From Sumac To Cumin: 20 Must-Have Turkish Spices For Every Kitchen
Are you tired of the same old spices in your kitchen cupboard? Ready to spice up your life with some exotic Turkish flavors? Look no further! From sumac to cumin, we’ve rounded up the top must-have Turkish spices that will bring a burst of flavor to your home.
Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a novice cook, these spices will impress and elevate your cooking game. So grab your apron, and let’s dive into the world of Turkish cuisine!
Introduction To Turkish Spices
There are a few spices that are commonly used in Turkish cuisine, and these are the ones that you should have in your kitchen if you want to make authentic Turkish dishes. The most important spice is sumac, which adds a sour flavor to dishes. It is usually added at the end of cooking so that the acidity does not cook out of it. Other important spices include cumin, paprika, and chili. These spices are often used together to create flavorful Turkish dishes.
- Kofte: These flavorful meatballs are typically made with ground lamb or beef and seasoned with cumin, paprika, chili flakes, and other spices
- Imam bayildi: A classic vegetarian dish consisting of roasted eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs
- Lahmacun: Also known as Turkish pizza, this flatbread is topped with a spicy mixture of ground meat, vegetables, and herbs. It’s the perfect snack or appetizer
- Baklava: A sweet dessert made with layers of phyllo dough filled with nuts and soaked in syrup or honey
- Rice pilaf: A flavorful rice dish made with saffron, chicken broth, butter, and various spices such as cumin and oregano.
What Are The Top Spices From Turkey To Buy
Here is a list of commonly used spices in Turkish cuisine:
- Cumin (Kimyon)
- Red Pepper Flakes (Pul Biber)
- Mint (Nane)
- Sumac (Sumak)
- Paprika (Paprika)
- Aleppo Pepper (Pul Biber)
- Cinnamon (Tarçın)
- Coriander (Kişniş)
- Cloves (Karabiber)
- Black Pepper (Karabiber)
- Nutmeg (Muskat)
- Dried Oregano (Kekik)
- Dried Thyme (Kekik)
- Allspice (Yenibahar)
- Cardamom (Karadamom)
- Ginger (Zencefil)
- Turmeric (Zerdeçal)
- Saffron (Safran)
- Bay Leaves (Defne Yaprağı)
- Dried Dill (Dereotu)
While these are the most commonly used spices in Turkish cuisine, the use of spices varies based on region to region.
Top 15 Must-Have Turkish Spices For Your Kitchen
With these spices in your pantry, you’ll be able to make a variety of delicious Turkish dishes at home. Here are some of our favorites:
Sumac is a reddish-purple spice derived from the dried and ground berries of the sumac shrub. It is commonly used in Turkish cuisine to add a tangy and citrusy flavor to various dishes.
In Turkey, sumac is a key ingredient in dishes such as “pide” (Turkish flatbread) and “lahmacun” (Turkish pizza). It is often sprinkled on top of these breads to enhance their taste. Sumac is also used in salads, especially the traditional Turkish salad called “Shepherd’s Salad” or “Coban Salatasi,” where it adds a zesty and acidic note.
Sumac also spices up meat and kebabs. It is often used as a seasoning for grilled or roasted meats, especially those famous “Adana kebabs,” to provide a tangy contrast to the rich flavors of the meat.
Sumac is an essential ingredient in the popular Turkish spice blend called “za’atar,” which typically includes dried herbs, sesame seeds, sumac, and sometimes salt. This versatile spice blend is used in various Turkish dishes, including marinating meats, seasoning vegetables, and flavoring dips and sauces.
This versatile spice in Turkish cuisine brings a distinct tanginess and brightness to a range of dishes, including bread, salads, meats, and spice blends.
Aleppo pepper, also known as pul biber, is a chili pepper originating from the Aleppo region in Syria. It is named after the city and is widely used in Turkish cuisine for its mild to moderately spicy flavor and fruity undertones.
In Turkish cuisine, Aleppo pepper is used as a versatile spice that adds depth and a touch of heat to various dishes. Here are some common uses of Aleppo pepper in Turkish cuisine:
- Seasoning: Aleppo pepper is frequently used as a seasoning for meat, poultry, and fish. It can be sprinkled directly on grilled or roasted meats or kebabs, or added to marinades and rubs to enhance the flavor
- Flavoring Dips and Sauces: It is often added to yogurt-based dips like “cacık” or “haydari” to give them a hint of heat and a smoky flavor. Aleppo pepper can also be used in tomato-based sauces, such as “salsa” or “muhammara,” for an extra kick
- Spice Blends: Aleppo pepper is a key component in Turkish spice blends like “za’atar” and “baharat.” These blends are used to season a variety of dishes, including meat, vegetables, and grains
- Salad Dressings: Aleppo pepper can be incorporated into salad dressings to provide a mild spiciness and a unique flavor. It pairs well with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs, making it an excellent addition to salads
- Finishing Touch: Aleppo pepper can be sprinkled on top of finished dishes like soups, stews, or roasted vegetables to add a pop of color, mild heat, and a smoky aroma
When using Aleppo pepper in your cooking, I recommended to start with small amounts and adjusting according to your desired level of spiciness.
Urfa Biber, also known as Urfa pepper or Isot pepper, is a unique chili pepper variety native to the Urfa region in Turkey. It is named after the city of Urfa and is a crucial ingredient in Turkish cuisine, particularly in the southeastern region.
Urfa Biber has a dark red to purplish-black color and a smoky, earthy flavor with a moderate level of heat. The peppers are sun-dried during the day and then sweated overnight, resulting in a distinct flavor profile. The drying process imparts a rich, raisin-like sweetness and a smoky aroma to the peppers.
Turks use Urfa Biber in various ways to enhance the taste of their dishes:
- Seasoning: Urfa Biber is commonly used as a seasoning for meat and vegetable dishes. It can be added to marinades, rubs, or directly sprinkled on grilled meats, kebabs, and roasted vegetables to impart a smoky and mildly spicy flavor
- Spice Blends: It is often included in Turkish spice blends, such as “baharat,” to add complexity and depth of flavor. These spice blends are used in meat preparations, stews, and rice dishes
- Condiments: Urfa Biber is also utilized in condiments and sauces. It can be mixed with olive oil, garlic, and other ingredients to create a flavorful dipping sauce or drizzled over dishes like hummus, yogurt, or roasted eggplant
- Breads and Pastries: In southeastern Turkish cuisine, Urfa Biber is occasionally incorporated into bread dough or sprinkled on top of pastries like “pide” and “lahmacun” to add a smoky and slightly spicy taste
- Salads and Mezes: Some Turkish salads and mezes (appetizers) include Urfa Biber for a subtle heat and smokiness. It can be added to salads, such as “shepherd’s salad,” or mixed with ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs
Urfa Biber is known for its distinct flavor and is considered a prized ingredient in Turkish cuisine. Its complex taste profile and moderate spiciness make it a versatile addition to a wide range of dishes, adding depth, smokiness, and a hint of heat.
Marash pepper, also known as Maras pepper or Kahramanmaras pepper, is a type of chili pepper originating from the Marash region in Turkey. It is named after the city of Marash and is highly regarded for its distinctive flavor and moderate spiciness.
Marash pepper has a deep red color and a rich, fruity taste with a moderate level of heat. It is similar in appearance to Aleppo pepper but has a slightly different flavor profile. The peppers are sun-dried and then ground into flakes or powder, making them convenient for use as a spice.
In Turkish cuisine, Marash pepper is widely used to add flavor and gentle spiciness to various dishes. Marash pepper can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, so don’t be afraid to experiment with it.
Try using Marash pepper in this traditional Turkish recipe for Shepherd’s Salad:
- 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Marash pepper
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, parsley, mint, and onion
- Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, Marash pepper, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl. Pour over the vegetables and toss to coat
- Serve at room temperature or chilled
Baharat Spice Mix
Baharat is a popular spice blend used in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is a flavorful mix of aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, and black pepper, among others.
The exact composition of Baharat may vary slightly depending on the region or personal preference. This versatile spice blend adds warmth, depth, and a balanced complexity to a wide range of dishes, including meat, poultry, stews, rice, and vegetable preparations. It is often used as a dry rub or incorporated into marinades, sauces, and soups, lending a distinctive and aromatic flavor profile to the cuisine.
Dried Oregano Leaves
Dried oregano leaves are a must-have for any kitchen. This spice is commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Oregano has a strong, pungent flavor that goes well with lamb, chicken, and fish dishes. It can also be used to make a flavorful herb tea.
Dried Mint Leaves
Dried mint leaves are a key ingredient in many traditional Turkish dishes. They have a strong, fresh flavor that pairs well with other spices like cumin and paprika. Mint is also a common flavor in Turkish desserts and pastries.
Isot Pepper Flakes
Isot pepper flakes, also known as Urfa Biber flakes, are a type of crushed chili pepper derived from the dark purple-red Isot pepper, which is native to the Urfa region in Turkey. Isot pepper is harvested and sun-dried, then the peppers are crushed into coarse flakes, resulting in Isot pepper flakes.
Isot pepper flakes have a unique flavor profile characterized by a smoky, fruity, and slightly sweet taste with a mild to moderate level of heat. They are known for their deep, dark color and rich aroma. The drying process contributes to their distinct flavor, as the peppers are partially fermented during the sweating and drying process.
Isot pepper flakes are commonly used as a seasoning and condiment in Turkish cuisine. They are sprinkled over various dishes, including kebabs, grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and salads, to add a smoky and mildly spicy flavor. Isot pepper flakes can also be used to enhance the taste of soups, stews, sauces, and dips, providing a unique depth of flavor. Their versatility and rich taste make Isot pepper flakes a popular ingredient in Turkish culinary traditions.
Cumin seeds are one of the most essential spices in Turkish cuisine. They have a strong, earthy flavor and are used in many different dishes, from stews and soups to meat and vegetable dishes. Cumin seeds can be bought whole or ground and should be stored in a cool, dry place.
Paprika is a bright red powder made from dried and ground sweet peppers. It has a mild, slightly sweet taste, and it’s commonly used to add an earthy flavor and vibrant color to dishes. Paprika is often used in Turkish cuisine, especially in dishes like kebabs, pilafs, and stews. It can also be used as a garnish for rice or potatoes.
Nigella Seeds (Kalonji)
Nigella seeds, also known as kalonji, are small black seeds derived from the Nigella sativa plant. They have a unique flavor, often described as earthy, nutty, and slightly peppery. Nigella seeds are commonly used as a spice in various cuisines, including Turkish cuisine.
In Turkish cuisine, nigella seeds are known as “çörek otu” and are a popular ingredient in a traditional Turkish pastry called “simit.” Simit is a circular-shaped bread covered in sesame seeds and dotted with nigella seeds, giving it a distinct appearance and flavor. Nigella seeds add a nutty and aromatic touch to simit, enhancing its overall taste.
Apart from simit, nigella seeds are also used as a garnish in other Turkish bread, such as “pide” (Turkish flatbread) and “çörek” (Turkish pastry). Additionally, they can be sprinkled on top of salads and savory pastries or mixed into spice blends to provide a subtle and distinctive flavor.
While simit is the most well-known Turkish dish that prominently features nigella seeds, they can be found in a variety of other recipes, adding a delightful twist to the flavors of Turkish cuisine.
Fenugreek Seeds (Helbeh)
Fenugreek seeds, also known as helbeh in Turkish, are small, golden-brown seeds derived from the fenugreek plant. They have a strong, aromatic flavor with a hint of bitterness and a slightly nutty taste. Fenugreek seeds are widely used in Turkish cuisine as a spice and a herbal remedy.
In Turkish cuisine, fenugreek seeds are utilized in various ways:
- Spice and Seasoning: fenugreek seeds are often dry-roasted to enhance their flavor before being ground into a powder or used whole. They are used as a spice in meat dishes, stews, curries, and vegetable preparations. Fenugreek seeds contribute a unique depth of flavor and distinctiveness to the overall taste of the dishes.
- Herbal Remedy: fenugreek seeds are also valued for their potential health benefits and are used in traditional herbal remedies. They are believed to aid digestion, reduce inflammation, and regulate blood sugar levels. Fenugreek seeds can be steeped in hot water to make a herbal tea or ground into a paste for external use.
- Spice Blends: fenugreek seeds are a key ingredient in Turkish spice blends, such as “baharat” and “çemen,” which are used to season a variety of dishes, including grilled meats, kebabs, and vegetables.
- Bread and Pastries: fenugreek seeds are sometimes used as a topping or incorporated into the dough for bread and pastries. They can be sprinkled on top of bread or added to the dough for a slightly bitter and aromatic touch.
Fenugreek seeds are known for their strong flavor and are used to add a distinctive taste to Turkish dishes. While they are primarily used as a spice, their potential health benefits and versatile applications make them an integral part of Turkish culinary traditions.
Cinnamon is a highly aromatic spice obtained from the inner bark of trees belonging to the Cinnamomum family. It is commonly used in cooking and baking for its distinct sweet and warm flavor and pleasing aroma.
Cinnamon is available in two main varieties: Ceylon cinnamon (also known as “true” cinnamon) and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is lighter in color and has a subtle and delicate flavor, while Cassia cinnamon has a stronger and more intense taste. Both varieties are widely used in different culinary traditions.
Tips On Buying Spices From Turkey At The Bazaars
When it comes to buying spices, the Turkish bazaars are a great place to shop. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for spices at the bazaars to ensure that you’re getting the best quality possible.
- Take a look at the overall condition of the spice. It should be dry and free from any mold or mildew. If it looks wet or has any visible moisture on it, it’s likely, not fresh and won’t have as much flavor
- Smell the spice. It should be fragrant and have a strong aroma. If it doesn’t smell very potent, it’s likely, not fresh and won’t pack as much of a flavor punch
- See who is buying it. If the locals are buying it, you know it’s good!
How To Properly Store Your Turkish Spices
When it comes to storing your spices, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, you want to ensure they are stored in a cool, dry place. This will help to keep them fresh and prevent them from going bad. Secondly, you want to ensure they are stored in an airtight container. This will help to keep their flavor and aroma locked in. Lastly, you want to make sure that they are stored away from direct sunlight. This will help to prevent them from fading or becoming discolored.
Most Popular Spice Markets In Turkey
Turkey is famous for its vibrant spice markets, known as “bazaars” or “çarşı” in Turkish. These markets offer a wide variety of spices, herbs, and other culinary ingredients. Here are some of the most popular spice markets in Turkey:
- Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) – Istanbul: located in the Eminönü district of Istanbul, the Spice Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered spice markets in the city. It offers a vast selection of spices, dried fruits, nuts, teas, and Turkish delights
- Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) – Istanbul: while not solely dedicated to spices, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a massive covered market with numerous shops selling spices alongside other goods. It is a bustling and historic market that attracts visitors from around the world
- Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) – Manisa: situated in the city of Manisa, the Egyptian Bazaar is renowned for its diverse array of spices and herbs. It is a vibrant market where visitors can find local spices and unique regional flavors
- Arasta Bazaar – Antalya: located in the historic district of Kaleiçi in Antalya, the Arasta Bazaar is a charming market offering a range of spices, including local specialties. It is a great place to explore and discover the flavors of the Mediterranean region
- Spice Market – Gaziantep: Gaziantep, a city in southeastern Turkey, is known for its rich culinary traditions. The Spice Market in Gaziantep is a popular destination for spice enthusiasts, offering an extensive selection of aromatic spices and specialty ingredients used in regional dishes
- Alaca Han Market – Ankara: Alaca Han Market in Ankara is a bustling market where visitors can find a variety of spices, including regional specialties. It is a vibrant place to explore and experience the local culinary culture
- Uzun Çarşı – Bursa: Uzun Çarşı, meaning “Long Market,” is a historic market in the city of Bursa. It features numerous shops selling spices, nuts, Turkish delights, and traditional food products, making it a delightful place to explore Turkish flavors
These are just a few examples of the popular spice markets in Turkey. Each market offers a unique atmosphere and a wide range of aromatic spices, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant culinary culture of the country.
So, tell me, which spices from Turkey will you try first?