Moroccan cooking is famous for its decadent, smoky flavors – all of which come from the spices! Spices from Morocco have common, distinctive characteristics that add depth and character to Moroccan cuisine. Recently, the popularity of Moroccan spices has skyrocketed. Here’s a look at some of the key spices to use in recipes you cook at home.
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Moroccan Spices For Home Cooks
If you’ve ever visited Morocco, you would have seen souks with rows upon rows of brightly colored spices. Spices in Morocco are key to not only cooking but also medicinal and cultural practices. While prices might seem high, you can always haggle with the vendors.
While it may seem intimidating at first, it’s actually incredibly simple to incorporate Moroccan seasoning into your cooking! From the most basic harissa-rubbed lamb shanks all the way to saffron rice dishes, there are many unique and wonderful ways to add Moroccan flavors to your weekly menu. Let’s talk about some of the most common spices in Morocco.
See some of our favorite Moroccan recipes:
Best Spices From Morocco For Home Cooking
Ras El Hanout – Moroccan Spice Mix
If there is a king of Moroccan spice, Ras El Hanout takes the crown! This rich, flavorful blend may use common pantry ingredients, but the result is one that will make you come back for more.
Ras El Hanout combines paprika, ground cumin, allspice, turmeric, ground cloves, ground ginger, cinnamon, and coriander. While that might sound like a lot going on, the result is tangy, spicy, and smokey – perfect for marinading meats or dusting over fried cheese! You can even add it to roasted vegetables for a delicious flavor profile.
You may feel tempted to leave one of two ingredients out of your Moroccan spice blend – trust us, don’t! Instead, add a little salt or pepper to balance out the sweet and smokey flavors of paprika and cinnamon.
Favored for its distinctive bright color and delicate flavor, saffron is a staple of Moroccan cooking. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world – often going for upwards of $4000 per pound! This is due to the intensive and difficult cultivation process, which can take months to produce a decent crop. In fact, it takes 140 saffron flowers to produce one gram of this precious spice from Morocco!
For those who can’t afford the hefty price tag of this Moroccan spice, turmeric is a great low-cost alternative that provides similar color and flavor. Use it with white meats like chicken or fish, or as a colorful contribution to a classic risotto or rice pilaf.
Karfa – Cinnamon
Cinnamon is one of the most versatile spices from Morocco and is often used in both sweet and savory recipes. Woody, sweet and mouth-watering, this Moroccan spice adds flavor and texture to all manner of recipes and is one of the world’s most popular spices.
Like saffron and ginger, cinnamon has medicinal purposes as well as cooking. This Moroccan seasoning is thought to help clear congestion, regulate metabolism and even manage high blood pressure. In fact, cinnamon was so prized in years past that it was often given as a gift to visiting diplomats and monarchs.
This spice from Morocco comes in many different forms and can be used for various purposes. You can find ground cinnamon in every grocery store, while cinnamon sticks and oil are often only sold in specialty stores or souks. Cinnamon sticks are usually used in sweet desserts or milk tea, whereas the ground spice adds dimension to red meat dishes like lamb shanks and meaty stews.
Harissa is a rich, spicy paste commonly used in North African cuisine. Although the spice is believed to have originated from Tunisia, it is also a regular feature in Moroccan cuisine, for an excellent reason!
Unlike the rest of the spices on this list, harissa comes in the form of a paste, made from dried chili, garlic, caraway seeds, cumin, and olive oil. This fiery spice blend is one of the most recognizable flavors of Morocco and is a peppery, smokey addition to any dish. You’ll find harissa in brightly colored tubes in most grocery stores’ spice aisles – keep an eye out for yellow or orange packets!
For those who don’t like too much spice, rose harissa is a great substitute for the traditional chili blend. While chili peppers are still used, the heat of the paste is offset by the addition of rose petals, which lend a delicate, floral note. Harissa works fantastically with meats like beef and lamb, and pairs perfectly with citrus to create a rich marinade for white fish like halibut.
Check out some of our favorite harissa recipes:
Native from the eastern Mediterranean to East India, cumin is possibly the most polarizing spice from Morocco on this list. The seeds have a distinctive, permeating scent that brings a richly savory taste to any meal. Used in meaty stews or vegetarian tagines, cumin is one of the most widely-known Moroccan ingredients across the world today.
Because of its earthy taste, cumin also features in many Moroccan spice mixes, including the iconic Ras El Hanout. Try tossing some cumin through couscous before serving. Or use it in a marinade for rich red meats and starchy vegetables. Cumin also provides excellent contrast for sweeter meals. Much like adding raisins or dried fruit to your food will make something amazing!
Alongside garlic, salt, and pepper, ginger is one of the most common spices used around the world. Known for its tangy, spicy flavor and distinctive scent, this Moroccan spice is the perfect complement to zesty citrus fruits.
Originating in China, ginger has a long culinary history throughout Asia, North Africa, and the Caribbean. In Morocco, ginger is used its dried form. Why? Ginger keeps better dry, under the hot North African sun.
If you’ve ever been unwell, someone may have made you a tea from ginger and lemon. Ginger has long been used in Moroccan medicine as a herbal soother. Compounds within the ginger root help ease congestion and boost the immune system against common colds.
Turmeric is made from the dried root of the Curcuma longa plant. It’s characterized by a bright yellow hue. Its taste is similar to a mild pepper. This spice from Morocco is a popular addition to everything from curries to tagines.
In Morocco, turmeric is sometimes referred to as a ‘poor man’s saffron.’ This colorful Moroccan spice has its own positive attributes! Turmeric has become particularly popular in lattes and other hot drinks. Additionally, several winter broths use turmeric.
Add Moroccan Seasoning To Your Next Meal!
No matter your skill level, it is easy to add spices from Moroccan cuisine to your cooking repertoire! Not every Moroccan spice blend found at the supermarket will work. Combining simple flavors and pastes can create dishes with true depth and complexity.
FAQs – Moroccan Seasoning
Morocco is a country bursting with spices. In addition to cumin and turmeric, Morocco is home to coriander, cloves, and nutmeg. All of these spices feature heavily in traditional Moroccan recipes.
Yes. Saffron features extensively in many Moroccan recipes. If saffron is not available, many Moroccan recipes use turmeric as an alternative spice.
Star anise is just one of the many spices used in Moroccan cooking. The licorice flavor of star anise compliments other strong Moroccan spices. For the most part, you’ll find star anise featured in Moroccan desserts, especially cookies.