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Ethiopian Spices 

Posted by Tiny House Digital on
Ethiopian Spices 

Ethiopia is home to many of the world's tastiest dishes. Ethiopian cuisine is unique and emphasises the use of spices as ingredients. The prominence of spice in Ethiopian dishes is likely due to the country's history as one of Europe's biggest spice trade partners. Ethiopian dishes are known for their complex flavours and hot spicy feel. Read on to learn more about popular Ethiopian spices.

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Berbere Spice

When it comes to blending spices, Ethiopian food has a lot in common with South Indian food. Berbere spice is quite similar to South India's Garam Masala spice, and it flavours dishes, including Doro Wat, Ethiopia's National dish. No spice blend is as commonly used or as essential to Ethiopian food as Berbere Spice. 

Given it is a spice blend, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making Berbere spice. Individual cooks have different tastes; hence, you could find different cooks switching out ingredients to suit their tastes. Although blends differ, most Berbere blends have a prominent chilli pepper component. In addition to this, Berbere spice also includes intense aromas from cinnamon and cardamom, along with savoury flavours from cumin and peppercorns. Often, cooks may add ginger and fenugreek for extra effect. The result — Berbere spice — is usually a fine mix of sweet flavours with moderate to high heat levels. 

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Mitmita is the second most popular Ethiopian spice blend after Berbere. Mitmita is usually associated with the Ethiopian beef dish known as Kitfo and one from mutton called Kurt or Tere Siga. These meals are similar to the Japanese Sashimi and Steak Tartare in that meat is usually served raw or lightly cooked. When serving Kitfo, sprinkle some Mitmita as a condiment to get the best out of the spice. Mitmita seasoned steak meat will have a hot and tasty flavour. 

Mitmita is a fine blend of spicy heat and savoury, warm spices. However, Mitmita tends to be spicier than Berbere with a mix of hot Thai chillies with Cardamom and Cloves. 

Unlike Berbere Spice, Mitimita typically contains salt. In addition to its traditional uses, Mitmita is also suitable for seasoning vegetables. 

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Shiro Powder

Shiro powder is a staple Ethiopian spice made from lentils, peas, and chickpeas, dried and ground into a fine powder. It has a rich flavour, spiced and nutty, and it is usually blended with several herbs and spices, including Cardamom, Sacred Basil, Fenugreek, Ginger, and dried garlic, to name a few. Shiro is often made hotter with berbere. 

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The spices we have considered above have been spice blends in powder form. Awaze is unique in that it is a paste. It is often made by combining the rich flavour of Mitmita, the heat of Berbere spice, a small amount of Olive oil and Ethiopian honey wine. Some versions are more straightforward, though, with only the wine, oil, and Berbere as constituents.

Sometimes, it could be beneficial to substitute the honey wine with mead and retain Awaze's authentic flavour. Awaze possesses some sweet warmth that makes it similar to Garam Masala. It also has some spicy heat from Chili peppers. This Ethiopian spice is traditionally served with Kitfo and Kurt but can also be used as a multipurpose table condiment or seasoning for vegetables.


Timiz is the Ethiopian name for the Piper Capense spice. It is a relative of the black peppercorn (Piper Nigrum) and is found primarily in Eastern Africa. Timiz is similar in appearance to the Indonesian Piper Longum and has a sweet but fruity flavour. It also has resinous, peppery notes with a distinctive smoky fragrance that some describe as similar to that of tobacco.

Timiz is usually an ingredient in the Ethiopian spice blend mekelesha, which is used to finish stews.

Niter Kibbeh

This Ethiopian spice is made using clarified butter and is one of the essential spice combinations in Ethiopian cuisine. Niter Kibbeh is a spice combination that includes cumin, Fenugreek, and Turmeric and possesses a flavour similar to curry powder. It also gives meals a curry-like yellowish-orange colour. 


Mekelesha is also known as Wot Kinem in Ethiopia. It is a typical spice blend throughout the country sprinkled as a condiment onto stews just as they are about to be eaten. This Ethiopian spice is highly aromatic and usually includes black pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon. 

Tikur Azmud 

Here's another Ethiopian spice that is suitable for a wide variety of dishes. You Here's another Ethiopian spice that is suitable for a wide variety of dishes. You want to use it cautiously as it is an extreme and powerful spice. The phrase "Tikur Azmud" is the Ethiopian phrase that describes cumin spice, which is a critical component of many spice blends and combinations. As a condiment, Tikur Azmud is used in very few dishes alone, although it is an essential ingredient in Duba Wot.

Although it is pretty similar to Cumin, Tikur Azmud is from black seeds, ground to make the powdered spice. "Tukur", meaning "black", describes the colour of the seed used in making the spice. Similarly, "Nech" Azmud describes the white Ethiopian cumin plant you grind to make Ethiopian caraway seeds, also known as Bishop's weed.


Historically, this is what Ethiopians call ginger. The scientific name of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) originated from its Ethiopian name. You cannot cook Ethiopian food without ginger — whether directly or via a spice blend. You may want to use powdered ginger when cooking, but you can also chop some fresh ginger to give your food a hot, spicy flavour. 


Manteria refers to the blend of spices you apply to butter while clarifying. The term "Manteria" is from the word "manger", which means "clarify". Manteria's generic name is Ye'kibe qemam or Kibe spice. Manteria is a fine blend of spices whose constituents depend on the individual preferences of a cook. It could include onion, black cumin, garlic, ginger, cardamom, white cumin, turmeric, fenugreek or sacred basil. 

Kundo Berbere

While Berbere is the Ethiopian name for Pepper, Kundo Berbere is the Ethiopian term used to describe black pepper. Kundo Berbere goes incredibly well with chaw, an Ethiopian salt. Kundo Berbere is the generic term used to describe the Piper group of peppers, especially Piper nigrum (black pepper) and Piper capense, a type of pepper used to make another black pepper called Timiz. These species are not to be confused with the Indian Piper longum species. I know there are lots of pepper varieties in Ethiopian cuisine!

"Kundo" means "main", meaning that this spice is the "main" kind of pepper native to the Ethiopians, long before they had red-hot Berbere. Ethiopians used this black pepper in their cuisine a few centuries before the Ethiopian-Indian trade brought about Berbere. Like Berbere, this spice possesses a fine mix of sweet flavours with moderate to high heat levels. 


This spice is an effervescent, expensive, but sweet one. It is also known as cardamom, and it is an essential ingredient of the Ethiopian Kitfo — Ethiopia's beloved dish, which also features Mitmita. Korarima is a crucial constituent of many Ethiopian spice blends, which we have discussed above. Fasolia, one of Ethiopia's tasty dishes stews, also calls for some Korarima. 

Final Thoughts

We hope you've learned a little more about Ethiopian spices and how you can use them in various cuisines. Try our spices at First Coffee and bring a taste of Ethiopia to your kitchen.

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Written by Chidera Anushiem

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