As with other specialized seasoning blends like taco seasoning or fajita seasoning, shawarma spice is all about convenience. It is an easy way to add the right balance of all the spices that are traditionally used on shawarma.
While the origin of shawarma is not well documented, it is probably Turkish in origin and was most likely invented in the city of Bursa at some point in the 17th century. It was called doner kebab in Turkey but took on the Arabic name shawarma when it spread throughout the Levant. Shawarma is made by placing marinated slabs of meat and fat on a vertical spit and roasting them slowly while turning the spit. The Arabic name shawarma actually has to do with the turning action of the spit. It comes from the Turkish word cevirme, which means turning.
There are versions of shawarma all throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean region. One of the many similar food items is the Greek gyro. The Mexican dish tacos al pastor is also said to be a New World descendant of shawarma, brought to Mexico by Middle Eastern immigrants.
The pungent and colorful spices used to season shawarma were already fixtures in Turkish culture by the time the dish was invented. Turkey’s geographical position straddling both Asia and Europe gave the country a key role in the early spice trade. Like other nations on the spice road, they made use of the spices that passed through. Along with spices imported from the Far East, some shawarma spice blends will include spices from closer to home like sumac.
Today, shawarma and its many variants are popular all over the world. The spices used to make these dishes can vary from place to place based on local preference.
Shawarma spice flavor profile
Shawarma spice can have a variety of different flavor profiles depending on the maker’s preference. As with many spice mixes that have been around for a long time, there is no one shawarma flavor profile. Shawarma spice can be savory and aromatic because of ingredients like cloves and allspice, spicy because of cayenne pepper and tart because of the sumac.
Health benefits of shawarma spice
The individual spices that make up shawarma spice are all rich in nutrients that can be beneficial for health. While the ingredients do vary, many will include nutrients such as:
- Antioxidants: Sumac is a Turkish spice that has a high Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value and which often shows up in shawarma spice. A food item’s ORAC value is a measure of its ability to fight free radicals. Sumac is loaded with antioxidants. The paprika often used in shawarma spice also contains high amounts of vitamin A, which is an antioxidant. Sumac has modest amounts of vitamins C, D and E; these are effective antioxidants as well.
- Minerals: Cumin, paprika, and turmeric are all good sources of iron. Cloves and turmeric are excellent sources of manganese.
- Vitamin K: Black pepper, paprika, and cloves are all great sources of vitamin K. Other ingredients that typically show up in shawarma spice will have this nutrient as well.
Consuming more shawarma spice in your diet may protect you from various health conditions, like:
- Foodborne illness: Both cloves and sumac are well known to have antimicrobial properties that may be effective for killing bacteria responsible for food poisoning.
- Cancer: Due to the fact that it contains sumac and other spices loaded with antioxidants, shawarma spice may be helpful for preventing cancer by keeping free radicals in check.
Common uses of shawarma seasoning
Aside from the obvious use for making shawarma, it’s great as a dry rub for any meat. Use it on meats that you intend to grill, smoke or roast.