Saturday, April 10, 2010


Berbere is a spice mixture that is the essential backbone of a huge number of Ethiopian and East African dishes. Hunting down one or two of the spices might be a bit tricky (go online or to an African market if you can’t find them), but once you round everything up, you’ll be happy you did.

Also, berbere requires either an electric spice grinder/coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. Once again, you’ll have to spend a few bucks if you don’t already have these items, but you’ll be very glad you did. Pre-ground spices just make an inferior product.

This recipe also calls for cinnamon chips, not ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks. You can find them at a lot of gourmet or natural food stores. If not, just chop an equivalent amount of cinnamon stick.

The ground chili powder in this recipe is special. Don’t use common Mexican-style chili powder found in the grocery store, also don’t use something like chipotle; both have the wrong flavor. Instead choose dried serranos, anchos (though these are mild, so you’ll want to add some more cayenne), or another chili type or combination that doesn’t taste too much like Texas-style chili.

½ tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/3 tsp cinnamon chips
¼ tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
1/8 tsp whole mustard seeds
½ cup paprika (that’s right, ½ cup!)
1/3 cup ground chili powder
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp ginger powder
1 TBSP cayenne
2 TBSP salt
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Combine all the whole spices (first 7 ingredients) in a small bowl and mix well. Over medium-low to medium heat, warm a dry frying pan up. When the pan is totally warmed, add the whole spices. Dry fry the spices, stirring constantly, until they’re nicely toasted but not burned, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Grind finely. Add in all remaining ingredients and stir well. If you like your food to take on a smokier flavor, you can dry fry the finished product a few more minutes. But I like it just as it is. Berbere will keep in a dark, cool, dry place for a number of months.


  1. I use a red chili powder purchased from an Indian market and would recommend that to anyone if they have the access. Mexican-style chili powder is just not the right flavor.

  2. just a question : do you use white cumin or black cumin seeds (nigella) ? I've got both and I don't know what is the best. thank you !

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  4. Yeah, Mexican-style chili will ruin your berbere. As for the cumin, I use white... But when I lived in Ethiopia, black was actually more common. So I say you can use either, really.