Middle Eastern Spices

The Middle East is home to a range of cuisines that use exotic spices from across the globe. Try some of these spices in the recipes for Farro Tabbouleh over Baby Kale Salad and Chicken Shawarma Hummus Bowls, and read on for creative ways to wake up your cooking, Middle Eastern-style.

Coriander: The tan seed of the cilantro plant, coriander has a subtly sweet, lemony flavor. It’s native to southern Europe, North Africa and southwestern Asia. The spice is typically available ground, but for a more intense flavor and aroma, toast whole coriander seeds lightly in a dry skillet before grinding them or adding them whole to dishes. Coriander is a classic addition to Middle Eastern seafood and vegetable recipes; try it in a fish stew, homemade falafel or lentil soup.

Cumin: Light-brown cumin seeds come from a member of the parsley family that’s native to the eastern Mediterranean. Cumin’s distinctive, earthy flavor is unmistakable in many Middle Eastern staple dishes. Use the ground version, or toast the whole seeds until fragrant before adding them to dishes or grinding them for recipes. The spice adds zip to fish and shellfish dishes and couscous, marinades and dips such as hummus.

Ginger: Ginger is cultivated in Africa, India, Australia and Jamaica. With a fiery yet sweet flavor and notes of lemon and rosemary, some believe ginger has medicinal qualities such as the ability to soothe upset stomachs and boost energy. It can be grated, ground, slivered or sliced and used in soups, curries, sauces and stir-fries. Ginger also spices up baked goods and herbal teas, adds intensity to jams and jellies, and pairs well with garlic and seafood.

Paprika: A spice made from the ground fruit of a red pepper plant that originated in Central America, paprika can range from mild to fiery. Sweet smoked paprika and hot smoked paprika are both dried slowly over a wood fire for several weeks, which imparts a delicious flavor to the seasoning. Use your favorite type of paprika in iconic Middle Eastern favorites like baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant dip), fava bean soup and lamb shawarma.

Cinnamon: A mildly sweet spice, cinnamon possesses a delicate, woody aroma and distinct sweet taste that lends itself to sweet and savory applications. It’s a must-have for baked goods such as pies, cakes and breakfast rolls and can also flavor curries, stews, lamb and beef. Use cinnamon to perk up Greek moussaka or use it to flavor broths, chutneys or Mediterranean dolmas (stuffed grape leaves).

Turmeric: Vivid, golden-orange turmeric comes from a member of the ginger family that’s native to southwest India and has been used in cooking since 600 B.C. Its anti-inflammatory properties may help relieve conditions such as arthritis and indigestion. To make the spice, the roots of the plant are boiled, dried and then pulverized into a powder. Use ground turmeric to add a slightly pungent bitter flavor to rice, Middle Eastern-style meatballs and recipes starring chicken, lamb or shrimp.

Allspice: The brown, dried berry of a Caribbean evergreen tree, allspice has a warm, spicy flavor reminiscent of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Native to the Greater Antilles, Central America and southern Mexico, allspice has a complex sweetness that makes it particularly indispensable in Middle Eastern meat dishes. Try it in slow-cooked stews and rubs for lamb, beef or chicken kabobs.


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