Worldwide Morocco is known for its delectable cuisine and booming spice trade.
Taking simple dishes to the next level with their homegrown saffron, warm cumin, sweet cinnamon, and nutty sesame seeds.
Getting lost in the whirlwind of a Moroccan spice market is easy, with so many colorful spices to choose from it can be hard to decipher the most important spices in Moroccan cuisine.
Let’s take a look at the Moroccan spice trade and explore the most important spices featured in Moroccan cuisine.
Morocco is known today for its booming spice trade, with city markets filled to the brim with fragrant and colourful displays of imported and local herbs and spices.
In the beginning, this was not always the case, as it wasn’t until the 7th century that Arabs raided Morocco bringing with them world-famous spices from China, India and Malaysia.
Over time Morocco developed a thriving spice trade, with saffron, turmeric, cayenne, cumin, and black pepper becoming popular commodities.
Today, Morocco exports over 8 million in spices worldwide, with Nigeria, the United States, the United Kingdom and China being the largest buyers.
Saffron or Zafrane is a delicate spice that has to be hand-picked rather than manually harvested.
Each saffron flower contains only a small amount of spice, meaning over 75,000 saffron flowers must be produced to create only 1 pound of the final product.
This has resulted in high prices, making eating a dish or obtaining a product containing saffron a luxury. Saffron’s strong aroma can be hard to describe, as people have noted earthy and leathery undertones.
Even with its expensive cost, Saffron is used frequently in Moroccan dishes, including djaj mqualli and chermoula.
Sesame Seeds are an important addition to many Moroccan dishes and can be found in many popular Moroccan desserts. Commonly used in Morocco as a garnish on tagines and flatbreads, sesame seeds are a beautiful and flavorful accent to almost any Moroccan dish.
One of Morocco’s most popular dishes containing sesame seeds is called Sellou.
A nutty powder consisting of grounded fried almonds, honey, cinnamon, and crushed sesame seeds. Unfortunately, droughts, disease and pests have reduced Moroccan sesame seed harvests over the last 20 years.
Originally from Southern India, black pepper has taken the world by storm and become a pantry staple. Incorporated in dishes from around the world, black pepper has become an essential ingredient in Moroccan cuisine With its pine and citrus undertones, black pepper brings a heat that compliments a classic Moroccan tagine, lamb kebabs, or fish chermoula.
Ras el Hanout is a spice mix, used by lot of Moroccan households. It consists of a mixture of dried and ground spices such as cumin, coriander, ginger, and cinnamon.
The number of spices in the blend can vary, with some recipes containing up to 20 different spices and others using as few as 5 or 6. Ras el Hanout literally means “Head of the store”
It is commonly used in Moroccan dishes like couscous, tagines, and “marouziya” stew. It can also be used as a rub for grilled meats or added to other dishes to give them a Moroccan flavor.
Thought to originate from South America, the chilli spice has become a popular staple in Moroccan cuisine. Only a small amount is needed to create a flavorful and fiery heat, with Morocco’s most popular chilli dish being Harissa Chicken.
Typically utilized worldwide in a paste, liquid or powder form, chillis are most commonly used in Morocco after being blended with oil and other spices. This form of chilli seasoning is called Harissa and originated in Tunisia, becoming popular in North Western Africa.
The Fenugreek plant is versatile, its leaves providing a herb perfect for soups and sauces, while the seeds can be used as a spice. A perfect complement to many Moroccan dishes, including the traditional Moroccan rfissa.
Best consumed once heated, the fenugreek seed is bitter on its own, but once cooked produces a sweet, nutty, and burnt sugar aroma. The Fenugreek plant has also been used for its health-promoting properties. Having rumored to increase milk production in lactating mothers, lower blood pressure and boost testosterone.
Thought to have originated in Western Asia, Cumin is now cultivated around the world, including Morocco. This rich, earthy and warm spice has become beloved by the Moroccan people, taking its place beside salt and pepper on the dining room table.
One of the 4 basic spices in Moroccan cuisine, cumin has a stronghold in the Moroccan kitchen and can be found in the majority of Moroccan meat dishes. Known to aid digestion and to be an excellent source of iron, cumin has become known not only for its flavor but health benefits.
Noted as one of the most commonly used spices in Moroccan cuisine, ginger provides a fragrant heat to countless Moroccan tagines and couscous dishes. Although many countries use ginger in its raw form, the Moroccan people are more likely to use a powdered version.
This may be due to the increased storage life, ease of transportation, and affordability of merchants and their patrons.
The popularity of ginger in Moroccan cuisine can be dated back to the sixth century, prior to the Arab’s arrival. As a result, ginger is one of the oldest spices in Moroccan cuisine.
Obtained from the bark of a cinnamon tree, the rich and sweet aroma of cinnamon is extremely versatile. Found in many sweet and savoury Moroccan dishes, cinnamon holds a little bit of heat but is far milder than Moroccan chilli or black pepper. Although cinnamon may only be a side note in other countries’ recipes, certain Moroccan dishes have been known to put cinnamon front and center.
Such as in Morocco’s famous cinnamon and spiced Moroccan chicken or in their savoury Moroccan stews.
Morocco’s affinity for spices is vast, with spices such as anise seed, white pepper paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, Ras El Hanout chilli, and turmeric also being popular additions to many Moroccan dishes.
With such a variety of spices, it can be hard to name them all. As most Moroccan dishes contain a complex mix of herbs, spices, and flavors. On your next trip to Morocco, try to decipher the dishes yourself and see if you can taste the flavor of each spice.