Orris root is the rhizome of the iris flower and can be a valuable addition to your spice cabinet if you want to make a version of ras el hanout that contains it. Finding it in a hurry may be a problem since this spice is not widely used. The best option for finding it will be from an online retailer, but you can try one of the orris root substitutes below if you don’t want to wait.
Your best bet: Rose petals
Like orris root, roses have long been used in both cooking and perfumery. In cooking, they serve as a method for getting floral notes into food. While somewhat different from the smell of violets that you get from orris root, the fragrance of roses is actually a more widely accepted match for food. Rose petals and other sources of rose flavor are used in desserts all over the world, but they also show up in some Moroccan ras el hanout blends like orris root. In ras el hanout, the floral spices are typically paired with more pungent ones like cumin and chili pepper.
You can cook with petals from any kind of rose as long as they are fragrant; however, you may want to avoid petals from a florist as these are likely to be contaminated by fertilizers and pesticides. If you cannot find safe rose petals to use in your food, your best option will be to use rose water. Rose water is made by steeping rose petals in water.
A decent second choice: Licorice root
Orris root is known for having a floral fragrance that is similar to violets, but its taste is more like that of licorice. If you need an orris root alternative that smells less like perfume, licorice root is easily one of your best options. The licorice note is one of the most versatile and beloved tastes among all spices. Cooks typically use a range of different ingredients from fennel leaves to star anise in order to add it to their dishes. While its flavor is mostly associated with candy, the flavor of licorice root does have savory applications in the same way that orris root is also typically used in savory applications. When used correctly, it can provide an umami flavor. That flavor can be used to complement fish, cured pork or even various forms of poultry.
In a pinch: Angelica
Unlike the other orris root alternatives on this list, angelica is neither a root nor is it from a flower. It is actually an herb that is related to parsley and celery. While all parts of the plant can be used in cooking, the essential oil is primarily what works as an orris root alternative. Like orris root, this oil is used as one of the flavoring components in gin as well as in other liquors like chartreuse and vermouth. In gin, it is considered one of the essential botanicals, just like orris root. Angelica essential oil has a flavor similar to that of licorice, which means that its flavor is similar to that of orris root as well.
Lavender is another spice that comes from a flower and which is often used to provide floral notes in cooking. Like orris root, it is often used in perfumery and has a history as a scent for linens. It is best known as one of the ingredients in herbes de Provence but has other applications, most of which are savory. Its popularity for use in savory dishes is another way that it is similar to orris root. You may see it used in applications like vinaigrettes and for marinating lamb.