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African Spices & Seasonings

Doro W'et chicken with rolled injera bread

The spices of Africa offer a world of flavor. While it might not be a cuisine that you’re familiar with, there is something for everyone. From bold, traditional Doro W’et to adding sweet, complex Ras el Hanout to Blondies, African spices certainly don’t have to be foreign or intimidating. Grab your passport to explore the World Flavors of Africa.

What Spices Are from Africa?

Africa is situated primarily between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. That makes it uniquely situated to be a fantastic continent for growing spices, which is also why you find such unique and flavorful spice blends. Many spices that we’re familiar with are also African spices. Some of the best vanilla in the world comes from Madagascar. Cumin, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, paprika and chiles are all common African spices. 

But there are also lesser known spices that are prevalent in African seasoning and cuisine. We suggest trying these because they have a flavor unlike anything else. The ingredients mentioned here are just the tip of the iceburg, so start exploring!

Grains of Paradise – Sometimes called Alligator Pepper, this spice is native to the coast of West Africa. These were once more popular and common than Black Pepper. With a rich, earthy flavor and strong peppery notes, they can be used in the same way as peppercorns. This spice also has sweet notes that makes it even more versatile than pepper. Alton Brown even has an Apple Pie recipe that features Grains of Paradise!

Fenugreek Seeds – Common in African cooking, this uniquely flavored spice has a sweet and savory flavor that is often used to provide distinctive flavor notes to stews, curries, and vegetable dishes. There is a subtle but distinctive maple-like note to fenugreek. The seeds can be toasted and ground to incorporate as a spice during cooking. Use a light hand though, too much can result in a bitter flavor.

Pomegranate Molasses – Pomegranates are used widely across Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines. They have a unique sweet-tart flavor that adds complexity to sauces (it’s surprisingly good paired with meat dishes), drinks, marinades and complements other fruits. Our Pomegranate Molasses is the juice of pomegranates that has been reduced into a syrupy consistency. It’s shelf stable with just a touch of citrusy brightness.

Tamarind Paste – Like Pomegranate Molasses, Tamarind has a tart, almost sour flavor. You might be most familiar with it from Mexican cuisine but it’s used in Asia and Africa as well. Tamarind naturally comes from pods, that are used to make a sticky block-like substance that can be pesky to work with. We’ve made it easier to get this distinctive flavor in a concentrated syrupy paste. It can be used to add tart, rich flavor to savory dishes and sauces as well as to create refreshing beverages.

Decorative Moroccan style glass with a splash and pomegranate seeds on the table

What are African Flavors?

African flavors are as varied as the cultural and culinary influences of the continent. Grinding and blending seasonings is traditionally done while cooking, allowing each family and each cook to modify the ingredients and ratios to suit their personal taste. To make things a little easier for the American home cook, we’ve created some seasonings based on African and North African spices. These are inspired by the culinary traditions and seasonings of the region and are authentically flavored African spice blends.

Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning – Consider this a gateway seasoning to the delicious, complex, yet friendly flavors of Africa. It’s our blend of the spices commonly used in many Moroccan dishes. In many ways, this seasoning is similar to an American BBQ seasoning. A blend of over 20 different spices (that range from paprika and cumin to sugar, salt, and pepper), this can be used as an all-purpose seasoning on everything from chicken to chickpeas.

Ras el Hanout – The name of this blend translates to “Head of the Shop,” in other words, this seasoning is made from all of the top shelf spices. Frequently used North African spices, including cardamom (which is still one of the most expensive spices in the world by weight), are traditionally included in this richly flavored seasoning. The seasoning is used in everything from meat stews to couscous and rice dishes.

Za’Atar Seasoning – This traditional North African spice isn’t unique to Africa, different versions are found throughout the Mediterranean. Let’s back up a second. The Arabic word, Za’Atar can describe a family of herbs (that encompasses oregano, thyme, and savory) or a mix of spices. Ours is the second, although it does include thyme, oregano, and marjoram. This tart and tangy seasoning can be used as a condiment or in the cooking process.

Berbere Ethiopian Seasoning – We’ve made our way to the hotter side of the African spice mixes. Traditionally, this African spicy seasoning is a fiery blend used in Ethiopian meat stews (wats or we’ts) as well as vegetable and lentil dishes. The exact blend varies from region to region. Ours is a little bit simpler than some but is flavorful (and a little spicy!) The simplicity makes it great for fusion cuisine as well – Kimchi Style Cucumbers or Southern Inspired Collards, anyone?

Harissa Spice Mix – Sometimes, our seasonings are inspired by sauces. Such is the case here. Harissa paste is a popular condiment in North Africa, especially Tunisia. We make a powder version of this blend that, when mixed with equal parts hot water and olive oil, creates a great Harissa paste. Use prepared paste as a condiment on vegetables, kebabs and other cooked meats, and in stews and couscous. But you don’t have to make it saucy, sprinkle on Harissa in the same way you’d use hot sauce.

Bowl of peanut soup with yellow napkin and garnishes

African Recipes

Some of these are traditional, authentic to what you might find in Morocco or Ethiopia. Others are our creations, influenced by the flavors, ingredients, and culinary traditions of the region.

Peanut Soup - Inspired by Ghanian groundnut soup, one bowl of this smooth, hearty, mildly spicy soup will have you hoping the cold months never end. For an authentic experience, serve with fufu.

Chicken Ras el Hanout - The spice isn't the only thing that gives this dish its complexity. The ingredients are simple but the flavor of the finished dish is certainly unique. After making it, Cindy raved, "Absolutely restaurant-quality delicious, and so easy to prepare."

Za'atar Dip or Spread - Mix 1-2 Tbsp. spice to about 1-2 Tbsp. of olive oil. Drizzle in oil slowly until you reach the desired consistency (a little more oil for dipping, a little less for spreading). It is great for dipping fresh bread, or for spreading on pita and toasting until crispy.

Doro W'et - This is an easy introduction to Ethiopian-style cooking. It's a flavorful and spicy stew that's best enjoyed by scooping up bites with traditional Ethiopian injera bread, which can be found at most African markets. This dish is very spicy. If you like it less spicy, just cut back on the Berbere.

Rose Harissa - A sprinkling of rose petals and a splash of rose water give this spicy North African condiment a touch of floral sweetness. Use to add spicy, floral flavor to hummus, lamb, or pasta.

Rose harissa in an open jar with a black background and spoon to the right

For more inspiration, browse the spices of Africa or other World Flavors.

 

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