with it!

  7. Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Comme un nuage gourmand…léger, léger…

  8. Posted April 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    where did you get that Joumana from Dabbous????
    oh I cannot wait to be there…. yalla wait for me

  9. Joumana
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    @Arlette: I got it from Haj Naji in Aishe Bakkar, a store that says on its banner “We are the original Dabbous!”

    @Sophia: I heard that too, so you may not be far from the truth!

    @Magda: Actually soapwort is native to Europe and Asia (acc. to Wikipedia!), so I am sure it could be found (I would head to the Middle-Eastern stores first). I even read that the Greeks used it.

    @Melissa: I think that honey would be fine to use, as long as it is hot when you pour it.

    @Malcolm: Yes, it is also known as Bois de Panama and I have included this name as well just now.

  10. Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Wow how intriguing! I had no idea what those roots were, though I was tempted to say it’s the roots used in Chinese medicine…haha.

  11. Posted April 24, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    What an amazing ingredient, Joumana. And that meringue looks so fluffy.
    I don’t think I’ll be able to find that root in Europe though…

  12. Posted April 24, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    A really fun and interesting ‘meringue’ recipe! 
    Gotta to find some soapwort roots to try too!

  13. Posted April 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Interesting meringue! I will now be on the watch for these roots. Congrats on a cookbook. Will look forward to hearing more.

  14. Melissa
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Would it be possible to make the recipe using honey? Perhaps a diluted honey so it wouldn’t be too thick a syrup? I am trying to avoid refined sugar. Love all that you post, Joumana!

  15. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know about soapwart, so great to learn about this ingredient and the meringue with it, is gorgeous!

  16. Ann Hill
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I love that there is no egg in this yummy sounding dessert, can’t wait for the recipe. I’ve heard of soapwort but only as a cleaner. I will definitely have to find some to experiment with now.

  17. Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I had never heard of soapwart roots in my life! Thanks for the info

  18. Malcolm
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I knew this as bois de Panama. Is it one and the same?

  19. Halim
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Quelle est la différence entre les karabijs et les maamouls?

  20. Joumana
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    @Halim: les karabij sont plus délicats parce que la proportion de semoule fine y est plus grande; en plus les karabij n’ont pas d’eau parfumée dans la pâte.

  21. Linda
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Joumana – I have something called “shikakai”, is it the same thing?

  22. Joumana
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    @Linda: Can you give me more details, where did you get it, what does it look like, etc?

  23. Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Have you by any chance finalized a recipe for this with proportions? I would love to give it a shot this weekend. I brought some Soapwort roots from Beirut when I visited this past June but have not found a reliable recipe.

  24. Joumana
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    @E.Nassar: I have been so busy working on the Iraqi cookbook; today is the deadline for the manuscript and finally now I can concentrate on the Lebanese one. However, start with a couple of twigs, boil them once (soak them overnight) and then dump the water and start over. It will froth quickly and then you add to it a sugar syrup. Start with small quantities, 1 cup of syrup in one cup of natef liquid; I will have more details for you later on, of wait for my cookbook! :)

  25. Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Looking forward to your Lebanese book Joumana. I’ll make sure to pick it up when it’s out! I might try the natif this weekend with Karabij for a dinner for friends. I’ll let you know how it turned out.


  26. Joumana
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    @Elie: Good luck! :)

  27. Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I whipped the Natef right before serving the Karabij and it worked very well using a cup of syrup per cup of boiled soapwort liquid. Within 10 minutes or so it separated into a foam layer and a syrup layer. I had served everyone by then though and they all enjoyed the texture and flavor.

  28. Joumana
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    @E. Nassar: That’s great! This is one of the stumbling blocks with the natef; mine started separating after 12 hours. Still I would like to make it really stiff and creamy for at least a couple of days! :)

  29. Elena
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Joumana, could you write a more precise amounts of water and root for the preparation of the extract? I want to try, if I do not find where to buy a ready extract.
    Many thanks

  30. Joumana
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    @Elena: This is on my list. Will let you know when I do.

  31. Nadia
    Posted July 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joumana, can I use ceam of marshmallow instead?

  32. Nadia
    Posted July 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    never mind, just read your comment on the other page that we can use marshmallow fluff at the mean time.

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