Soapwort meringue (Natef)

April 23, 2012  •  Category:


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. 


47 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Belinda @zomppa says:

    Loving this treat! How sweet it is….

  2. Rosa says:

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



  3. Julie says:

    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! 🙂

    • Eva Nicoletatos says:


      Love your work.
      I am looking for a recipe for loukoum but the kind that is white, stuffed with nuts and rolled into a log shape.

      Thanks Eva

  4. the indolent cook says:

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

  5. Culinaire Amoula says:

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

  6. LaMereCulinaire says:

    Wow this is chemistry at its best!

    Would love to try experimenting with it!

  7. domi says:

    Comme un nuage gourmand…léger, léger…

  8. Arlette says:

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

    • Joumana says:

      @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.

  9. sophia says:

    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.

  10. MyLittleExpatKitchen says:

    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…

    • Ruth Shaw says:

      Soapwort is common plant here in Britain, it was used to make soap and still grows often by rivers. Also for the salycilic acid extract to make aspirin.
      Anyway. I have it because the flowers cope with quite deep shade, and it takes over so I’m very grateful for a use for the roots! I’m going to try it- and also the natef to make halva.

  11. Angie@Angiesrecipes says:

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

  12. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) says:

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

  13. Melissa says:

    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!

  14. 5 Star Foodie says:

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

  15. Ann Hill says:

    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.

  16. Nuts about food says:

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

  17. Malcolm says:

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

  18. Halim says:

    Quelle est la différence entre les karabijs et les maamouls?

    • Joumana says:

      @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.

  19. Linda says:

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

  20. E. Nassar says:

    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.

    • Joumana says:

      @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! 🙂

  21. E. Nassar says:

    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.


  22. E. Nassar says:

    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.

    • Joumana says:

      @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! 🙂

      • Lara M says:

        I made Natef many times, it separated at the beginning, butt then I was told to whip it exactly 15 minutes, which I did. so, now it doesn’t separate anymore

  23. Elena says:

    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

  24. Nadia says:

    Hi Joumana, can I use ceam of marshmallow instead?

  25. Nadia says:

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

  26. Pym says:

    could you tell me how i would make natef using powdered soapwort? thank you

  27. George says:

    Hello Joumana. Great recipe. How long can you keep it before consume it? Does it have to be kept in the fridge? Thank you.

  28. Mona says:

    I made natef for the first time on my own, and it had a bitter aftertaste. It looked beautiful, and the texture was perfect, but the taste was off. I\’d appreciate any ideas on what might have caused this. Here is what I did:
    – I used pieces of soapwort root that I bought on amazon, (Natural Biokoma Soapwort Dried Root – Herbal Tea in Resealable Pack Moisture Proof Pouch)
    – I rinsed the soapwort, then boiled it in water. Boiled/simmered for about 15 minutes.
    – I strained and used the liquid and beat it up; then added the sugar syrup.

    Should I have boiled or just soaked? Was it perhaps too concentrated a liquid? Should I have rinsed the root for longer? Is it the brand or type of soapwort root? Thank you!

    • Joumana Accad says:

      @Mona, hello I replied directly via e-mail.

      • Skyflower says:

        I would live the answer to @Mona also. I’ve been experimenting with soapwort roots, natef and halva, but so far very bitter acrid taste that is harsh on mouth and throat. Did you ever hear of ways to diminish bitter taste? And did you write your cookbook?

        • Skyflower says:

          ….”love” the answer…. spellcheck. Thanks!

        • Joumana Accad says:

          @Skyflower Hello, and since I have not had that experience with the roots I bought in Lebanon, I decided that the easiest thing was to re-test it and see. I did not get any bitter or acrid taste in mine, so it could be the type of root. Once I re-test it (in the next couple of weeks) I will re-post the recipe and share my results. And, yes, the cookbook was published in 2014 and sold over Amazon. It is out of print now, and I will get a new one done, hopefully in the next couple of years (these things are long-term). It is still available on Amazon, but with weird prices (the first one) with the title Taste of Beirut.
          Will let you know about the roots, promise!

  29. Vicki Smith says:

    I have been looking for this soap root cream for years! Combing Middle Eastern pastry shops. I always called it “marsh mallow” cream and tried to boil marsh mallow leaves but that didn’t work. I had these cookies with what I now know is the Soap Root meringue. So happy to find this.

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