Ras el hanout is a spice mix that can contain up to 100 different spices. The mix can vary according to the maker’s preference, which means that the flavor is also variable. Spices used in many ras el hanout bends include cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger along with other less common ingredients like lavender and rose petals. If you want to cook a dish that requires ras el hanout, you should ensure that you have the right spice blend on hand, but it may be difficult to find. It may also be difficult to source all the individual spices you need to get the right flavor profile. The result is that you may need to find a substitute. Below are some options for replacing the complex flavors that an expertly made ras el hanout can bring to a dish.
Your Best Bet: Your own blend
Ras el hanout started out as a blend of a spice merchant’s best spices. These spices were combined to create a specific flavor profile. If you know the profile that you want, you may be able to create it with a few easy-to-find spices. You do not need 100 spices to make your own ras el hanout, but you do need a few.
You can start with the core spices found in most ras el hanout blends which include cinnamon, coriander and cumin. To that you can add ginger, pepper flakes and turmeric. Which spices you use will depend on what you are cooking. For instance, you may add cloves or anise seed to help cut through the fattiness of pork or duck. See this recipe at PepperScale as a good option.
A decent second choice: Baharat
This is another spice blend from the Middle East with a flavor profile similar to that of ras el hanout. The word “baharat” is Arabic for “spices” and most baharat mixes include many of the same spices that you find in ras el hanout; the North African variant can contain rose petals, which are included in many ras el hanout recipes. Baharat is also widely used in Israeli cuisine. Baharat typically contains cinnamon, black pepper and coriander along with several other spices and you can use it in exactly the same way that you would use ras el hanout. It is effective for flavoring lentils, soups and rice dishes; you can also use it in rubs for meats and fish. It is a popular flavoring for North African tagines.
While baharat tends to contain fewer spices than ras el hanout, it can still deliver the same warm and sweet notes.
In a pinch: Garam masala
“Garam” translates to “hot” while “masala” translates to “spices.” Like most other traditional spice blends, there is no one standard recipe so the flavor profile of garam masala varies according to each cook’s preference. As with baharat, the number of spices in garam masala is typically lower than in ras el hanout; however, the most commonly used spices are the same. Garam masala will usually contain cinnamon, cumin and coriander along with cardamom and peppercorns. The result is a blend of flavors that can be used to mimic those in ras el hanout effectively. Use garam masala just as you would use ras el hanout.
Five spice powder is formulated to provide what the Chinese consider to be the five main tastes. Note that the name does not refer to the actual number of spices in the blend. Spices commonly used to make five spice blends include cloves, anise and black peppercorns. Those spices are also used in ras el hanout.
Curry powder might be the easiest mix of eastern spices to find if you are in the US and can be an effective stand-in for ras el hanout. Note that the high turmeric content can give dishes a bright yellow color.