The warm flavors of Middle Eastern spices are well worth learning about, and including in your cooking.
Spices have of course been used for culinary, and medicinal purposes for centuries.
So important in fact, the ancient Egyptians even used spices in the mummification process.
The Middle East became a big hub for spices given the Silk Road trading route passed through its center.
The oldest known spice is cinnamon, used often in Middle Eastern cuisine, commonly blended with cumin, coriander and pepper.
Spice blends like ras el hanout, and seven spices are commonly used in North African and the Levantian foods respectively.
Even cardamom seeds are ground along with coffee beans for an added warm flavor.
Aleppo in Arabic is Halab, and so this pepper is also known as Halaby pepper, or Aleppo pepper.
It is a burgundy chile and a type of Capsicum annuum, it is about half as hot as other pepper flakes.
USED IN: Meat dishes.
Baharat simply means spices in Arabic. This is not one spice, but a blend that will vary slightly depending where you are in the Middle East.
Cardamom has a very pleasant, warm, almost minty flavor that is most often used by grinding the seeds.
Chewing on the whole pod acts as a mouthwash, cleansing the breath.
USED IN: Arabic coffee, and many different types of dishes, usually as part of several spices.
Aside from the many health benefits, cinnamon is widely used in Middle Eastern food for its sweet and aromatic properties.
It comes from the inner bark of a tree and is indigenous to India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh and known as ‘true cinnamon’.
USED IN: It is included in many dishes, freshly ground, or as whole sticks to flavor broths. several spices.
Cloves are indiginous to Indonesia, and are the aromatic flower buds of a tree.
This is another very fragrant, sweet tasting spice that is most often used in combination with other spices.
USED IN: Used widely around the world from mulled wines to cookies and everything in between.
It has a flavor of pine and cedar, and is sun dried to produce small hard bits of resin that are then ground up.
USED IN: Breads and desserts.
The Nigella Seed has a bitter and peppery taste, and in the Middle East is used in cooking, bread and cheese making, as well as taken directly in the form of a ground up seed paste for medicinal purposes.
It has many purported health benefits such as reducing inflammation, and controls bacteria and parasites in the gut.
Ras El Hanout
This is a blend of spices that translates as the ‘best the shop has to offer’. In the old days this sometimes meant a mixture made up of as many as 50 spices. Today it is more in the range of nine spices.
USED IN: Meat or vegetables dishes from North Africa.
Sage is used to help treat many stomach ailments, and is used very often in the Middle East to make tea.
Shown to reduce bloating, heartburn, loss of appetite, and even diarrhoea it is the go to tea drink in the Arab world. It has a strong flavor with eucalyptus and citrus notes.
USED IN: Bean dishes, along with rice and salads.
It is used as a way to give food a yellow/orange color. The taste is strong and somewhat pungent, with somewhat of a bitter aftertaste.