The Moroccan Kitchen: Spices

Celebrity Chefs, Ingredient Spotlight, Regional Spotlight


Of all the ingredients used in Moroccan cooking, perhaps none is as distinctive as the combinations of spices. Spices are used to create rich, flavorful sauces, to add sweet and savory notes to dishes, to brighten and season and to add gentle spiciness and heat. Read on for a list of essential Moroccan spices and spice blends as well as tips on how to prepare and store them.


The Role of Spice

Spices are used to add rich and complex flavors to a myriad of Moroccan dishes, like tagines, couscous, vegetable stews, chickpeas, dips…even desserts. Often, spices are bought whole, ground fresh, and added to a dish at the beginning of cooking, so that their flavors have time to develop and deepen.


Essential Moroccan Spices


Cumin One of the  world’ s most popular spices, cumin adds an enticing warmth and complexity to meat and poultry. It also adds a bold, rich flavor to roasts, tagines and curries. To get the most flavorful taste and aroma from cumin, buy whole seeds and grind them yourself.


Ginger Fresh or ground, ginger has a distinctive flavor that is a combination of lemon-like zest, peppery heat and herbal sweetness.


Coriander A bright spice with a lemon-like flavor and a component of Moroccan spice blends. Buy who seeds and grind fresh.


Turmeric  Prized for its rich golden hue and mild yet pungent mustard-ginger flavor, it is used to add depth to spice blends.


White pepper Preferred for its appearance and subtle flavor, white pepper gives dishes a hint of spice and heat.


Paprika  An important ingredient in spice blends, with a deep character and sweetness.


Other commonly used spices include cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne, mustard seed, saffron, star anise and cardamom.


Spice Blends


Ras el hanout–the most fundamental spice blend in Morocco, actually has many variations; in fact, most home cooks have their own unique recipe. Certain spices are always in it, like cumin, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg, and their is always an element of heat, usually in the form of whole peppers. Once the spices are toasted, ground and blended, ras el hanout can be used in a myriad of ways: as a dry rub for poultry and meat; as a flavoring for rice; in yogurt dip; in bean and vegetable stews and braises.



How to Prepare Spices for Moroccan Dishes


Whenever possible, buy spices whole and grind however much you need in a spice grinder or coffee bean grinder. This will ensure you are getting the best flavor and aroma from your spices and that they don’t taste bitter. Some whole spices are too hard to put into a grinder (like nutmeg and ginger); these are best grated with a small grater like a Microplane. Toasting your spices in a skillet over a low flame before grinding will also bring out their true depth and complexity.


Store your whole and ground spices for up to 6 months in airtight containers away from heat, moisture and light–once they’re ground, their flavor will start to fade almost immediately, which is another reason to grind only small amounts when you need them. Spice blends tend to have a longer shelf live than individual spices.Store whole and

13 comments about “The Moroccan Kitchen: Spices

  1. Loyce

    Chicken tagine-there’s no break down of how much I should use to make this dish. I watched the video but no specific amount mentioned. Please assist and can you get the exact measures. When I cook I have to follow a complete recipe. I truly want to make this dish. Also, want to know if a tagine can be used on a glass stove top?

    1. Amy Cohen

      i live in brooklyn new york, where there are many middle eastern stores. One fantastic store is Sahadi on Atlantic avenue in Brooklyn.. They sell everything in bulk and small amounts. I am pretty sure you can email them and they would send to you..

  2. Olivia Ware

    Hi Barbara, look for couscous at specialty markets and in the bulk bins of well-stocked grocery stores. It may be labeled “French couscous” or just “couscous” — not “instant.”

  3. Mary

    I moved to the States from Europe a month ago. I am having trouble finding preserved lemons, ras el hanout and also harissa. Does anybody know where I can find these in the Austin area? Thanks.

  4. Jay Thal

    I’ve cracked tagines in the past. I cured that with a heat diffuser which was mentioned in passing during the video. Or use a cast iron dutch oven

    Couscous can be a fine pasta which is ready,virtually, instantly. You may wish to look for “Israeli” style Couscous which is pearl shaped ~3mm

    I have no problem with W-S quality products, but there are alternatives. The olive bar at my local Whole Foods has preserved lemons.

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  6. Precious

    I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on
    the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here
    and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme?
    Superb work!

  7. Joanna Tahar

    I have cooked Moroccan food for many years, incorporating many of the Chef’s techniques through my own trial and effort. His chicken with lemons and olives make the most of the spices and, as he mentions in the video, he given this iconic tagine much more depth of flavor and a wonderful aroma! The everyday Moroccan family eats a much blander version.

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