Spices Used in Greek Cooking

A List of the Most Common Greek Food Spices

Close up of spices on cutting board
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Numerous spices are used in Greek cooking, each imparting its own unique flavor and characteristics. Here's a list of the most common, along with pronunciations so you can cook like a Greek — and speak like a Greek while you're doing it. Click on the names to learn even more. 

Spices in Greek Food

Allspice

  • Greek name: Bahari
  • Pronounced: bah-HAH-ree
  • Name in Greek: μπαχάρι

This spice is derived from cured berries from tropical evergreens.

It's often used in baking in Greece. 

Anise

  • Greek name: Glykaniso
  • Pronounced: ghlee-KAH-nee-so
  • Name in Greek: γλυκάνισο

Anise is available as seeds or as an extract. It's an herb in the parsley family and has a wide range of uses, from baking to beef and fish recipes. It can also be found in some spiced beverages. 

Cardamom

  • Greek name: Karthamo
  • Pronounced: KAR-thah-mo 
  • Name in Greek: κάρδαμο

Cardamom pods can appear large compared to some other spices. They commonly accent Greek beef and pork recipes. 

Cinnamon

  • Greek name: Kanela
  • Pronounced: kah-NEH-lah
  • Name in Greek: κανέλα

Who doesn't smell cinnamon and think of the holidays? Cinnamon is also the main feature of kapama, a Greek braised cinnamon chicken dish. 

Cloves

  • Greek name: Garifalo
  • Pronounced: ghah-REE-fah-lo
  • Name in Greek: γαρίφαλο

Cloves are often used in cakes, pastries, and sweets in Greece — including kourambiedes, traditional Christmas cookies.

 

Coriander

  • Greek name: Kolianthro
  • Pronounced: koh-LEE-ahn-throh 
  • Name in Greek: κολίανδρο

Like anise, coriander is a member of the parsley family. Native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, it's used as a medicine as well as in traditional Greek cooking. It has a strong, earthy flavor, but much of this is leached during the cooking process, leaving a more delicate taste.

 

Cumin

  • Greek name: Kymino
  • Pronounced: KEE-mee-no
  • Name in Greek: κύμινο

Some Greek potato dishes feature cumin, as does soutzoukakia — Greek baked meatballs. It's used as seeds or it can be ground to add a hint of smokiness to recipes. 

Curry

  • Greek name: Kari
  • Pronounced: KAH-ree
  • Name in Greek: κάρι

Curry brings to mind Indian and Asian dishes, but it's used in Greek cuisine as well. It's actually a mixture of other spices, including cumin, coriander, cardamom and ginger. 

Ginger

  • Greek name: Piperoriza
  • Pronounced: pee-peh-ROH-ree-zah
  • Name in Greek: πιπερόριζα

This spice is somewhat strong and is used in candies, tea, and wine, but it's also the foundation of some Greek soups. 

Hot Chili Pepper 

  • Greek name: Boukovo
  • Pronounced: BOO-koh-voh
  • Name in Greek: μπούκοβο

Chili peppers are often used in Greek dips and condiments. 

Hot Peppers

  • Greek name: Kafteres Piperies
  • Pronounced: kaf-ter-ES pee-peh-ree-ES
  • Name in Greek: καυτερές πιπεριές

Chili peppers are in a class of their own and they tend to be very hot. Regular "hot" peppers are a tad more mild, but they shouldn't be confused with sweet peppers — the red, green and yellow varieties often used in salads. 

Mahlab

  • Greek name: Mahlepi
  • Pronounced: mahk-LEH-pee
  • Name in Greek: μαχλέπι

This spice is made from the seeds of a species of wild sour cherry, and it has a unique fruity taste. It's used in tsoureki, a traditional sweet bread associated with Greek Easter.

Mastic

  • Greek name: Mastiha
  • Pronounced: mahs-TEEKH-hah
  • Name in Greek: μαστίχα

The Greeks often use mastic in the making of liquors, and it's rarely found outside the country. The Greek island of Chios lays claim to producing some of the best mastic. It derives from the pistacia lentiscus tree and is used in Greek Easter bread, as well as in rice pudding and ice cream. 

Mustard Powder

  • Greek name: Moustartha Skoni
  • Pronounced: moo-STAR-thah SKOH-nee 
  • Name in Greek: μουστάρδα σκόνη

Greeks make mustard powder by mixing and grinding white and black mustard seeds. Then wheat flour, salt, and sugar may be added to achieve the desired flavor.

 

Nutmeg

  • Greek name: Moschokarido
  • Pronounced: mos-ho-KAH-ree-thoh 
  • Name in Greek: μοσχοκάρυδο

Moussaka equals nutmeg, and moussaka is one of the most popular dishes in Greece. Nutmeg is also a prime addition to pastitsio

Pepper

  • Greek name: Piperi
  • Pronounced: pee-PEH-ree
  • Name in Greek: πιπέρι

Pepper is a fairly standard spice worldwide, and its use doesn't differ much in Greek cooking. 

Saffron

  • Greek name: Zafora or Safrani
  • Pronounced: zah-for-AH or sah-FRAH-nee
  • Name in Greek: ζαφορά, σαφράνι

Saffron is an almost mystical spice in Greece. The Greeks have recognized the medicinal value of the saffron crocus dating back to before the Middle Ages. The plant is still painstakingly cultivated today, and the spice is commonly used in rice-based recipes and dishes.  

Sumac

  • Greek name: Sumaki
  • Pronounced: soo-MAH-kee
  • Name in Greek: σουμάκι

Yes, it makes you itch if you have a close encounter with it in the woods. It's also used extensively in Greek cooking, particularly in marinades and dressings. It has a taste something like vinegar — tart and a bit lemony. 

Vanilla

  • Greek name: Vanilia
  • Pronounced: vah-NEEL-yah
  • Name in Greek: βανίλια

Vanilla is another worldwide favorite. The Greeks use it typically and most famously in their yogurt.