Spice Pillars of Moroccan Cuisine

Updated on January 23, 2020
AHG maghribia profile image

After 3 years of living with Moroccan host families and making countless trips to the market, I consider myself a Moroccan spice expert.

A row of fragrant spices in the shop.
A row of fragrant spices in the shop.

It's All About Flavor

Seasoning can make or break a dish. Too much and you are overwhelmed; too little and you enter the dangerous realm of bland. With Moroccan recipes, there is no need to fear. Every creation has the perfect balance of tangy and sweet, salty and spicy. The equilibrium of flavors is achieved by using a wide range of spices. These spices are the pillars of any Moroccan dish.

  1. Ginger
  2. Turmeric
  3. Cumin
  4. Paprika
  5. Black Pepper
  6. Ras Dial Hanut
  7. Cayenne Pepper
  8. Cinnamon
  9. Thyme (Za'atar)

Spices ready for purchase.
Spices ready for purchase.

1. Ginger

Ginger makes an impression. It adds a great kick to any dish. In Morocco, people use ginger in tajines and chicken recipes. Ginger takes the spotlight in harira, a thick tomato-based soup eaten during Ramadan. Lubia, a white bean stew, also has a good amount of ground ginger. Easy to make and filled with healthy ingredients, this dish is popular for lunch. Feeling inspired? Try making it yourself!

Lubia (White Bean Stew)


  • 1 pound dried white beans (soak them overnight)
  • 1 medium onion (grated)
  • 3 juicy tomatoes (grated)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley and cilantro (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of hot pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons paprika


  1. Put all ingredients into a pressure cooker.
  2. Add 2 liters of water and simmer.
  3. Cover it and cook on pressure over medium heat for 40 minutes.
  4. If the stew is still watery, let some of the water burn off.
  5. Taste as you go. If you want to add more spices then go for it!

2. Turmeric

The bright orange spice is crucial in many Moroccan dishes.

  • Chicken, preserved lemon and olive tajine
  • Lamb and prune tajine
  • Chicken and vegetable tajine
  • Maakouda—deep-fried potato beignet
  • Sfa—Moroccan chicken with vermicelli

3. Cumin

Probably the most-used spice in a Moroccan kitchen, cumin is the base for almost all savory dishes. Cucumber and tomato salad, tajines, and meat recipes all require the spice.

4. Paprika

5. Black Pepper

Both spices are used primarily in tajines.

A pinch of ras dial hanut can heighten the flavor profile of any dish.
A pinch of ras dial hanut can heighten the flavor profile of any dish.

6. Ras Dial Hanut (Head of the Store)

Like a mystery? Well, this spice can give you one. A secret mix of spices are blended together to create a masterpiece. Every shopkeeper has their own ingredient list; therefore, no ras dial hanut is ever the same. Some say cumin, turmeric, and paprika are the essentials for this mix. Others say black pepper and ginger are the prominent spices.

7. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is a great addition if you like spicy. One of the best things about cayenne is its universality. Toss a pinch, or in my case a handful, on Moroccan lentils or in a marinade.

8. Cinnamon

The most notable use of cinnamon is in sfa. Sfa is a dish with vermicelli, chicken, powdered sugar, peanuts, raisins, and cinnamon. Chicken is placed in the middle of a platter and covered with buttered noodles. Roasted peanuts, confectioner sugar, raisins, and cinnamon are added as a garnish. This dish is eaten hot. Cinnamon is also a big player in pastilla, a flaky layered pastry with ground almonds, shredded chicken, and confectioner sugar.

Za'atar is a common spice in most Moroccan shops.
Za'atar is a common spice in most Moroccan shops.

9. Thyme (Za'atar)

Dried thyme is mixed with toasted sesame seeds, dried marjoram, and sumac. The result? A uniquely aromatic spice exclusive to the Middle East. Moroccans use it with chicken, meats, and breads. I like to take this blend and mix it with salt and olive oil. Then, I throw it on chicken thighs as a marinade. After a few hours, I pop it in the oven and let it roast. I use the leftover oil to grill peppers or eggplant.

Spice Shopping Tips

Don't be afraid to ask for a sample. Shopkeepers are happy to let you try a bit of the spice before you buy it. Also, don't forget to use your nose as a tester. If you are planning on living in Morocco for an extended period of time, find a spice shop you like and stick with it. I have been going to the same one for over a year and love the owners—especially when they throw in some spices for free.


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    • AHG maghribia profile imageAUTHOR

      Adelia Maghribia 

      22 months ago from Morocco

      Which part of Egypt are you in? I hope you find the herbs you are looking for. You can always let me know what herbs you do have and I can try and give you some suggestions.

    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      22 months ago from Egypt

      I have cooked cinnamon and za'atar but I have not tried other herbs, and I do not know whether I will find them in my area in Egypt or not. In general, I like to add natural herbs to some meals, but I'm sure it is not delicious like white beans which you cook.

    • AHG maghribia profile imageAUTHOR

      Adelia Maghribia 

      22 months ago from Morocco

      Thank you so much!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      22 months ago from UK

      This hub is very well illustrated.

    • AHG maghribia profile imageAUTHOR

      Adelia Maghribia 

      22 months ago from Morocco

      No problem! Let me know if you cook any of them!

    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      22 months ago from Egypt

      Great herbs and a delicious meal. Thank you, Adelia.


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