What is Harissa Sauce?

Written by rachel vega
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If you're looking for a flavour that will perk up your taste buds, consider harissa. Harissa sauce, usually known as simply "harissa," is a spicy chilli-flavoured paste from the Middle East and North Africa. It is extremely popular in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco as well as in France and Israel.

Red or Green

Most harissas are red, but there are also green varieties. Green harissa is made with green chillies, spinach, herbs such as cilantro and mint, and spices. Moroccan harissa tends toward the gentler side, usually incorporating just rehydrated red chillies, tomato paste and salt, but in locations such as Tunisia and Algeria, garlic and lots of spices are added.


Chilli peppers are the main ingredient and are sometimes smoked, but other ingredients may be garlic, salt, coriander, caraway, verbena leaves, cumin, dried mint, parsley, dill, tomatoes, rose petals, various vegetables, different nuts or different oils like olive or caraway. But if you're looking for one flavour across the board, try something completely different. Similar to any sauce, harissa recipes vary from region to region and family recipe to family recipe.


The traditional accompaniment to coucous, harissa also can be used for flavouring (merguez sausage, a spicy Tunisian variety), as a condiment on other cooked foods such as falafel or fish, as a rub for meat before cooking, and it also can be added to soups and stews to give them an extra kick. Thinning it out and adding broth can turn harissa into a rich broth on its own.

Where to Find It

Harissa can be found in Middle Eastern markets, speciality stores and gourmet markets, online and also in the ethnic aisle of most supermarkets. It is available in cans, jars and tubes. Or, experiment with different recipes and make your own, since the ingredients are common and very easy to find.


The paste-like consistency of harissa was originally achieved by pounding ingredients together; when making your own, consider using a food processor. Covered with oil, harissa will last for many weeks in the refrigerator.

Because harissa can be so spicy, exercise caution when you eat one you have not made yourself, until you become more familiar with its flavour. Add a small amount at a time to the dish until you are satisfied with its heat and flavour.

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