Visit a Moroccan market and you're bound to find a colorful array of spices, often displayed in conical fashion as shown here. While pretty to look at and gastronomically important, many of the spices regarded as essential ingredients in the Moroccan kitchen are surprisingly beneficial to your health.
Natural medicine has made use of the preventative and medicinal properties of spices and herbs for thousands of years, and that tradition is alive and well in Morocco. While you may not yet be inclined to make your own infusions or down a spice by the spoonful, know that modern science continues to reveal new ways in which spices can heal and strengthen the human body.
So go ahead–season your way to good taste and good health with the following Moroccan super spices.
01 of 07
Turmeric, ground from the rhizome of the curcuma longa plant, is known as kharkoum beldi in Morocco. Related to ginger, it's used nearly daily in Moroccan cooking, primarily to impart appealing color to Moroccan dishes.
But there's more than meets the eye–this golden yellow spice is a powerful anti-inflammatory which contains cancer-fighting antioxidants. It's used in natural and capsule form to treat a host of problems ranging from gastric and liver ailments to arthritic and neurological conditions, and current research indicates that it may also be helpful in improving memory and warding off and treating Alzheimer's.
Try turmeric in a classic Moroccan recipe: Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives.
02 of 07
Wonderfully fragrant with a bit of heat, ginger (skinjbir in Moroccan Arabic) is very important to Moroccan cuisine, showing up in countless dishes where it contributes substantial flavor. For cooking purposes, it's primarily used in powdered form in Morocco, ground from the rhizome of Zingiber officinale.
Ginger contains remarkable anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, with the ability to lower cholesterol. It's often used in natural or supplement form to help relieve nausea, morning sickness, gastric upset, and motion sickness, and in traditional medicine, it's used as an aphrodisiac and mild sedative, as well as to treat colds, fevers and respiratory infections, arthritis, migraines, and high blood pressure.
Try ginger in a classic Moroccan recipe: Lamb or Beef with Prunes.
03 of 07
Sweet and aromatic with a little heat, cinnamon ( in Moroccan Arabic) is used extensively in Moroccan kitchens, where it gives flavor to sweet desserts and savory creations. Both Cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia Blume) and the milder Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) are used in ground and bark form.
Ceylon cinnamon is regarded as safer for daily medicinal purposes since it's lower in coumarin, a substance which can cause liver damage. Ceylon is also favored for use in delicately flavored dishes.
All varieties of cinnamon contain antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It can help elevate mood, alleviate PMS, regulate blood sugar levels and improve circulation; it can also be used to help fight the common cold and coughs as well as candida, bacterial and viral infections. New research indicates that cinnamon may be effective in delaying the progression of Alzheimer's and in improving cognitive ability.
04 of 07
The seeds of the nigella sativa plant are known by a number of names in English: black seed, nigella seed and black cumin. In Morocco, where they're referred to as sanouj, they are used in culinary preparations, making an occasional appearance as a garnish to breads and even less frequently as an addition to a savory dish.
Instead, the mildly flavored nigella seeds are appreciated more as a potent natural medicine with seemingly unlimited uses in both seed and oil form. Islamic tradition cites them as a cure for all diseases, while science has shown them to be effective in treating an extensive list of conditions including gastric, intestinal and menstrual complaints; inflammatory and respiratory infections; viral and bacterial infections and much more. New research suggests that nigella seeds may also be helpful in treating autoimmune disorders and cancer.
Try black seeds in a classic Moroccan dish: Chicken Tagine with Nigella Seeds.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Cumin (kamoun in Moroccan Arabic) is used in a large number of Moroccan dishes, most prominently as a condiment and to season meats, but also to add flavor to sauces, veggies, tagines, eggs and more. The spice is found in both seed and ground form and has uses which extend beyond the kitchen.
Medicinally, cumin is very beneficial to the digestive tract–it can aid digestion, relieve an upset stomach and treat diarrhea. It can also boost immunity, help rid the body of toxins and help fight fungal and bacterial infections. When taken with caffeine, it works as an expectorant. It's rich in iron, high in fiber and Vitamin C and contains essential minerals such as phosphorus and magnesium.
Try cumin in a classic Moroccan recipe: Kefta Brochettes
06 of 07
Spicy food lovers rejoice–all that heat is good for you! Moroccan cooks who like to notch up their seasoning will often use cayenne pepper (felfla sudaniya) to taste, often in tandem with milder paprika (flefla hamra), which is used more liberally in a wide variety of dishes. For more of a fiery touch, dried chili pepper paste (harissa) is widely appreciated as a condiment, as are whole fresh chili peppers.
Science shows that cayenne helps increase circulation, aids digestion, and assists in detoxing the body. It can help fight fungal and bacterial infections, reduce inflammation, and is believed to be beneficial in treating migraines and cluster headaches. It can be applied externally to stop bleeding and relieve pain and, despite its heat, can calm an upset stomach, provide relief for a sore throat and ease diarrhea.
Try cayenne in a classic Moroccan dish: Tagine of Shrimp in Tomato Sauce
07 of 07
Are Moroccan Spices Safe to Use?
The Moroccan spices mentioned are, as a general rule of thumb, perfectly safe to use for normal culinary purposes and in occasional home remedies–ginger tea, as an example–but if you're interested in using spices or herbs for medicinal purposes, do consult a doctor and take time to do your own research. Plenty of information can be found online regarding recommended dosages, side effects, and warnings for pregnant women or others with underlying medical conditions.
Reddy PH, Manczak M, Yin X, et al. Protective Effects of Indian Spice Curcumin Against Amyloid-β in Alzheimer's Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;61(3):843-866. doi:10.3233/JAD-170512
Marx W, Mckavanagh D, Mccarthy AL, et al. The Effect of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) on Platelet Aggregation: A Systematic Literature Review. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(11):e0143675. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141119
Momtaz S, Hassani S, Khan F, Ziaee M, Abdollahi M. Cinnamon, a promising prospect towards Alzheimer's disease. Pharmacol Res. 2018;130:241-258. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2017.12.011
Tavakkoli A, Mahdian V, Razavi BM, Hosseinzadeh H. Review on Clinical Trials of Black Seed (Nigella sativa ) and Its Active Constituent, Thymoquinone. J Pharmacopuncture. 2017;20(3):179-193. doi:10.3831/KPI.2017.20.021
Agah S, Taleb AM, Moeini R, Gorji N, Nikbakht H. Cumin extract for symptom control in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a case series. Middle East J Dig Dis. 2013;5(4):217-22.
US Department of Agriculture. Food Data Central. Spices, cumin seed. Updated April 1, 2019.
Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments. Penguin Random House. 2016.