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Take your senses on a voyage of awe and discovery with these spices used in Persian cuisine, and see for yourself how they elevate and define the dishes of one of the world’s oldest and most celebrated cuisines.
Some originate from Iran and the greater Persian region, while others come from lands far and wide, but all have their place in making the dishes of Persia some of the most flavorful, aromatic, and memorable across the globe.
1 – Turmeric
Turmeric, or Zardchoobe in Persian, is the most commonly used spice among all spices in Persian cooking. A combination of turmeric and fried diced onion, or Piaz Dagh in Persian, is used as a base for most Persian foods. In fact, Persians have been consuming turmeric both for its anti-bacterial and anti-infection benefits for thousands of years.
However, another key reason Persians use turmeric is its strong ability to neutralize the undesired smell of meat and eggs in foods. The spice itself doesn’t have a strong taste or aroma, but if you forget to add it while cooking Persian food, you’ll definitely notice. It adds a delicate touch of warmth and spice to all the dishes it is used in.
2 – Fried Onion, Piaz Dagh
Although not technically a spice, as mentioned above, fried diced onion, or Piaz Dagh, combined with turmeric, is a base for many Persian foods. Most Persian recipes start by frying some diced onion and adding some turmeric.
As with turmeric, fried onion enhances the flavor and elevates the aroma of so many dishes, making it a necessity in most Persian foods.
Interestingly the foods that don’t have fried onion will often contain onion in some shape or form, and in dishes like Ash Reshte and Kashk Bademjan, fried onion is used as topping and decoration.
3 – Garlic Powder
Garlic powder, quite literally powdered dry garlic, brings all the characteristics of garlic to the table but in a far more convenient package.
Garlic powder brings its soft and buttery taste when cooked to plenty of Persian dishes without needing to peel off and crush garlic, making it ideal for quick, daily cooking.
For particularly garlic-heavy dishes, such as Mirza Ghasemi and Kashk Bademjan, Persians use both garlic powder and garlic.
4 – Black Pepper
One of the most popular spices all over the world, the strong, peppery aroma of black pepper is used to suppress the undesirable smell of egg, meat, and fish, while enhancing the flavor in Persian cooking.
Either powdered or freshly ground, black pepper is used in many Persian dishes and is commonly added to the likes of fried eggs, omelets, red bean soup, and Abgoosht.
5 – Chili Pepper
Chili pepper, known in Iran as Felfel Gherzmez, meaning “red pepper,” is one of the most popular spices in Persian cuisine. Chilis can be used fresh, dried, ground, or as a powder.
Whereas black pepper is known for its deep, peppery notes and strong aroma, chili pepper can add an intense amount of heat and spice to any dish depending on the amount used.
The amount of chili pepper used varies depending on the location in Iran. On average, Persian foods are not known for being super hot and spicy, unlike, for example, Indian foods, and are instead rich in other spices.
The addition of one or two chili pepper is quite common in famous Persian stews like Gheimeh and Ghormeh Sabzi. While you will definitely taste it, it won’t necessarily make you sweat!
6 – Caraway
Caraway, which is known as Zire Siah in Persian, is a well-known spice. While the usage of caraway in food recipes is not very popular, it is quite popular in traditional Persian medicine.
Both caraway seeds and powder are used in foods like Zire Polo, and even sometimes as a dressing for breakfast cheese.
In traditional Persian medicine, a lot of spices and herbs are used to make a liquid known as Aragh, which is produced by hydro-distillation. When caraway is put through this process, it is called Aragh’e Zire, and has many uses as a traditional medicine.
7 – Dried Mint
Mint is a well-known herb around the world, renowned for its intense refreshing and cooling taste and aroma. While it is common to use mint as a green leaf in Persian foods and salads, it is also used as a dried powder.
Dried mint powder, known as Nana Khoshk in Persian, is more convenient to access and use because it lasts much longer than green mint leaves while maintaining a lot of its properties.
Adding a sprinkle of dried mint over salads, yogurts, and other dishes is very common in Persian cuisine, while it is also commonly added to the pan when onions are being fried.
Adding dried mint to hot oil helps intensify and deepen the aroma of the dish. When not used in cooking, mint, as a powder and distillate product, is used in traditional medicine across Persia.
8 – Dried Dill
Dill, or Shevid in Persian, may be a lesser-known herb around the world but is very popular in Persian food. Like mint, it is used both fresh and as a dried powder. Using dill in rice dishes, soups, and stews in Persian cooking is common.
As with mint, dill is also used as a dried powder and distillate product for medicinal purposes in Iran.
9 – Coriander Seeds
Different from coriander or cilantro, which is the leaves of the plant, coriander seeds are very common in Persian cooking, known for their light and citrussy taste, which becomes far nuttier when cooked.
When used in ground or powdered form, coriander seeds add spice and delicate bitterness, along with a strong aroma, to plenty of Persian soups and stews, and the powder can also be used as part of a marinade for meats.
10 – Cinnamon
Cinnamon, known as Darchin in Persian, adds a wonderful amount of warmth, spice, and sweetness to many Iranian dishes.
Commonly used as a powder in Persian cooking, cinnamon is a key addition to dishes like Gheimeh (Persian stew), Abgoosht, and Sholezard (saffron pudding). Also, it is quite popular in Iran to add a cinnamon stick to tea to enhance both flavor and aroma.
11 – Cardamom
This heavenly-smelling spice, known as Hel in Persian, is commonly used in pastries and desserts. The very sweet and warm smell of Cardamon is the magical touch that can take a simple cookie to new heights of flavor and delight.
Persian cookies like Qottab, Baqlava, and Gaz all benefit from the aromatic qualities of cardamom, while it is also popular in other Persian desserts like saffron ice cream, saffron pudding, and Kachi. It is also used as a flavoring in tea.
12 – Saffron
Saffron, known as Zaferan in Persian, is a spice that comes from the saffron crocus. The origin of this spice is known to be from the east of Iran.
Saffron is known for its nuanced sweet, floral, and earthy notes, strong aroma, and adding warm, yellow, and orange hues to the food it is used in.
Saffron is used in Persian cuisine for saffron rice, known for its striking yellow color, as a marinade for chicken or lamb kebabs, and in many different stews for additional aroma and flavor.
It also plays an integral role in defining many Iranian desserts, such as pastries like Kachi, saffron ice cream, and saffron pudding.
13 – Ginger
Ginger, known as Zanjebil in Persian, plays a big part in Persian cuisine, as it does in so many other cuisines around the world. Its unique flavor, a combination of spice, heat, and sweetness, and unmistakable aroma are used in plenty of Persian dishes.
Common uses for ginger in Iranian food include being used in stews, marinating chicken, and in pastries. It is sought after for its medicinal properties and is also used to add plenty of spice to hot tea.
14 – Damask Rose Powder
A variant of the rose flower, Persians will sometimes eat Damask roses, or Gol Mohammadi in Persian, with their foods. However, it is far more commonly usually used in powder form for dressings over pastry, desserts, and yogurts.
The Damask rose has a pleasant, sweet, warm aroma, and can have a more fruity or spicy flavor depending on the plant, although the taste is very subtle.
15 – RosewaterCheck Price on Amazon
Rosewater, known as Golab in Persian, is a distillate from fresh Damask rose. It is a clear liquid with a slightly bitter and warm taste and a deep, floral, slightly sweet, and very pleasant aroma.
Rosewater is used in saffron ice cream, saffron pudding, Kachi, and many other Persian pastries and desserts. A few drops of rosewater can also be added to tea, and the most famous rosewater in Iran is from the city of Kashmar.
16 – Clove
Known as Mikhak in Persian, the clove is renowned globally for its strong minty aroma and sweet yet spicy taste.
In Persian cuisine, cloves have a range of uses. The spice is used in stews, desserts, and pickled dishes, as a spiced flavoring for tea along with the likes of cinnamon and cardamom, and used in medicine for its medicinal properties.
Cloves are well-known in traditional Persian medicine. They are also used in stews, desserts, and pickles. Cloves are also commonly used as a flavor for tea alone or mixed with other flavors like cinnamon and cardamom.
17 – Onion Powder
As we’ve discussed in this article, onions are integral to Persian cooking. While raw and fried onion is used in so many dishes, onion powder, quite simply a powder of dried onion, also has plenty of uses.
Sometimes onion powder will be added to fried diced onions to intensify the aroma, with a good example of this being the dressing oil, known as Piaz Dagh Sir Dagh, for Ash Reshte, a thick Persian stew.
18 – Nutmeg
Nutmeg, known as Joz Hendi in Persian, is the hard, brown seed of the nutmeg tree, and it is mostly used in ground form when it comes to cooking. Nutmeg can add spice, warmth, and sweetness to plenty of dishes.
In Persian cuisine, nutmeg is used in many different stews and as part of marinades and dressings for chicken and other meats. It is also used for its medicinal properties.
19 – Bay Leaf (Bay Laurel)
Bay leaf, or Barge Boo in Persian, is well-known for its truly intense aroma. Dried bay leaves not only enhance the fragrance of many foods but also add spicy and bitter notes to the flavor.
Bay leaves are a popular choice in meat and seafood marinades and also used to enhance the flavor and aroma of pickles. In addition, bay leaves are used in tea, either on their own or with other herbs and spices.
20 – Persian Hogweed (Heracleum Persicum)
Persian hogweed, known as Golpar in Persian, is a hugely popular spice in Iran, commonly used as a seasoning. It has a sour and slightly salty taste with an unmistakably unique aroma.
Persian hogweed is a classic pairing with cooked fava beans, or Baghali Pokhte in Persian, a widely popular street food. In powder form, it is also one of the few spices to be used with fruits such as pomegranates and oranges, often sprinkled over the top, and is commonly used to season jarred pickles.
Persian Spices Summary
Evident from the sheer range of dishes these important spices are used in, it’s fair to say Persian cuisine simply would not be the cuisine we all know and love today without these key ingredients.
Bringing their dashing colors, alluring aromas, and a wide array of flavors to the kitchen, practically all Persian cooking is built on a foundation of these popular and iconic spices.
I hope that our journey through Persian spices together has opened your eyes, stimulated your mind, ignited your creativity in your own home cooking, and inspired you to try some of these ingredients in both familiar and new dishes.
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Local Insight Contributor: Kayvan Farrokhnia is a native Persian and bilingual translator and transcriber with a deep passion for Persian cuisine.
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