What Is Ras El Hanout?
Ras el Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend. The literary translation of this name is ‘top of the shop’ meaning it is the best spice blend that a spice merchant sells.
This spice mixture works well for poultry, meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes.
There is hardly anyone sure of the ingredients used in this spice mixture. They say a traditional blend of Ras el Hanout may contain 50 plus ingredients. Moreover, the spice mix is different from a maker to another with variations in flavor.
Cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom are the most dominating flavor elements in this spice blend.
Don’t be surprised, it contains even some of the exotic ingredients like hashish, Spanish fly, and whole Kashmiri saffron stigma. Other ingredients in this mix include almost every common spice that you can think of.
Note that relatively few Moroccans use this spice blend in daily cooking; whereas, the majority reserves it exclusively for specialty dishes.
What’s a good Ras el hanout substitute?
Ras el hanout is a mixture of many spices with several flavor notes. Therefore, you cannot expect to find a perfect substitute for it that matches the varied flavor profile of this blend. At the most, what you can use in place of Ras el hanout is a spice mixture or a customized mixture of spices that nearly matches its flavor and aroma.
What is a good ras el hanout substitute that will bring you closest to the original? Here are a few replacement options for you.
Homemade Ras El Hanout
For a common woman, it’ll be quite difficult to source all the ingredients that go into this spice blend that contain too many spices and herbs.
However, you can still make Ras el hanout at home by blending a few of the ingredients that form the crux of this mixture.
Let us only use the barest minimum ingredients required for making a standard Ras el hanout seasoning blend
- ground ginger – 2 teaspoons
- ground mace – 2 teaspoons
- ground cardamom – 2 teaspoons
- ground allspice – 1 teaspoon
- ground cinnamon – 1 teaspoon
- ground turmeric – 1 teaspoon
- ground nutmeg – 1 teaspoon
- ground coriander seeds – 1 teaspoon
- ground cayenne pepper – ½ teaspoon
- ground black pepper – ½ teaspoon
- ground white pepper – ½ teaspoon
- ground anise seeds – ½ teaspoon
- ground cloves – ¼ teaspoon
Measure out all of the spices into a bowl, then stir to combine them evenly. Once they are blended well, transfer the mixture into a glass jar and store it in a dry, cool place away from heat and sunlight.
Uprightly, there is no better substitute for this Moroccan spice mixture than making it your own at home.
4 Common Spice Mixes As Alternatives
You may not be a die-hard fan of spices and your spice rack is always short on spices. Then in a pinch, opt for a simplified mix of four core spices that dominate the flavor notes of ras el hanout. Try a mixture of these four ingredients:
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of ground coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper.
This spice mixture is not a perfect replacement for ras el hanout but provides a pungent kick enough for an exotic flavor. In short, something is better than nothing.
The traditional baharat spice mixture often contains dried mint, black pepper, coriander, paprika, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. It’s North African variants also contain rose petals, which are often used as an ingredient in some variants of ras el hanout.
If you notice, this spice blend from the Middle East has all the core ingredients of ras el hanout.
Baharat is a versatile spice mixture suitable for a dry rub for grilling meat, seasoning lamb, beef, seafood, and vegetable recipes. This mixture is a popular flavoring for North African tagines.
Note that baharat has slightly stronger flavors than Ras el Hanout and it’s safe to start using smaller quantities while using it for replacing the Moroccan spice blend.
2. Garam masala
Can you use garam masala instead of ras el hanout? Yes.
Garam masala is a blend of ground spices, originating from South Asia. It literarily means ‘hot spices.’ The ingredients in an authentic garam masala mix include cinnamon, peppercorns, mace, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and cardamom pods. Of course, like every other blends spice mixtures, this too has different variants for each brand and each cook’s preferences.
The number of spices included in garam masala is fewer than baharat but contains most of the core ingredients found in ras el hanout. They all have nearly the same flavor profile. Adding a pinch of ground cayenne pepper would make garam masala more akin to the Moroccan mix.
Use garam masala in a 1:1 ratio to substitute ras el hanout.
3. Chinese Five Spice Powder
Five-spice powder is a spice mixture of five spices used often in many branches of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. This Asian seasoning is a mixture of star anise, Chinese cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, and Sichuan (Szechuan) peppercorns. According to Chinese food ethos, these five different spices encompass all five tastes—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami.
Most ingredients of this mix are also included in ras el hanout and they both have similar flavor profiles as well.
In your recipes, you can replace ras el hanout with a Chinese five-spice mixture in measure for measure.
4. Curry powder
Originally, it’s an Indian spice blend used mostly in vegetable dishes.
Curry powder is a mixture of chili powder, turmeric, ground coriander, ground ginger, ground cumin, and pepper, also available in mild, medium, or hot strengths. All these ingredients are also included in ras el hanout except turmeric.
In a pinch, curry powder is an effective stand-in for ras el hanout.
The Bottom Line
It’s difficult to find an exact ras el hanout alternative because of its complex flavors and a large number of ingredient in it. Making a simple spice mixture with the core ingredients in ras el hanout is the best substitute option. You may also use one of the other popular spice blends like baharat, garam masala, curry powder, or Chinese five-spice powder to replace this well-known Moroccan spice blend.
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