Dar Anahita Presents

A Fragrant 13th Century Spice Box of al-Andaluz

The Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook dates from the 13th century and is so called because the author unknown. The most available edition is translated into English from the original Arabic by Charles Perry, with additional notes by various SCAdians (commenting mostly on Miranda's sometimes faulty Spanish translation). It is also available in hard copy in the Cookbook Collection compiled by Duke Cariadoc and Elizabeth Cook.

I decided to count all the spices, herbs, and other seasonings and flavorings, to see which were used, to get some idea of the frequency of use, and what seasonings were used in combination. This took some time, and i have a lacuna here and there. Nonetheless, below are the basics, as they currently stand. I may put together information on spice combinations at a later date.

In looking through the book, it appears that the recipes had been culled from a number of other sources, based on the wording of recipes in different sections. It is possible that some of this could be due to the translator, but i suspect this is not the case. Thus the recipes in different chapters not only are worded differently but stress different seasonings.

There were 345 recipes in the first 8 chapters. I skipped the sweets and beverages because counting their seasonings would skew the count - having so much more sweetening, and a particular subset of spices.

What I Counted
Sweetening AgentsSouring Agents
Nuts & SeedsOther

I was surprised that the only sweeteners in the Andalusian cookbook were sugar and honey and that they were used in almost equal amounts. In al-Baghdadi there is a wider range of sweeteners and sugar is used three times as often as honey.

There was also a much more limited range of souring agents in the Andalusian, primarily vinegar. Given the amount of wine grown and drunk in the area even in Muslim times, this would have been wine vinegar. While i am not certain if it would have been red or white, an essay on food within the Andalusian cookbook mentions white vinegar made of sweet grapes, so i assume white wine vinegar would be most suitable.

There is a wider range of nuts in the Andalusian than in al-Baghdadi. While almonds dominate in both cuisines, in al-Andalus the second most commonly used are pine nuts, which do not appear in al-Baghdadi at all. Chestnuts show up in a few Andalusian recipes, and the safflower and indigo colored pistachios are unique.

I was surprised that citrus products, other than citron leave, were so little used, especially when compared to al-Baghdadi. I suspect that either oranges and lemons were not yet well established in al-Andaluz at the time this book was written, or that authors of the cookbooks from which the recipes were taken had little or no access to citrus fruits.

Among the Andalusian herbs are rue, lavender, and basil, which don't appear in al-Baghdadi at all, and a great deal more fennel. Surprisingly, galangal shows up in al-Andalus, whereas it is not mentioned in al-Baghdadi - i say surprisingly, because it was imported from Southeast Asia and i wonder why to al-Andaluz and not to Mesopotamia.

Ultimately, most of the major spices other than pepper and cinnamon were locally grown. These include coriander, saffron, cumin, caraway, and mustard.

Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Pepper Corns25273%Piper nigrum, Piperaceae
Coriander seed14241%Coriandrum sativum, Umbelliferae
Cinnamon12937.5%probably Ceylon or True Cinnamon
Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Lauraceae
See Note Below
Saffron8625%Crocus sativus, Iridaceae
Cumin5917%Cuminum cyminum, Umbelliferae
Chinese Cinnamon5215%Used along with cinnamon 26 times
Cinnamomum cassia, Lauraceae
See Note Below
Caraway4613%Carum carvi, Umbelliferae
Ginger288%Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae
Spikenard247%Nardostachys jatamansi, Valerianaceae
also called sunbul hindi
Cloves206%Syzygium aromaticum, Myrtaceae
Galangal / Galingale144%Alpinia galanga, Zingiberaceae
Greater galanga
See Note Below
Mustard82%White Mustard: Sinapis alba / Brassica hirta, Cruciferae
Black Mustard: Brassica nigra, Cruciferae
See Note Below
Anise Seed10.29%Pimpinella anisum, Umbelliferae
Cardamom (Green)10.29%Elettaria cardamomum, Zingiberaceae
Celery Seed10.29%Apium graveolens, Umbelliferae
Long Pepper10.29%Piper longum, Piperaceae
See Note Below
Nigella10.29%Nigella sativa, Ranunculaceae
See Note Below
Nutmeg10.29%Myristica fragrans, Myristicaceae
See Note Below
Cinnamon: There are two kinds of cinnamon. True or Ceylon cinnamon comes in thin, light brown, multiply curled quills, amazingly fragrant and complexly flavored. Cassia or Chinese cinnamon is what most Americans think is cinnamon, as it is what is in the cans and jars in supermarkets. It has thick, dark brown, singly curled quills with a simpler and coarser flavor than Ceylon cinnamon.

And there are two words for cinnamon in Arabic, dar sini, and qurfi / qirfa. In reading Arabic language and books about spices it seems that the terms are often used interchangeably. Dar sini means Chinese wood, referring to Chinese cinnamon, but i have found the term also applied to Ceylon cinnamon. And I have found the term qurfi / qirfa is also applied to both kinds. I must trust Perry's translation to differentiate between them.

Will the real galangal please stand up?

Galangal/Galingale is a rhizome and a relative of ginger and turmeric, but tastes like neither. It is sold in Southeast Asian markets and is commonly used in Thai and Indonesian cooking.

There are a number of related rhizomes in Southeast Asia. Of these three are sometimes confused by non-Southeast Asians:
(1) Greater Galangale - Alpinia galanga L. - laos/ lengkuas (Malay, Indonesian); kha (Thai)
(2) Lesser Galangale - Kaempferia galanga L. - kentjoer/ kencur (Malay, Indonesian)
(3) Fingerroot - Kaempferia pandurata or Boesenbergia pandurata - temoe koentji / temu kunci (Malay, Indonesian); ka chai / krachai (Thai)

All three have a camphoraceous scent: Kaempferia galanga and Kaempferia pandurata both have a strongly camphoraceous taste, while Alpinia galanga is much milder. All three look different when fresh, both the shape of the rhizome and the color of the flesh, and they all taste different, fresh or dried. Only the first, Alpinia galanga, is commonly used in food, while the third, Kaempferia pandurata, is rarely used in food, being more often used medicinally.

In Indonesia, Alpinia galanga is the one most often used in cooking and is used on several islands, whereas Kaempferia pandurata is used primarily on Java (and less often than laos even there). When Kaempferia pandurata is used, it is intentionally the dominant flavor in the dish and its name often figures in the name of the dish.

I've researched which galangal was used in Medieval Europe, but i haven't found anything definitive. Andrew Dalby in Dangerous Tastes suggests that both Alpinia galanga, which is modernly the most commonly available galangal, and Kaempferia galanga were used interchangeably, depending on what was imported, Europeans not particularly distinguishing between them.

However, i have found nothing about which of the two was used in the Near and Middle East. Since Alpinia galanga is more readily available and cheaper than Kaempferia galanga, that is what i usually use.

Mustard comes in numerous species:
1. White Mustard: Sinapis alba / Brassica hirta (the seeds are actually yellow to light brown)
White mustard originated in the Mediterranean region, but various cultivars are grown in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe.

2. Black Mustard: Brassica nigra
Black mustard is endemic in the Southern Mediterranean region, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.

3. Brown mustard:
a. Sarepta mustard or Romanian Brown Mustard (Brassica juncea) from Eastern Europe
b. Indian Brown Mustard (Brassica integrifolia or Brassica juncea, a fertile hybrid from Brassica nigra and Brassica campestris) from India and Central Asia

According to Gernot Katzer's web site, of the three species, black, Romanian brown, and Indian brown, the last is probably most commonly sold in the West (in the late 20th and early 21st centuries). He goes on to say: "Although the pungency of black mustard is slightly stronger than that of brown mustard, black mustard is hardly planted in Europe anymore, and brown mustard is the dominating quality on the European market. The reason is that brown mustard, unlike black mustard, can be harvested by machines which make production much cheaper in countries where working force is expensive."

Andrew Dalby in Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices speaks only of White Mustard. According to him, it was known in Greece 4000 years ago and was taken to India and China, where it was planted, even though there were indigenous mustards in those regions.

So, which mustard was used in Andalusia? It is likely to have been white and/or black mustard, rather than the now common brown mustard. In any case white mustard would be suitable, but if one has only access to brown mustard, that will do.

Long pepper is a relative of the small round pepper corns we use every day. For a time it was more popular than black pepper, but now it is difficult to find. It looks like a narrow cone about 3/4 of a inch long, medium grey, covered with tiny spheres. It is significantly hotter and more pungent than ordinary pepper.

Nigella (Nigella sativa L.) are matte black, somewhat pyramidal seeds from a plant related to the common garden flower Love-in-a-Mist. While the name for this spice in some Indian languages is kalonji, it is sold in some Indian markets as "black cumin" or "black caraway", even though it isn't related to either cumin or caraway, doesn't taste like either, and doesn't even look in the slightest like them. And sometimes it is called "black onion seed", because apparently they look somewhat like onion seeds. Nigella seeds are commonly used in Afghan bread.

Nutmeg and Mace come from the same tree. Nutmeg is not a nut, but the kernel of an apricot-like fruit. Mace is an aril, a thin leathery tissue between the stone and the pulp, bright red to purple when harvested, but changing to amber after drying. A jam is made of the fruit itself in Southeast Asia. In the Medieval and Renaissance periods, the nutmeg tree was found exclusively on the Banda Islands in what is now Indonesia.

Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Cilantro / Green Coriander 140 41%Coriandrum sativum, Umbelliferae
Rue 71 21%Ruta graveolens, Rutaceae
Zaatar / Saatar / Thyme 70 20%This is a single herb, and not the blend of ingredients commonly available today in Middle Eastern stores.
In actuality, a number of different, often related herbs are used, varying regionally. It may refer to Turkish oregano, Syrian oregano, or Greek oregano (but not the stronger Mexican oregano), calamint, thyme, savory, or hyssop.
I use a blend of thyme and marjoram, because the flavor of commonly available Mexican oregano is too strong.
Lavender 52 15%Lavandula angustifolia or Lavendula officinalis, Lamiaceae are common varieties,
but there are numerous other varieties, such as L. stoechas (Spanish lavender)
Citron Leaves 48 14%and lemon leaves 1
Citron: Citrus medica, Rutaceae
Fennel Stalks 41 12%Foeniculum vulgare, Umbelliferae
Mint 34 10%Spearmint: Mentha Spicata, Lamiaceae
Spearmint is that kind used in Morocco today. I would suggest using it, rather than peppermint.
Peppermint: Mentha piperita, Lamiaceae
Peppermint is often called "English mint" in languages other than English, and is a hybrid of spearmint and water mint that appeared several centuries after this cookbook was written.
Celery Leaves 5 1.5%Apium graveolens, Umbelliferae
Basil 4 1.2%clove basil is specified 3 times
Ocimum basilicum, Lamiaceae
Dill 2 0.58%Anethum graveolens, Umbelliferae
Bee Balm 1 0.29%Melissa officinalis (aka lemon balm)
It is NOT Bergamot mint, Monarda didyma, which is a New World plant
Purslane 1 0.29% Portulaca various, Caryophylleae, as there are quite a few that grow in Europe, the Near East and Asia. Perhaps the most common is Portulaca oleracea, Garden, or Green Purslane. Purslane is commonly eaten as a vegetable in modern Southwest Asia.

For more information on spices and herbs, visit Gernot Katzer's wonderful, fabulous, amazing website.

Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Rosewater 308.9% 
Rose syrup 61.7% 
Rose petal jam 41.2% 
Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Cane Sugar 4011.6%Any of six to thirty-seven species (depending on taxonomic system) of tall perennial grasses of the genus Saccharum (family Poaceae). All sugar cane species interbreed, and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids.

If the sugar you buy does not say "cane sugar", it is likely beet sugar, or possibly a blend of beet and cane sugar. While for most purposes this doesn't matter, it actually does make a difference in confectionary.
Honey 3811% 
Scented Sweet Syrup 1 0.29%the scent or flavor was not specified.
This may be a sugar syrup scented/flavored with roses, since that was fairly common, but there are other possibilities.
Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Vinegar 11935%most often made from white wine.
Pomegranate juice 3 0.9%Punica granatum (L.) or Punica malus (Linn.), Lythraceae
Lemon juice 20.58%Lemon: Citrus medica ssp. limonum, Rutaceae
bitter or Seville orange: Citrus aurantium ssp. amara, Rutaceae
Quince juice 20.58%Cydonia oblonga (Mill.) or Pyrus Cydonia (Linn.), Maloideae or Spiraeoideae, Rosaceae
Grape juice, sour 20.58%Vitis, many species, most likely vinifera.
Apple juice, sour 10.29% Malus domesticus, Maloideae, Rosaceae
Number of
Percent of
total recipes
total mentions
Murri naqi63
Good Murri9
The Best Murri4
Seasoned Murri3
Bread Murri2
Fish Murri1Could this be a holdover of Roman garum?
Murri Notes
Noted Near and Middle Eastern food scholar and LA Times columnist, Charles Perry made murri from scratch, beginning with moist barley "loaves". In the end he said it tasted like soy sauce. He documented this in his column in the LA Times in 1998.
----- What Rot! - January 14, 1998 (89 words)
----- Still Rotting - February 18, 1998 (169 words)
----- O. K., It's Rotted, Is It Safe? - April 1, 1998 (228 words)
----- Rot of Ages - April 1, 1998 (1411 words)

A number of recipes specifically said not to use fake murri. There is a recipe for Byzantine murri, which is also called fake murri, which is often used by SCAdians. However, a soy sauce with a high wheat content may be a reasonable substitute for murri.
Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Almonds 11032% 
Walnuts 3510% 
Pine Nuts 319% 
Pistachios 175% 
Chestnuts 30.9% 
Hazelnuts 10.29% 
Nuts, type unspecified
used along with almonds
Nuts, type unspecified
used instead of almonds
Pistachios colored with
safflower and indigo
Number of
Percent of
total recipes
Musk82.3%comes from glands of the Asian musk deer
Edible Camphor51.5%Steam distilled from Dryobalanops aromatica or Cinnamomum camphora, Lauraceae
Gum Mastic30.87%Pistacia lentiscus var. chia, Anacardiaceae
From what i have been able to find, the tree that produces mastice grows only on the Eastern Mediterranean island of Chios.

Conclusion - A Basic Andalusian Spice Box

Soooo, i suggest that the basic spice box needs the items used in 10% or more of the recipes in the Andalusian cookbook:

Basic Spices:

  • 7 parts - Peppercorns, used in over 70% of the recipes
  • 4 parts - Coriander seeds, used in over 40%
  • 3 parts - Cinnamon, probably Ceylon or True cinnamon - 30%
  • 2 parts - Saffron - 20%
  • 1 part  - Cumin seeds - 10%
  • 1 part  - Chinese cinnamon, probably Cassia (supermarket cinnamon) - 10%
  • 1 part  - Caraway seeds - 10%
Based on the analysis above, where seasonings are requested but not specified, i would use pepper, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin, so i'd up the quantity of each by 1 part.

Fresh herbs:

  • 4 parts - Cilantro, used in over 40% of the recipes
  • 2 parts - Rue, used in over 20% - it is bitter and can cause contact dermatitis
  • 2 parts - Zaatar/ Saatar/ Thyme - 20%
  • 1.5 parts - Lavender flowers - 15%
  • 1.5 parts - Citron leaves - 14%
  • 1 part  - Fennel stalks - 12%
  • 1 part  - Mint - 10%
Lavender buds, thyme/saatar, and citron leaves will work dried. Fresh mint is really better, but dried mint, if soaked ahead of time and the liquid included, might be ok.

NOTE: Dried lavender for tea can be found in the natural foods store and can be carried around in a tightly closed jar, as long as it is protected from light and heat. Do not buy lavender intended for pot pourri, because such plants are usually treated with hazardous chemicals.

Because cilantro "juice" is used almost half the time cilantro is used, one could puree fresh cilantro with water and freeze it.

Fresh fennel stalks/leaves will be needed. Fennel does not taste like dill. However, fennel seeds have some of the same flavor as fennel stalks, so i suppose they could be substituted. I would suggest powdering them when adding.

a small bottle of Murri

Charles Perry brewed murri from scratch, starting with the "rotted" barley, and said it tasted a lot like soy sauce. So perhaps a light soy sauce or a liquid made from barley miso would be similar.


It would have been used fresh, but for camping, you could get dried or already pureed.

(Someone questioned why i recommend dried or pureed. Well, i am usually very busy at events, either as an officer, or judging A&S or cooking competitions, so any timesavers are good for me. If you spend your time at events hanging out in your camp, you may have time to peel and pound the garlic.)

Other useful ingredients include:

  • white sugar
  • honey
  • white wine vinegar

Sample the Spicebox of al-Baghdadi

Compare the Spiceboxes of al-Baghdadi and Andalusia

the doorway

Step through the doorway back to the Front Hall Directory to Dar Anahita
Or go back to al-Iwan, the Dining Niche

Questions? Comments? Corrections?

Corrected and expanded slightly, 26 February 2011.