Persian spices and special seasoning agents are the secrets making Iranian foods unique and platable. Saffron, turmeric, or dried herbs are some other typical flavouring agents that are essential to a Persian pantry.
Iranian cuisine is the repertoire of subtle flavours. From spices to aromatic herbs, nuts, and dried fruits each plays its role delicately to make your soul full of joy with every spoon or bite of Persian food.
Your food is your medicine!
The Ancient Iranian culinary culture finds food as medicine. Due to their nutritional characteristics, food can imbalance the international energy and temperature of body and mind. So, a balanced diet guarantees a healthy life.
According to the traditional medicine of Iran, foods are either hot or cold in nature. So, to correct imbalances and prevent troubles in body function, the cold items should go with hot ingredients. For instance, to balance the cold nature of chicken in Fesenjan, walnut and pomegranate molasses that have hot nature are added or cummin and dill being hot correct the very cold nature of rice in Shevid Baghali Polo.
Spices come from different plant parts: seeds, fruits, roots, or barks, used for adding flavour and colour to foods.
Some spices are commonly used around the world, but others are specific to some regions. Actually, the diversity of the culinary cultures is the result of using different seasoning agents. What makes the Persian cuisine deliciously unique is the mixture of typical spices.
Sauteing spices increases their depth and pungency. Some spices like turmeric should be toasted to give their nobel flavour notes but some others like sumac are added just before serving.
Persian spices can be found in local bazaars of each city around Iran, in Attari (traditional herbal medicine and spice shops), or packaged in large grocery stores.
It is better to store spices in tightly sealed glass containers. Humidity and heat will strongly affect the quality of spices, so keep them in cool, dry and dark places.
The red stigmas of this costly Persian spice have been used for seasoning and colouring foods for ages. This exotic spice gives a strong golden hue and appetizing aroma to so many dishes. Saffron is mainly the colouring agent used to garnish and give an élite look to the Persian rice, sweets, and drinks.
Angelica or Persian Hogweed ( Golpar)
This native Persian spice is widely used for its pleasant and unique smell. It is mostly used for flavouring pickles, stews and soups. This hot spice gives a charming taste to Adasi, Persian lentil soup. Golpar goes very well with pomegranate arils. This Iranian spice with vinegar makes a tasty mixture for dipping well-cooked fava beans – a typical healthy snack for winter nights in Iran.
Cumin plant seeds are in whole or ground form. This spice comes in black, yellow-brown and green. This hot Persian spice has a slightly bitter taste and aroma. Cumin goes well with rice to balance its cold nature, or gives its unique flavour to various pastries.
A member of the ginger family, this originally Indian spice is the staple ingredient of the Iranian food.
This bitter spice is commonly used to add a yellow-orange colour to foods. Turmeric goes well with meat and its sharp smell covers any other scent. Be careful in using turmeric because the extra amount of it will give a noticeable bitter taste to your food.
Dried lime (Limoo Amani)
Persian sun-dried lime is the mild souring agent for so many delicious soups and stews like Ghormeh Sabzi or Gheymeh. It can be used ground, sliced or whole. To add them as whole to your food, you just need a fork to make few pricks on its hard shell. In this way, the stew will hydrate the lime and release its amazing sour flavour.
You can serve the cooked limes with your dish or just squeeze them to have the tart juice in the stew and remove the remaining.
Whether whole green pods, black seeds or grounded, cardamom is the staple spice in making savoury dishes, sweets and drinks. A pinch of this hot and pungent spice elevates every dish to a super mesmerizing level. For its appealing aroma, cardamom is usually the main flavouring ingredient. it also finely accompanies the rose-water and saffron to uplift the marvel of aromas. The combination of these three is necessary for Shole Zard, the Persian rice pudding, which is a special dish for special occasions like Ramadan.
It is a special type of wild berry that grows in the Middle East and Mediterranean region. The dried coarse powder of this spice gives a pleasant lemony taste and vivid pop of red colour to meaty and poultry dishes, salads, or sauces. Sumac is commonly dusted over Lebanese salads like Fattoush but Iranians usually add a pinch of sumac on their kabab to give it a fascinating twist.
As the oldest spice of the world, cinnamon is widely used for its very sweet smell and appealing taste. The brown inner bark of cinnamon tree is the flavouring agent of various Persian dishes like Adas polo, Iranians pastries and drinks like cinnamon tea.
Advieh (Spice Mix)
The world adores the Persian cuisines as pleasantly but not inadequately spicy. The secret is that the Persian cooks usually do not use just one or two spices but blend different spices together which ends to the heavenly taste of foods.
Advieh is the mixture of several spices to strengthening the flavour and smell of foods. This special mixture usually includes black pepper, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, angelica, and rose petals.
The most popular Advieh in Persian kitchens are:
Advieh-e Polo for cooking rice with other ingredients like Baghali Polo
Advieh-e khoresh for flavouring meat and chicken in foods, like Abgoosht.
Essential Herbs in the Persian Pantry
The leaves, flowers, or stems of plants are common in Persian cooking. Whether fresh or dried, different aromatic herbs are always present in every Persian kitchen for flavouring or garnishing dishes.
Sabzi khordan (fresh herbs) is a common side dish on the Iranian Sofreh (table-cloth) that has more aromatic, papery herbs such as basil, mint, parsley or tarragon.
The wispy green leaves of dill are a popular culinary ingredient of various dishes throughout Europe and Asia. Fresh or dried leaves of dill give a mildly bitter flavour and exotic aroma to fish dishes or Persian rice. The iconic Sabzi Polo and Shevid Baghali Polo are two most favourite Iranian foods that are usually served for special occasions like Nowruz.
A peppery herb used as a garnish for main dishes, soups, salad dressing. For its strong, pungent flavour, Parsley is the popular culinary ingredient in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. It goes well with meat, vegetables and legumes. Felafel or Salad Olivie will taste heavenly with a pinch of freshly chopped parsley.
Summer Savory (Marzeh)
This flavourful herb has a delicately fresh aroma and peppery taste. The thin small leaves of summer savoury used in a number of applications. It is commonly added in soups, sauces, chicken.
Tarragon ( Tarkhon)
Tarragon has a thyme-like taste and pinery smell. It is a characteristic seasoning ingredient for dressings, soups, chicken and seafood. Tarragon particularly added in Persian style pickles and khiar shoor (pickled cucumbers). It is a perfect substitution for salt, for its light salty taste.
Dried fenugreek’s leaves are good aromatic aids in cooking. Fenugreek has a slightly bitter taste that reminds of curry. These light green leaves will give a heavenly taste and fragrance to Ghormeh Sabzi when sautéed along with garlic and coriander.
Persian Leek or Chives (Tareh)
The thin green leaves of the leek give a semi-onion flavour to a lot of Iranian cuisines. Leeks can be eaten raw or steamed and sautéed to be an omelette filling or in different Persian tasty Ashes or vegetarian dishes like Kuku Sabzi.
Persian Pantry is not restricted to herbs and spices. There are some other key elements distinguishing the Iranian culinary.
Tomato paste has a strong presence in lots of Persian dishes, from soups to stews. It adds a burst of flavour and appetizing orange-red colour to foods. Tomato paste is the thick concentrate of tomatoes prepared by slow-cooking them for several hours. In comparison to tomato purée or sauce, tomato paste has a deeper flavour. It gives the finished mouthwatering look to dishes like Dizi or Gheymeh-e Bademjan.
Also known as the date of India, Tamarind is a brown edible fruit of the leguminous tree. The pulp surrounding the large seeds in pods is green and tart but when ripped it changes to a thick brown mild sour substance.
This tropical bean-like fruit gives a sour touch and unique taste to the Persian Foods. It is the main seasoning of Ghalye Mahi, a tasty spicy fish stew and Morgh-e Torsh.
It is thick pomegranate syrup. This thick dark ingredient gives a sweet-sour and tangy flavour. Pomegranate molasses give iconic taste and add jolts to dishes like Fesenjoon or Ash Anar.
Sour Grape Juice (Ab Ghooreh)
Verjuice, or sour grape juice, is the extract of Ghooreh, unripe grapes. For its sour taste, it flavours various Iranian foods like sauces, dressings, stews (such as Khoresh Bademjan). Ab Ghooreh with a pinch of dried mint and black pepper make an extraordinary seasoning for Salad Shirazi.
Rose Petals & Rose Water (Golab)
This highly aromatic floral water made from condensing the steam from steeping rose petals in water. Golab has a high place in the Persian culinary culture. It gives a delicate appetizing aroma to so many sweets and desserts such as Shole Zard, baklava, traditional ice cream and Faloodeh.
Orange Peel (Pooste Porteghal)
Orange or tangerine peel is a favourite seasoning ingredient in Persian culinary. Its sweet fragrance beside its bright orange colour makes it a good choice for flavouring and garnishing cakes and foods like Morasa Polo (Persian jewelled rice) or Zereshk Polo.
It is easy getting rid of the bitter taste of orange peels. After being cut off and sliced, they need to get sweet. You need to boil them in hot water, and adding sugar, rose-water and cardamom.
It is a staple seasoning ingredient in Persian cooking. This thick white-grey paste has a cheesy scent and salty-sour taste. The dried form of Kashk is a healthy snack and the paste form usually used in cooking. It goes well with sautéed dried mint (Nan-e Dagh) for dressing Ash Reshte or makes a delicious eggplant dish, Kashke Bademjan or Kaljoosh, a simple but tasty traditional soup.
Nuts & Dried Fruits
Nuts and dried fruits served as snacks or given as gifts in Iran. They also have a strong presence in Iranian cooking.
Toasted or raw, in-ground, crushed or whole form nuts add magical flavours or give an attractive look to dishes, pastries and sweets such as Morasa Polo or Sohan.
Nuts like walnut, pistachio and almond are often used along with dried fruits.
Dried fruits such as raisins, barberries, quince, golden plums, prunes, and pomegranate enhance the texture and taste of the Persian foods.
Barberries ( Zereshk)
Barberries or Zereshk are dried tiny fruits giving an exotic kick to various meals. In Europe, they are mainly used for making jam but the Iranian cooks used them to garnish or give a sharp tartness to foods. For instance, Kuku Sabzi will taste absolutely amazing with a few of these tiny red berries.
To cut its sourness and make it more delicious every Persian cookbook presents a method. Adding a pinch of sugar to sautéed zereshk gives it a pleasant sweet and sour taste.
Golden Plums (Aloo Bokhara)
It is a dried plum or prunes with a joyful sweet and tart flavour.
Aloo Esfenaj (Plum and Spinach Stew) is a yummy Persian stew with plum as a key culinary element. Gheymeh becomes more delicious by adding some of these golden plums.
Adas Polo or Shirini Keshmeshi are two good examples of Persian artful use of raisins in cooking. Their sweet taste can match very well with other ingredients especially cinnamon and change a simple flavourless dish to a palatable meal.
Humidity and time will change the taste of nuts and dried fruits. So store them in airtight containers in a cold place and check them regularly or at least before using them.
A wide gamut of Persian spices and tastes make Persian food flavourful but pleasant and ideal to everyone.