Berbere is a hot spice blend that is an integral ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine. Both full of flavor and heat, this spice is not for the faint of heart – or taste buds. Every Ethiopian cook has their own version of this blend. Some versions include lesser known spices like nigella seeds, ajwain, and korarima, a spice that grows wild in Ethiopia. Whatever the version, there are several key spices that are common to all and the result is a fiery, bright red, highly aromatic and flavorful seasoning blend. Fantastic as a rub for meat, poultry and fish, a seasoning for stews, soups, grains and vegetables. Berbere is a wonderful all-purpose seasoning.
Berbere is the central ingredient in of the most famous of all African dishes: Ethiopian Doro Wat, a fabulous spicy chicken stew.
Berbere is best made from whole spices which are toasted and ground. This produces maximum flavor. If you already have these spices in ground form, you can certainly use those instead, the blend just won’t be as flavorful.
Several spices are needed. If you don’t already have them and end up purchasing them, the good news is that each one is very versatile and commonly used in a great many different cuisines. In other words, if you like international food, your spices won’t go to waste because you’ll end up using them again and again, whether you’re cooking African, Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Greek, Hungarian, Jamaican, American, and the list goes on and on and on! And as long as you keep your spices stored in airtight glass jars in a dark place, they will keep a long, long time.
This blend is made from a combination of whole spices and spices that are already ground. Some of these can be challenging to find in a local store. I’ve provided links where good quality ones can be easily purchased.
Let’s take a look at each one (I’ve provided links where they can be easily purchased).
For the whole spices you’ll need (Clockwise, starting at top): Coriander Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Green Cardamom Seeds, Dried Red Chili Peppers, Whole Allspice Berries, Whole Cloves, Fenugreek Seeds, Black Peppercorns (center)
First, we’re going to toast the whole spices and red chilies. This releases their natural oils, flavor and aroma. Heat a skillet over high heat and toast the seeds until very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Shake regularly to prevent scorching. Transfer them to a bowl to cool completely.
Note: If you aren’t afraid of extreme heat, leave a few of the seeds in while de-seeding the chilies.
Once cooled, grind the whole spices in a spice or coffee grinder.
Next, add the powdered spices to the spice/coffee grinder.
Grind all the spices together. Store the Berbere in an airtight container in a dark place until ready to use.
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 whole allspice berries
- Seeds of 4 green cardamom pods
- 4 cloves
- 5 dried red chilies, seeded, broken into small pieces (see Note)
- 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- In a heavy skillet over high heat, toast the whole spices (seeds) and chilies, shaking the pan regularly to prevent scorching, until very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.
- Grind the cooled spices in a spice or coffee grinder. Add all remaining ground spices and salt and grind everything together.
- Store in an airtight container in a dark place.