HARAR, ETHIOPIA - MARCH 04: Spice and grain market in the old town, harari region, harar, Ethiopia on March 4, 2016 in Harar, Ethiopia.  (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
Berbere: The Legendary Ethiopian Spice Everyone Should Experiment With
By Haldan Kirsch
Ethiopia is the oldest independent country on the continent of Africa and its storied history has helped to refine its unique cuisine that blends earthy, spicy, and sour flavors. Dishes like Messer Wot (red lentil stew) and the soft, thin, sourdough bread called injera are Ethiopian staples, but the other backbone of its cuisine is a potent spice mix known as Berbere.
Berbere is often made with up to 20 spices that include fenugreek seeds, African basil, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and thyme. It’s great for seasoning heavy stews like doro wat and savory breakfast fare like chechebsa, but it can also be used to spice up cold salads, and grain bowls, or just sprinkled on eggs and rice.
The origins of this spice mix go all the way back to the ancient Aksum kingdom, which shared its Eastern border with the Red Sea and created a naval trade route with the Silk Road spice trade. It’s said that Aksumite traders created different spice blends with the spices they purchased and when they passed the knowledge to their families, it became a common household spice mix.