Hawaij: The Yemeni Spice Blend

Hawaij refers to either of two spice blends traditionally used in Yemeni cuisine but now have growing reputations elsewhere. 

Hawaij has its roots in the spice trade that brought spices from the Far East to the Middle East, Africa, and beyond. Yemen was one of the important stops along the route. The origin of the blend can be seen in the fact that the spices in it come mostly from India and the Spice Islands.  

Outside of Yemen, hawaij is especially popular in Israel, where immigrants widely use it. It is steadily gaining a following there and is being used in many different recipes outside of the traditional Yemeni ones. 

The word hawaij is Arabic for “mixture.” It is also spelled hawaj and hawayij. 

In Yemen, hawaij is a staple ingredient in markets even though the ingredients are easy to find and combine at home. Outside of Yemen, look for it in any grocery store that sells Arab food products. 

Hawaij flavor profile

There are two versions of hawaij, one for savory dishes and one for coffee. The two have very different flavor profiles. The savory version includes cumin, black pepper, and cardamom but can also include cloves, saffron, and coriander. The inclusion of spices like cumin and coriander can result in a flavor profile reminiscent of curry powder but without the overwhelming intensity of fenugreek.

The sweet version focuses on sweet spice and includes cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom with nutmeg showing up in some blends. Some liken the flavor to that of the spice blend used in chai; others compare it to Turkish coffee. Like most traditional spice blends, hawaij differs from maker to maker. There is no consensus on the exact proportions of the spices in the blend. 

Health benefits of hawaij

Each of the spices used in hawaij brings its own nutritional benefits. The result is a blend with a significant variety of nutrients to go with its complex flavors. The nutrients responsible for the health benefits of hawaij include:

  • Minerals: Coriander seed and turmeric are excellent sources of iron, while cumin is an excellent one. Other minerals provided by the spices in hawaij include calcium, magnesium, and zinc. 
  • Vitamins: Cumin, cloves, and coriander seeds each contain various B vitamins. Cloves also provide vitamins K and C while cumin has a small amount of vitamin A. 
  • Fiber: All of the spices in typical hawaij blends are good sources of dietary fiber.

By adding hawaij to your diet, you may be able to treat or prevent health issues like: 

  • Constipation: The fiber in the hawaij spices can help food pass through the digestive tract more smoothly, thus preventing illness. 
  • Diabetes: Dietary fiber can help slow your body’s sugar digestion, which is important for controlling blood sugar levels. 
  • Osteoporosis: Hawaij contains various minerals like calcium and magnesium that are important for bone density. 

Common uses

The savory version of hawaij is typically used in soups but can also be added to stews and other savory dishes. It works well as a dry rub for meat. The sweet version is a traditional blend for coffee but is sometimes added to cakes and other dessert items. It may be added to savory dishes as well. The hawaij for coffee has many of the flavor notes that Westerners associate with pumpkin and apple pie. It can work as a substitute for Chinese five-spice powder as well.