Traditional Flavor Profiles: Middle Eastern Herbs and Spices

The use of herbs and spices in traditional combinations is often the unique signature of global cuisines. Here, the herbs and spices that define classic Middle Eastern cooking.

Common Middle Eastern blends and condiments:

Za’atar: A blend of thyme, marjoram and/or oregano with sumac and sesame seeds, known most commonly as a garnish on pita bread (za’atar bread).

Ras el hanout: Roughly translated to “top shelf” or “best of the shop,” this refers to a versatile spice blend. Each brand or shop has its own variation but the blend can include: cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, dry turmeric, peppers, fennel, rosebuds, and anise.

Baharat: A spice blend frequently including allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg and dried chilies. It is commonly used in meat and poultry dishes.

Harissa: A North African chili pepper paste (sweet and hot peppers) with garlic, coriander and caraway.

Preserved lemon (Moroccan): Lemons pickled in brine with saffron and nigella seeds. Frequently used in stews, like tagine.

Rose water and orange blossom water: Distillates from roses and bitter orange blossoms, respectively, used primarily in candies (Turkish delight) and other sweets (rice pudding, baklava).

Pomegranate molasses: A sweet-sour syrup made from pomegranate juice. It is used in a variety of ways, including to flavor meats and poultry, combined with mineral water to make a beverage, pureed with walnuts and roasted red peppers to make muhammarah, and to make dressings and sauces.