Consider this toasty Mediterranean spice blend your new all-purpose, flavor-boosting secret weapon in the kitchen.
Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images

If you’re a budding Middle Eastern gourmand, obsessed with all things kofta, pita, and Za'atar, it’s time to sharpen your knowledge of another essential regional spice blend: Dukkah.This palatable mix has long been a staple of North African cooking, and as the rest of the world has begun to embrace Mediterranean flavors, is on track to become a household name internationally.

Dukkah—also spelled Duqqa, Du’ah, and Do’a—originated in ancient Egypt, which was situated at the crossroads of a prominent spice route that granted Egyptians access to then exotic eastern spices like coriander and cumin.

Each of these spices took on deeper symbolic meanings to the Egyptians, in addition to both being considered remedies for digestive problems and stomach pain. While coriander became a symbol for love and passion(as well as a rumored aphrodisiac), cumin was carried in the pockets of wandering merchants and soldiers as a symbol of faithfulness.

These spices were the basis for the original Dukkah blend, along with cinnamon, salt, garlic, and toasted nuts. Everyone from the poorest peasants to the Pharaohs and elites used the mix to season the dense bread that was a staple of their daily diets.

Still today, the spice continues to be an important element of the Egyptian kitchen, and has spread to other countries, continents, and cuisines. The mix became surprisingly prevalent in Australia and New Zealand, where it is used to season mutton, and has now experienced a surge in popularity thanks to a worldwide demand for Middle Eastern ingredients and flavors.

The word “Dukkah,” which is derived from the Arabic for “to crush” or “to pound” aptly describes the coarse mixture, which can come in the form of a powder or a dry blend of spices, seeds, and roasted nuts. It can be used as a cooking condiment or consumed as a snack; in fact, street vendors in North Africa sell the spice blend in paper cones alongside oily pitas to dip into the spices while on the go.

While Dukkah recipes can vary slightly from blend to blend, the standard mix consists of toasted sesame seeds, toasted coriander seeds, toasted nuts (typically almonds, macadamia, or hazelnuts), cumin seeds or ground cumin, salt, and black pepper. Traditionally, the spice blend was crushed and mixed with a mortar and pestle, though most modern cooks have embraced easier methods of food processing.

When crafting your own batch, it’s important to allow your toasted items to cool completely before blending, and to chop up each of your ingredients in a food processor separately, being careful to not over mix or you’ll end up with a paste. Then, after combining the prepped ingredients, store the mix in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer, which will preserve the blend’s flavor longer.

Beyond the fundamental ingredients, most spice vendors put their own personal twist on their Dukkah, adding ingredients like chickpeas, thyme, marjoram, mint, nigella, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds into the mix.

In addition to dressing up flatbreads, Dukkah can also be used to bring flavor and texture to breadcrumb mixtures, and sprinkled over roasted vegetables, stews, and salads. When mixed with lemon juice and fresh herbs, the diverse blend becomes a great meat or fish seasoning, or combine with yogurt to create a tangy, savory dip. And when mixed with olive oil, it makes a flavorful paste that can be spread on toast, crackers, and more.

Whether dressing up a Vegetable Platter with Dukkah Olive Oil, Kabocha Squash with Dukkah and Molasses, Roasted Cauliflower and Shallots with Chard and Dukkah, or a Chicken and Grape Salad, this unique blend brings a distinctly Middle Eastern twist to any dish. Plus, in addition to benefiting your taste buds, the zesty spice is also good for your health, providing calcium, fiber, and magnesium via the sesame seeds, and protein, essential fats, and antioxidants from the nuts.

So, the next time you’re tackling some homemade flatbreads and hummus, give a sprinkling of North African flavor a try—you just might discover your new favorite spice combination in the process.