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Ethiopian Spices   Go to last post Go to last unread
#1 Posted : Tuesday, August 3, 2021 11:15:58 PM(UTC)

I'm hoping to use the group mind here for some sleuthing.


I ate at Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant this evening with a friend. There was a 'bright' citrusy flavor that I couldn't identify, that was common to several of the dishes. I'm hoping that someone here might be familiar with Ethiopian cuisine and be able to guide me.


Neither of us had had Ethiopian in years, so we took the lazy way out and ordered a vegetarian combo and a meat combo. These were the dishes in the combos:


Vegetarian: Ye Misir Wot (Red Lentils), Ye Kik Alitcha (Yellow Split Peas), Atkilt Wot (Vegetable Medley), Ye Gomen Wot (Collard Greens), and Ye Timatim Fitfit.


Meat: Ye Beg Alitcha Wot (Lamb), Doro Tibs: Juicy (Chicken), Kitfo (Beef) and Iybe (Housemade Cheese). Kitfo is served raw, medium, or well done.


The 'bright' flavor was both in some of the meat dishes and in the vegetable dishes. Any guesses?

#2 Posted : Wednesday, August 4, 2021 1:02:00 AM(UTC)

sumac? "Made from the dried and ground berries of the wild sumac flower, sumac is a tangy spice with a sour, acidic flavor reminiscent of lemon juice. This fragrant spice is used to brighten up dry rubs, spice blends like za'atar, and dressings"..

#3 Posted : Wednesday, August 4, 2021 6:40:36 AM(UTC)

Berbere and lemon juice?  

#4 Posted : Wednesday, August 4, 2021 8:04:25 AM(UTC)

This question sent me down a rabbit hole of reading.  My first guess was sumac / za'atar but more reading re: recipes for berbere (a major spice blend in Ethiopian cooking) lead me to coriander seeds which are described as being "sweet and aromatic with citrus notes" by one source and as a "blend of lemon and sage with sweet notes" by another.  I wonder if berbere is one of those blends where different regions/families etc might have recipes with different ratios of ingredients (much like the specific shop owner variations found in "ras el hanout" in Moroccan cooking) which might explain a relatively big hit of citrus?

#5 Posted : Wednesday, August 4, 2021 7:29:02 PM(UTC)

For all things Ethiopean spice, go to | Heirloom Imported Ethiopian Spices and Herbs – Brundo Spice Company as they have authentic and well described spices.


Given how broadly it was used, my guess would be sacred basil which has a bit of a fruity flavor.

#6 Posted : Thursday, August 5, 2021 12:18:29 AM(UTC)

Thank you all for your wonderful ideas to pursue.


After reading all the replies, I'm leaning towards berbere. I'm familiar with Sumac (I've actually made Zatar before) and I don't think that's it. Tasting Coriander, that could be part of it. It's been too long since I used Fenugreek to hazard a guess about it, and I don't have any on hand to taste. I'll have to see if I can find berbere and try it.


Thanks so much.

#7 Posted : Thursday, August 5, 2021 3:40:05 AM(UTC)

Traditional berbere contains something like:



  • chili peppers

  • garlic

  • sacred basil

  • black cardamom

  • fenugreek

  • rue

  • nigella seed

  • black pepper

  • ginger

  • ajwain


I suspect you are correct that it is an ingredient within berbere that you are picking up.

#8 Posted : Thursday, August 5, 2021 6:18:53 AM(UTC)

In my reading, I also checked out fenugreek....a combination of sources used terms like: nutty, sweet, a cross between celery & maple syrup,  burnt sugar , slight bitter notes.    I'm not sure I got all that when I tasted my stash straight up but there was not really anything citrusy.

#9 Posted : Friday, August 6, 2021 3:23:46 AM(UTC)

I'm going to look for berbere, and if necessary, try recipes for it 

#10 Posted : Saturday, August 7, 2021 4:32:13 PM(UTC)

In the Bay area | Heirloom Imported Ethiopian Spices and Herbs – Brundo Spice Company is your source for all things Ethiopean.

#11 Posted : Sunday, September 19, 2021 7:19:34 PM(UTC)

Originally Posted by: mjes Go to Quoted Post
In the Bay area | Heirloom Imported Ethiopian Spices and Herbs – Brundo Spice Company is your source for all things Ethiopean.


I decided I'm going to try my hand at Ethiopian cuisine. I ordered the spices (thank you for the source), and I can confirm the Sacred Basil was definitely the unique bright flavor I hadn't run into before. The black cardamom surprised me with it's medicinal aspect. It's not surprising it's used in small amounts.


I've made the Berbere spice blend, and my Niter Kibbeh Ghee is on the stove right now. First actual dish will be in a day or two.

#12 Posted : Tuesday, September 21, 2021 3:22:49 AM(UTC)

Glad I was of help. Warning: Ethiopean food is addictive and once you've learned to make it there are so many possibilities.

#13 Posted : Friday, September 24, 2021 11:20:23 PM(UTC)

So I made Sega Wot (beef stew), and it turned out tasting great. But the next time I make the Berbere spice blend, I have to make LOTS MORE. The single recipe of Sega Wot used 2/3rds of the spice blend I'd made.

#17 Posted : Saturday, September 25, 2021 7:07:16 PM(UTC)

Yes, Ethiopeans seem to use spice blends by the cupful ...

#14 Posted : Monday, September 27, 2021 10:30:19 PM(UTC)

Originally Posted by: Fyretigger Go to Quoted Post
So I made Sega Wot (beef stew), and it turned out tasting great. But the next time I make the Berbere spice blend, I have to make LOTS MORE. The single recipe of Sega Wot used 2/3rds of the spice blend I'd made.


I'm curious, do you make injera? Buy it from restaurants or elsewhere? I'm keen to try some of my favorite dishes: tibs, shiro, gomen but find the idea of fermenting a thin bread that takes multiple days and must require special equipment (not to mention hard to find grain) pretty daunting. And i'm ambitious in the kitchen.

#16 Posted : Tuesday, September 28, 2021 12:12:37 AM(UTC)

Originally Posted by: metacritic Go to Quoted Post
I'm curious, do you make injera? Buy it from restaurants or elsewhere? I'm keen to try some of my favorite dishes: tibs, shiro, gomen but find the idea of fermenting a thin bread that takes multiple days and must require special equipment (not to mention hard to find grain) pretty daunting. And i'm ambitious in the kitchen.


Sometimes I make it, sometimes I buy it. But I never have gone through the the multi-day sour dough starter dough for injera.  Why? Because my favorite Ethiopian restaurant with a grocery next door, told me that if I give them warning the day before, and I bring a clean jar, they will save me some starter from the morning dough. I got this information when I was giving them the information on the Ethiopian cookbook from a local Ethiopian. But it would never hurt to ask.


As for special equipment, if you have a large griddle/tava (as for dosas, for example) you have the only necessary equipment.  Or you can  just go with small injera.

#15 Posted : Tuesday, September 28, 2021 8:02:40 PM(UTC)

Originally Posted by: metacritic Go to Quoted Post
I'm curious, do you make injera? Buy it from restaurants or elsewhere? I'm keen to try some of my favorite dishes: tibs, shiro, gomen but find the idea of fermenting a thin bread that takes multiple days and must require special equipment (not to mention hard to find grain) pretty daunting. And i'm ambitious in the kitchen.


I did not make injera. I just served the Sega Wot over rice. I'm generally a very good cook, but I have a very poor track record when it comes to stove top breads, so I usually avoid making those myself.

#18 Posted : Thursday, September 30, 2021 9:29:42 PM(UTC)

By weird fortune, a day after asking my question, i went into a random lunch place - not evidently Ethiopian in any manner -  that turned out to sell injera flown in from Addis, which i learned when i saw Ethiopian spices being sold there, seemingly at random. What a weird coincidence and happy outcome!

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