In many cuisines, it is the unique herbs and spices that give dishes their signature flavors. This is true in African cuisine, in particular. In Africa, chefs tend to use a lot of pre-mixed spice blends to flavor their food. The next time you're in an African store, keep an eye out for these popular spice blends and give them a try in your home kitchen.


Popular in Ethiopia, this spice blend is hot and spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. The key ingredients are chili powder and cumin, with some garlic, coriander, and fenugreek added for complexity. As is popular with African spice blends, berbere is made with a little cinnamon, which rounds out the flavor by adding a touch of sweetness. When Africans use berbere, it is usually in a stew. The spice mixture is heated with oil to bring out its deeper flavors, and then the other ingredients are slowly added to the pot, bringing the whole dish together.


If you enjoy heat, then this is the spice blend for you! It has a similar balance of sweetness and spiciness as seen in berbere, but it is made with lots of ground bird's eye chili peppers, which makes it plenty spicy. Other ingredients include cardamom, cumin, ginger, and cloves. Usually, some salt is added to the mix so that the cook does not have to separately season the dishes with it. Mitma can be used in stews, but it is also often sprinkled on dishes after it has finished cooking in order to add another layer of flavor and spiciness. 

Kan Kan Kan

Kan kan kan is a spice blend hailing from Burkina Faso. If you find it in an African store, the first thing you'll notice is that it comes in a big container. That's because one of the key ingredients is ground peanuts. They take up a lot of space and add volume to the spice blend. In addition to peanuts, kan kan kan contains chili powder, allspice, and ground bullion cubes. It's commonly used to season meats before they are tossed on the grill. However, you could also use it to flavor a stir fry dish or even a noodle soup.

The next time you find yourself in an African store, head over to the spice section. These three spice blends are pretty easy to find, and they really open up your palate to the world of African cooking at home.