MOROCCO - CIRCA 1900:  Spices at the market in Fez, Morocco.  (Photo by Veronique DURRUTY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Food - Drink
The 5th Century Origins Of Berbere Spice
Thanks to international spice trade on the famous Silk Road, a bounty of spices from China traveled to Ethiopia, and by the 5th century, Ethiopian cooks were experimenting with their own spice blends. This resulted in the distinctive brick-red mixture known as berbere spice, now an integral part of the country's national cuisine.
Berbere is more of a category rather than a specific spice blend, and it's unlikely you'll ever taste it the same way twice. Each family has its own blend, influenced by personal preference and spices available in their region, but a commonality is that berebere isn't overly spicy, even "berbere" means "pepper" or "hot" in Amharic.
While berbere does give dishes a spicy kick, it also adds richness, earthiness, smokiness, savoriness, and citrusy elements, in addition to a rich color and aroma. A blend may contain long pepper, korarima, paprika, fenugreek, ginger, chili peppers, cardamom, peppercorns, basil, garlic, rosemary, and turmeric, just to name a few.
The endless variety in berbere speaks to its origin from the Silk Road, the ultimate epicenter of blending spices and cultures. Its versatility gives it lasting appeal, and not only can it be customized and used in stews, marinades, sauces, rubs, and meats, it's also part of doro wat, a chicken stew that is the national dish of Ethiopia.