Berbere Spice Substitutes

Berbere spice is an essential ingredient in North African cooking, particularly Ethiopian cuisine. As a key component in many Ethiopian dishes, it lends a complex flavor profile introducing a unique blend of spices to the dishes it graces.

However, sometimes you may find yourself without this critical ingredient in your pantry, or perhaps you’re looking for a milder alternative that still captures the essence of the flavor. In such situations, finding a suitable berbere substitute is crucial to recreating the savory tastes of Ethiopian and Middle Eastern cooking.

Exploring substitutes for berbere spice provides an opportunity to delve into the intricate world of spice blends. Combinations of various spices can achieve a similar flavor profile, mimicking the heat and depth that berbere brings to a dish.

This often means experimenting with a mix of common ingredients found within berbere itself, such as paprika, cayenne pepper, and a variety of warm spices.

By acquainting yourself with the wide range of potential berbere substitutes, you can confidently recreate the vibrant flavors of Ethiopian and Middle Eastern cuisine, even when the original spice blend is unavailable.

Keep in mind the desired heat and complexity when choosing a substitute, and don’t be afraid to adjust the proportions to suit your taste preferences.

What is Berbere Spice and Its Unique Characteristics

Essential Ingredients for a Modern Pantry: Berbere

Berbere spice is a distinctive and versatile spice blend originating from East Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is well-known for its bold flavors and rich, warm aroma. To truly appreciate this unique spice mix and find suitable substitutes, it’s essential to understand its components and defining characteristics.

The primary ingredient in Berbere spice is pepper, which gives it its characteristic heat and spiciness. This heat typically comes from a combination of dried red chilis and black pepper. Along with pepper, several other spices contribute to the complex flavor profile of Berbere spice:

  • Ginger adds a zesty, slightly sweet taste and contributes to the overall warmth of the blend.
  • Coriander brings a citrusy, slightly sweet, and earthy flavor to the mix.
  • Cumin delivers an earthy, warm taste with a hint of bitterness.
  • Fenugreek imparts a slightly bitter taste and adds depth to the blend’s overall flavor.

These spices, along with other ingredients like garlic, cloves, and nutmeg, help create the unique characteristics of Berbere spice, which include its:

  1. Sweetness: This is not your usual sugary sweetness but rather a subtle balance of sweet flavors from ingredients like ginger and coriander.
  2. Heat: One of the most notable aspects of Berbere spice is its spiciness, owed mainly to the blend of dried red chilis and black pepper.
  3. Spiciness: The spiciness of Berbere is not limited to heat; other ingredients like ginger, coriander, and fenugreek create a complex, multi-layered spiciness that is hard to replicate.
  4. Depth of flavor: The combination of various spices results in a warm, full-bodied taste with surprising dimensions and complexity.
  5. Aromatic: Berbere is an intensely aromatic blend, enticing the senses even before you add it to your dishes.

Now that you have a better understanding of Berbere spice’s unique blend, you can explore various substitutes that may capture some of its characteristic flavors. Keep in mind that no single substitute or blend will perfectly mimic Berbere spice – but by choosing the right ingredients, you can create an alternative that brings some of its warmth, spiciness, and depth to your dishes.

Common Uses of Berbere Spice in Cooking

Berbere Spice - How to Make Berbere Spiced Chicken Breast

Berbere spice is a key ingredient in many Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes, transforming ordinary meals into flavorful experiences. Due to its versatility, it can be incorporated into various recipes involving meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables.

In traditional Ethiopian cuisine, berbere spice is often used to season meat dishes, especially chicken and beef. One popular example is Doro Wat, a spicy chicken stew that is often considered the national dish of Ethiopia. By adding berbere spice to the simmering stew, you infuse the dish with rich, bold flavors that leave a lasting impression on your taste buds.

Another staple in Ethiopian cooking is Tibs, made by sautéing or grilling marinated meat, usually lamb or beef. Marinades that incorporate berbere spice not only tenderize the meat but also enhance its taste. With just a few scoops of berbere spice into a marinade, you can create delicious, aromatic kebabs perfect for weekend cookouts or family gatherings.

It’s not just meat dishes that benefit from berbere spice. You can incorporate it into tasty fish recipes too. Add the spice blend to your favorite fish curries or use it as a rub for grilled or baked fish to give it an exotic twist.

When it comes to vegetable-based dishes, berbere spice adds an extra layer of flavor to curries, stews, and soups. Mixing it into a lentil or chickpea curry provides a delightful spiciness that complements the earthy legumes, while using it in a vegetable stew can bring exciting depth to otherwise mild ingredients.

Finally, berbere spice can elevate your side dishes, especially rice. Mixing berbere spice into steamed rice or coating your rice with a thin layer of berbere-infused oil can quickly transform this simple staple into a remarkably flavorful accompaniment to your main course.

Remember, a little berbere spice goes a long way, so start with small amounts and adjust according to your personal preference. As you experiment with this popular spice blend in your cooking, you’ll surely discover even more exciting recipes and combinations that suit your taste buds.

Top Substitutes for Berbere Spice

The Best Sumac Substitute That Mimicked Its Citrusy Tartness! (2021)

Using Common Spice Blends as Substitutes

If you’re out of Berbere spice, you can still create flavorful dishes using other spice blends in its place. Some popular options include:

  • Ras el Hanout: This North African spice blend contains many ingredients found in Berbere, including cayenne pepper, paprika, and cinnamon. Moreover, it typically has additional spices like nutmeg, mace, and cloves, which can add complexity to your dishes.
  • Garam Masala: While commonly used in Indian cuisine, garam masala’s combination of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg can also make it a suitable substitute for Berbere spice.
  • Tandoori Masala: Another Indian spice blend, tandoori masala, can provide a similar heat to Berbere due to its ingredients like cayenne pepper and Kashmiri chili powder. The complex flavor of the spices also includes garlic, ginger, and coriander seeds.
  • Curry Powder: Comprised of turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and other ingredients, curry powder can mimic the earthy, spicy flavor of Berbere spice.

Using Individual Spices as Substitutes

You can also create your own Berbere substitute by combining individual spices. This method allows you to customize the flavor according to your preferences and what you have available in your pantry. Here are some key spices to include in your blend:

  • Cayenne Pepper: For the distinctive heat of Berbere, use cayenne pepper as the main spice.
  • Paprika: Add color and smokiness with paprika. Maintain a proportion where paprika is less than cayenne pepper so as not to dilute the heat.
  • Cinnamon, Cardamom, and Cloves: These spices add a warm, sweet, and fragrant element to the mix, similar to the original Berbere spice.
  • Salt and Black Pepper: Don’t forget the basics. Salt enhances all the flavors in your blend, while black pepper adds an extra kick.

You can also experiment with other spices to create variations on your custom Berbere substitute. Some options include:

  • Allspice or Nutmeg: To add warmth and depth to your blend.
  • Turmeric: For a more vibrant yellow color.
  • Garlic: To incorporate a savory element.

Remember, when using your substitutes, you can adjust the proportions to suit your tastes and the requirements of your particular recipe.

How to Store and Handle Spice Substitutes


Proper storage and handling of spice substitutes is essential to maintain their freshness, potency, and flavor. In this section, we will discuss some helpful tips and methods to ensure your spices remain at their best for your culinary creations.

When it comes to dry rubs and dry spice substitutes, store them in airtight containers such as glass jars or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Place them in a cool, dark place away from sunlight, heat, and moisture. To help you remember, it’s wise to label your containers with the spice name and the date it was purchased or transferred.

For whole spices like peppercorns, their shelf life can extend up to 4 years if stored correctly. However, ground spices such as onion powder and red chili powder have a shorter shelf life, usually around 2 years. It’s essential to check their aroma, color, and taste before using them in your dishes, especially if they’ve been sitting in your cupboard for a while.

Here’s a simple table to illustrate the recommended storage time for some common spice substitutes:

Spice SubstituteStorage Time
Peppercorns4 years
Onion Powder2 years
Red Chili Powder2 years

Spice-infused sauces should be refrigerated after opening and used within the timeframe specified on the product label. Make sure to always use clean utensils when dipping into sauces, as introducing contaminants can shorten their shelf life.

When preparing recipes with spice substitutes in various dishes like lentil dishes, beef kebabs, lamb, or seafood, ensure all your ingredients are fresh and properly stored. Spices like peanuts, sesame seeds, and chili peppers should be checked for any off smell or mold before using them.

To retain the distinct nutty, earthy, and savory flavors of your spice substitutes, consider lightly toasting them in a dry skillet over low heat before using them in your recipe. This process can enhance their natural flavors and make them more prominent in your dish.

In summary, proper storage and handling of spice substitutes is critical for maintaining their quality and flavor. By following these simple tips and guidelines, you can be confident that your spices will remain fresh and potent, ready to elevate your culinary creations to new heights.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ethiopian Berbere Mix | How to Make Ethiopian Spice Mix(Berbere Spice)

What are some common spices used in Berbere seasoning?

Berbere seasoning typically includes a combination of spices such as paprika, red pepper, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. However, the exact ingredients may vary depending on the region and family recipes.

How does Ras el Hanout compare to Berbere spice?

Ras el Hanout is a North African spice blend, while Berbere originates from East Africa, primarily Ethiopia. Both blends share some common spices, such as coriander, cumin, and cardamom, but Ras el Hanout has a milder flavor profile and may contain more floral notes such as lavender and rose petals, as well as sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Can Baharat be used as a substitute for Berbere spice?

Baharat, a Middle Eastern spice blend, can be used as a substitute for Berbere spice in some recipes, but keep in mind that the flavor profiles are different. Baharat is milder than Berbere and contains allspice, which is not typically found in Berbere. Adjust the spiciness and flavors to your taste when using Baharat as a substitute.

Is Garam Masala a suitable alternative for Berbere spice?

Garam Masala, an Indian spice blend, can be used as an alternative for Berbere spice, but it has a different flavor profile. Garam Masala is warmer and sweeter due to the presence of spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. It lacks the heat and spiciness of Berbere, so consider adding some red chili powder or cayenne pepper to imitate the heat.

How can I make a mild version of Berbere spice?

To make a milder version of Berbere spice, reduce the amount of paprika, red pepper, and cayenne pepper in the mix, and increase the quantities of the milder spices like coriander, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Adjust the heat level to your preference.

What can be used as a Fenugreek substitute in Berbere mixture?

If you can’t find fenugreek for your Berbere mixture, consider using substitutes like mustard seeds, fennel seeds, or curry powder. While these alternatives won’t match the exact flavor of fenugreek, they can provide a similar bitterness and complexity to the spice blend.

Berbere Spice Substitutes

To substitute for berbere spice, you can create a blend using the following ingredients:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Seasoning
Cuisine Ethiopian
Servings 4
Calories 77 kcal


  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


  • In a small bowl, combine all the spices listed above.
  • Mix thoroughly to ensure an even distribution of the spices.
  • Adjust the quantities to suit your taste preferences, adding more cayenne pepper for heat or more paprika for color and depth.


This homemade berbere spice substitute can be used in recipes calling for berbere spice, such as Ethiopian stews, lentil dishes, or grilled meats. Adjust the heat level to your liking and enjoy the flavors of this versatile spice blend!


Calories: 77kcal
Keyword berbere spice substitutte
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Follow Us
Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
Follow Us
Latest posts by Cassie Marshall (see all)