Middle Eastern cuisine uses some of the most exciting spices and spice blends in the world. Richly aromatic and deeply flavorful, these spices are one of the reasons Middle Eastern cuisine is so beloved around the world.
Here are the most important spices and spice blends in Arabic cuisine, that you should make sure to add to your spice cabinet!
Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made from a herb mixture usually containing thyme, sumac, cumin, salt, and other spices. It’s used extensively throughout the Levant countries as a topping for Arabic pita bread, meat, yogurt, hummus, and salads.
Sumac has a tangy flavor that tastes lemony but is less intense than fresh lemon juice. The spice can be used as a dry rub, in marinades, or sprinkled on top of salads or sauces – it adds a beautiful pop of color to dishes. It’s especially good sprinkled on hummus!
Urfa Biber (also known as Isot Pepper) is a crushed, dried chili pepper. The spice gets its name from the region in Turkey it’s grown in (Urfa) and the Turkish word for pepper (Biber). It’s typically described as having chocolate, raisin, and coffee flavors (smoky, sour, and sweet all in one).
Turmeric can be used in many ways. One of its primary uses is in food, where it adds a pungent, mustard-like flavor. It can change the color of a dish significantly – especially when used in rice, curries, yogurt, and cakes.
Hawaij spice (also known as Hawayej, Hawaj, and Hawayij) means “mixture” in Arabic. It’s a spice blend with primarily cumin and black pepper and often contains cardamom, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
This hawaij spice blend can be used in savory dishes - like soups, curries, and as a rub on meat.
Fenugreek is used as both a herb (dried leaves) and a spice (seeds). It's both sweet and bitter, and it’s often roasted in its whole form before blending to cut some of the bitterness. In powder form, fenugreek is especially aromatic. It pairs well with cumin, fennel, cardamom, and turmeric.