Adding Israeli Spice to Your Life
Updated: May 31
Ever walk through the Shuk, amazed by the vibrant colors and different smells of the spices that make up the many flavors of Israel?
What are all those unique smells? Where do all of those colors come from?
Read on to learn the ins and outs of Israeli spices!
Just recently discovered to be the home of the world’s longest salt cave, Israel is also one of the most popular salt destinations in the world. Tourists from near and far come to visit Israel’s Dead Sea, the lowest and saltiest pond on the whole planet.
(On your next drive by, make sure to wave as you pass the infamous “pillar of salt” near the sea, better known as the biblical Lot's wife who was turned into salt!) Israeli salt has even won international awards for all of the out-of-the-box salt concepts Israel has come up with! Never underestimate the power of salt!
Here we have a spice mix, a Middle Eastern array of many spices. While Hawaiij’s salient spice is the bright yellow turmeric that gives it its color, it also includes cumin, cardamom, black pepper, and coriander. Yemenite Jews brought it with them in mass migrations to Israel throughout the 19th century, bringing with them the famous (and delicious) yellow-colored Yemenite soup, where Hawaiij features as the famous spice. But beware, this unique spice might dye some of your pots yellow!
Baharat, meaning “spices” in Arabic adds spice, aroma, flavor, and zest, all together- but no salt. It’s a spice mix that changes depending on its region, but whose blend almost always includes black pepper, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon. The Tunisian version includes dried rosebuds, while the Turkish features mint. Israelis use it to marinate fish, chicken, lamb- you name it!
Its smell might stick with you for the rest of the day, but trust us when we say that amba is worth it. Brought to Israel from Iraq with so many other cultural favorites, Amba is green mango that’s been pickled with other Israeli classics like Fenugreek, turmeric (which gives it its yellow color), garlic, and so much more. Add it to your falafel, shwarma, or sabih next time you order!
Many Israeli condiments have their origins in North African cuisine due to the influx of North African immigrants to Israel in the late 20th century, and this Israeli hot sauce is one of them. Made as a paste out of red chili peppers, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil, Israel’s Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants brought over harissa after the state was formed, and changed Israel forever! Harissa is a popular ingredient in other North African dishes such as shakshuka, and our favorite spicy spread...matbuha!
As spicy as it gets, the word also used to mean “sassy” in Hebrew, Harif was brought over by Yemenite Jews to Israel. This spice is at the center of many family gatherings, meals, and of course, disputes over whose harif is hotter or the [i]hottest[/i]. Also known as zhug, harif comes in three varieties: red, green, and brown and is made mostly of hot peppers (red or green), coriander, garlic, black pepper, salt, and cumin. You can find the hot condiment all over Israel, but be careful. It’s very spicy! Apply sparingly:)
Spicy. Fragrant. Exotic. Ethiopian Berbere is a deep red, delicious nod to indigenous ingredients in Ethiopia. It combines Ethiopian chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek. It hasn’t yet made its way into mainstream Israeli culture, but Ethiopian-Israelis use it in many of their dishes for a spicy taste of home.
Hilbeh or ‘fenugreek’ is another spice brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews. It’s taken in its ground form and turned into a kind of fenugreek relish, where water is added to the spice and blended into a frothy mixture. Many Israelis add harif, red pepper spread to the mix to add a little spice. Fenugreek is also one of the world’s superfoods, packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein!
Not many people know that the spice we refer to as ‘zaatar’ is actually a mix of spices that include zaatar, a plant indigenous to the Judaean hills, known in English as the hyssop. It’s used in all kinds of Levantine cuisine, including Israeli, Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian dishes, and is made of dried hyssop leaves, mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac, oregano, and often salt. Perfect with a warm pita and hummus!