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Essential Spices to Purchase in Morocco

#morocco #spices #saffron #spicemarket an array of spices in a circle
Spices common in the Moroccan spice markets.

Morocco is historically an epicenter in global spice trade, and as a result Moroccan dishes are characterized by their flavors that creates a truly unique cuisine to explore. Within the city markets there is an array of kitchen delights for every food-lover to take home.

Souks are filled with aromatic and vibrantly colored stacks, jars and sachets of wares, though it may prove difficult to understand what exactly you are purchasing and what flavors they provide. Here is our quick reference guide to the most prevalent spices in the market and their uses to help you decide

Saffron (zafrane)

Saffron is a rare gourmet spice that grows in the Taliouine region of Morocco due south of Marrakech, and is the ultimate spice to bring home from your travels. Saffron is the most expensive spice on the market due to the extensive labor required to harvest saffron from the crocus flower and prepare the spice for distribution.

saffron in glass bottle next to purple saffron flower
Saffron spice in a jar and the crocus flower.

You will find saffron prices in Morocco to be lower than your local markets and it is an opportune time to stock up for your own kitchen and as gifts for others. When you’re purchasing saffron in the market, be sure to choose one that has long, thin, dark red filaments - and avoid purchasing powdered forms as they may have been diluted with other spices during processing.

Ras el Hanout

Ras el hanout (meaning “head of shop” in Arabic) is a mixture of ground up spices. This aromatic spice blend is quite easy to prepare and while it’s not for everyday use it’s often used as a rub for fishes, meat, or even stirred into a couscous.

Morocco red spice in bin sold in bulk
Rass el hanout sold in bulk.

The blend of spices can really vary shop to shop, but the main staples to this mix are usually cumin, coriander, ginger, and cinnamon. Be sure to attempt to sample the mix before purchasing, or at least learn what is in each shop’s mixture, to determine which one you would enjoy most.

green stems surrounding spoon full of seeds
Fenugreek in plant and seed form.

Fenugreek (helba / halba)

The Fenugreek plant is an herb used in soups and sauces The dried seeds are a prominent ingredient in the traditional Moroccan dish rfissa, a chicken and lentils dish.

Fenugreek must be cooked in order to offer a nutty and sweet flavor in meat dishes, as on its own or eaten raw it can be quite bitter.

Turmeric (kharkoum beldi)

Turmeric is a spice derived from the dried root of the curcuma longa plant and is one of the most common spices you’ll find in Moroccan cuisine, especially in a tagine dish.

Ground turmeric and turmeric root.
Ground turmeric and turmeric root.

It is used both for its flavor in soup and stew recipes as well as to add a pop of color to some dishes. Turmeric is also commonly used as a dye for textiles due to its very distinctive bright yellow color.

Dried cumin seeds in a wood spoon ready for cooking.
Dried cumin seeds ready for cooking.

Cumin (kamoun)

Cumin, sometimes referred to as caraway seed, is an aromatic and widely used spice in Moroccan cuisine to season tagines, couscous, and lamb or chicken dishes.

While cumin is already a widely available spice in most countries, there's something about bringing this spice back as a souvenir that will make your cooking taste extra special.

It’s an absolute must to explore Moroccan cuisine and purchase some souvenir spices when visiting Morocco. Bringing back spices as a souvenir is one of the greatest ways to relive your trip to Morocco and allow you to share your stories and new recipes during dinner with friends. Make sure to research any restrictions that may be in place for bringing home food products to prevent any issues with customs when returning to your home country.

Written by: K.M.

Photos by: Shutterstock

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