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A guide to Ras el Hanout

28 April 2022

A guide to Ras el Hanout

Discover all there is know about this “top shelf” spice blend

What is ras el hanout?

Ras el hanout is a spice rack in itself. A Moroccan spice blend, it often includes up to 40 different spices, including cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg, allspice, cumin and cinnamon, with some blends claiming to use over 100 – making it perhaps the most complicated and diverse spice blend of them all. There are no hard and fast rules as to how many spices ras el hanout should contain and which recipe to use. Each blend is unique to its region, family or maker. No two are the same. Some blends may add more exoctic and rare ingredients too, like ash berries, grains of paradise, orris root, dried rosebud, Monk’s pepper and Spanish fly. Ras el hanout is Arabic for “head of the shop”, meaning “top shelf” and literally implies that they’re the best spices the shop or spice merchant has to offer. This flavourful spice is rich, colourful and aromatic and used to season a number of savoury dishes, like tagines, meats, vegetables and stews. 

Where does ras el hanout come from?

Ras el hanout originally comes from North Africa but is most commonly associated with Moroccan cuisine. You can also find versions of it in Algeria and Tunisia.

What does ras el hanout taste like?

As ras el hanout can contain a mixture of different spices, with no blend the same, its taste differs from region to region, house to house, cook to cook. But typically it gives a pungent, woody and warm flavour to recipes. While the cinnamon, cloves and garlic also add sweet notes. Adding a rich depth and powerful flavour to whatever dish it touches. And although you may think it, ras el hanout isn’t spicy, although the blend can contain chilli peppers and black pepper which carry a bit of heat.

A guide to Ras el Hanout

What cuisine can ras el hanout be used in?

Ras el hanout is widely used in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and therefore features heavily in North African and Moroccan cuisine.

Where to buy ras el hanout

Ready-made ras el hanout can usually be found in most high-street supermarkets, specialty spice shops, wholefood  stores and online.

How to use ras el hanout

The most traditional ways to use ras el hanout are as a seasoning for stews and tagines, like lamb and chicken, a rub for grilled meats, vegetables and fish, and to add a burst of flavour to couscous, rice and potatoes. If you’re looking to make a great marinade for your chicken, combine a teaspoon of ras el hanout with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a crushed garlic clove and pinch of salt – delicious. You can also sprinkle the powerful spice blend over sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots or cauliflower before roasting, or over popcorn with salt and a drizzle of olive oil to take your movie or games night to the next level.

How to store ras el hanout

Like most spices, ras el hanout should be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight and can last up to a year or longer.

A guide to Ras el Hanout

Substitutes for ras el hanout

If you can’t get your hands on ras el hanout, or you don’t have the time to make your own, baharat is a good substitute. It’s a middle eastern spice blend with a similar flavour profile to ras el hanout, and is particularly good at flavouring soups, tagines, rice dishes, and in rubs for meat and fish. Garam masala is another option. The Indian spice blend typically doesn’t include as many ingredients as ras el hanout, but it does usually contain some of the same: cinnamon, cumin and coriander so they are very similar in composition Or you can also try curry powder, but curry powder recipes can vary just as much as ras el hanout, which means so can the flavour. 

Does ras el hanout have any health benefits?

The health benefits of ras el hanout depend on the ingredients used in the blend. However, most of the typical spices are rich in vitamins and minerals, with powerful health benefits. Cinnamon for example is loaded with antioxidants and evidence has shown that this popular spice can help reduce blood sugar levels, aid digestion, boost your brain function and improve memory. The bright orange spice turmeric also boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which is mainly down to its main active component, curcumin. Studies have shown positive effects on curcumin on people suffering from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, amongst others. Research has also found that turmeric can affect cancer formation and growth and curcumin may also help to protect against Alzheimer’s. Nutmeg is packed with nutrients too, with a number of anti-inflammatory properties which can help treat joint and muscle pain. And it
contains a natural chemical called trimyristin, responsible for inducing sleep and relaxing tired muscles and nerves.

How do you make ras el hanout?

There are a lot of different ways to make ras el hanout, but there are a number of ingredients that are typically found in this Moroccan spice blend, which will give you a good starting point for crafting your own unique recipe. These are:

  • black pepper
  • allspice
  • cinnamon 
  • cumin
  • ginger
  • coriander 
  • turmeric 
  • nutmeg `
  • cloves
  • cardamon

Did you know? Moroccans believe ras el hanout has aphrodisiac properties.

Recipes with ras el hanout

This unique blend of spices is key in a number of Moroccan dishes like spiced lamb meatballs, prawn tagine, couscous, red gazpacho and beef stew. It’s a great addition to falafel too. Although ras el hanout is typically used in savoury dishes, it can also be incorporated into desserts, like cookies, doughnuts, apple cake, carrot cake and sticky toffee pudding. Try adding a tablespoon of ras el hanout and a few teaspoons of honey to creamy Greek yoghurt and serve as a sensational dip with raw sliced vegetables, Moroccan vegetable tagine, grilled chicken wraps or lamb. It can also be added to sour cream or blended with softened butter as a unique topping for fish, meat or chicken.