This Ras el Hanout substitute is another family favourite, this North African spice blend translates to “top of the shop” and is a complex and distinctive medley of fragrant spices. Make your own with our recipe or try one of our quick fixes!
Ras el Hanout spice blend is complex but mild flavoured, great in Moroccan and North African classics such as tagines and couscous. But, it is also delicious mixed into rice or chickpea dishes and makes a great rub for grilled meats or with roasted vegetables.
What is Ras el Hanout?
It is a North African spice blend, which may include up to 40 different spices, with some blends claiming to include over one hundred.
While understanding the perfect nuance of this varied spice blend is a difficult enough task, even the actual name ras el hanout causes confusion. A literal translation of the term from Arabic means “head or top of the shop.”
It is not hot, so think of it as a general-purpose spice to add to couscous or rice, use to enhance the flavour of casseroles and tagines or rub onto meat before cooking.
Table of contents
What can I use as a substitute for Ras El Hanout?
- For a quick fix mix together 1 tablespoon (or teaspoon for a small batch) each of cumin, coriander and paprika and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon or allspice.
- If you have a plain Moroccan blend in your cupboard, you can definitely use it instead as they are quite similar.
- Replace with a curry powder, look for one with ginger and cinnamon as it will be milder and add some paprika for colour.
- Try garam masala as the ingredients are quite similar they both contain fennel, coriander and cardamom, caraway.
What spices does it contain?
- Mild Paprika - adds bright red colour and full-bodied flavour.
- Smoked Paprika - adds a robustly smoky flavour.
- Ground Turmeric - has a wonderful golden colour with a slightly bitter, citrusy taste. Be careful when using it as it stains everything yellow.
- Ground Ginger - is sweeter and milder than fresh ginger with a slight spiciness.
- Ground Allspice - is a berry called allspice because it tastes like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Not to be confused with mixed spice that is milder and sweeter. I usually use allspice for savoury dishes and mixed spice for sweet dishes.
- Ground Nutmeg - a warm aromatic spice with sweet, woody flavours. It can be overpowering so should be used in moderation.
- Cayenne Pepper - this is the ingredient that will bring heat to your food. We use just a dash in this blend, so it doesn’t overwhelm feel free to increase if you like things hot and spicy.
- Ground Cinnamon - usually made from Ceylon cinnamon sticks which have a pleasant, light and somewhat sweet taste, with just a smidgen of spice
Whole Spices & Seeds
- Cardamom Seeds - have a fresh, zesty taste and can simultaneously be slightly sweet and spicy.
- Cumin Seeds - have a slightly sweet, warm earthy flavour with a slight nutty element, they feature in Moroccan cooking but in smaller amounts than found in Indian cooking.
- Coriander Seeds - have a mild floral, lemon-like taste.
- Fennel Seeds - has a delicious and fresh with subtle liquorice flavour.
- Caraway Seeds - have fresh anise and fennel notes, they were used by Ancient Greeks and Egyptians to aid digestion.
- Cloves - are dried unopened flowers of an evergreen plant, a pungent spice with an “antiseptic” note. Great as a breath freshener.
You Will Need
How to Make It (step-by-step)
I always like to buy my spices whole, toast them and then blitz them in a spice grinder or pound them in a mortar and pestle to turn them into a powder.
But, you can use powdered versions and warm them up to release their aromas to save yourself some time.
- Gather your whole seeds and spices first.
- Place a small non-stick pan on medium-high heat and add your whole spices (cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cloves).
- Toast your seeds on a dry pan over low-medium heat until aromatic, stirring occasionally. approximately 2-3 minutes.
- Remove the seeds from the heat, transfer them to a cold bowl to stop the heating process and to allow them to cool, and then grind them into a powder using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
- While your whole seeds and spices are cooling, gather your powders and place them in the bowl with the freshly ground spices. (I take them out of the pantry first, and line them up on the bench, take what I need, then place them back).
- Mix all your spices together until they are well combined.
- Store in an air-tight container until ready to use.
Ras el Hanout Uses
- Well naturally, in your tagines, as well as your stews and casseroles.
- Try it on your roast vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, etc. You can either serve the vegetables as a side or in a salad.
- Mix with some oil to make into a marinade and marinate meat such as pork, lamb, beef or chicken overnight, then cook on its own or in a tagine with other vegetables.
- Use in couscous, rice, or grain dishes - sauté diced onions in oil and Ras el Hanout then stir through cooked couscous or rice.
- In your meatballs and burgers for added flavour.
- As a rub for grilled meats, fish or chicken.
- Shake it up in your dressings to pour over salads or grain bowls.
- Stir it through tahini or hummus for exotic depth.
- Wonderful for roasting your chickpeas or adding to lentil or bean dishes.
Common Questions (FAQs) & Tips
Ras el Hanout is a very complex Moroccan blend so technically yes it is Moroccan spice, and it can be used interchangeably. Usually, Moroccan spice has a handful of spices while Ras el Hanout contains at least 12 spices and some blends contain over 40! 😮
This recipe makes approximately 1 cup consisting of approximately 7 tablespoons or 47 teaspoons. The servings are calculated per teaspoon.
The beauty of homemade spice blends is that don't contain added sugars, starches, grains, dairy, and processed flavour-builders like MSG and sulphites.
Which makes them suitable for all diets - paleo, whole30,low-carb, keto, gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian.
Each serve contains zero net carbs and 3kcals.
(Please note we use a nutritional database to calculate the nutritional information and should be considered as an estimate).
We Have Used It In
- 1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- ½ tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- 1 ½ tablespoon mild paprika
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ tablespoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Toast your seeds on a dry pan over low-medium heat until aromatic.
- Remove from heat then grind them into a powder using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
- Place the ground seeds and remaining spices in a bowl and stir until well combined.
- Tip them into a glass jar and store in a dark part of your pantry.