Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

ras-el-hanout an important spice mixture (the name means, literally, something like ‘top of the shop’) found in varying forms in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. It is one of the most complex such mixtures. Mme Guinaudeau (1958 and later editions) gave a list of 27 ingredients which has conveniently been echoed in an annotated English version by Paula Wolfert (1973, also with later editions). What seems clear is that standard ingredients are cumin seed, coriander seeds, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg, but that many others, such as cinnamon, cayenne pepper, rosebud (of the damask rose), oregano, are usually included, all in powdered form. Wolfert (1973) points out that certain supposed aphrodisiacs, including the ‘green metallic beetles’, cantharides, which are called ‘Spanish fly’ (Lytta vesicatoria) and are notoriously dangerous, have appeared in many Moroccan prescriptions; but these seem to be irrelevant for flavouring purposes. This last point is among those wittily brought out by Levy (1986) in a major essay on ‘Spanish fly’, based on research at Taroudan and Marrakesh in Morocco.