African Food Spices

Quick Notes:

African food spices used most often include: cardamom spice, chilies, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, cubeb pepper, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mint, nutmeg, onions, parsley, sesame seeds, turmeric spice.

Preserved lemons are used generously with main entrees; and, the following blends are some of the main flavors used in soups, stews and tajines (North African Berber stews cooked in earthenware pots having the same name.  The pots have a cone-shaped top that collects and allows the flavored condensation to run back down to the stew thus keeping it tender and moist).  Tajines or Tagines are kind of similar to Tavvas found in Cypriot cuisine. 

Preserved Lemons

Popular African Spice Blends:


An Ethiopian blend of allspice, ajowain, garlic, chilies, cayenne, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander seeds, fenugreek, ginger, and black peppercorns. It is used to flavor soups and stews.

Berbere Recipe - Makes ¼ cup (4 tablespoons):

15-20 dried red Chilies

15 Allspice berries

1/2 tsp Ajowain

1 tsp Cinnamon - ground

1 tsp black Peppercorns

1 tsp Ginger - ground

10 Cloves

1 tsp Coriander Seeds

10 green Cardamom (just seeds from the pods)

1 tsp Fenugreek - ground

Dry-fry chilies for 3 minutes in skillet over medium heat. Add all other spices and continue to dry-fry for another 4-5 minutes. Remove from pan and allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Before grinding, remove seeds from chilies. Grind mixture to a medium-fine texture and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Keep for up to 6 months.


(other names: charmoula, sharmoula, sharmoola)

North African paste/puree/sauce used as a marinade for fish, especially shellfish; and, for meats and vegetables. Blend usually includes garlic, onion, parsley, chilies, cilantro, paprika, pepper, salt, saffron.

Dukkah (Dukka)

A coarse-texture Egyptian blend of coriander, sesame seeds, nuts (any or all - almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios) used to season vegetables and meats. Also, when mixed with olive oil Dukka can be used as a dip for foods such as bread (pita). Optional ingredients include: dried chickpeas; dried herbs like marjoram, mint, or thyme; dried lemon zest; hot pepper flakes; black pepper – freshly ground or whole peppercorns; other seeds like caraway, fennel, or nigella; and, other spices like cinnamon, clove, or turmeric. You can even add a little sugar.

Dukkah Recipe (basic):

1/4 lb hazelnuts (or other nuts)

1/4 lb almonds (or other nuts)

1 1/4 ounce cumin seeds

1 1/4 ounce coriander seeds

1 1/4 ounce sesame seeds

1 tsp coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Toast almonds and hazelnuts in oven till golden. Remove and allow to cool. Once cool, rub off the hazelnut skins and place all of the nuts into a mortar or food processor. Toast all seeds in the oven until golden. Allow to cool and combine with nuts. Grind mixture until slightly coarse and crumbly.

Delicious used as a seasoning for salads, a dip with pita bread, and sprinkled on fish.


Tunisian hot saucy blend of dried hot chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander, olive oil. Some variations include caraway seeds. Served as a condiment, and with couscous. Also used to favor soups and stews, as well as a marinade for chicken, fish and lamb.

Harissa Recipe - Makes 1/4 cup

2 oz dried hot Chilies

2 Garlic cloves (or ½ tsp of dried minced garlic)

2 tsp Coriander seeds

1 1/2 tsp Cumin - ground

1 tsp Caraway seeds

1 tsp dried Mint

Salt - dash

4 tbsp Olive Oil

La Kama

Moroccan blend of five to six spices. With warm notes and a golden brown color, this "curry" blend is popular in Tangiers. It is used for Tagine entrees, especially chicken or lamb. It is also used to flavor soups and stews.

La Kama Recipe:

1 small cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground Cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Dry-fry the cinnamon and peppercorns in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Grind the roasted spices to a powder and mix with the remaining spices. Store, for up to three months, in an airtight container in a cool dark place.


"Head of the shop" Moroccan/North African blend of more than 15 ingredients including anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, galangal, garlic, ginger, lavender, mace, nigella, nutmeg, pepper, rosebuds, salt, turmeric; some complex varieties can include about 30 ingredients.  Used to favor couscous, tajines (slow-cooked stews) and rice.

Ras-el-hanout Recipe:

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon paprika

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

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