By Bertrand Devouard

Ras-al-hanout (otherwise known as ras el hanout), means, quite literally, 'the head of the shop'. A very real Moroccan smell and flavor, it is a unique combination of many spices. Each and every spice shop in Morocco will have it's own unique blend of Ras Al Hanout – no two are the same.

Ras al hanout originally came about from the end of the day remnants of the individual spices the old time spice merchants would sell. These would be swept together and used by the merchant to flavor his own food. As time went on, the spice blend grew in popularity and now it is one of Morocco's most famous food flavours, and the exact blend is the prized possession (and jealously guarded secret) of each spice shop.

Most ras al hanout blends would include at least 12 different spices.

The spices used to make ras-al-hanout would most likely include some of the following:

  • Paprika
  • Clove
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Black pepper
  • Chilli
  • Coriander
  • Cardamom
  • Ginger
  • Tumeric
  • Caraway
  • Allspice
  • Saffron

Some blends also include dried, crushed rose petals, and some are reputed to contain over 100 different ingredients – some even containing aphrodisiacs, such as 'Spanish Fly' (yikes)!

By Saref

The resulting ras al hanout should taste warming, spicy (but not too 'chilli hot' spicy), fragrant (but not overpowering), earthy and a little sweet – neither dissimilar from or the same as an Indian curry spice blend. You can of course attempt to make your own ras al hanout, by blending equal quantities of each spice together in a spice mill, and honestly – it will be your own authentic creation that you adjust to your own taste, so there's no reason not to give it a go!

If you are planning on buying ras al hanout, look out for blends created by real Moroccan brands, rather than the offerings of the more generic spice traders. When buying ras al hanout in Morocco, be aware that many shops have 2 blends on sale. A regular one, that is the one they hand out to the tourists, and a concentrated blend that the locals use. Of course, you should ask for the concentrated blend, as it lasts longer and packs a far greater flavor punch.

Ras al hanout is used in the following ways in Moroccan Cuisine:

  • As a meat or fish rub – Lamb Mechoui is the most notable (and delicious)
  • As a spice in tagines
  • In cous cous
  • To scent rice
  • To scent vegetables
  • Mixed with yogurt as a marinade
  • Occasionally, a hint is also used in cookies, cakes and baking

Zaatar is similar to ras al hanout, but originates from the Lebanon.

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