Ethiopian Berbere

27 Feb

ethiopian berbere

Growing up in DC (home to the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia), I’ve gotten used to a city with a plethora of cheap and delicious Ethiopian restaurants. My favorite place is a mere half mile from me and offers up a vegetarian platter big enough for two or three people for ten dollars. So it’s understandably difficult for me to motivate myself to try cooking Ethiopian food. But I might not be in this city forever, and the flavorful filling stews and spongy sour bread has become somewhat of a comfort food for me so I recently decided to try my hand at making them. The very first step in cooking delicious Ethiopian food is the spicy and fragrant spice mix known as berbere. This deep red mixture is vaguely reminiscent of Indian garam masala with warm sweeter spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg playing a role on top of spicy chiles, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, and coriander. Berbere adds a large amount of paprika to these spices for a unique and unmistakable flavor that serves as the base for many different Ethiopian stews.

Ethiopian Berbere (adapted from Veggie Belly)
Yield: approximately 1 cup


  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 Tbsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp whole allspice
  • 10 – 12 whole dried red chili peppers
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 1″ stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup paprika*
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

*A mixture of sweet and hot paprika is ideal, but smoked paprika should be okay if that’s what you have on hand.


  1. Heat a non-stick or cast iron pan over medium high heat, then toast, one at a time, 1 Tbsp cumin seeds, 1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 Tbsp cardamom seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp whole allspice, 10 – 12 whole dried red chili peppers, 10 whole cloves, and 1 1″ stick cinnamon. Toast each spice until fragrant, about 60 seconds, then remove to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  2. Grind the toasted spices to a fine powder (or your desired consistency).
  3. Stir in 1/2 cup paprika, 1 tsp turmeric, and 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg. Store in a jar at room temperature; this spice mix will stay good for 6 months but will decrease in flavor with time.

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8 Responses to “Ethiopian Berbere”

  1. Joanna December 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Okay, I’m giving this a try! I don’t have the certain leaves that they usually have, and hope it turns out as well as our local Eritrean place. Thanks for the recipe! : )

    • Claire December 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

      You’re very welcome – let me know how it turns out!

  2. Joanna December 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    Pretty as heck! I used 3 chilies instead and my other half is griping 🙂 but I love it…still eating it now…I only used 1/4 cup paprika, so I will cut it further when I buy more. Have you ever used that leaf, Claire? The one they use in Berbere?

    • Claire December 9, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

      Haha, my spice tolerance is pretty high, so maybe there should be a disclaimer! As for the leaves, I’m intrigued – I don’t think I’m familiar with it, and a google search isn’t revealing much. Could you describe the flavor?

      • Joanna December 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

        I had them in the house, Claire, and they went off before I had a chance to use them. It’s taken me a long time to get my berbere spice together. Today was the day! However, I don’t have the leaves so I crossed referenced and decided to try your recipe because you know what it should taste like. It was great! but you need a disclaimer, for sure. 10 chillies could kill someone weaker than us. Lol! Hang on, I’ll find the leaves…

        • Joanna December 9, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

          Hm, I wonder why I can’t find that recipe. I’ll keep looking. Maybe I made a mistake, and was making another spice mix or curry powder. I’ll keep looking for the Bourdain reference as it was on one of his shows. It was pandan leaves…

          • Claire December 9, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

            My understanding is that pandan leaves are used in Asian cooking – I’ve never used them myself, but if you find the recipe, I’d be interested!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Berbere Candied Walnuts | sel et sucre - February 29, 2012

    […] Berbere adds a hint of spiciness to the caramelized coating on these nuts, but you can also use garam masala or a mixture of cinnamon and cayenne pepper if you don’t have the Ethiopian spice mix on hand. On that note, feel free to use almonds, peanuts, pecans, or hazelnuts instead of walnuts here. You have lots of options for customizing this basic recipe, and it’s really hard to go wrong. These candied nuts are perfect for giving away as a gift, bringing to parties for a snack. or, you know, hoarding at home. […]

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