Morocco was one of the stopping points on the ancient Spice Road between the Far East and Europe. Many of the spices that traveled through it became popular parts of the local food culture and have been used in Moroccan cooking for centuries. Along with those spices, there have been influences from Andalusia and the Mediterranean region as well as some Berbere ingredients. Let’s explore some of the most popular Moroccan spices.
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The Moroccan name for ginger is commonly spelled skinjbir. Some Moroccan recipes use fresh ginger but it more commonly shows up in its dried and powdered form. Ginger’s aromatic sweetness and spiciness make this spice an excellent addition to tagines, stews, and roasted meats.
Moroccans call turmeric quekoum. While this spice is used mostly for its bright yellow color, turmeric can impart a subtle peppery flavor to dishes. Its flavor is not unlike a very mild version of its relative, ginger.
Both cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon show up in sweet and savory Moroccan recipes. Cinnamon — which is called karfa in Morocco — is also one of the ingredients most commonly used in the most famous Moroccan spice blend known as ras el hanout. Cinnamon’s resinous sweetness and intense warmth are used to flavor lamb and other meats. It is also used in couscous.
You will see both whole and ground cumin in recipes for some Moroccan dishes, but not all. Cumin’s Moroccan name is commonly spelled kamoon in English. It is popular but not as widely used as it is in other cuisines from the region. That said, the mild bitterness and earthy aroma is a great complement to meats as well as to salads and stews.
Mace — called massia in Morocco — comes from the same tree and fruit that is the source of the nutmeg. It has a similar flavor to nutmeg: nutty, earthy, and sweet. It is usually powdered and shows up in some of the more fancy Moroccan dishes. As one of the pricier spices, it is typically used in a spice blend rather than on its own.
Nutmeg is also popular in Moroccan cuisine and is one of the standard ingredients in ras el hanout. It is known to Moroccans as bsibsa. As in most other parts of the world, nutmeg is available as a powdered spice and in its whole nut form. The latter is preferred since you can just grate some of it as needed and leave the rest of the nut whole to preserve its flavor. Ground spices tend to lose flavor much more quickly than whole ones.
Another popular Moroccan spice, cardamom pairs well with most of the other spices on the list but is an especially good compliment to cinnamon.
Used mostly in powder form, coriander seed is called kasbour in Morocco and offers a distinctive nutty, citrusy background note in Moroccan cuisine.
The world’s most expensive spice is saffron and it is as popular in Morocco as it is in the rest of the Middle East. While still expensive, the spice that Moroccans call zaafrane is somewhat more affordable than in the West. Along with the golden yellow that it gives to food, saffron adds a light and nutty flavor to foods that is impossible to replicate perfectly with any other ingredient.
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