As the Fooide circles continue to expand taste for new foods as well as taste buds, there has been an increasing interest in exploring different taste of different parts of the African Diaspora. Moroccan cuisine is no stranger to the list of exotic foods that many people crave to sample or to eat on a regular basis. However in general, the North African region, as well as Africa as a whole has been known for its distinct taste and flavors. For the sake here, we will look at the Healing Spices that cover all of what is considered North Africa, including, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania, Sudan, Egypt, Mali and Algeria, (the Maghreb is considered the western portion of North Africa.)
Interestingly enough these regions use spices that many of us tend to be familiar with, but what the writer has found is that a greater emphasis is put on using some spices in foods which gives it much more of an impact than from what were normally used to in the West. It should come as no surprise that not only are many of these foods tasty, most if not all of these spices have healing and medicinal properties that do the body and mind a great deal of good; this is something that is often overlooked in our eating and food culture at present.
The North Africans take their spices seriously; this is something that the writer witnessed firsthand. When walking through the local Souk (open air market) you can smell the fresh spices at almost every turn. Mounds of golden, heavy crimson or dark black mounds of spices hit your nose and liven your spirits with almost every step. But while the smells and taste may be good, what is the science of these traditional herbs and spices that have captivated taste buds from the time of the Umayyad Empire and even before? Let’s look at some of the most common spices of the region and look into the healing and nutritional properties:
Ras el Hanout: This is a combination blend of spices that includes cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, cumin, peppercorn, nutmeg and turmeric. This is North Africa’s version of the Ayurvedic Indian, Garam Masala. Just in this blend alone we find effectiveness with blood cleaning (turmeric), Asthma (cumin), Anti-bacterial properties (clove), blood pressure treatment (coriander) and even pain relief (nutmeg).
Baharat: Traditionally crafted by the Tunisians, this blend consists of cinnamon, dried rose petals and black pepper. If you look at the combination as a whole it is effective in treating skin issues, gut healing and diabetes control. Not only this, but cinnamon has been found to have relaxing and soothing properties on the mind and the body. This is an excellent spice blend for those who are dealing with heavy stress.
Dukkah: While many won’t agree that this Egyptian blend of spices should be placed here, the writer feels that it is worthy of being placed as many styles of cooking are starting to cross-pollinate sort to speak. In this blend you will find hazelnuts, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, cumin and coriander. This blend not only contains a good amount of protein (sesame seeds) but great for bone and joint health (hazelnuts.) This is an excellent spice blend for highly active athletes as a they recover from a hard work out.
Of course there are many other blends and spices that we could highlight, yet just in this short list here you can find so many spices that heal our body; this is at the heart of Holistic cooking. Not just cooking for taste sake, but also getting a reciprocal healing benefit as well. And if you look closely, few spices are used by themselves. But rather these spices are combined to not only affect our taste, these spices also work in conjunction with the others that literally treat your whole body from head to toe. This is something that the African, Indian, Asian, Arab, Indigenous American and Native Hispanic cultures as well as others had a deep understanding of. Sadly, when many immigrants from some of these lands left their traditional forms of cooking and spices to replace it with the standard diets of the West; sickness and other health complications soon followed: neutralizing the healing effects that they once had in their bodies.
If you have never had the pleasure of tasting North African (as well as African in general) cuisine, you owe it to yourself to give it a taste. No matter what your diet preference it has foods for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Non-plant based eaters alike: everyone can have a plate at this table. There are many items to choose from that will not only hit a spot in your taste buds but it is almost certain that you may get some combination of these spices at one time or another that not only brings life to you eating experience, but to your bodies healing process as well. To your health and continued healing for a lifetime.
– Daud Scott-CHNP; CPT.