As old-world traders and travelers discovered new territories, they brought back to their home countries, spices as well as recipes and other goods from their travels. With modern transportation methods, our world became known as a “small world,” but actually, it has become a “larger neighborhood,” and as this neighborhood continues to grow, so does diversity in dining.

In America we find an abundance of Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and regional American (Southern and Tex‑Mex) cuisines. Greek, Indian, Jamaican, Japanese, and Thai cuisines have gained popularity as well.

Many Culinarians are predicting that over the next five years, Egyptian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Palestinian, Persian, and Turkish cuisines will be increasing in popularity. While these cuisines are currently available in select demographic areas, more restaurants featuring them are opening and it is anticipated that they will also become mainstream.

Look at what has happened over the last ten years—hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, gyros, lebneh (pressed or strained yogurt), shawarma, and shish taouk have gained distinction and are found in restaurants, supermarkets, and among street vendors. These cuisines will be introducing a host of herbs, spices, and spice mixtures that, up to now, have only been available through mail order and a few ethnic markets. Duqqa, pomegranate molasses, and za’atar are found today, in select supermarkets, like Trader Joes and Whole Foods.

The following is a ‘dictionary’ of culinary treasures and spices that are anticipated to become prominent:

Baharat is a spice blend of black pepper, cardamom pods, cinnamon, clove, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg, and paprika. Used to season beef, chicken, fish, lamb, as well as soups, it is also used as a condiment. In Turkey, it will include mint, in the Persian Gulf Loomi (Limu Omani) and saffron are added to make Kebsa and it is referred to as Gulf Baharat, while in Tunisia, they use a simple blend of black pepper, ground cinnamon, and dried rosebuds.

Baklava or Baklawa is a rich, sweet dessert pastry, made with filo or kataifi dough, butter or ghee, a variety of chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, or pistachios), and a sweet syrup (made from honey, orange blossom water, rosewater, and sugar). Some have saffron (with eggs) brushed on top. Some are layered, others rolled. Baklava is usually served at room temperature, often garnished with ground nuts.

Booza (stretchy ice cream) is an Arabic ice cream which is very resistant to melting. It is made with cream, mastic (a plant resin), milk, sahlab, and sugar. It has a consistency similar to Mozzarella cheese and is produced through a process of pounding and stretching within a freezer drum. Booza has Syrian origins.

Bisbas, Sahawiq, or Zhug is a hot sauce originating in the Yemeni cuisine.

Cardamom or Cardamum is a small seed pod used as a flavoring and cooking spice, and in some cases, a medicine. Green cardamom is one of the most expensive spices by weight, but only a small amount is needed to impart flavor. Black cardamom, which some consider similar to mint, has a distinctly more smoky, though not bitter taste. In some Middle Eastern countries, cardamom and coffee are often ground together. Cardamom-flavored tea, also flavored with cinnamon, is consumed as a hot beverage in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Cardamom is used to a wide extent in savory dishes. Green cardamom is often used in traditional Indian sweets, in Masala Chai (spiced tea), and as a garnish in basmati rice and other dishes. Many restaurants would offer a bowl of cardamom pods as one is leaving. These are chewed and used in the same way as chewing gum to cleanse the palate, as they neutralize the toughest breath odors.

Dibs Rumman (Pomegranate Molasses or Pomegranate Juice) is made from the fruit of the pomegranate. It is used in cooking, both as a fresh juice and as a concentrated syrup. It is a reduction from the juice of a tart variety of pomegranate, evaporated to form a thick, dark red liquid. Used in Iranian Fesenjān, and Turkish Pilaf and çoban salatası. It is called Dibs Rumman in Arabic, Nar Ekşisi in Turkish, and Narşərab in Azerbaijani.

Duqqa or Dukkha is an Egyptian condiment consisting of a mixture of herbs, nuts (usually hazelnut), and spices. It is typically used as a dip with bread (along with olive oil), or fresh vegetables for an hors d’oeuvre. There are variations of duqqa that do not contain nuts and have parched wheat flour. In Jordan, caraway and cumin are added.

Fatayer are meat pies wrapped in filo dough that can alternatively be stuffed with akkawi cheese (such as feta), mushrooms, spinach, or a blend of spinach and rice. They are popular in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Halloumi or Haloumi is a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese, with a distinctive layered texture a salty flavor. It is made with unpasteurized sheep and goat milk and is commonly garnished with mint. Halloumi has a very high-melting-point and can be easily fried or grilled.

Halva or Halvah (also Halwa, and other spellings) is a dense, sweet confection, sweetened with sugar or honey, originating in the Middle East and South Central Asia. In some Indian cultures, the dish is known as a soup-based sweet. The texture varies; for example, semolina-based halva is gelatinous and translucent, while sesame-based halva is drier and crumblier.

Harissa is a North African hot chili pepper paste, the main ingredients of which are roasted baklouti peppers with spices and herbs such as caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin, garlic paste, and olive oil. Rose harissa has rose petals.

Jallab is a type of fruit syrup, made mainly of grape molasses, grenadine syrup, and rosewater, although carob and dates may be added. It is then smoked with Arabic incense. Jallab is very popular in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. As a beverage, it is usually sold with crushed ice and floating pine nuts and raisins.

Kashe Bademjan or Kashk e Bademjan is an Iranian dish that literally translates in Persian as ‘kashk and eggplant.’ It can be considered either an appetizer or a main dish. There are various recipes for this dish involving caramelized onions, roasted nuts, herbs, and spices.

Khachapur is a traditional dish of cheese-filled bread. The bread is leavened, allowed to rise, and is shaped in various ways, with the cheese in the middle and a crust that is ripped off and used to dip in the cheese. The filling contains cheese (fresh or aged, most commonly sulguni), eggs, and other ingredients.

Limu Omani (also known as Noomi Basra, limoo Amani, loomi, dried lime, and black lime) is a sun-dried lime or lemon. It is used as a spice, either ground, sliced, or whole. It adds a sour flavor to soups and stews. It is also used in cooked fish and may be added to almost all dishes and stuffing. After grounding, sprinkle on rice or grain salads, or add it to a marinade for chicken, as a substitute for sumac. It is also used to make a warm drink, called Hamidh (sour) that is used to help with indigestion, diarrhea, and nausea.

Laban, Leben, and Lben refers to a food or beverage of fermented milk. There are two main products known as leben, yogurt and buttermilk. It is made by intentionally allowing milk to sour.

Limonana or Lemunada is a type of lemonade made from freshly squeezed lemon juice and spearmint leaves that forms a popular summer drink in Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Lokum or Halqum, also called Turkish Delight, is a Turkish gelatinous candy based on a gel of starch and sugar. Many varieties will include chopped dates, pistachios, hazelnuts, or walnuts. Others will often be flavored with rosewater, mastic, bergamot orange, or even lemon. Packaged and eaten in small cubes, it is dusted with confectioners’ sugar or powdered cream of tartar to prevent clinging. Some variations that include cinnamon and mint.

Mahlep, Mahleb, or Mahalepi is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry (the mahaleb or St. Lucie cherry). The seed kernel is extracted from the cherry stones, then ground to a powder before use. Its flavor is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry, and similar also to marzipan. It is used in small quantities in sweet foods and cakes and in the production of Tresse cheese. In Greek cuisine, mahlep is sometimes added to holiday breads, e.g., Tsoureki, Christmas bread, the New Year’s Vasilopita, and the braided Easter bread; in Armenia, a bread called cheoreg; in Turkey Paskalya çöreği; and in the Middle East it is used in ma’amoul scones. In Egypt, powdered mahlab is made into a paste with honey, nuts, and sesame seeds, and is eaten as a dessert, or a snack with bread.

Mastic is a resin obtained from the mastic tree. In pharmacies, it is called ‘Arabic gum’ (not to be confused with ‘gum arabic’) and ‘Yemen gum.’ In Greece, it is known as ‘tears of Chios’ being traditionally produced on the Greek island Chios, and, like other natural resins, is produced in ‘tears’ or droplets. Mastic is sun-dried into pieces of brittle, translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum. The flavor is bitter at first, but after some chewing, it releases a refreshing flavor similar to pine and cedar. Mastic is believed to have medicinal properties and to aid in digestion.

Muhammara or Mhammara is a hot pepper dip. In Western Turkey, Muhammara is referred to as acuka, made with fresh or dried peppers, primarily Aleppo pepper and bread crumbs, cumin, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, salt, ground walnuts, and garnished with mint leaves. It is eaten as a dip with bread, as a spread for toast, and as a sauce for fish, kebabs, and grilled meats.

Peri-Peri (also known as Biri Biri, Piripiri, or Pili Pili) is a very hot sauce made with the malagueta pepper. It originated in North Africa and is used to flavor stews.

Preserved Lemons (also known as Leems and country lemon) are diced, quartered, halved, or whole lemons, pickled in a brine of lemon juice, salt, and water. They are used in North African cuisines.

Qamar al-Din is an apricot juice or nectar beverage that is typically consumed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Making the drink from this apricot leather requires adding rosewater or orange blossom, water, and ice. Served thick and cold, it is believed to be especially fortifying and a good source of energy, electrolytes, and hydration, which are crucial after a day of fasting. In Iran, it is served as a dried fruit roll called Lavāshak. Some will add pine nuts.

Qishr, Geshir, or Kishr is a Yemeni traditional hot drink made of spiced coffee husks, ginger, and sometimes cinnamon. It is usually drunk instead of coffee as it does not need to be roasted.

Rosewater is a flavored water made by steeping rose petals in water. It is used to flavor food, as a component in some cosmetic and medical preparations, and for religious purposes throughout Europe and Asia. It is added to lemonade, added to water to mask unpleasant odors and flavors found in tap water, and used in making syrup for some versions of Baklava. In India, rosewater is used in sweets such as Laddu, Gulab Jamun, and Peda, as well as to flavor milk, yogurt-based Lassi drink, rice pudding, and other dairy-based dishes. In Malaysia and Singapore, red-tinted rosewater is mixed with milk, which then turns pink, to make a sweet drink called Bandung. Rosewater is frequently used as a halal substitute for red wine and other alcohols in cooking. The Premier League (soccer) offers a rosewater-based beverage as an alternative to champagne when awarding Muslim players. It is also used instead of champagne for the Bahrain and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Rosewater is a usual component of perfume and is used in the religious ceremonies of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Rose syrup, not to be confused with rose hip syrup, is a syrup made from rosewater, with sugar added. A variation of this is orange blossom water, which is made from the flower of the orange tree.

Sahlab or Salep is a flour made from the tubers of the orchid genus Orchis (including species Orchis Mascula and Orchis Militaris). These tubers contain a nutritious, starchy polysaccharide called Glucomannan. Salep flour is consumed in beverages and desserts as a traditional winter beverage.

Sumac, Sumach, Sumak, Soumak, or Sumaq comes from any one of about thirty-five species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus. The dried fruits are ground into a reddish-purple powder to produce a tangy, crimson spice, popular in many countries. It is used to make a traditional pink lemonade beverage by steeping in water, sometimes adding sweeteners such as honey or sugar. In Middle Eastern cuisine it is used to add a tart, lemony taste to salads, meat, or as a garnish on meze dishes such as hummus and tashi; in Syria it is added to falafel as well as being one of the main ingredients of Kubah Sumakieh; is added to salads; and is one of the main ingredients in the Palestinian dish, Musakhan. It is also used in the spice mixture za’atar. Some beekeepers use dried sumac bobs to fuel their smokers.

Taboon bread or Laffa (sometimes called Iraqi pita) is a flatbread, traditionally baked in a taboon oven or a tannur. It is similar to the various tandoor breads found in many parts of Asia. It is used as a base or wrap in many cuisines, and the base of Musakhan, often considered the national dish of Palestine. It is of medium thickness, slightly chewy, and doesn’t tear easily. It is eaten with different accompaniments.

Tahdig (scorched rice, also known as crunchy rice) is a thin crust of slightly browned rice at the bottom of the cooking pot. It is produced during the cooking of rice over direct heat from a flame. Cherry rice with Tahdig or Albaloo Polow Ba Tahdiq Maast are very popular.

Tahini is a condiment made from toasted ground hulled sesame seeds. It is served by itself as a dip or as a major ingredient in baba ghanoush, halva, and hummus.

Za’atar is a highly valued herb, commonly used in a spice mixture and typically used as a condiment. It is generally made with marjoram, oregano, and ground roasted thyme, mixed with salt, toasted sesame seeds, and sumac, known as za’atar akhdar (green). Some commercial varieties also include roasted flour, while other varieties may add coriander, cumin, fennel seed, or savory. One distinctively Palestinian variation of za’atar includes caraway seeds, while a Lebanese variety sometimes contains sumac berries, and has a distinct dark red color. Recipes for such spice mixtures are often kept secret and not even shared with daughters and other relatives. Traditionally, pita that is dipped in olive oil and then za’atar is known as zeit ou za’atar. Za’atar is used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables or sprinkled onto hummus. It is eaten with labneh, bread, and olive oil for breakfast, most commonly in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. The Lebanese specialty Shanklish is made of dry-cured balls of labneh rolled in za’atar to form its outer coating.

Chef Demetrios Haralambatos has been the Corporate Executive Chef at Kontos Foods for over 23 years. He is a classically trained chef, historian, food writer, lecturer, and culinary judge. He has earned the title Archimagiros and is a member and volunteer with numerous organizations. Chef Demetrios has been a demonstrator at the I Heart Halal™ Festival the past two years.