What is Baharat Spice?

Juha-Pekka Kervinen

Question: What is Baharat Spice?

After reading your blog and reviewing recipes, I decided to visit my local Middle Eastern/Mediterranean grocery store to buy a few items. The owner of the store recommended a few different spices, including something called baharat. I am able to decipher what the other spices are, but I have no idea what baharat is and how to use it. What can baharat be used for? What does it taste like?

Is is spicy? I can't wait to use it next time I cook, but I want to make sure I use it correctly and with the right food (chicken, seafood, or beef?) I am new to Middle Eastern food and need a little help!

Answer: Baharat is very common in Middle Eastern cooking. It is not actually one spice, but a blend of several spices. What spices are included in the blend vary geographically, but you can generally expect the following spices to be found in baharat: black pepper, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, paprika, and cinnamon. Again, it does vary geographically, so your baharat may contain additional spices or may not have all the spices I have listed. For example, in Turkey, baharat often contains mint. A lot of people like baharat because it does not contain any salt.

Baharat can be used many ways in the kitchen. It's used as a seasoning for meat, seafood and vegetables as well a dry rub or marinade for all of them.

It is by no means spicy. It is aromatic and gives a little zest to any dish -- especially, rice, lentil, and pilaf dishes. It has a very nice blend of both sweet and smoky, which you can probably ascertain by giving the open jar a little sniff.

I use it in everything from hamburgers to lamb chops. For recipes using ground beef, I mix the baharat into the meat before cooking, usually about 1 teaspoon for every pound of ground beef.

While the taste is not overpowering, it is very aromatic, hence such a small amount. I don't want the aromatic smell to influence the taste buds, so I am pretty conservative with the spice.

I also use it as a marinade for chicken and lamb. I add 1/2 cup of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of baharat, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt to a bowl or freezer bag with chicken or lamb and allow it to marinate for 24 hours. The results are absolutely delicious and can only be achieved by using a blend of spices like baharat.

For a zesty version of pita bread, I like to brush a little butter or olive oil onto pita bread and sprinkle a little baharat on the top. Bake for 10 minutes at 250 degrees and you have bread with a little "kick"!