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May 11, 2011

Ras el Hanout
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:58 AM * 55 comments

This is a Moroccan spice mixture to add to coffee. A while back we ran all over the North Country trying to find the ingredients.

You add ¼ teaspoon Ras el Hanout to every ½ cup of ground coffee, then make coffee in your usual way. This stuff totally super-charges it.

The recipe is from the Time/Life Beverages cookbook.

  • 2 whole nutmegs, grated, or 4 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 2-inch stick of cinnamon, crushed, or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 6 to 8 dried rosebuds
  • 12 whole cloves or ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • 18 tsp. gum arabic
  • 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • 2 pieces galingale or about ½ tsp ground galingale [ETA: galangal and numerous other spellings; AKA Laos ginger, Siamese ginger, or Thai ginger]
  • 2 whole allspice or 18 tsp. ground allspice
  • ¾ tsp. ground white pepper
  • 3 blades mace or ½ tsp ground mace
  • 15 white or green cardamoms
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. aniseed
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Combine all the ingredients, then grind, sieve, and bottle to preserve freshness.

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Comments on Ras el Hanout:
#1 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 11:36 AM:

I've met a variety of chai masalas, but never heard of this before.
Sounds killer!

#2 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 11:37 AM:

I picked up a habit for spiced tea in my brief residence in Kenya some decades ago.

Most Kenyans drink tea the Anglo-Indian way - boil water and tea-leaves and milk and sugar together, then pour as soon as ready, so you drink it very hot, very milky, and very sweet. It sounds horrible, especially in a hot climate, but I got addicted to it within days. It was the only sort of tea anyone drank in the part of the country we lived in, just south of Mount Kenya (AKA Kirinyaga in those parts).

Then a few months later we found that Somali shops in other parts of the country sold tea made the same way but spiced. Everyone seemed to do it differently, and it was sort of pot luck, but the most common spices used seem to be cinnamon and cardamom and cloves (not a surprise), but also sometimes cumin and coriander (which was a surprise - curried tea?), mint and other aromatic leaves, and black pepper. Pepper? In tea? In hot milky, sugary, tea on a sunny, hot, windy, dusty afternoon on the edge of the desert after six hours in a bus? It is amazingly wonderful!

But, as I said, no coffee. Our neighbours and colleagues made their money growing coffee - the tea farms were further up-hill where it was a bit wetter and cooler - but they drank tea by the gallon.

Despite being in the middle of one of the largest high-quality coffee growing areas in the world, the only coffee you could buy was little sachets of imported Nescafe. Horrid stuff. Though as we had coffee growing outside our back window we could eat the raw beans if we wanted a hit...

#3 ::: Zandy ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 12:33 PM:

I use Ras El Hanout for Moroccan recipes, but had not previously considered adding it to coffee. For those who are interested in making their own there is a 26 ingredient recipe for it in Madame Guinaudeau's "Traditional Moroccan Cooking", which I highly recommend.

#4 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 12:46 PM:

I've not tried that in coffee, but I now have a weekend experiment planned... I think I'd toast the spices first, and leave out both the gum arabic and the rosebuds (mainly because I have everything else in the house already, but also because I'm not sure either would add anything important [I do have gum arabic in the house, but not food grade {and I'll have rosebuds in a few weeks so can experiment}]).

Spiced coffee. Yum.

#5 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 12:52 PM:

Wow, that looks awesome, but a real pain to assemble and make. I usually add cardamom and cinnamon to my coffee.

What is the function of that gum arabic, given this is meant to be a powder anyway?

#6 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 01:22 PM:

David Harmon@5: Wow, that looks awesome, but a real pain to assemble and make.

The making part is easy, provided you have a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder you're planning to repurpose anyway); it's the assembling of the ingredients that can take some time, if you don't happen to live in the sort of place where a quick jaunt down to the local spice emporium can handle it all.

At about 1/4 teaspoon or so per pot of coffee, the recipe makes enough to last for quite a while. Its other advantage is that it brings about a marked improvement in mediocre coffee, if mediocre coffee for some reason is all that you've got.

We kept ours in a ziploc bag in the freezer until we ran out, by which time we'd mislaid the cookbook we found the recipe in. It turned up last night during a bout of spring cleaning, causing us to contemplate once again making a batch.

I have no idea what if anything the gum arabic is supposed to do.

#7 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 01:46 PM:

I wonder if gum arabic was at some point in the history of this particular version a substitution for mastic, which is used in Mediterranean cooking and shows up as an ingredient in some ras el hanout blends. I'm sure you could leave it out; you could probably leave out or substitute any individual spice, since it's such a variable blend in general (sort of like garam masala in that respect).

I've never thought of trying it in coffee. I'm still not sure that I will (I drink my coffee unadorned), but I may try it instead of my usual spices for masala chai.

#8 ::: grackle ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 02:20 PM:

I'm a pretty much unadorned coffee person myself but I've had Yemeni coffee with some variety of capsicum in it that packs a wallop a little after you take a sip. Made in the Turkish fashion with powdered coffee in a cezve. I hdo like the Arabic style coffee which I've gotten in the old city in Jerusalem where it is ground with a small scoop of cardomom seeds, which adds a light perfume to the coffee. Also best brewed in a cezve.

#9 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 02:30 PM:

...I am thinking now of just putting a little pinch of ground cardamom in with my coffee, and a little bit of cinnamon...

#10 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 02:46 PM:

And pepper? Maybe pepper too -- though I can't quite see how it would make a difference if the pepper were white or black. (Don't they taste pretty much the same?)

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 03:03 PM:

(Don't they taste pretty much the same?)

Good heavens, no. Not remotely. They're both peppery, but there the resemblance ends (to me). I'm not sure I could describe the difference, but I don't think I could mistake one for the other.

#12 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 03:24 PM:

Huh. I haven't used white pepper in cooking in a long time, I guess I have forgotten the difference.

#13 ::: Michael Baum ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 03:35 PM:

Is that galingale the sedge, as in papyrus, or galangal the ginger variant?

#14 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 04:09 PM:

actually I've started putting melange in my coffee, the taste when mixed with Jamaican blue mountain is amazing. Of course it's expensive but good coffee is worth it, scratch that, great coffee is worth it. This stuff is incredibly addictive - in a good way of course.

#15 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 04:14 PM:

Black pepper is more floral, and more pungent. White is sharper, with a slightly earthier note.

#16 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 04:30 PM:

If you get the chance to try fresh green peppercorns, they are to black pepper as black pepper is to white pepper. Canned or dried green peppercorns are not remotely the same thing.

#17 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 04:31 PM:

I strongly suspect the gum arabic should be mastic, which is a nice addition to coffee all on its own.

What does it say about me that the only spices listed here I'd have buy to make this are the rose petals and the galingale?

Sam's Chai (as learned from Indian colleagues)
1 heaping tablespoon black tea
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, sliced
4 green cardamom pods
8 black peppercorns
4 cloves
a small piece of cinnamon (fingernail-sized)

Bring ginger to a boil in 1 cup water. Add 1 cup milk and the spices, bring to boil. Add tea, bring to boil, boil for 30 seconds, let steep 5 minutes, boil another 30 seconds. Strain and drink.

#18 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 05:16 PM:

SamChevre@17, it says your spice cabinet looks a lot like mine...

#19 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 05:27 PM:

SamChevre #17: Wow... a tablespoon of tea and another tablespoon (or so) of spices, for a pint of chai? That sounds like it would put hair on your chest... or take it off!

#20 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 05:30 PM:

SamChevre @17, it says you do a lot of Indian cooking, I suspect. (I'd need the rosebuds and the mastic/gum arabic, myself. But I have some very nice pre-made ras al hanout, even though I almost never buy pre-made blends, so I don't actually need anything.)

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 07:30 PM:

The recipe definitely says "gum arabic," describing it as "an aromatic flavoring often used in candy making," and the galingale is "also known as laos."

"Ras el Hanout" means "Top of the Shop," meaning the best spices available.

The original credit is to Paula Wolfert, Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco.

#22 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 07:51 PM:

One of the good things about living in south-east London (apart from the trains and Millwall) is that there are some Turkish shops within a few hundred metres where you can buy almost all those ingredients. And south Indian ones within a few tens of metres where you can buy the rest. I can get ginger roots and galangal one minutes walk from my door.

#23 ::: Rev. Jesse Jasmine ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 07:53 PM:

We want a hanup, not a hanout!

#24 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 08:02 PM:

I often put a small amount of cardamom or cinnamon in coffee and I have a small jar full of ras el hanout (not quite the same as this one - there's no fixed recipe) that I use in Moroccan cooking. I'm not sure why I haven't put these two ideas together before.

Ras el hanout is not just a coffee additive. It's in nearly every Moroccan recipe I have tried. I have used it as a rub for roasted meats and added it to rice and stews (especially tagines). I haven't seen ras el hanout ice-cream but I believe such a thing does exist.

#25 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 08:08 PM:

Or, if you're in Melbourne, go to Oasis bakery in Oakleigh, and buy it from them.

It's lovely in bread-and-butter pudding, or rice pudding. Anything with eggs, too.

#26 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 08:23 PM:

vian: I have seen pre-mixed ras el hanout in at least one store in the Queen Victoria Market. I'm sure there are places at my end of Melbourne (Brunswick) that sell it too but I usually mix my own. I'll post the recipe when I can get home to my cook books.

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 10:40 PM:

Based on the success of my partner's attempt at sweet potato fries tonight, it would probably make a good seasoning for those as well. He used an on-the-fly mix of cinnamon and other stuff (the house still smells like cinnamon) and pan-fried them in butter. It should be noted that I normally can't stand sweet potatoes, but I asked for more of these after testing one.

#28 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 11:26 PM:

Lee @ #27: the Grit puts a mixture of cinnamon and paprika on their sweet potato fries. It is one of the best things I have ever eaten, and I have a real struggle not to order the sweet potato fries every time I go there.

#29 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2011, 11:31 PM:

#18, #21: "Laos ginger", less often called "Thai ginger", is a common name for galangal, along with about a dozen different spellings of the latter word: galanga, galanggal, galangale, galingale, etc. I've never seen it in a store, but I can get huge chunks of it fresh at the local farmer market.

#30 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2011, 07:28 AM:

Ye gods, and this gets mentioned when I cannot drink coffee!

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2011, 07:29 AM:

bryan #14: How do you get it from Arrakis?

#32 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2011, 09:10 AM:

SamChevre @#17

The also Indian also colleagues who shared their chai recipe with me made it just like you do, with the addition of a few mint leaves added to the steeping tea.


#33 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2011, 11:31 AM:

I tried this this morning, having in the cabinet some ras el hanout a friend who is a manager at Williams Sonomo gave unto me (I have been putting it in rice and chicken dishes). Gotta say, it's not bad, but I prefer my usual "Toss three cardamom pods and a star anise into the grinder" tactic.

Every try tea with pepper? (Black, white, or pink?) It's amazing.

#34 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2011, 11:40 AM:

Fragano#31: "How do you get it from Arrakis?"

Tell me the way to Arrakis?
Third star on the right and ten.
Can you get there by fleeting light?
No, fold and unfold it again.

If you can pay for the speed of light
You can get there in a single night.
*Fire and worms and a mouse at night
and spice receive thy toll.*

#35 ::: Raka ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2011, 01:07 PM:

Wiki tells me that gum arabic reduces the surface tension of liquids. Surely that would help the spice flow, as it must?

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2011, 09:20 PM:

I think he has a special arrangement with the Guild.

#37 ::: antongarou ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2011, 01:19 AM:

First time I see Ras al-Hanout used in coffee. I usually see it in fried/grilled ground meat recipes(i.e. fried meatballs, kebabs, etc). Might want to try it when I run out of the cardamom coffee I have now. Although I'll probably buy it rather then assemble the ingredients and make it myself.

#38 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2011, 01:57 AM:

Er...what was wrong with plain old coffee?

#39 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2011, 02:22 AM:

Andrew, #34: Nice! Especially resonant for me right now, as I've just been re-reading Seanan McGuire's An Artificial Night, in which your source material figures prominently.

John, #38: It tastes like burned beans. Actually, no matter what you do to it, it still tastes like burned beans.

#40 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2011, 03:16 AM:

John @ 38: Nothing is wrong with plain coffee. Nobody said anything was wrong with it. Some tastes go well together. Combining them gives us pleasure. Enjoying coffee with spice in it doesn't in any way lessen the value of coffee without spice. Or spice without coffee.

#41 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2011, 06:39 AM:

Lee #39: Would it happen that you're getting your coffee from Star$ucks? They're infamous for burning their beans. Even their instant coffee (Via) takes burned. Of course, that just pushes people towards the heavily sweetened/milkened/overpriced drinks.

#42 ::: Thylacinthine ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2011, 10:50 AM:

I like to smash a pod or two of cardamom and add that to my stovetop coffee maker; it's by far my favourite additive. I make chai the way my friend Matthew's aunt learnt in India, adding only fresh ginger and cardamom to black tea, and making the tea with milk and water, on the stove.

Lovely Herbie's has a good sounding ras el hanout; they also have a fancier version for sale. Their stuff is usually pretty fantastic. I'm currently using Glogg Tea as my ready made chai tea. It's pretty nice!

#43 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2011, 01:24 PM:

David, #41: The only thing I get at Starbuck's is chai latte. No, my comment was intended generally; if it's an acquired taste, it's one I see no reason to pursue acquiring.

One bit that amused me greatly in one of S.M. Stirling's "Changed world" books was the very different reactions of a survivor and his son when offered coffee for the first time since the Change. The older guy, who used to drink it, treats it like manna from heaven. The son takes a sip, makes a face, and adds a LOT of cream and sugar.

#44 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2011, 01:18 AM:

I don't know if I can get galingale locally, but my rose bush should be blooming soon. Aromatic and pesticide-free. I've been cooking chicken or lamb with onions, apricots, and dates in broth, spicing mostly with cumin, cinnamon, and hot paprika, then serving it with couscous. Sounds like jazzing up my spice mix a bit more might be fun. My coffee grinder was long ago repurposed as a mustard grinder, so I don't think I'll be using that.

#45 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2011, 01:35 AM:

Anne @ 44: When looking for galingale, note the many, many variant spellings @29. Where I am, I never see it spelled other than "galangal". Your local suppliers may well have a different spelling.

#46 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2011, 08:16 AM:

Lee #43: yeah -- the thing is, for "most" coffees, I do need the cream and sugar myself. However, I have found a few coffees that I can drink black, including one of the two bags I brought back from Costa Rica.

#47 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2011, 11:54 AM:

Fwiw, galangal is available at Penzy's, our favorite online spice supplier.

#48 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2011, 12:39 PM:

From what I know about Ras Al Hanout, it's not a set mixture, but special to each spice store, and translates roughly to "the head of the store". It's basically a "fancy store blend" to show off a spice merchant's blending skills.

And finally, in Southeast Asia, I've mostly seen it spelled "Galangal", which is, IIRC, the official Bahasa spelling. Languages like Thai and Vietnamese use a different alphabet, of course.

If you can find them, try Bunga Kantan, or "Ginger Flower" (which isn't a ginger plant flower, despite the name) which has a much more delicate and sweet flavour than galangal.

#49 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2011, 01:26 PM:

This sounds rather like the old Boston Globe recipie for "Angel Gingerbread" (which is a superb spice-cake that happens not to contain any ginger). This Ras al Hanout might well be a pleasant drink if one omits the coffee.

#50 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2011, 12:01 PM:

Wow wow wow. Just made up a batch using a slightly simpler ras el hanout recipe I found online and put some in my coffee. Wow. This one's almost too curry-ish, though, since it includes turmeric; next time I'll jigger the recipe a bit, maybe replace it with allspice and mace for a sweeter mix. It's got some cayenne too, which REALLY gives the old coffee a kick. Now I'm thinking I need to add some to my usual biscotti recipe, maybe use dried dates instead of cranberries ...

#51 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2011, 09:24 PM:

Engaged in several cooking projects this weekend, including a batch of something resembling this spice blend. Good in coffee, yes, but in the chicken and vegetable stew that spent the afternoon in the crockpot: oh my!

It really needs a sweet vegetable or fruit to complement that spice blend. Dried apricots are a traditional Moroccan answer, but I used sweet potato. Also onion, garlic, carrot, celery, sweet red pepper, chicken drumsticks thrown in as is. I wasn't actually planning to eat any tonight, but after I tested the final product, I was forced to consume a bowl.

#52 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2011, 11:03 PM:

Looking up recipes for ras al hanout (as a spice mix), I found a recipe for butternut squash soup seasoned with it. I can see where it would work: the squash is something that goes well with those flavors. (Think of pumpkin-pie spice.)

#53 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2011, 12:43 AM:

I've been doing a lot of flavored syrups recently, so I tried out a ras el hanout syrup. Somewhat modified: I don't have rose or galangal, but I threw in some hibiscus. Minced fresh ginger instead of powdered. Also, a lot of black pepper. I like black pepper.

The result makes a fairly tasty soda. It smells better than it tastes, really. Probably too sweet for the amount of spice I used. Should have used less sugar. (I did roughly -- very roughly -- double the proportions originally given here, in 1.5 cups of sugar and 1.5 cups of water.)

#54 ::: Shayneway ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2011, 07:22 PM:

I am driven to try this - probably in the next week if it continues to rain and lower and chill here in the central Midwest.

Living in Seattle, I beat the SAD by putting a packet of dried ginger "tea" from the oriental groceries into my commuter mug before adding drip coffee and half & half. Zing! Zoom!

#55 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2011, 08:00 PM:

I'm going to try it in some eggplant thing or another for monthly Craft Night with the science and engineering ladies this Saturday. Either baba ganoush or something to serve over rice.

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