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Lebanese Food – The Spice of Life

To Lebanese people, our spices are far more than just a way to flavour our food – they connect us to our history, they keep us healthy, and they are an important part of who we are. The following guide looks at what makes our spices so special and highlights a few of those that matter most.

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CC Image courtesy of Sara Marlowe on flickr

Traditional Lebanese food is one of the world’s tastiest and healthiest cultural cuisines, thanks in large part to our amazing spices.

An ancient and delicious history

You can trace the roots of Lebanese culture back thousands of years simply by following the history of our spices. For instance, za’atar was eaten as far back as Ancient Egypt more than 5,000 years ago, while the Ottoman occupation of Lebanon (1516 – 1918) left behind many tasty influences, not least of which was cardamom. Nomadic tribes have also had an impact on Lebanese taste buds throughout the years by introducing us to spices from all over the world, including baharat from North Africa, mint from Asia and cumin from Egypt.

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CC Image courtest of James Gallagher on Flickr

The secret to good health

Traditional Lebanese food has long been known for being extremely healthy and much of the credit needs to go to our spices. For instance, za’atar has been used to treat everything from indigestion to leprosy, while mint has helped those struggling with weight issues, headaches and nausea. Sumac has antifungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, cardamom can be a powerful aphrodisiac, and baharat is high in calcium, iron, as well as vitamins A and C.

Flavours like no other

The spices used in traditional Lebanese cuisine make it truly irresistible – from the well-rounded flavours of za’atar and baharat to the tang of sumac, through to the freshness of mint and the sweetness of cardamom. Every one of our spices plays a vital role in creating that authentic Lebanese taste.

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CC image courtesy of rhea_kennedy on Flickr

The essentials

While many spices go into creating authentic Lebanese food, the following are a few of the main players;

  • Za’atar – Technically considered a plant as well as a blend of spices, za’atar commonly consists of roasted sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, salt, marjoram and even oregano. Za’atar is added to everything from manoosh to labne through to grilled meat and vegetables.
  • Baharat – This spice blend commonly includes cumin, pepper, paprika, cloves, coriander seeds and cinnamon. It is mostly used as a seasoning or a marinade for meat, though it can also be added to soups and stews.
  • Sumac – This delicious lemon flavoured spice is often used to season meat and vegetables; however, it is also sprinkled over salads, like tabbouleh and fattoush, as well as added to dips such as hommus and labne.
  • Cardamom – This versatile spice is a fantastic flavour enhancer used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Cardamom is also part of many traditional blends of Arabic coffee and provides a subtle sweetness to both meat and vegetables.
  • Mint – Mint provides a burst of flavour to many Lebanese dishes. For example, it can be mixed into baba ghanouj to add a burst of freshness, it is a key ingredient in tabbouleh, and our national dish, kebbeh nayeh, just wouldn’t be the same without a sprig of fresh mint on top.

Traditional Lebanese food is one of the world’s tastiest and healthiest cultural cuisines, thanks in large part to our amazing spices. To try Lebanese food at its best (or the best pizza in Sydneystop by Manoosh or order online, and prepare your taste buds for something special.

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