The name harissa comes from an Arabic word: harasa. Harasa means to pound and comes from the fact that the spices in the harissa spice blend are pounded into a powder. There are many versions of harissa, some are very simple and may include as few as three ingredients; others are more complex. While the blend is best known in paste form, harissa powder is widely used as well.
Dried chili pepper is arguably the most important component of harissa powder. Chili peppers entered into North African food culture as a result of the Spanish ventures into the New World. In addition to their exploration/conquest of the Americas, the Spanish also occupied North Africa in the late 16th century. This is probably when the chili became a part of the diet in this part of the world.
Today, most of the world’s harissa is produced in Tunisia, which Algeria being another major producer. It continues to be a popular spice, especially as the interest in Middle Eastern cuisine grows.
Harissa powder flavor profile
Because harissa is a blend of spices that can be simple or complex, the flavor profiles can vary dramatically from blend to blend. Types of harissa powder differ based on regional preferences, but the standard ingredients are chili peppers, cumin, and coriander. In many cases, mint may be added as well and the peppers are smoked in some places. The heat level can range from mildly spicy to very hot.
Harissa powder health benefits
As a blend of nutritious spices, harissa contains numerous compounds that can be beneficial for health. Those compounds include:
- Iron: Several of the ingredients in harissa provide high levels of iron. For example, both caraway seeds and cumin are good sources of it. Iron is important for a healthy brain and for an effective immune system.
- Calcium: Harissa powder helps to strengthen bones, including the spine. A strong spine is important for keeping the right body shape and can help you to retain your ability to move freely.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A required for healthy vision. Beta-carotene is the form of vitamin A in plants and the dried chili peppers in harissa powder have high concentrations of it. Vitamin A also helps with converting carbohydrates to sugar, which makes it important for fueling body functions.
When you consume harissa powder, the nutrients that your body gets from it can prevent or treat health conditions like:
- Obesity: The calcium in harissa powder ingredients like cumin and coriander can help you to stay at a healthy weight. If you are deficient in calcium, your body can release a hormone that stimulates fat production and that keeps it from being broken down.
- Macular degeneration: The vitamin A in dried chili peppers can help to prevent macular degeneration, which is the main cause of age-related vision loss.
- Digestive problems: Dietary fiber can improve digestive health by increasing regularity and improving intestinal barriers. Fiber adds bulk, which speeds up the process by which food is carried through the gut.
Common uses of harissa powder
Harissa is considered to be the main condiment used in Tunisia and is responsible for the distinctive flavor of many Tunisian dishes. It is used to flavor fish dishes and those that contain goat or lamb. Tunisian cooks also used it to make a chickpea soup called lablabi and for couscous. In Israel, it is a popular topping for shawarma. Other countries that use this spice blend include Libya and Morocco. Harissa even shows up in some Sicilian cooking.
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