What Is Baharat? The Story Behind The Spice

Baharat is an Arab spice blend. The word baharat means “spices” in Arabic. It is the plural form of bahar, which is the word for spice. Like many traditional spice blends, baharat ingredients differ from place to place. For example, baharat in Tunisia is different from Turkish baharat. Lebanese seven-spice is another name for baharat — the Lebanese version typically has seven ingredients, including cumin and cloves.

What is baharat?

Because there is no single universal blend known as baharat, there is no way to trace it to the first person to make it or the exact place where it is was first formulated. It most likely came along because of Arabian spice traders’ dominance of the ancient world’s spice trade.

The earliest trade in spices was conducted via land routes using camel caravans. Most of the spices in Ancient Rome came from Arabia via the silk road. When the trade moved from land routes to the sea routes, it grew considerably. Arab traders sailed to the spice producing parts of Southern Asia, bringing spices back to the Persian Gulf. From the Persian Gulf, the spices would be shipped to Europe. Over the centuries of this trade, Arabian cooks developed a familiarity with spices and complex spice blends became a major part of the region’s food culture.

What does it taste like?

Because baharat’s ingredients can vary so much depending on where in the Middle East it is made, it can have different flavor profiles. The Turkish version is heavy on the mint while the Tunisian version is a simpler one consisting of rosebuds and cinnamon. Many blends include cinnamon, coriander, and black pepper along with paprika and other spices.

Baharat often has a mix of sweet, warm, and earthy notes. Its flavor profile is similar to that of garam masala. Both baharat and garam masala contain many of the same spices and they will be even more alike if you toast baharat spices before making the blend.

Is Baharat spicy?

Baharat Spice Blend
Check out this recipe

The spice level depends on which spices get used in the blend. Baharat does not always have hot chili peppers beyond paprika powder, though it can. A powdered hot pepper like cayenne would work perfectly with the various spices that might show up in a baharat. That said, the hottest spice in most blends is paprika or black pepper.

Common uses

Applications include as a dry rub for fatty, gamey meats like lamb. Stronger spices can help to tame the lamb’s bolder flavor. Baharat is a preferred spice for kebabs in some parts of the Middle East. It is an essential spice blend for Egypt’s national dish koshari, which consists of rice and pasta with a tomato-based sauce. Use it in tagines and kofte. You can use it on pork, chicken or fish as well. When using it on fish, it is highly recommended for fattier fishes like mackerel and salmon.

Beyond those applications, it’s great as an addition to an all-purpose dry rub, or you can use it as a dry rub on its own. You can also mix it with olive oil to get a paste similar to harissa paste. Use your baharat paste as a marinade. It is a good addition to yogurt-based condiments and you can use it to season hummus. Like garam masala, you can add baharat to cooked food at the table to enhance the flavors before eating.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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