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The 5 Best Substitutes for Berbere

If you’re a fan of Ethiopian food, chances are you’ve come across berbere.

But what is this key ingredient? Berbere is a spice blend featuring chili peppers, ginger, garlic, cloves, fenugreek, and more.

Some variations include cumin, coriander seeds, allspice, nutmeg, and turmeric.

As you can see, many different spices can be used to make berbere.

Berbere’s used in many Ethiopian dishes, such as stews and sauces.

This vibrant red spice is integral to many dishes, lending flavor and heat.

But what if you don’t have any berbere on hand? Here are five great substitutes that will give your meal a similar flavor profile.

What’s Berbere?

what berbere

African cuisine is as diverse as the continent itself, and one of the most popular spices used in many dishes is berbere.

Originating in Ethiopia, this spice blend can flavor both meat and vegetables.

The main ingredients in berbere are chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and fenugreek.

This combination gives it a warm and spicy flavor with a hint of sweetness.

It is also common to find other spices such as cardamom, cloves, and cumin in berbere blends.

Berbere can be used in many dishes but is most commonly used to make stews or curries.

It can also be added to soups or rub for grilled meats.

It is important to start with a small amount when cooking with berbere and add more to the taste.

This spice blend can be found in many specialty stores or online retailers.

Whether you want to add a bit of spice to your next meal or try some authentic African cuisine, berbere is a must-try spice.

Its warm and spicy flavor is perfect for adding depth and complexity to any dish.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Berbere

For those who can’t find berbere or want to try a different flavor, here are five substitutes that will bring the taste of Africa to your table.

1 – Ras El Hanout

ras el hanout

First on the list is ras el hanout.

This Moroccan spice blend is similar to berbere but has slightly different flavor profiles.

It contains chili peppers, cumin, coriander, and other spices with a warm and spicy flavor.

Ras el hanout can be used in many of the same dishes as berbere, and it is also common to use it as a rub for grilled meats.

This spice blend is perfect for adding a touch of flavor to dishes like couscous, tagines, and salads.

You can also use it in place of chili powder or cayenne pepper in recipes.

You can find ras el hanout at most specialty grocery stores, or you can make your blend by combining spices like cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper.

2 – Baharat


If you’ve ever been to an Indian or Middle Eastern restaurant, you’ve probably seen baharat on the menu.

Baharat is a spice mix that typically contains cumin, coriander, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom.

It’s used in both savory and sweet dishes and can be added to chicken, lamb, fish, or rice.

Baharat is easy to make at home – combine all of the spices listed above in equal proportions.

You can store your baharat in an airtight container for up to six months.

Baharat is a good substitute for berbere because it has a similar flavor profile.

However, you may want to add black pepper to your dish if you’re using baharat to substitute for berbere.

You’ll also need to be careful not to use too much baharat, as it can be quite potent.

When substituting baharat for berbere, you’ll want to use about half as much of the spice mix.

This will help ensure that your dish isn’t too spicy.

Remember that baharat is also a bit sweeter than berbere, so you may want to adjust the other ingredients in your recipe accordingly.

3 – Garam Masala

garam masala

Another popular spice mix used in Indian cuisine is Garam Masala.

This blend typically contains black pepper, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon.

Like Berbere, it can be added to stews or curries for extra flavor.

Garam Masala is available at most grocery stores that carry Indian spices.

It can also be made at home by combining the spices listed above.

However, keep in mind that the proportions may need to be adjusted depending on your taste preferences.

When substituting Garam Masala for Berbere, you’ll want to consider the flavor profile of each spice blend.

Garam Masala is typically more warming and comforting, while Berbere is earthy and complex.

If you’re looking for a substitution that is similar in flavor to Berbere, try using a combination of Garam Masala and cumin.

This will give your dish the warm, comforting flavors of Garam Masala with the added depth of flavor from the cumin.

4 – Tsire


For many people, the key ingredient in berbere is chili pepper.

However, several other spices can create a similar flavor profile.

One popular substitute for chili pepper is tsire.

Tsire is a spice blend that originates from Ethiopia.

It typically includes cardamom, cloves, cumin, ginger, and nutmeg.

Tsire can be found in most Ethiopian grocery stores.

When substituting tsire for chili pepper in berbere, you will need to use more tsire than chili pepper to get the same heat level.

This is because tsire is a relatively mild spice.

Texture-wise, tsire is more powdery than chili pepper.

This can make it difficult to distribute the flavor throughout a dish evenly.

You may need to add some water to help dissolve the spices and create a paste-like consistency.

5 – Cayenne Pepper

cayenne pepper

Last on our list of substitutes is cayenne pepper.

Cayenne pepper won’t provide the same level of complexity as berbere does, but it will give your dish a similar heat level.

If you’re looking for a one-to-one replacement, use one tablespoon of cayenne pepper for every tablespoon of berbere.

Cayenne pepper is made from ground dried chili peppers and has a bright, sharp flavor.

It’s often used in Central and South American dishes and Indian cuisine.

When substituting cayenne pepper for berbere, remember that it doesn’t have the same earthy notes or sweetness.

To compensate, you may want to add a bit of paprika or smoked paprika.

Cayenne pepper is available in both powder and flakes form.

Using powder, start with a teaspoon and add more to taste.

With flakes, use one-quarter of the amount called for in the recipe.

As with all spices, be careful not to overdo it – a little cayenne goes a long way.


While berbere is a delicious spice, it can be hard to find and expensive.

If you’re looking for a substitute for berbere, these five spices will do the trick.

Each has a unique flavor that will add depth to your dish.

Give one or more of them a try the next time you’re in the mood for some Ethiopian food.

Have you tried any of them? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

As always, thanks for reading. Until next time.

Yield: 4 Servings

The 5 Best Substitutes for Berbere

The 5 Best Substitutes for Berbere
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes


  • Ras El Hanout
  • Baharat
  • Garam Masala
  • Tsire
  • Cayenne Pepper


  1. Pick your favorite substitute from the list above.
  2. Follow cooking directions for your selected substitute with the proper ratio of ingredients.
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