Not only are all of our ingredients sourced from within 3 miles of the Riad, but we also have the most amazing array of fresh spices at our finger tips. Our trip to the local market is always a firm favourite with our guests, so they can marvel at the spice mountains, and absorb the different smells from the toasting spices, on the various food carts.
A lot of our guests are surprised at how the depth and variety of flavours in our Moroccan dishes can be accomplished using the same few herbs and spices, and merely changing the ratios. As well as imparting warm flavours in the dishes, the spices have an a variety of natural properties that can benefit your day-to-day wellbeing, if they form part of your diet.
So today, I have raided my kitchen cupboard to give you an insight to the everyday herbs and spices we use, and their benefits.
The main active ingredient is cur cumin, which is an anti-inflamitory, and a strong antioxidant. A great way to incorporate turmeric into your diet is turmeric milk. You can either use turmeric powder or turmeric root to make the warm drink. A word of warning though, it’s a bit like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it! Check out our first blog in mAY for a recipe.
If you wanted a more subtler way of adding turmeric, it’s a great spice to add when you’re cooking a particularly fatty dish, as it also helps to make the fat more soluble.
Cinnamon is a great spice and massively under used. It comes from the bark of the china-momum tree, and not only is it an antioxidant but it is also natural sweetener. It can be used in tea, coffee, and baked goods instead of refined sugar, to reduce your overall calorie and sugar intake.
I really enjoy cinnamon tea, either add cinnamon stick to a tea-pot of water or use powder. If you’re using the powder I would recommend first mixing with a small quantity of tepid water to form a paste, before adding a larger quantity of water. One tip, if your making this tea, use water that hasn’t quite boiled; if you use boiling water, it can sometimes burn teas, and spices, giving the drink a bitter taste.
Cinnamon is also a natural insecticide, and can be used on the ground to reduce insect problems.
Saffron is a major export for Morocco, although it isn’t widely grown in the country. Taliouine, in the south of Morocco, and the Ourika Valley, near Marrakech are the most renowned.
Saffron is harvested from beautiful purple crocus flowers, and is most commonly known for being the most expensive spice in the world. This is down to the labour-intensive way that the saffron is harvested.
Saffron imparts a really distinctive flavour and aroma to food, and although used regularly in Moroccan cooking, it’s used sparingly.
Saffron is rich in magnesium, manganese, potassium, and vitamin C; offering a range of benefits, from boasting your immune system, to aiding the regulation of blood sugar levels. Most of the health properties are attributed to the crocin present.
Although typically Moroccans add saffron to food, some areas enjoy saffron as a tea, either steeping a couple of saffron strands directly in water, or making hot saffron milk. If you have eaten a large meal before bed or suffer from insomnia, a hot saffron milk before bed, can aid digestion, and help you fall into a natural sleep.
In the western world, saffron is now being used more and more in beauty products. The active ingredients can help improve dry skin and damaged hair. Our first blog in May, we will be telling you about some great natural remedies, including some home skin and hair treatments.
As much as we love saffron though, our suggestions do come with a word of warning; if you suffer from one of the following, do not consume excessive amounts of saffron if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking blood pressure medication, or have a heart condition, unless recommended by your doctor.
Ginger can be used in lots of different forms, but in Morocco we mainly use fresh ginger root and it’s powdered form. It’s unique fragrance and flavour, come from the natural oils, gingerol being the main one.
Like a lot of the spices used in Moroccan cooking, ginger has anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties, however its most effective use is in the treatment of nausea, and particularly morning sickness
Although when I was pregnant and suffering with horrific morning sickness, I just ingested copious amounts of ginger nut biscuits, which did nothing for my waistline. There are much more effective ways of using ginger as a natural remedy without having to indulge as much as I did.
Again, ginger can be enjoyed as a tea, but if you’re looking to incorporate a couple of the Moroccan spices that we’ve mentioned, you could end up drinking an awful lot of the stuff! We now grow ginger root at the Riad, so one thing that we have started doing is pickling it. It is so easy to do, and although pickling isn’t necessarily associated with Morocco, it’s actually a really traditional aspect of Moroccan cookery that is gradually being lost. Pickling was a practice widely used in the Arab culture to preserve food, but is much more prevalent in other Arab nations. If you visit Istanbul for instance, they have some amazing pickle shops.
We also regularly add ginger to a variety of our fresh juices, particularly if anyone has a cold. One thing to remember when you’re incorporating ginger with juices, is be careful what you mix it with, as this may counteract the properties that you’re trying to harness. For example, if your trying to treat nausea, don’t mix ginger with orange-based juices, as the acidity of the orange, counteracts the gingerol.
Garlic is part of the onion family, and contains allicin, which is activated once its chopped, crushed, or chewed. It’s also the allicin which gives garlic its recognisable smell. I love the taste of garlic, which is fortunate as we use it a lot at the Riad. It’s nearly always one of the elements used when cooking a Moroccan fish or vegetable dish.
Besides from its great taste garlic is said to reduce high blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol levels.
Fresh coriander is another one of those mandatory ingredients with Moroccan cooking, it goes in everything, although they only use fresh leaves. I’ve never seen powdered coriander (not even at the french supermarket), and inadvertently offended my mother-in-law when I suggested that I might add this to our food. Coriander is by far one of the easiest herbs to grow, and costs very little to buy in Morocco, this perhaps being one of the contributing factors towards using the fresh stuff.
It’s actually the coriander seeds and oil that holds the majority of the therapeutic benefits, and if you’re using ground coriander, then you will more than likely be consuming, dried and ground coriander seeds.
Traditionally coriander powder was used as a preservative, due to the active ingredient dodecenal, a natural antibiotic, which is particularly effective at fighting salmonella. Consuming Coriander seeds/powder with food, can reduce the risk of contracting food poisoning. Along with fighting food poisoning, coriander is said to aid symptoms of IBS, by relaxing contracted digestive muscles.
Coriander seeds can be used to reduce the symptoms of a urinary infection: Soak 1 1/2 teaspoons of coriander seeds in two cups of water over night; strain and drink, or incorporate into your morning smoothie or porridge.
You would be amazed at how cumin goes with pretty much anything. Before I learnt to cook Moroccan food, I had alway thought of it as a very overpowering spice, to be used only on occasion and very sparingly. A view that has now changed for the better. I’ve learnt to use it in a way that adds warmth to a dish, rather than stifling the other flavours.
Cumin seeds are the fruit seeds from the herb cumin cyminum, which is from the parsley family. Cumin is believed to aid an extensive list of aliments, which include: heart disease, hemmorides, inflammation, insomnia, vomiting, weekend immune systems, and viral infections.
At the Riad, we just view it as a really good all-rounder. Cumin is packed full of fibre, along with an array of other good things, such as vitamin C. We use cumin in most of our salads and vegetable dishes, and often use cumin with cinnamon, as a replacement for chillies, if we are wanting to make a dish spicy.
Cumin seeds can be consumed whole, and are a great way to start experimenting. Just toast them off in a warm pan and start adding them as texture to dishes, so on the top of a soup, salad, or humus.
Paprika isn’t really a spice that I associated with Morocco, but it’s used regularly, much more so than fresh chillies.
Paprika is rich in vitamin A, which our bodies use for an array of thing such as maintaining normal vision, reproduction, and the immune system. Paprika has quite a range of flavours that don’t really come out unless you warm it, and then all of the flavours are released.
In Moroccan cooking, Paprika normally forms part of a spice blend that is used as a marinade, particularly for prawns, and is applied fairly liberally, when cooking courgette, aubergines, and cauliflower.
At the minute we don’t really use paprika in another way, so if you have any suggestions for us to try that would be great, and we’ll keep you posted on how well they went down with our guests!
Please note: The benefits of all the above mentioned herbs and spices are well documented, so please do you own research if you’re looking to see how best you can incorporate them into you daily diet. What we try to keep in mind when developing dishes at the Riad, is balance! It’s about balancing these spices to benefit from their amazing properties and flavours. We try not to use any one herb or spice too excessively; too much of a good thing and all that.