The Mediterranean has always been the crossroads of the ancient world. For thousands of years traders from across Africa, Europe, and Asia have journeyed to the sea to swap silk, spices and tastes in a cultural fusion that’s still going on today.
From Greece to Morocco, the heart of Mediterranean cuisine has always been its rich blend of herbs and spices.
So to get you up to speed, here are 8 Essential Herbs and Spices in Mediterranean Food:
A staple in the northern Mediterranean (France and Italy), basil’s subtle peppery sweetness blends well with just about everything. Which is why you see it (and smell it!) so often. Perfect for elaborate seafood pasta and simple organic tomato soup alike, this herb is a go-to in almost any dish.
Native to the Mediterranean, mint is an herb unlike any other. Diverse enough for use in sweet desserts, savory entrees and even hot tea, the crisp taste of mint is wonderfully featured in both our Mediterranean salad and baked falafel. While mint is a great addition to salads and entrees alike, absolutely nothing beats the refreshing taste of our hibiscus and mint iced tea.
Coriander (aka Cilantro)
Depending on where you’re from and who you ask, coriander (or cilantro) is either the leaf and stalk or the seed of the Coriandrum sativum plant.
Obviously, the Latin name for the plant means that “coriander” came first (cilantro is a Spanish translation), but no matter what you call it, this Middle eastern herb packs a fragrant citrus punch reminiscent of sage and lemon.
Popular in stews, curries, rice dishes, salads, and tomato-based sauces, you can trace the origin of a dish by what name they give this delicious seasoning!
An ancient spice that modern eaters take for granted, black pepper is actually made from slightly fermented berries. Once dried, the berries are ground down and the full fruity complexity and powerful aroma of the berries comes bursting forth as the perfect compliment for soups, salads, and egg dishes.
The perfect compliment to Mediterranean stone fruits like apricots, cinnamon is the jewel of Mediterranean spices. Renowned for its heat, cinnamon is subtle enough to season meats and vegetables yet bold enough to stand up to strong spices like cloves and black pepper in soups and stews.
Commonly used in Mediterranean stews, soups, and sauces, and of course desserts, cinnamon can often be a prominent ingredient in classic lentil, rice or chicken dishes throughout the Mediterranean.
Native to the eastern Mediterranean and India, this little seed (or ground powder) finds its way into a lot of Mediterranean cuisine—especially at Nanoosh! A member of the parsley family, don’t confuse cumin for a mild garnish. Rich in essential oils, cumin packs a powerful aroma and intense warmth that pairs well with coriander and other hot spices.
Found in everything from couscous, seafood, egg dishes, tomato sauces, and slow-cooked stews, cumin is an essential spice of Mediterranean cuisine.
At Nanoosh, we keep our dishes low in sodium, but it’s worth noting how important salt has been throughout the history of the Mediterranean. When food production was difficult and slow, curing and preserving—not to mention flavoring—food with salt made it one of the most valuable substances on Earth.
Used as a currency for millennia by the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, and eventually the Romans, we owe modern words like “salad” “salary” and even “soldier” (“one who is paid in salt”) to how rare and valuable salt was. It’s no coincidence that the measure of a man in the ancient world was if he was “worth his salt.”
Sure, “lemon” isn’t exactly a traditional “spice,” but it’s hard to treat lemon like a fruit in the Mediterranean. Seriously, when’s the last time you took a bite out a lemon?
Lemon adds zest to classic Mediterranean staples like hummus while providing zip for just about every wrap, sandwich or salad. Native to the Mediterranean region, ask any chef and they’ll tell you lemons are most definitely an essential Mediterranean spice.
The Crossroads of the Ancient World
The rich tastes and distinct aromas of Mediterranean spices are as unique as the dozens of countries and millions of people that call this sprawling region home. But no matter where each spice hails from or how they’re used—in simple spreads or elaborate seafood feasts—the spices are what make every Mediterranean dish a rich, healthy meal.
Come by Nanoosh and take a culinary tour of the Mediterranean without stepping foot out of Manhattan. No matter your tastes, there’s a spice that’s sure to ignite your passion for this ancient, vibrant cuisine.