What is Berbere Seasoning?

Berbere seasoning is a foundation in Ethiopian cooking–a spice blend of chiles, garlic, coriander, fenugreek, and so much more. Our mix comes from Marcus Samuelsson–an Ethiopian Swedish celebrity chef–who uses the blend in numerous ways, from veggies to meat…even grilled pineapple.

A person's fingers covered in berbere seasoning.
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Marcus Samuelsson’s favorite berbere blend

Berbere is a complex spice mix containing ground chiles, garlic, coriander, and more–some versions include 20 spices, and one of my favorite berebe seasoning blends also includes fenugreek, cardamom, allspice, paprika, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

There’s a level of terroir to it in Ethiopia. Every family makes their own berbere and dries it in the sun, so if you have a lot of sun, it will come out one way, and if you add a lot of garlic, another. Ethiopia is tribal, but berbere is found throughout the country. With an endlessly adaptable recipe, you can adjust berbere according to your personal preferences and to what you have on hand. The number of ingredients also ensures that you’re not just ending up with a blast of heat.

How do I use berbere seasoning?

Berbere should have complexity, with layers of sweetness, floral notes, and earthiness. This range of flavor also means that it goes with nearly everything. I use it from the first course to last, in everything from ricotta toast to stuffed peppers with turkey and quinoa to fermented honey drizzled on grilled pineapple. All the spices that we add in there make sense together. It’s about making a spice blend that’s really, really well balanced.

In Ethiopia, berbere is almost a currency. It’s what people make at home, but it’s also something they trade with at the market. We put it on everything. I’m so happy to see berbere gaining in popularity with chefs and others outside the Ethiopian community. Sprinkle berbere on grilled carrots or roasted chicken or a piece of lamb.

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Comments

  1. If anyone here has not tried Ethiopian cooking, do yourself a favour and find your nearest restaurant (definitely for you Washington DC folks, if what I hear is correct). That sort of cooking was an awakening that still resonates with me, something which is coming up to 10 years. Now, I am interested in finding any restaurant from a cuisine I have not tried and will give a burl to cooking them if need be. For example, I did a Puerto Rican meal not long ago, and I don’t think I have bumped into a Puerto Rican where I live.

    With cooking, I love to be hands-on. I have a spice collection that is two-dozen strong – including three kinds of paprika. Cajun spice, Italian herbs, and – yes, absolutely yes – berbere, I find more joy mixing the individual spices. More love is put into the cooking that way.

    Pound for pound, I have found Ethiopian to be the strongest cuisine on this green planet. It doesn’t hurt that it is coffee’s birth country either; the coffee experience with Ethiopian restaurants is out of this world. But that is a story for another time.

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