Spices are such an important part of our food today, and one of the reasons that I wanted to write this Ultimate Guide to Middle Eastern Spices.
Spices have been used for culinary, and medicinal purposes for centuries.
The ancient Egyptians used spices in the mummification process, humans seem to have been fascinated with spices from the beginning of their discovery.
The Middle East became a big hub for spices given parts of it was the route of the Silk Road, and the trading of products from the East to West.
One of the oldest spices is cinnamon (maybe the oldest known), which is utilized in a lot of Middle Eastern and North African cooking.
Spices play a very big part in Middle Eastern cuisine.
The additions of Middle Eastern spices are not as complex as Indian food for example, and they tend to be sweet mixtures of spices.
Ground spice blends like ras el hanout, and seven spices are commonly used in North Africa and the Levant respectively.
Very few dishes in the Arab world are spicy hot.
People in that part of the world enjoy hot peppery tastes which are usually delivered via hot sauces served on the side.
Spice is even used in the local coffee, with cardamom seeds being ground with the coffee beans for the thick Turkish coffee.
Or also boiled along with whole beans to create a sort of cowboy coffee.
The following is what I see as the ultimate guide to Middle Eastern spices, that are very frequently used in Middle Eastern cooking.
It is used medicinally to reduce bloating, and congestion, by being made into tea as well as helping with sleep. It has a flavor of fennel and liquorice.
USED IN: Broths, soups, meat dishes and some desserts.
It can improve digestion, reduces bloating, and flatulence, and the probiotic effect is good for your intestines encouraging growth of good flora.
USED IN: Vegetable dishes and for making cheese.
Some people chew on the whole pod which acts as a bit of a mouthwash cleansing of the breath.
USED IN: Arabic coffee, and many different types of dishes, usually as part of several spices.
It comes from the inner bark of a tree and is indigionous 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.
However, the fresh leaves taste very different to the dried ground seeds. The fresh leaves have a fragrant citrus flavor whereas the seeds have a warm, nutty and spicy flavor.
USED IN: Okra, salads, salsa or even in mashed potatoes.
Long known for its ability to help digestion, it is used to lessen muscle soreness from exercise. The flavor is warm, spicy and peppery.
USED IN: Meat and fish dishes as well as rice and salad.
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.
It has many purported health benefits such as reducing inflammation, and controls bacteria and parasites in the gut.
USED IN: Bread, making cheese, vegetables and beans.
There can be regional variations as to the spices included. Generally they include cumin, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, coriander and cloves.
USED IN: North African dishes that contain meat or vegetables.
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.
It is used as a way to give food a yellow/orange color. The taste is strong and somewhat pungent, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste.
USED IN: Vegetable and rice dishes, along with smoothies.