International Recipes and Cooking Around the World


Berbere peppers drying in the sun

(Ethiopian red pepper spice paste)

Average: 4.6 (21 votes)

Berberé, along with niter kibbeh, supplies one of the unique flavors of Ethiopian cuisine. There really is no substitute. Use as many of the spices as you can, but do try to use fenugreek and the dried peppers or paprika. They supply an essential flavor.

The recipe below makes a spice paste that is ready to use in Ethiopian dishes. If you prefer a longer shelf life, use the variation below that eliminates the moist ingredients and makes a dry spice mix.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups


  • Whole cumin -- 2 teaspoons
  • Red pepper flakes -- 1 or 2 teaspoons
  • Cardamom seeds -- 1 teaspoon
  • Fenugreek seeds -- 1 teaspoon
  • Whole peppercorns -- 8
  • Allspice berries -- 6
  • Whole cloves -- 4
  • New Mexico dried chilies -- 3 or 4
  • Onion, chopped -- 1
  • Garlic, crushed -- 3 cloves
  • Paprika -- 1 tablespoon
  • Salt -- 1 tablespoon
  • Ginger, ground -- 1 teaspoon
  • Turmeric -- 1 teaspoon
  • Cayenne pepper -- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon
  • Nutmeg -- 1/2 teaspoon
  • Oil -- 1/2 cup
  • Water or red wine -- 1/4 cup


  1. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium flame. Add the whole spices and toast, stirring for about 2 to 3 minutes until they give off their aroma. Do not burn. Remove from heat.
  2. Over an open flame, use a pair of tongs tolightly toast the New Mexico chilies, turning quickly from side to side until they soften and become flexible. Do not burn. Remove the stems and seeds and roughly chop.
  3. Put the spices and dried peppers into a spice or coffee grinder and grind to a powder.
  4. Put the ground toasted spices into a food processor or blender along with the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
  5. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze portions for later use.

Berberé Variations

  • Dry Berberé Spice Mix: Omit the onion, garlic, water and oil. Mix all the spices together and store in an airtight jar. Add the powder when paste is called for in recipes. Stored in a cool, dark place, this spice mix should keep its flavor for about 4 to 6 months.
  • You can make berbere as spicy or as mild as you like. Just vary the amount of pepper flakes and cayenne in the recipe.
  • If you don't have all the whole spices, substitute an equivalent amount of ground. Eliminate the toasting step.
  • If New Mexico chilies are not available, substitute another Mexican-style dried chile: anchos, guajilla, etc. If no dried chilies are available, substitute 2 more tablespoons of paprika.


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