Photos: Laura Vincent / Design: Shayna Brewer

Three Versatile Homemade Spice Blends

Berbere, ras el hanout, and khmeli suneli are delicious blends that can provide immediate complexity to your dishes and make great gifts

Whether you’re going around in circles cooking the same three things or you enjoy regularly putting aside an afternoon to get elbow-deep in a challenging recipe, homemade spice blends are a wonderful way to boost your cooking. Here I’ve got a few different recipes from around the world — naturally, you can buy your own ready-made, but they’re a fun project and you can adjust the measurements to make something that perfectly suits your taste buds. Each recipe makes a relatively small quantity — though you could consider making larger batches, as they also make for a great homemade gift.

Depending on your pantry, these recipes will probably require a bit of shopping at the outset. While it’s true that the strongest flavour comes from using whole spices and then pulverising them in a spice grinder, I’ve leaned towards ready-ground ingredients to make things easier on you. But if you have the equipment then by all means, go ahead and get whole spices.

As for what to do with these spice blends? Like a magic wand full of flavour, they can provide immediate depth and complexity. Stir them through couscous, quinoa, or bulgur wheat, use as a dry rub or marinade, make your own spiced roasted nuts, toss vegetables in the spices and oil before roasting, add to your tofu scramble, stir them into soup, braised beans, or hearty vegetable stews — and each of these make for a killer spiced popcorn.

Berbere spice blend

Berbere is a traditionally Ethiopian spice blend, which translates to “hot” in Amharic language. As well as being fiery in both flavour and colour, it has a beautifully aromatic backdrop of cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. If you can find whole nutmeg and grate them in, the flavour is particularly wonderful. I referenced a few different recipes for this relatively streamlined version, in particular this recipe at African Bites.


  • Four tablespoons smoked paprika
  • One tablespoon ground ginger
  • One tablespoon garlic powder
  • One tablespoon chilli powder or cayenne, to taste
  • One teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • One teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • One teaspoon ground cardamom
  • One teaspoon ground cumin
  • One teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Mix all the spices together in a small bowl, then transfer to a clean, dry jar. Makes about ½ cup.

Ras el hanout

Ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that can stretch out to dozens of ingredients or be kept relatively simple, as I have here. At its heart, ras el hanout is a warm, rich blend that brings sweet earthiness to any dish. If you can find dried rose petals they add a traditional and romantic touch. I used pink peppercorns to echo the colour of the rose petals, and because I like their slightly softer flavour, but regular pepper is absolutely fine. Other recipes I’ve seen include turmeric, caraway and allspice in their blends — you are welcome to fiddle with this till it tastes right to you. If you are using whole spices, toast them gently in a frying pan first before grinding.

Ras el hanout

  • One tablespoon ground cumin
  • One teaspoon ground coriander
  • One teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • One teaspoon dried rose petals
  • One teaspoon pink peppercorns (or one teaspoon ground pepper)
  • One teaspoon fennel seeds (or one teaspoon ground fennel)
  • One star anise (or 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise)
  • One teaspoon cardamom pods (or ½ teaspoon ground cardamom)

Stir the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg and rose petals together in a small bowl. Place the peppercorns, fennel seeds and star anise in the bowl of a pestle and mortar. Crush the cardamom pods by pressing on them with the side of a knife or the bottom of a jar, and place the seeds from the pods into the pestle and mortar as well. Bash everything about till it’s well crushed, then stir it into the first group of spices. Transfer the spice blend into a clean dry jar. Makes about ¼ cup.

Khmeli Suneli

This is a Georgian spice blend that incorporates lots of bold, intense herbal flavours, like dill, tarragon and marjoram, as well as heat from chilli and pepper. I used this recipe at Imagelicious as a reference.

Khmeli Suneli

  • Two dried bay leaves
  • One tablespoon ground fenugreek
  • Two tablespoons dried parsley
  • Two teaspoons dried marjoram
  • Two teaspoons dried tarragon
  • Two teaspoons dried dill
  • One teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)
  • Two teaspoons sea salt flakes or one teaspoon table salt

Bash the bay leaves using a pestle and mortar, or crumble them into small particles using your hands. Mix together with the remaining ingredients, then transfer into a clean, dry jar. Makes about ⅓ cup.

Food blogger and author from New Zealand. Writing at; Twitter at @hungryandfrozen; and exclusive stuff at

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