A list of spices and their uses

I was making some sauce as a dip for my toast and to have with my boiled rice the other day, it looked so good. Then I settled down to enjoy it, oh! It was tasteless! What could the matter be? What did I do wrong? I forgot to use the spices!

So I will be saying a lot more about spices. What they really are, where they come from, different types, the usefulness of spices, their health benefits, if there is anything negative about spices and where to get them. Spices are a very important part of African meals and the spices used by the regions in Africa vary from the north of Africa to the south of it. Also there are varying spices from the east to the west of Africa.

Spices are substances in granule or powder form mostly used in flavouring food, also preserving and colouring food. It could have other uses such as making tea from spices or in a ceremony, as a gift. It also has domestic uses such as a form of skin care, hair care or medication.

Some Spices from:

All Africa

  • Salt – a cube shaped natural mineral mostly white in colour. It is made up of equal proportions of Sodium and Chlorine. Salt is mainly used to flavour food. It is also used in cleaning, disinfecting and preserving food. Salt is a very important spic e in African food. Almost every African meal must have a rich taste of salt.

Spices specific to:  

North Africa   

  • Ras El Hanout – Popular in North Africa especially Morocco. It is a mix of between 20 to almost 100 expensive spices. It is used in cooking meals like couscous, rice, chicken and meat.
  • Harissa – Widely used in North African countries such as Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. It is a red paste made of roasted red peppers, dried chilli, tomato puree and other spices. It is very good when marinating meat and poultry.
  • Baharat – A spice mix mainly used in Egypt to season beef, lamb, chicken and Fish. It is also used to give soups lovely flavours.
  • Chermoula – this is a mild blend of spices, it’s not really hot. It is mostly used in seasoning fish.
  • Duqqa or Dukkah – An Egyptian powdered spice mix containing crushed seeds, spices, herbs and roasted nuts. (Most of the time hazelnuts). It is excellent when sprinkled on salads. It is traditionally eaten with flat bread.

East Africa

  • Fenugreek spice – A powdered seed with amazing health benefits consumed traditionally in Ethiopia. Fenugreek is used in vegetable and meat stews. It has a bitter taste when powdered and a nutty taste when used whole.
  • Mitmita – An Ethiopian mix of chilli, salt, cloves and cardamom. It has a red colour and is really hot! It is used in vegetable stews, bean porridge, meat and grain dishes.
  • Berbere – Another hot Ethiopian spice but not as hot as mitmita. It is a mix of spices, chilli, and some herbs. Berbere is used when cooking and grilling meat, fish or poultry. It is also sprinkled on food at the dinner table.

West Africa

In West Africa the weather is hot! Hot! Hot! So is the food and the spices in the food.

  • Curry powder – a mixture of various spices such as Coriander, Cumin, Fenugreek, Salt, Garlic, turmeric, chilli and ginger. Curry powder has slightly varying smell and shade of brown depending on the maker of it. Curry powder is used in cooking meat, fish, poultry and vegetable dishes.
  • Suya Spice – This is a Nigerian spice mix made up of chilli, ginger, roast peanuts, salt and other spices. It is used traditionally on flat sliced beef then grilled on skewers. Yummy! It can also be used when grilling poultry.
  • Shito sauce – Shito is a very hot dark brown Ghanaian sauce. It is made of scotch bonnet, onions and powdered crayfish blended into a paste and fried till very thick. Shito is excellent as a dip and as a sauce.
  • Pepper soup spice – A mix of various spices such as Negro pepper, chilli pepper, thyme seeds, clove, calabash nutmeg, gingerroot and Alligator pepper (grains of paradise). It is used in cooking fish soup, meat soup or mixed grill soup.
  • Melegueta pepper known as guinea pepper, alligator pepper or grains of paradise. It is found in Guinea, Sierra Leone and other West African countries. Guinea pepper is used to add the kick to most dishes.

South Africa

  • Kaap Cape Malay curry powder – This a spice mixture from South Africa. It is made up of a mix of clove, fennel seed, coriander seed, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, dried red chilli, peppercorns, turmeric, curry leaves and cumin. It is used to put the colour and flavour in South Africa’s yellow rice.
  • Fennel seeds – These are the green pod shaped seeds that come from the fennel plant.
  • Cardamom pods – Is kept in the pod to retain its flavour. Cardamom is like an all-purpose spice used in soups, scones, cakes, cookies and custards.


 Spices are mostly seeds used as a seed or in powder form of the dried seed. They can be used as an individual seed spice or as a combination of some selected seeds to give a unique flavour and effect on the meal. Spices vary from culture to culture are generally used in meals to give them that flavour or that kick. Spices have huge health and nutritional benefits. They are medicinal and help in weight loss, healing process, fighting infections, skin health, detox and lots more.

Any negatives

Some spices can be extremely hot and should be taken in small quantities.

Get hold of one or more African spices by clicking on any of the links below:

North Africa:


East Africa:


West Africa:


South Africa:


This article has 2 Comments

  1. Great list of spices here. I think I will try out the Harissa, as it is something I think I would like. I appreciate you sharing such a great list. I will bookmark this article so I do not forget some of these very interesting spices. Thanks for sharing.

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