If you’ve taken a stroll through one of the buzzing food districts in any Emirate, then you’ve probably caught a whiff of many flavorful Emirati dishes. This is because the Arabic flavor profile goes way beyond the mere use of salt.

Arabs incorporate various exotic spices and herbs into their dishes, reflecting the soul of the United Arab Emirates and infusing every dish with unparalleled flavor. So, let’s explore the essential seasonings that define Emirati cooking.

The Top 10 Emirati Spices for Cooking

  1. Saffron
  2. Cardamom
  3. Cinnamon
  4. Bezar
  5. Turmeric
  6. Black pepper
  7. Sumac
  8. Cumin
  9. Ras el Hanout
  10. Coriander

1. Saffron

Saffron is one of the most precious spices in the world and is cherished in the UAE for its vibrant color and exquisite aroma. A pinch added to rice dishes gives a luxurious golden hue and subtle earthy flavor. It elevates every dish it touches, adding elegance and depth.

2. Cardamom

Cardamom has an intense, sweet flavor that makes it a cornerstone of Emirati dishes. It’s an essential part of Arabic coffee, where it adds a refreshing aroma and complex taste. When used just right, it can transform simple beverages and desserts into aromatic delights.

3. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is celebrated for its sweet, woody smell that has made it a staple in both savory and sweet Emirati dishes. Its addition to stews and desserts introduces a comforting warmth and depth to enhance the overall flavor profile.

4. Bezar

If you want a traditional Emirati spice, then look no further than Bezar. It has a strong and complex profile which is owed to it being a blend of spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Arabs use it for seasoning both meats and vegetables, giving them a distinct, spicy warmth.

5. Turmeric

Tumeric has a bright yellow hue and earthy flavor that’s recognized around the world. In Emirati cooking, it’s frequently used in rice and curry dishes. Besides adding a vibrant color, it imparts a subtle, warm taste with just a hint of bitterness. Be careful when handling it as it can easily create stubborn stains.

6. Black pepper

Black pepper is a versatile spice that’s also relatively common but is still an essential part of Emirati cuisine. Red pepper was a close contender for this spot, but black pepper’s ability to add both heat and depth to meats, soups, and rice dishes is unparalleled.

7. Sumac

Next up is Sumac; another favorite in Emirati kitchens because of its tangy lemon-like flavor. It’s perfect for adding a fresh, acidic touch to salads, meats, and rice dishes. Plus, it does a good job of brightening the appearance of a meal while adding some refreshing zest.

8. Cumin

This is a powerful spice in the Emirati spice cupboard. Cumin also has an earthy, warm flavor that can add depth to a wide variety of dishes. Its distinct taste is crucial in spice mixes like bezar and it’s often sprinkled over rice-based dishes and stews. When used well, it can give off a smoky note that enriches the food’s overall flavor palette.

9. Ras el Hanout

Although not originally from the UAE, Ras el Hanout has found its way into Emirati cuisine, offering an intricate blend of over a dozen spices. It’s a rich, aromatic mix that adds a unique depth and exotic flavor to dishes, embodying the essence of Middle Eastern culinary traditions.

10. Coriander

Lastly, we have coriander and its lemony, floral aroma. It’s used in both its fresh form and as dried seeds, particularly in marinades and soups where it contributes a refreshing burst of flavor. This versatile herb can easily enhance a dish’s taste, making it a truly indispensable ingredient.

Where to Buy These Spices

Now that you know which are the best, it’s probably time to get one or more for yourself. Here’s a quick breakdown of the best places to find high-quality spices and herbs in each Emirate:

1. Abu Dhabi – Abu Dhabi Central Market

  • Location: Liwa St, Al Danah, Zone 1, Abu Dhabi
  • Operating hours: 8 AM – 12 AM

2. Dubai – Dubai Spice Souk

  • Location: 41 34th St, Deira, Al Ras, Dubai
  • Operating hours: 7:30 AM – 9:55 PM

3. Sharjah – The Central Souk

  • Location: 993M+WVM, Al Mareija, Sharjah
  • Operating hours: 10:00 AM – 10:30 PM

4. Ajman – Omega Spices Trading Co

  • Location: New Industrial Area Near Lucky R/A, Ajman
  • Operating hours: 9 AM – 9 PM, Closed on Sunday

5. Umm Al Quwain – Anwar Spices Trading

  • Location: HH23+983, Near Fire Station R/A Oqbah Bin Nafe’a R/A, Umm Al Quwain
  • Operating hours: 8 AM – 1 AM

6. Ras Al Khaimah – The Old Market

  • Location: Kuwaiti Souq, Ras al Khaimah
  • Operating hours: 8 AM – 2 PM, 4:30 PM – 10 PM

7. Fujairah – The Fujairah Friday Market

  • Location: Souq Al Jumʻah, Fujairah
  • Operating hours: 7 AM – 12 AM

Storing Emirati Spices

Here are some quick tips to help you store the spices you acquire:

  • Store spices in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight, as it can diminish their flavor.
  • Use an airtight container – glass jars with tight-fitting lids are ideal in this case.
  • Whole spices, like sesame seeds, can last up to 3-4 years, while ground spices are best used within 1-2 years for maximum flavor.

FAQs

What are some vegetarian dishes that use Emirati spices?

Emirati cuisine offers a variety of dishes that only use vegetables flavored with traditional spices. Some popular options include Vegetable Saloona, Lentil Soup, Stuffed Zucchini (Kousa Mahshi), and Machboos (Emirati rice).

Can I make my own Emirati spice blends at home?

Definitely, it’s just a matter of finding the right ingredients and combining them in the right ratio. For example, with Bezar you’d need to combine the following: roasted and ground cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, dried red chilies, turmeric, and cinnamon.

What are some simple Emirati recipes for beginners to try using these spices?

If you’re new to Emirati cuisine, here are a few simple recipes to start with:

Final Thoughts

At the heart of the Middle East, Emirati cuisine is defined by various exotic spices and herbs that transform food into an art form. Each dish tells a story of tradition and innovation, showcasing the vibrant culinary heritage of the region. So, when you visit, be sure to take some of the spices and herbs home with you. That way you’ll have an aromatic way to remember your trip.

 

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