A large part of this richness comes from the judicious use of a range of spices that add depth, warmth, color, and aroma to dishes.
Let’s take a trip through the spice route of Moroccan cooking, revealing the secrets and wonders of this aromatic world.
🔪 List of Moroccan Spices
1. Ras El Hanout
Ras El Hanout, meaning ‘top of the shop’, is a complex, aromatic blend of many spices, including cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, coriander, peppercorn, turmeric, and dried flowers. Each spice merchant often has their unique blend. It’s used extensively in tagines, couscous, and pastilla, lending an exotic, warm, and subtly spicy flavor profile to these dishes.
Cumin is a crucial spice in Moroccan cuisine. It provides an earthy, warming flavor that’s slightly bitter but not hot. It’s frequently used in stews, grills, soups, and in the preparation of couscous.
Paprika, made from ground sweet red pepper pods, provides a vibrant red color and sweet, slightly pungent flavor to Moroccan dishes. It’s often used in meat rubs, marinades, and stews, and it is a key ingredient in Kefta, Moroccan spiced meatballs.
Saffron, one of the world’s most expensive spices, is harvested by hand from the Crocus sativus flower. It imparts a golden hue and a distinctive, subtly sweet and earthy flavor. In Morocco, saffron is used in the preparation of royal couscous and various tagines.
Turmeric, a cousin of ginger, offers a bright yellow-orange color and a warm, slightly bitter flavor with a peppery aroma. It’s often used in Moroccan soups and stews, including the popular Harira soup, usually served during Ramadan.
Cinnamon is popular in both savory and sweet Moroccan dishes. It has a sweet, woody fragrance with a warm, sweet, and slightly spicy flavor. It’s often used in tagines, couscous, and desserts such as M’hencha (a coiled serpent-like pastry filled with almond paste).
Ginger, fresh or dried, is frequently used in Moroccan cuisine. It has a pungent, spicy-sweet flavor and is a common addition to meat dishes, tagines, and marinades, lending a warm and slightly fiery note.
Coriander, both the leaves (cilantro) and the seeds, are widely used in Moroccan cuisine. The seeds, when ground, have a warm, slightly citrusy flavor that enhances meat dishes, sauces, and soups, while the leaves are often used as a garnish.
Aniseed, with its sweet, aromatic flavor reminiscent of licorice, is used in Morocco mainly for bread and pastry recipes, as well as in a popular tea infusion. Its distinctive flavor brings a comforting warmth to Moroccan sweets.
Caraway seeds, often used in the Moroccan spice blend ‘
Harissa’, bring a sweet, slightly anise-like flavor to dishes. They’re often used in savory dishes, particularly in northern regions of Morocco.
Harissa, though technically not a single spice but a blend, is an indispensable part of Moroccan cuisine. Its fiery heat comes from chili peppers, combined with garlic, caraway, coriander, and sometimes cumin. Harissa is a must in couscous dishes, tagines, and soups. It lends an exciting, hot flavor profile that is tempered with a slightly smoky touch.
Fenugreek, with its slightly sweet and nutty flavor, is used in Moroccan cooking, particularly in the preparation of Rfissa, a traditional Moroccan dish served with lentils, chicken, and fenugreek. It’s often used to enhance the flavor of pickles, daals, and lentil dishes.
Mint, a ubiquitous herb in Moroccan kitchens, has a fresh, slightly sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. It’s used in both sweet and savory dishes and is an essential ingredient in the famous Moroccan Mint Tea.
But if you don’t have peppermint for one of the recipes, try using these mint substitutes.
Cardamom, especially green cardamom, is used sparingly in some Moroccan savory dishes but predominantly features in desserts and sweet treats. It has a strong, sweet, pungent flavor, with hints of lemon, mint, and smoke.
Nutmeg is a warm, slightly sweet spice that is often used in Moroccan pastries, desserts, and some tagines. It’s also a component of the Ras El Hanout spice blend.
Allspice, named so because it tastes like a combination of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, is used in a variety of Moroccan dishes, including stews and marinades. It brings a warm and slightly sweet depth of flavor to dishes.
Cloves are highly aromatic and have a strong, warm, sweet and slightly astringent flavor. They’re typically used in Moroccan stews and slow-cooked dishes, as well as in some spice blends and pastries.
18. Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds, with their anise-like flavor, often find their way into Moroccan stews and salads. They are also used in the preparation of Harira, a traditional Moroccan soup.
19. Mustard Seeds
Mustard seeds, when cooked, have a savoury, tangy, and slightly pungent flavor. They are used in Moroccan chutneys, pickles, and as a seasoning in various dishes.
20. Bay Leaves
Bay Leaves are often used in slow-cooked Moroccan dishes like tagines and stews. They offer a subtly bitter, floral, and slightly minty flavor, adding complexity to dishes.
These are just a few among the multitude of spices used in Moroccan cuisine, which is loved for its rich and diverse flavor profiles. Now that you have a more extensive list of Moroccan spices, you can continue to explore the fascinating and flavorful world of Moroccan cuisine!
🧾 Facts about Moroccan Spices
- Moroccan spices are often bought whole and ground as needed, as the flavor is more potent this way.
- Ras El Hanout can contain up to 30 different spices and each blend is traditionally unique to the spice merchant who sells it.
- Despite the wide use of spices in Moroccan cooking, the dishes are not typically spicy-hot. The spices are used to create a depth of flavor, not heat.
- Spices in Moroccan cuisine not only add flavor but also have a range of health benefits. For instance, turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, while cinnamon is linked to blood sugar regulation.
- Saffron, used in many Moroccan dishes, is cultivated in the Moroccan region of Taliouine and is one of the most expensive spices in the world due to its labor-intensive harvesting process.
- Moroccan mint tea, often served with meals, is usually sweetened and flavored with a variety of spices, including aniseed and mint.
- Cumin is so beloved in Morocco, it is often served in a small dish on the dining table, allowing everyone to add extra as they wish.
- Spices play a crucial role in Moroccan preserved foods. For example, preserved lemons are often stored with turmeric and saffron, while olives might be preserved with coriander and cumin.
💡 Tips about Using Moroccan Spices
- Toasting Spices: Toast whole spices in a dry pan over medium heat before grinding. This process releases the oils, intensifying the flavors.
- Storage: Spices should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place to maintain their flavor.
- Blends: Making your spice blends like Ras El Hanout or Harissa allows you to customize the flavors according to your liking.
- Balance: Moroccan cooking is about balance. Don’t be afraid of using spices, but remember the aim is to complement, not overpower, the main ingredients.
- Experimentation: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different spice combinations. Moroccan cuisine is known for its bold and complex flavors, so get creative!
- Use Fresh Herbs: Apart from dried spices, fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, and mint are often used in Moroccan cooking, adding a refreshing balance to the aromatic spices.
In the intricate tapestry that is Moroccan cuisine, spices are the threads that weave together flavors, creating dishes that delight and satisfy. Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of these spices and their uses, you’re well on your way to exploring and enjoying the rich culinary traditions of Morocco. Enjoy the journey!