104 - Berbere: It's all in the Mix

By Mary Luz Mejia

When you savour the spicy dishes of Ethiopia, chances are, you're tasting a unique and historically-steeped blend of spices called berbere. Hot cayenne pepper, sweet paprika and about a dozen other herbs and spices combine to make this aromatic mix that lends Ethiopian food its distinctive flair.

Berbere spiceIt's fair to say that berbere can differ from family to family, some prefer a bit more cinnamon, while others more fenugreek in their spice mixes. Personal preferences aside, if you're looking for some authentic berbere to use as a meat rub or marinade in your sauces or wats, the Ethiopian Spice Store in Kensington Market has some of the best to offer, straight from Ethiopia.

In ancient Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea), ports via the Red Sea were flooded with non-indigenous foods and spices that made their way into berbere.

South and Central America, by way of Portugal, offered up the intense heat of chilli peppers. Ginger was introduced from Asia and from India came a host of spices and herbs. The result is an exotic blend including paprika, Ethiopian thyme, oregano, garlic, onion, sea salt, fresh ginger and black onion seeds.

It can take days to make berbere in the age-old method of sun drying certain ingredients and slow roasting and hand-grinding others.

So, if you don't have the time to engage in this laborious process, buying berbere from the Ethiopian Spice Store will save you the effort it takes to prepare this reddish-hued spice. One taste and you too will be convinced that together, the potency of this mix lies in the fact that the sum is greater than all of its individual parts.

Ethiopian Spice Store
62 Baldwin St.
Toronto, Ontario