6 Uniquely Ethiopian Traditional Ingredients, Spices and Seasonings

As an ancient civilization built on trade with other civilizations in the region at the time, Ethiopian foods have developed a rich array of dishes and cooking techniques using several traditional ingredients.

As such, Ethiopian food is full of delightful flavors that result from the mixture of numerous different spices and herbs, well-crafted over many generations to be not too spicy but very well-seasoned.

Here are some of the most important traditional ingredients, spices, and seasonings that play a central role in the making of an amazing Ethiopian dish.

Traditional Ingredients #1: Berbere

Berbere, which is a combination of chili pepper and several other spices, herbs, and ingredients including fenugreek, ginger, garlic, cardamom, and cinnamon, forms the backbone of flavor for many Ethiopian dishes.

If you want to make your own Berbere, you can find the recipe here.

Traditional Ingredients #2: Mitmita

Mitmita, smaller and hotter than Berbere, is an orange-red colored powdered seasoning mix that is composed of chili peppers, cardamom seed, cloves and salt, as well as spices such as cinnamon, cumin and ginger. It is often used as a condiment to add some an extra kick to meat dishes such as tibs and Tere Siga, but can also be added in the cooking process, pretty much for the same reason.

Traditional Ingredients #3: Niter Kibbeh

Another essential ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine is Niter Kibbeh, a clarified butter similar to Indian ghee. Niter Kibbeh is made by infusing butter together with such onions, garlic, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, cinnamon and nutmeg. Because Niter Kibbeh contains butter, it is not added in dishes when it is fasting time. Other than that, it adds so much richness and flavor that it is widely used on several Ethiopian dishes, especially wots and meat dishes.

If you want to make your own Niter Kibbeh, you can find the recipe here.

Traditional Ingredients #4: Awaze

Awaze is a dark-red spice sauce made by blending berbere with water or oil, and sometimes a little bit of Ethiopian wine or whiskey. It goes surprisingly well with most meat dishes.

Traditional Ingredients #5: Da’ta

Da’ta is a thick pulverized chili topping that comes in red as well as green varieties. It tastes like a blend of Ethiopian low-heat green chilis and green herbs, and is considered one of the best seasonings and spices that make Ethiopian food so incredibly flavorful. It can also be used to spice up western food such as pasta.

Traditional Ingredients #6: Korarima

Korarima, Ethiopian cardamom or false cardamom, is a spice obtained from the dried plant’s seeds that is extensively used in Ethiopian dishes. It is an important ingredient in Berbere, Mitmita, Awaze, and other spice mixtures, and is even used to flavor coffee in Ethiopia.

Korarima seeds are also used in Ethiopian herbal medicine as herbal tonics used to help restore, tone and invigorate systems in the body or to promote general health and well-being; as carminatives intended to either prevent formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract or facilitate the expulsion of said gas, thereby combatting flatulence; and as laxatives used to loosen stools and increase bowel movements as well as to treat and prevent constipation.