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8 September 2019

Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend distinctive of Ethiopian cuisine, consisting of a mixture of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom and fenugreek. Learn all about it.

What is Berbere Spice?

“Berbere” is a spice assortment that originates from the southeastern part of Africa. It constitutes of the staple spices of the region: chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom and fenugreek, the fiery red mixture is a key ingredient and a distinctive feature in the Ethiopian cuisine.

What Does Berbere Taste Like?

As this spice is a composition of all of the mentioned above spices and herbs and generally referring to African cuisine – the taste of Berbere is hot, peppery and tangy. Berbere is best made from whole spices which are toasted and ground. This produces maximum flavor, when and if freshly ground.

According to many sources, it tastes like a concoction of BBQ, Southwestern and Curry flavors. Because it has a strong flavor, it is also recommended to use it in the last stages of the cook, so that it may not turn bitter or smoky.

It is quite convenient to be made at home. In fact, it may even taste better because of the element of it being freshly made. However, the investment of more than 12 spices may be a little costly on the wallet, considering quality.

How Hot is Berbere?

Berbere comes in varieties ranging in levels of heat. The hotness of the mixture depends on how much chili pepper the maker has used in the the spice blend. It is recommended that while initially using it, use it sparingly. 

Using Berbere Spice

While the Ethiopian cuisine essentially revolves around stews and soups, it can also serve as an excellent dry rub on meats and as a marinade. While it is most often found as a dry powder in the markets or at online stores, it is also found in the form of pastes.

The paste can also be made at home by simply mixing it with some butter, oil, vinegar, wine or even simply water, granted that it’s proportionate in terms of getting the right consistency, neither too grainy nor runny. It can also be used for vegetarian dishes, as seasoning or rubs, as it is often used in salads or vegan varieties of chips like apple chips and zucchini chips.

It is also used in quinoa and couscous to add a kick of flavor. Berbere is quite a versatile spice blend, which is why is used to make numerous BBQ rubs, lentil soups, beef and mutton stews (as the spice blend goes well with the natural juicy flavor of red meat), spiced butter and even being used as a table condiment in households.

As culinary culture and knowledge of cuisine and flavor expand, so do culinary testing and experiments which are often cross-cultured. For example – the classic mac and cheese which mainly had the two staple seasonings of salt and pepper now have berbere to add a spicy boost to the original, rather mundane classic.

The spice blend seems to work well with pasta, particularly with red bases, namely tomato bases, complementing the tartness and acidity of the component. While making your own pasta sauce, add a touch of berbere at the end of the sauce preparation to enhance the flavor with a touch of smokiness.

Berbere works well with butters and fats, and is used a lot to season burgers to make them more “exotic”. Classic burgers can be quite simple in comparison to the ones made with berbere, as the whole flavor dynamic changes. It can also be used for making tacos, an Ethiopian/Mexican turn on the snack.

Not to mention it also works wonders with lean meats like chicken and turkey. Looking around on the internet, the recipes for this handy spice mixture are in the dozens. Don’t limit yourself to strictly Ethiopian food when using Berbere. Try it out in literally any cuisine to give it a new flavor spin.

How Do You Pronounce Berbere?

Despite its growing popularity of this wonderful spice blend around the world, it is somewhat difficult to pronounce it properly in its regional Ethiopian dialect. According to numerous sources, it is phonetically pronounced as ‘ber-bə-ˈrā’

Or, more like this – bear-ber-AY.

Here is a link to Merriam Webster’s site where you easily find the pronunciation of the word: “Ber-be-re” with the word being broken into 2 or 3 syllables respectively, depending on the source and dialect of the speaker.

Needless to say, because of its growing popularity, liking and sales, it should be a pantry staple in the kitchen given for how multi-purpose this single spice composite is, even supplementing the customary seasonal dishes accordingly – fresh and spicy summer meals and warm and comforting winter feasts.

Where Can I Buy Berbere?

You may be able to purchase berbere spice at a local specialty store, but your best bet is to find a good online resource. Below is a link to Amazon where you can buy some online. It’s an affiliate link, my friends.


Got any questions? Ask away! I’m always glad to help.