10 Most Popular African Spices And Their Uses

Popular African Spices

Hardly will you eat a typical African food that doesn’t contain purely African Spices and herbs. What is even more fascinating is the processing of herbs and spices for use. Although these spices have numerous uses, they are mostly used in soups. Africans living in the diaspora who love to use these local spices face the challenge of finding where to purchase them. Have a look at ten popular African spices, their uses, and where to find them.

#1. Saffron (Get it here)

African Spanish Saffron
Processed Saffron spice (Photo credit: Amazon)

Saffron spice is obtained from the Saffron praesidium, a plant that is cultivated by the Moroccans living around Taliouine mountain village. The government and some NGOs support the cultivators. The farmers get the spice from the flowers of the plant. They gather the flowers between the months of October and November. The gathering is done very early in the morning before the flowers open.

Once collected, the flowers are stored in a cold room, where the stigmas are separated from the rest of the flower. Even though the flowers are not as beautiful as the others in the same family, their redeeming feature is the unique, unforgettable aroma. It yields a spice that has two main uses;

  1. Making medicine that can treat asthma, whooping cough, and reduction of phlegm.
  2. Adding yellow food coloring and flavoring.

#2. Mau Forest Dried Nettles (Get it here)

Mau Forest Nettle Powder
Mau Forest Dried Nettles (Photo credit: Amazon)

Farmers in and around the Mau Forest region have been domesticating wild stinging nettles for their edible leaves. Hitherto, the communities around Mau forest in Rift Valley, Kenya, gather nettles leaves and use them as herbs. Some Kenyan cuisines have nettle leaves as one of their major ingredients. Although the new generation has little knowledge regarding the use of nettle leaves as herbs, there is a growing group of health-conscious individuals who are taking it up.

After harvesting the nettle leaves, you immerse them in water to reduce their stinging effect. You would not want to touch the nettles when they have just been plucked. It is a distant cousin of the poison ivy. Subsequently, the leaves are dried—but not under the sun. Drying is done in the shades to maintain its green color. Once dried, the leaves are ground into powder. This powder carries a premium price tag due to its various uses which include;

  1. Use in various recipes such as mukimo. A Kenyan meal that is made by mashing beans, maize, and potatoes in a single pot.
  2. The preparation of millet porridge where it counts as the best dietary supplement among breastfeeding mothers.
  3. Some people have found a way to make nettle-powder tea.

The powder is widely sold in local markets, but that is probably not going to work for you. Your best bet would be through Amazon where it is available for $13 to $15.

#3. Alnif Cumin (Get it here)


Cumin (Photo credit: Amazon)

Alnif Cumin is a cuisine of the Moroccans. Its name originates from the name of a village, Alnif, that plants cumin predominantly. The cumin plant itself originated from Asia and is popular for its great aroma and quality. The spice is even prized depending on how aromatic it is and the amount of zest it leaves on the taste buds.

The cumin plant is usually harvested before it completely ripens. This ensures that no seeds are lost. The method also helps to maintain the green color. Once the cumin is harvested, it is first dried in a shade before it is beaten to release the seeds. Subsequently, the farmers sieve out the dust and other materials collected together with the seeds.

This product is packed in different kinds of packaging and you can find one here for only $1.14 per ounce. The shelf life of these dried leaves can go up to two years. The seeds are crushed by the use of a traditional mill to obtain the Alnif Cumin powder. There are various uses of the spice including;

  1. For the preparation of traditional soups.
  2. Useful in the preparation of tajine and couscous.
  3. Alfin cumin goes very well with meat and vegetables.
  4. It comes with excellent curative properties that make up its nutritive value. It is quite useful in the treatment of colds and coughs.

#4. Mitmita (Get it here)


Ingredients for Mitmita (Photo credit: Amazon)

Mitmita is an Ethiopian spice that is red-orange in color and a bit coarse to the touch. The spice is crazy hot and aromatic as well. There are variations in dishes among the different groups of Ethiopians. People use the spice in bringing out the best taste in vegetables, meat dishes, and stews. It is also useful in seasoning raw lean beef dishes. It is made up of blending a number of spices together. The spices leave a hot zingy taste and a rich aroma. You can also combine Mitmita with Berbere to make a delightful spice used as a table condiment. You can check it out on Amazon. It is sold at $9.95.

#5. Ras el hanout (Get it here)


Moroccan Ras El Hanout
Moroccan Ras El Hanout (Photo credit: Amazon)

Ras el hanout is an Arabic term that translates literally to ‘head of the shop’ that in an actual sense means the top of a shelf. In Morocco, a grocery shop without this spice may as well fold. Preparation of the spice is by blending the best available ingredients. You can at times make this blend from over 50 individual spices. The most common Ras el hanout spice is made from around eight spices which include salt, cumin, coriander, black pepper, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon. It is useful in the flavouring of roasted chicken and lamb burgers. You can buy this amazing Moroccan spice here for only $5.05.

#6. Berbere (Get it here)

Ethiopian Berbere Spice
Ethiopian Berbere Spice (Photo credit: Amazon)

Berbere is a deep blend of hot spices that is popular among Ethiopian cuisines. There are different versions of the spice in use. Some versions of this spice include the use of the unpopular nigella seeds and korarima. However, there are spices that are common in the blends from where it derives its hot and highly aromatic taste and bright red color.

You can use this in meat, chicken, and fish as a rub. The spice is also useful in seasoning soups and vegetable stews. Berbere is a delightful spice that acts as a central ingredient in most Ethiopian tables and other African dishes. It stands out as one of the most unique African spices. It can be found on Amazon. This will set you back around $10—but completely worth every cent.

#7. Peri-Peri (Get it here)

Peri peri
Typical processed Peri-peri (Photo credit: Amazon)

Peri-Peri is a South African spice whose name originated from the Swahili word pili pili which means pepper. South African cooks use this ingredient to add heat to various dishes. These African cuisines have moderate heat with a savoury and glassy flavor. you can make the spice by blending pepper alongside other ingredients such as lemon peels, paprika, and black pepper.  a popular chicken chain store in South Africa called Nando’s is what makes this spice popular. The spice is used in the seasoning of trinchado, a spicy beef dish introduced by the Portuguese settlers. The product is available on Amazon and goes for $12.99.

#8. Za’atar (Get it here)

Egyptian Za’atar (Photo credit: Amazon)

Za’atar is a spice that originated from the Middle East—and is very common in Egypt. You can make this spice by blending a number of condiments. You can choose a flavor depending on the type of spice you like. Many people would combine toasted sesame seeds, thyme, dried oregano, sumac, and marjoram. Other people go the extra mile to add salt to the blend. The spice is valuable for spicing up chicken, eggs, yogurt, among other foods. Foods containing za’atar have exciting tastes and feel special to savor. You can visit Amazon to grab one packet of these spice for around $10.

#9. Kan Kan Kan (Get it here)

Afritibi (Photo credit)

Kan kan kan is an uncommon spice. However, it remains popular in Burkina Faso. you can make this spice by blending chili powder, Maggi bouillon cubes, and peanut powder. you should crush these ingredients and mix them to form the great spice blend. The spice is useful in grilled meat dishes. The three spices for making the spice have different effects on food. Chilli powder will add heat while peanut powder is responsible for adding a distinctive flavour to the food. Since it is one of the most uncommon African spices, you can find it in some African food-centric sites.

#10. Eware Spice (Get it here)

Iru Eware Spice
Iru Eware Spice (Photo credit: Burlap and Barrel)

Also known as Iru, this spice originates from Nigeria. fermenting the final spice that comes from these seeds gives it a strong pleasant aroma. It is a staple in both west and central Africa. Eware makes an appearance in most West African dishes, especially in Ghana and Nigeria. The spice brings out the flavor in soups, vegetables, and meat stews. Eware (or Iru, depending on which name is more endearing) has two prominent features as namely;

  1. Has a number of medicinal values.
  2. It is rich in protein and natural fats, hence, add a deep flavor to any sweet dish.

The only downside of this spice is that its method of preparation is slowly losing fame and its use is currently in danger. However, if you will need to taste it, just visit here and get it at just $13.99.


Even though these are some of the best ten spices around Africa, there are many, many more. A fun way to try these spices is to load up a YouTube cooking video to see how they use them. It would be fun to hear how it goes. Do you have any special spice from your region? Share with us in the comment box below.


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