We Need to Talk About Ras el Hanout and………

The way popularity can start a race to the bottom!

Let me begin by sharing my thoughts on Pot-Pourri, a now devalued and bastardised item.

Some history: When I was growing up in my parent’s herb & spice business in the 1960’s, I would earn pocket money helping my father harvest scented plants to make his classic Pot-Pourri. Pot-Pourri was a traditional blend of dried rose petals, scented geraniums, lavender flowers, lemon verbena, and any other seasonally available scented flowers and leaves. The alchemy that made this fragrant concoction last for years, occurred when Dad added ground cinnamon, cloves, and orris root powder with a few drops of natural essential oil of rose geranium. Imagine my horror when in later years I saw so-called Pot-Pourri in gift shops made with coloured wood shavings and artificial fragrances! My distress was compounded when a room freshener was launched in a pressure pack, and it was called Pot-Pourri.

My parents, John & Rosemary Hemphill talking herbs and spices in the 1960’s and selling Pot-Pourri in locally made ceramic pots.

I use this as an example of how easily something precious can be devalued and ultimately ruined because it became popular.

Now to Ras el Hanout:

This traditional Moroccan mix is the pinnacle of all spice blends. The sometimes more than 20 ingredients merge to form a balanced, full-bodied blend with no sharp edges. It is arguably the finest example of how well a collection of diverse spices can form a blend immeasurably greater than any of its individual parts. At Herbie’s Spices we carefully blend our Ras el Hanout, using over 20 spices including whole Kashmiri saffron stigmas, and add no salt, fillers or artificial ingredients.

Lamb & Prune Tagine

On the one hand it is great to see how popular Ras el Hanout has become, the downside is that due to its popularity many spice companies in Australia, the USA, Europe and the UK are making greatly inferior versions. I’ve seen many that only have about 10 ingredients, and in addition salt and onion powder! A true Ras el Hanout can even be used in a sugar syrup to spice orange segments, a great dessert to have after a Tagine. You wouldn’t do that with these compromised versions.

What to Do?

Firstly, read the ingredient list on all spice blend labels, and be suspicious of those that just end the list with the word “spices”. At Herbie’s Spices we always list 100% of the ingredients on our blends, so you know exactly what you are getting. (The quality of the ingredients makes a significant difference as well).

For more information about the art of spice blending, and recipes for over 60 spice blends, see The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill. Published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.