What Is a Good Substitute for Ras El Hanout? (UPDATED)

image of a Good Substitute For Ras El Hanout

It’s difficult to find a spice vendor willing to share his Ras el Hanout recipe, and it can contain almost every common spice you can think of.

Each blend is unique, with exotic and unusual ingredients such as ash berries, grains of paradise, orris root, dried rosebud, monk’s pepper, and Spanish fly. ( *)

The Spanish fly, which is extremely dangerous and toxic, is the most unusual one; it was thought to be an aphrodisiac, but fortunately, it is no longer being used.

Ras el Hanout is a secret ingredient in certain Moroccan dishes, and it leaves you wondering what makes the taste so special. 

It sounds impossible to substitute Ras El Hanout due to its complexity, but we have some stellar ideas for you. (*)

image of Ras el Hanout

What Is Ras El Hanout Exactly?

It is a centuries-old Moroccan blend that is rich, colorful, and aromatic. Ras el Hanout has a woody, pungent, bitter, and sweet flavor. It’s not spicy, as you might think, but rather warm. 

It’s traditionally a combination of the best spices available at the spice shop. It can be found in dishes such as grilled lamb, vegetable tagines, couscous, and chicken stew.

Elements vary from region to region, from house to house, and even from cook to cook, and it’s still considered somewhat obscure and uncommon. 

Some recipes call for up to 100 ingredients, but the most common ones are clove, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, mace, turmeric, and peppercorn. (*)

What Is a Good Substitute for Ras El Hanout?

This spice blend, known as the “king of spices,” is used by a small percentage of Moroccans in everyday cooking; the majority saves it for special dishes.

It has an astonishingly complex flavor profile, with up to 80 different spices present in the blend.

Despite the complexity of its flavors, we gathered the best Ras el Hanout spice substitutes for you.

SubstituteFlavor ProfileKey IngredientsUsage Recommendation
Garam MasalaWarm and aromatic with hints of cinnamon and clovesCumin, cinnamon, coriander, clovesUse as a 1:1 substitute for Ras el Hanout. Adjust heat level with additional cayenne powder if desired.
BaharatWarm and sweet with a combination of various spicesPaprika, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, corianderUse as a substitute for Ras el Hanout to add rich flavors. Adjust quantities based on personal preference.
Harissa PasteSpicy and scorching with a robust chili flavorChilis, garlic, olive oil, cumin, caraway seedsStart with a small amount and gradually increase to substitute Ras el Hanout. Adds heat and vibrant flavor.
These three substitutes offer unique flavor profiles and can be used in different dishes to replace Ras el Hanout. Experiment with them to find the best fit for your culinary preferences and the specific recipe you’re working with.

1. Garam Masala – A Cultural Twin of Ras el Hanout

With cumin, cinnamon, coriander, and cloves, garam masala tastes similar to our North African spice blend, though you may need to add the extra cayenne powder to substitute Ras el Hanout.

They have many similarities; both are a blend of many spices, including cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon, similar in composition. ( * )

  • Garam Masala is available in pastes and spice blends.
  • Use it in a 1:1 ratio to Ras el Hanout

However, some people say that Garam Masala slightly smells like American instant ramen. 

Ras el Hanout has ginger and allspice but Garam masala does not. You can, however, always add the missing ingredients separately. 

Learn more: What Is A Substitute For Garam Masala?

2. Baharat – A Hot Take on Replacing Ras el Hanout

Baharat is a hot spice that is commonly found in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines. There are three kinds of Baharat:

  • Traditional – Paprika, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, and allspice
  • The Middle Eastern – A paprika, nutmeg, cardamom, and cumin blend
  • Turkish – All of the spices mentioned above, plus a hint of mint

Baharat, which has a similar flavor profile but fewer spices, can be used to substitute Ras el Hanout; it has the same warm and sweet notes. ( * )

It’s great for seasoning lentils, soups, and rice dishes, as well as meat and fish rubs.

Most Baharat mixes contain many of the same spices as ras el Hanout, and you can use them in the same way.

3. Harissa Paste – For The Heat Lovers

Harissa is a Tunisian chili paste made from chilis, garlic, olive oil, and spices including cumin and caraway seeds. It has a spicy, scorching flavor that goes well with tagines and other North African meals. ( * )

If you want to add some heat to your food without using Ras el Hanout, harissa is an excellent option, and also creates a similar color in dishes. Just remember that it is fairly hot, so start with less than you would with Ras el Hanout.

  • We recommend substituting Ras el Hanout for Harissa in roasted vegetable and fish dishes.

Other Ras El Hanout Substitutes To Try

4. Homemade Ras el Hanout – Your Closest Bet

Aside from the core spices, a few additional ones will get you a stronger spice blend that closely matches Ras el Hanout and complements North African food. To save time, use pre-ground spices. 

  • We recommend that you develop your own blend as a process. At first, you just follow a recipe and leave out the things you don’t like. 
  • Try adding new spices next time: sumac or grains of paradise lemon pepper, a flowery note from dried rose, lavender, or hibiscus; long pepper, pink pepper, Java pepper; or if you have a favorite seasoning that would never be in a “typical” recipe: espresso powder or dried chiles.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin 
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise seed
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Combine and keep in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Feel free to tweak this recipe to suit your taste. For example, you can add rose petals for extra authenticity.

5. A Simplified Homemade Version – For The Lazy

You can reduce the flavor profile to four key components found in ras el Hanout. These four are commonly found on basic spice racks:

  • 1 part cumin
  • 1/2 part coriander
  • 1/2 part ginger powder
  • 1/2 part paprika (or cayenne)

It’s not as complicated as a traditional ras el Hanout recipe, with an earthy cumin flavor and a ginger edge, but it’ll work with many meals to substitute Ras el Hanout.

6. Curry Powder – Ras el Hanout Substitute With a Colorful Twist

Curry powder is an adequate substitute for Ras el Hanout, being the most common eastern spice available worldwide, however, its taste can vary greatly despite having the same ingredients. ( * )

Except for turmeric, all of its ingredients are also found in Ras el Hanout. 

  • The high turmeric content can cause dishes to turn bright yellow.

It was originally used in vegetable dishes and comes in mild, medium, and hot heat levels. 

7. Tsire Spice – For Savory Meals

Tsire spice, which is traditionally used as a dry or wet rub for grilling meat in African cuisine, could be another Ras el Hanout substitute.

It has similar spices, such as cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. 

  • Tsire can be rather hot, and some versions include peanuts, so be cautious if you are allergic to nuts.
  • We recommend it for meats and kebabs.

Begin with a small amount of Tsire spice and gradually increase the amount as you become accustomed to it. It is not suitable for sweet dishes, but ideal for savory or spicy ones. ( * )

8. Za’atar- The Last Resort Ras el Hanout Substitute

A few years ago, wannabe celebrity chefs couldn’t get enough of Ras el Hanout. However, with Za’atar, Lebanon has finally gained entry into the top world culinary scene.

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, and other ingredients. It has an earthy flavor with hints of lemon and spice. 

Za’atar is a popular spice for grilling or roasting meats and vegetables, and it works well as a substitute for Ras el Hanout. However, because of its strong flavor, you may want to use less than Ras el Hanout. (*)

FAQs

After learning the ins and outs of replacing the mystical Ras el Hanout, you might still have some questions.

What does Ras el Hanout taste like?

Ras el Hanout is woody, pungent, and bitter, but the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves make it sweet. And it’s not as spicy as you might think; it’s just warm.

What is Ras el Hanout in English?

The Arabic phrase Ras el Hanout translates as “head of the shop,” meaning “top shelf”, as it consists of all the best spices a vendor has. It includes cinnamon, cumin, coriander, allspice, black pepper, ginger, and several other spices (plus salt).

Is Moroccan spice the same as Ras el Hanout?

Ras el Hanout is a versatile and fragrant spice blend that is commonly used in Moroccan cooking. However, the so-called Moroccan spice blend available in stores contains far fewer spices than traditional Ras el Hanout.

Final words

Ras el Hanout from Morocco is similar to Garam Masala or curry powder in that it is a versatile blend of warm and fragrant spices with no defined recipe. Everyone does it differently.

However, we all know what the most common ingredients are, so why not make your own? With known proportions and the ingredients on hand, you can experiment and adjust the blend to your personal taste.

Up Next: Chinese Five Spice Alternatives

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