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Spice mixtures in East African Cuisine

Updated on October 13, 2011
Fenugreek Seeds
Fenugreek Seeds

One version of Berbere Rub

Another way to use Berbere Spice Mixture


Spices in East African Cuisine

Spice mixtures are a fun part of any cuisine, and East Africa has some of their own. Some of the spices are going to overlap and be used in many countries. One of the things that makes each cuisine its own unique thing, is the unique combinations of even similar spices. Here is one in particular, that is used in Ethiopia and elsewhere along the Eastern side of the country. Why not look up a particular recipe and make your own today? For this one, you may find something under Berbere Spice Mixture. I love the spices used in this, so I am sure I would love the mixture as well.

For this spice mixture, here is a sampling of the herbs that would go into it:

Dried Red Chiles

Salt and Black Peppercorns (I like to use sea salt or Kosher salt.  You can use a pepper grinder for the black peppercorns.  If you don't have that, you can use regular black pepper)

Ground Nutmeg

White Cardamom (Or you can use regular cardamom)


Allspice Berries

Fenugreek Seeds

Cumin Seeds

Coriander Seeds

Ajowan Seeds (see note below)

Ground Ginger

The above is a sampling of what you might find in a Berbere Recipe, but some cooks like to add more spices and take out some others. One big one I have seen added was cayenne pepper, which since I love that, would probably add to my own personal recipe. If and when you should ever toast any of these spices, shake the pan you are toasting them in, and watch for your herbs and spices to give off a rich aroma and begin to turn color. Make sure to not over "cook" them.

Ajowan seeds are new to me, but I found out they have a flavor not all that different from thyme. It is often used in both Indian and Middle Eastern Cuisine. I love thyme, so I am sure this would be no different.

You can use Berbere on Chicken

Some of the dishes that you might find Berbere in

There are many various dishes that could call for such a spice mixture in Eastern Africa. Dabo Kolo, and Doro Wat are just a couple of them. Beef stews and lentil stews also benefit from this amazing addition, as do chicken and rib recipes.

Berbere is a definite base for flavor in the Ethiopian Cuisine. Basically, there is pan roasting process, which brings out the flavors even more in the herbs. They are stored in airtight containers out of direct sunlight. Sometimes, people make berbere into a paste, so its up to whatever recipe you choose to use and for what purpose. Red chili pepper is a must have though, as is fenugreek. If this gives you too much heat, some put in paprika as a substitute.

Dry Fenugreek Leaves
Dry Fenugreek Leaves


Fenugreek in Ehtiopian and East African Cuisine:

Fenugreek has long been known as both a culinary herb, but also as a medicinal herb from ancient times until now. If the seeds are roasted then ground, it can help to mellow out the bitterness. Extract from fenugreek seeds have been used in rum, vanilla and butterscotch flavorings. It is often used to make breads.  In Ethiopia, when they make a clarified butter, fenugreek is included very often.  Medicinally, it has been said to be used for helping with diabetes.  

East African Cuisine Poll

Have you ever had the pleasure of eating any Eastern African Cuisine?

See results


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    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Brupie, I think its so great to try different foods. You are lucky to live in an area where there are East African cuisines to choose from! Happy to share the information, and I am glad you stopped by and commented.

    • Brupie profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm very fond of East African food, though I haven't cooked much more than Doro Wat. I'm fortunate enough to live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that has a large East African population and there are a number of East African restaurants. Thanks for the article!

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Sea, I think there is likely some overlap, true. It makes sense to me, all things considered. I too, love the spices! Thank you for your visit and comment.

    • profile image


      10 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      How does Eastern African cuisine differ from Middle Eastern? There seems to be some overlap. I love those spices!

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Let me know what you think!

    • PhoenixV profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      Boraxo is Right! I have to try it too

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you for stopping by Boraxo!

    • Boraxo profile image


      11 years ago from Yakima

      this spice mixture sounds like something I must try


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