Spices and herbs are the foundation of any delicious Middle Eastern meal; in fact, they are what makes Middle Eastern food unique. Here you will find the most commonly used herbs and spices in this cuisine, along with some recipes so you can start experimenting.
Cumin is probably the most prevalent of the Middle Eastern spices as well as being one of the most popular in the world. It’s a strong, highly fragrant savory spice and is key to the unmistakable aroma and taste of falafel. Try it in this Falafel, Tahini, and Cumin Roasted Butternut Squash Sandwich.
In western countries, nutmeg is used primarily in desserts. However, in the Middle East, its sweet earthiness is used in savory applications, such as meat dishes, too. Whether sweet or savory, it’s hard to resist a hint of nutmeg in a steaming mug of hot Tahini Spiced Cocoa.
Cardamom is used in many beverages. It is primarily used ground; however, the pods are sometimes used, too. The green pods are more citrusy, whereas the black ones are a little spicier with anise undertones. Cardamom gives Arabic and Turkish coffee its distinct flavor.
Turmeric is found mostly in meat and vegetable recipes. It is usually used in ground form and has a bitter, slightly peppery flavor. Turmeric lends an orangey-yellow hue and earthy flavor to the Iranian classic Polo Ba Morgh (Chicken with Saffron Rice).
Sumac is sour and is sometimes substituted for lemons in recipes. Because of its citrus-like taste, sumac is a lovely addition to dressings such as the one used in this Roasted Beet and Feta Cheese Salad.
Bahārāt means spices in Arabic and it refers to a combination of spices whose exact blend can differ by country and region (and sometimes even by household). Usually, the blend includes black pepper, cardamom, cumin, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika. You can purchase a blend called “sebah baharat” (which translates to seven spices) in gourmet or specialty food stores or online. Baharat is often the blend that’s responsible for a touch of sweet, smoky flavor in dishes such as this Spiced Beef on Hummus.
Caraway offers a slightly earthy yet sweet flavor with a hint of dill. Caraway is used in spicier dishes found in North African cuisine. While most people are likely to think of caraway seeds as an ingredient in bread baking, it provides a lot of flavor in this spicy Homemade Harissa.
Anise seed is one of the world’s oldest spices. It is popular in sweets and has many medicinal purposes. With its distinct licorice flavor, anise is a popular ingredient in pastries, such as these Toasted Anise Seed Cookies.
Allspice is used in many types of food, not just desserts. You will find it is used to flavor meats and stews, as well as sweets.
These are some of the most widely used spices in Arabic cuisine.