Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend used in many different dishes across the country. It is a key ingredient in some of Ethiopia’s most popular recipes, giving them a warm, fragrant flavor.
Berbere can be translated to “hot” or “pepper” in Amharic. Warm spices like cumin, coriander, cloves and cinnamon are combined with red chili peppers, fenugreek and ginger to give berbere its signature kick.
Origin & Cultural Significance
Other native Ethiopian ingredients such as korarima, ajwain, and long pepper are also traditionally included. Korarima is a plant in the ginger family; its seeds are known as Ethiopian cardamom. Ajwain is an annual herb found in Ethiopia, its fruits are dry roasted and ground into a spice. Long pepper is a vine that can be dried and used as a spice in berbere.
The origin of berbere can be traced back to the 5th Century, when Ethiopia had control over the Red Sea route of the Silk Road. Spices were brought along the Silk Road from China, through Ethiopia where they were introduced into the cuisine.
Berbere is a very versatile spice blend; it is used in many different Ethiopian dishes, including the national dish, doro wat, a spicy chicken stew. The spice blend can also be used as a meat rub, or combined with oil to make a paste called awaze which is used as a condiment.
The spice combination varies significantly depending on the person making the berbere, occasionally different blends are made specifically for certain dishes. Recipes are typically passed down through generations and will also vary by region.
- Whole red chillies - 10
- Peppercorns - 10
- Allspice berry - 5
- Holy basil seeds - 1 tsp
- Fenugreek seeds - 2 tsp
- Cloves - 4
- Cumin seeds - 1 tbsp
- Korarima - ½ tsp
- Ground ginger - 1 tbsp
- Ground coriander - ½ tsp
- Ground cinnamon - ½ tsp
- Ground nutmeg - 1 tsp
- Paprika - 3 tbsp
- Salt - 1 tsp
- Heat a small frying pan over a high heat and add the chillies.
- Toast the chillies in the pan for 3-5 minutes, until fragrant and smoky. Make sure to stir frequently and shake the pan to prevent them burning.
- Once toasted, transfer the chillies to a bowl and allow them to cool.
- Add the cooled chillies and the whole spices to a spice grinder and grind until they become a fine powder. Transfer the contents to a bowl.
- In the same bowl, mix in all of the other ground spices until completely combined.
- Sore your berbere spice mix in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 41Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 242mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 3gSugar: 3gProtein: 2g
Photo credit: Badagnani