60 Must-Have Pantry Items For A Middle-Eastern Kitchen

image middle eastern spices

“Middle Eastern food” is a catch-phrase that embraces the cuisines of so many countries, and ethnic streams inside those countries, that a list of 60 essential ingredients can’t cover everything. But if you love the flavors of the Middle East… be it cumin-scented, crunchy falafel or the fragrance of rose-water in pastries like ma’amoul, it’s worth organizing space in your kitchen for the ingredients listed below.

You probably already have many of the suggested items in this post. We have also posted recipes for some exotic things, like pomegranate molasses, that you can make yourself. Some items, like sheep’s tail fat, are available only in Middle Eastern butcher shops and supermarkets. Olive oil or smen (clarified butter) are fine substitutes for sheep’s tail fat.

In most cases, you can omit or substitute ingredients. Some are unique, though,  like the unmistakable taste of saffron. Much as we appreciate turmeric and indeed often cook with it, it will never smell or taste the same as saffron. For the cook experienced with Middle Eastern fare, this post may look like a shopping list, useful for reminding which items to replace.  For those eager to learn more about cooking Middle Easter delicacies at home, it’s a good start.

mixed spicesDry Spices

To bring out spices’ best flavors, buy them whole, in small quantities, and grind them yourself. A traditional mortar and pestle takes little space in the kitchen and does the job quickly.

Allspice berries

Anise seeds

Bay leaves

Black pepper

Cardamom, both ground and whole seeds

Chilies, dried

Cinnamon, both ground and in sticks

Cloves, both ground and whole

Coriander seed, both ground and whole (for grinding fresh)


Fennel seeds

Fenugreek seeds

Ginger, ground, or fresh root in season (can be frozen)

Mint, dried

Nigella seeds (black cumin)


image dried rose petals

Rose petals, dried


Sesame seeds

Sumac, whole berries or powdered (Rhus syriaca)

Turmeric, ground or fresh root in season (can be frozen)

Za’atar leaves, dried

iage fresh za'atar herbFresh Herbs In Season

Place your leafy green herbs in a jar of water where they can get some indirect light, and they will keep for at least a week. Some, like mint and basil, might actually grow roots. Those, you can transplant to dirt and put outside to snip bits off whenever you need some.



Coriander leaves (cilantro)



Ginger root (may be frozen, whole)

Hot peppers of all sizes and varieties and degrees of heat






Thyme and lemon thyme

Turmeric root (may be frozen, whole)


image lemonsVaried Seasonings

If you’re not familiar with an ingredient – say, dried limes – buy only a little at first, then find a recipe using it. Once you’re comfortable with the ingredient, decide if you want to invest in a little more.

Anba, pickled mango relish (to dribble on falafel, shwarma and grilled anything)

Date honey (silan) – try our sweet potatoes roasted in date honey, here.

Honey, local

Lemon juice

Lemons and limes, dried

Orange-blossom water

Pomegranate molasses


Tahini paste to dilute and season

Tamarind paste or syrup

image olive oil


Olive oil

Smen (clarified butter, recipe here)

Sheep’s tail fat

image lentilsSheer Necessities

Some items listed below, like walnuts and raisins, are not exclusively Middle Eastern, but are there because every Middle Eastern cook has some on hand, all the time.

Almonds, whole or blanched


Beans, navy and fava (broad beans), dried or canned

Burgul (cracked wheat), medium ground

Chickpeas, dried or canned

Couscous, instant


Lentils (see our delicious majadra,  lentil and rice recipe here)

Pine nuts

Raisins, black and golden

Rice, long-grained Persian or Basmati varieties



Photos of Tel Aviv spice display mixed spices, dried rose petals, fresh za’atar herb, lemons, olive oil and lentils via Shutterstock

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