Packing a punch in both the savoury and sweet space, Yemeni spice blend hawaij is peeking into food and drink over in the US. But could it have the potential to spice up the UK market with its stamp of authenticity?
Hawaij (pronounced hu-why-adge) translates to ‘mixture’ in Yemeni and has been a staple spice in the region’s kitchens.
On the savoury side, it’s generally a blend of cumin, turmeric, black pepper and cardamom, which is traditionally used in soups. Sometimes the blend contains coriander and clove too.
The spice can appear in anything from curries to rice dishes, and can even be whacked on as a barbecue rub for red meats like lamb, pork and beef, along with poultry, seafood and vegetables such as eggplant. Some even employ it as a dip for fresh bread, just like dukkah.
Angelo Viterale, the chef and owner of Italian restaurant Ornella Trattoria in New York, is a big fan of the spice.
“Typically I love to use these mixtures of spices when I’m braising meat for slow cooking. Or my personal favourite, chickpea stew,” he told Eat This magazine.
“The mix of these spices gives a beautiful aroma to the stew itself. I love to fill the stew with a tonne of vegetables, and sometimes even big chunks of pancetta so by the time the stew is done, the meat cuts like butter.”
Over in San Francisco, Al’s Place has featured hawaij on its summer menu. Chef Aaron London, who has worked in Michelin-starred places like L’Astrance, Daniel, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, put it in a salad of blistered squash, fava hummus, minted raspberry relish and hawaij crunch, with a poached egg on top.
But it’s not just for the savoury crowd. The sweet version is made up of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s often used as the Middle Eastern version of pumpkin spice in coffee, but can also pluck up desserts, such as gingerbread, carrot cake or cookies. It’s been suggested the sweet version could even be a good substitute for ras el hanout.
Can Sparkie see a heap of hawaij innovation coming?
Hawaij sounds interesting. Although I haven’t personally seen anything on social media about it yet, it has possibilities with the push for authenticity and traditional foods. Spice mixes are quite a good, convenient way of delivering that due to the long shelf life and simplicity.
As opposed to food though, the area where I could see it taking off is in coffee, as it is traditionally used to make a spiced coffee along similar lines as chai or the pumpkin spice that seems to be very popular. If this usage is delivered well with the message surrounding authenticity, then it could be worth investing.