Essential Turkish Spices
Turkish cuisine, along with the use of Turkish spices, varies widely throughout Turkey, and is based on the climate of each region. The arid climate of western Turkey produces many olive trees and olive oil based dishes. Traditional Turkish spices are used sparingly here, with a pinch of cinnamon here and a touch of cumin there. The northern (Black Sea) region of Turkey has more rainfall and historically tea, tobacco, and hazelnuts are grown here. Fish, fresh herbs, and leafy greens dominate the traditional cuisine of the north. Turkish cuisine in the south and east uses more spices in general, and the famous halaby pepper to make Turkish red pepper is grown and sun-dried in southeastern Turkey. Although traditional dishes vary widely around the country, Turkish red pepper is a staple in all parts of the country.
How to Use Turkish Spices in your Kitchen
Many famous Turkish dishes are enjoyed around the world. The secret to good Turkish food is fresh, high-quality ingredients, and using spices to accentuate the flavor of the food, but not cover it up. Some dishes popular in Turkish cuisine using spices are kebabs, dolmas, lentil soup, moussaka, lamb stew, bulgur pilafs, and simit.
Turkish Cooking Methods
Zeytinyagli (olive oil) cooking is one of the methods most unique to Turkish cooking. These dishes feature vegetables cooked slowly in large amounts of olive oil and served cold or at room temperature. More popular in western Turkish cuisine, zeytinyagli dishes are often part of a meze spread. Examples of zeytinyagli dishes include these Turkish-Style Braised Green Beans and Turkish-Style Braised Leeks.
Essential Turkish Spices
Turkish Red Pepper
If you want to fill your cupboard with traditional Turkish spices, start with Turkish red pepper. Botanically identical to Aleppo pepper, Turkish red pepper is sun-dried and cured with a little bit of sunflower oil and salt to keep it fresh. The two main types of Turkish red pepper are the Marash variety (from the Kahramanmarash region) and Urfa variety (from Shanliurfa). Marash pepper has a mild heat and fruity tomato-like flavor. Urfa variety is a little smokier, spicier, and deeper red in color (almost black). Marash variety Turkish red pepper is one of the main ingredients in Turkish Grill Spice, and a staple in every Turkish home. Sometimes referred to as Turkish paprika, it comes from the same peppers used to make a hot pepper paste common in many Turkish dishes.
Ground sumac is from the dried and cured berry of the sumac plant, and is often used as a condiment. Not to be confused with poisonous white sumac, these wine-colored berries are typically cured with salt. Sumac is a key ingredient in Za’atar Spice Blend, and its tart flavor also makes it a delicious addition to salads, fish, and pasta.
Turkish oregano is sweeter and spicier than other types of oregano and is used in many dishes. It’s delicious as part of a marinade for lamb, beef, and chicken, and is one of the key ingredients in Tuesday Night Blend.
One of the Turkish spices that I most associate with the Turkish food of my childhood is allspice. Often used to season ground beef, dishes like Turkish moussaka include allspice as an essential flavoring. Thursday’s Little Secret spice blend is an allspice-based seasoning.
Cinnamon is used ubiquitously in Turkish cuisine, and not just for baked goods and sweets. It is commonly added to the rice stuffing for dolmas, and to ground meat dishes. The use of cinnamon in meat dishes is distinctly Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, and dates back thousands of years. It is a key ingredient in our Turkish Chicken Seasoning.
Essential Turkish spices also include cumin, an earthy tasting seed that is ground and added to dishes from beef kebabs to eggplant dip. Cumin is an essential ingredient in Turkish grill spice.
The most common use of sesame seeds in Turkish food is the popular street food snack, simit. A sesame coated bread ring, no visit to Istanbul is complete without a mid-morning snack of warm simit and cay (black tea). Our Za’atar Spice Blend contains sesame seeds, and can be used on flat breads and in olive oil for dipping.
Sometimes called black cumin, these distinct tasting seeds are most often used on baked goods. One of the most popular uses is as a topping for pogaca, a breakfast bun. We use nigella seeds when seasoning traditional “Turkish pizza” lahmacun.
Mint is often used in its fresh form in salads and soups. However, dried mint is used in Turkish dishes such as lentil soup, pilafs, and quintessential Turkish drink ayran.
Spice Club Membership
Having essential Turkish spices in your kitchen is a great way to enjoy traditional Turkish dishes at home. In our spice subscription box, we frequently send Turkish spice blends, making dinnertime easier and more delicious. Spice Club membership includes a new spice blend with recipes sent four times a year. Spice Club members also have access to our signature Turkish spice blends and other Turkish spices at a 15% discount. Find out more and join Spice Club here.