Nigerian Herbs, Spices & Condiments

From my research, I have found that there are actually far more traditional herbs, spices and condiments than we ever know or use for that matter. My logic is, if our fore-fathers (or is it fore-mothers) cooked fabulous, tasty, delicious and nutritious meals with them back then, I see no reasons why we can't now!

Nigerian Spices & Condiments

I think the trouble is getting the knowledge of what they are, where to source them and how best to use them.

I  myself, am constantly exploring these spices and condiments, getting to know their properties and finding out how to match them with other ingredients. Thankfully I have had some help from my grandmother (who by the way used only traditional ingredients in her cooking and used fresh vegetables direct from the farm!). I will be sharing my knowledge of the few spices, herbs and condiments I have used in my cooking, with you.

I would like to emphasis a key point here, which is, herbs, spices and condiments are meant to compliment your cooking and enhance the natural tastes and flavours of food. They are not meant to overpower or mask their natural tastes. I think there is a real skill in being able to strike a balance.

This list is non-exhaustive so please feel free to contribute your experience with herbs, spices or condiments, suggestions or general comments.



Locust Beans (iru, dadawa, dawadawa)
pic F
A pungent smelling fermented salty condiment. Made from carob seeds and sold whole, dried or ground / powdered.

Excellent for all manners of traditional soups and stews. Really good in creating bold flavour. The ground / powdered version is used to make suya spice.

Scent Leaves (sweet basil, beletientien leaf) A sweet smelling herb used mainly for its aroma and assumed medicinal value. Sold fresh or dried.

Excellent for soups and stews. Also used to make suya spice

Achii A traditional condiment used as a thickener for soups. Also used for its the flavour it gives to traditional soups such as Oha soup. Sold whole or ground/powdered form.

Used to thicken traditional soups like oha, onugbu soups.
Ogbonna Ogbonna is primarily a condiment used to thicken soups. Due to its great authentic/traditional taste and flavour, it is used as a main ingredient in one of Nigeria's favourite soups.

Added to soups to act as a thickener. Examples, ogbonna and okra soups.
Iyere (African black pepper)

This belong to the same family as black peppercorn. It has a hot taste and quite fragrant aroma and flavour. Sold whole.

Excellent spicing soups and stews up. Also used to make suya spice.

A fragrant herb believed to have been introduced to Nigeria many years ago. Also known as curry leaves. Sold fresh.

Used mainly to season meat and chicken before cooking/boiling.
Ground dried crayfish
pic I
Powdered dried crayfish used to create a distinct traditional taste and flavour in soups and stews. Sold as whole dried crayfish or in ground / powder form. Excellent for traditional soups such as egusi, ogbonna, okro. Use in any savoury dish for a depth of flavours and taste.

Dried Herring (shawa, bonga fish ) These are dried pieces of herring fish. Because they are quite bony, they are not eaten fresh but dried and sold whole or ground / powdered form.  Added to traditional soups or stews for the added authentic traditional taste and flavouor. Whole dried fish can also be used in some dishes such as moin-moin, ifokore etc

Garlic Garlic is a part of the onion family. They are known for their strong pungent flavour and believed to have medicinal properties. Sold in bulbs/cloves or dried and powdered.

Blended with other ingredients to make soups and stews and marinades. Also used in traditional medicine.

(ata'le, ata ile)

Tumeric (is known as ata'le pupa)
A fibrous woody culinary tuber. Has very high nutritional profile and used for its fiery taste (peppery) and flavour. Available fresh or dried powdered/ground form.

Used in soups, stews, marinades.Used to brew ginger tea or zobo).
Alligator Pepper (atariko. ataeko, atare).  An aromatic seed which a characteristic fiery taste. Used for its aroma and believed to have medicinal properties. Sold whole in pods. Particularly used in the pepper soup yam potage. May also be used in other dishes that require some fiery taste.

Cameroon Pepper
pic G
A fiery, aromatic form of chilli powder. Dark brown or black in colour, this chilli is believed to originate from Cameroon hence its name. Has characteristic aroma for which it is highly desired. Sold as whole dried (wrinkled) form or mostly in ground / powdered form.

Added to soups and stews for a fiery hot spicy taste. Can also be used to season and cook/boil meat.
Lemon Grass Commonly used by the Urhobo people of Nigeria. Lemon grass is a herb used for its fragrant aroma and mild taste. Sold fresh or dried. Used in making the traditional pepper-soup yam potage. Also ideal for fish and chicken dishes.

Ehuru (African nutmeg, Jamaican nutmeg) A very aromatic seed used to as a spice added to soups. Sold whole or dried and ground into powder. Used in pepper-soup and banga soup. Can also be used in other traditional soups. Best to use by roasting first before grinding.

Curry Powder Curry powder was introduced to Nigeria during the colonial era. It is a blend of different dried herbs & spices and believed to originate from Asia. Sold in ground powdery form. Used to season meat chicken and fish in combination with other spices. Also popular in the making of Jollof rice, fried rice, stews and fried pepper sauces.

Thyme A fragrant smelling herb used as a seasoning for a wide range of dishes. Sold fresh or dried. Best used to season meat, fish dishes. Also excellent for rice dishes, stews and soups.

Bay leaf A dark green tough leaf with a peculiar pungent aroma. Sold as whole dried leaves Useful for making soups, stocks and broths. Also suitable for rice dishes such as Jollof rice and fried rice.

Onions Onions are bulb vegetables known for their sweet taste and pungent aroma. A very versatile condiment which can be used in its raw state and also added to cooking. Sold fresh, dried or powdered. Used in a wide variety of ways in particular for seasoning meat, fish. Also used as garnishes. Blended with other vegetables and added to soups and stews.

Spring Onions (green onions, scallion) Spring onions are fragrant and mild tasting herbs. Sold fresh. Used mainly for marinades, and for garnishes. Also chopped and used in stir fries.

Cloves (kanafuru) Cloves are dried flower buds with a distinctive sweet smell and a strong pungent taste. They can be purchased as whole buds or ground/powdered form. Can be used to bake and also used in soups (pepper soup) and other savoury meat dishes. Adds flavour to pies. Also added to suya spice

Aniseed (anise) An aromatic sweet tasting spice used mainly for its flavour. Sold whole or ground /powdered form May be used in confectionery and also in soups and stews.

Nutmeg Nutmeg is a fragrant seed used by shaving off or ground and added to cooking. Sold as whole seed or in powdered form. Typically used in baking and dessert recipes. Excellent for adding flavour to chin-chin and puff-puff. Also good for savoury dishes.

Ogiri, (ogili) Fermented melon seed, this condiment has a strong pungent aroma which is desirable to some and off putting for some. Sold as a wet paste.

Mostly added to soups to give the very traditional strong taste and flavour.
Groundnut Paste Similar to peanut butter but without the added sugar. Sold as a paste. Can be used to thicken soups and added depth and flavour.

Beniseed Paste Beniseed are similar to sesame seeds and are sold whole, ground or as a paste.

Added to soups to give thickness and flavour.
Bitter leaf A herb related to chicory, with its characteristic bitter taste. Sold fresh or dried. Used as vegetable added to traditional soups such as egusi. Also used in soups.

Basil (African basil, efirin. arigbe) A fragrant herb member of the mint family. Popular in western regions of Nigeria. Believed to have medicinal properties. Sold fresh or dried.

Used in soups. Also used to season meats and used for marinades.
Chilli Powder
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A spice know for its characteristic hot taste. Chilli powder is a universal spice and is a particular Nigerian favourite. Sold ground/powder.

Added to soups, stews and dishes to add heat. Can also be used to marinate and boil meat/chicken.

Spice similar to mild curry. I have found it has a subtle and pleasant aroma and flavour. Sold in powder form. It imparts a subtle fragrance to fried rice dishes. Works well with other rice dishes such as Jollof rice.

(popular spice in Northern Nigeria)
Yaji is a careful blend of a range of spices in particular garlic powder, ginger, chilli powder, salt, kulikuli etc. More popular in the northern part of Nigeria, this spice is based on similar concepts to Indian masala spices. There are different types of yaji blends, made to suit specific dishes such as suya, kilishi, etc

Yaji can be used in a range of dishes depending on its blend.

Kulikuli is made by removing oil from groundnut and sun drying for days. Really high in protein and quite useful  to increase the nutritional profile of any dish in which it has been used. Sold in large pellets or ground. Can only be added to cooking in the ground or powdered form.

Excellent for giving thickness and flavour to soups and stews. Also used to make suya spice.
Shallot (alubosa wewe)

Shallots are not quite onions and not garlic. They come in between both in terms of size and shape. They have a sweet and mild flavour, again a cross between onions and garlic. Used in seasoning meat and fish dishes. Can also be added to stews or chopped and used as garnish or in salads.


A herb related to onions. The stalks are the useful part of this herb. Excellent for garnishing and in salads. Requires no cooking.

Ata Jos An extra hot chilli pepper powder. Added to stews, soups and other dishes to give an extra spicy kick.


This spice is believed to be a Spanish export. It basically is dried and powdered sweet red ramiro peppers (tatase). Can be used to give depth to soups and stews. Also used as a food colour due to its deep red colour.

Black Pepper

A relatively fiery spice. Dried berries which are sold whole or ground. Add to savoury dishes to give a mild fiery taste. Excellent for grilling and BBQ.

Potash (kaun) A salt like rock used for its ability to tenderize food and to act as an emulsifier. Added to pulses and vegetable soups such as ewedu and gbegiri (bean soup).

Uziza Leaves A sweet smelling green vegetables/herb used to add flavour to soups. Sold fresh. Typically used in traditional Igbo /Efik soups such as ibaba soup.

Uziza Seeds (Benin peppers, ashanti pepper) A peppery seed ground and added to cooking to give a peppery flavour. Used in soups and stews. In particular banga soup and pepper soup.


Sometime referred to as Negro pepper. Used for its aromatic crisp flavour. Has a slight bitter taste so must be used in moderation.

Used especially for making pepper soup and banga soup.


  1. Are you sure they use iru(dawadawa) for suya spices ? I spent half of my life in the Northern part of Ă‘igeria, I have never come across iru in suya spices.Please , correct that .

    1. Hiya, thanks for stopping by. Making suya spices vary depending on individual preferences. In addition to the basic common ingredients used to blend suya spices, dadawa is an optional addition. Please note that dadawa/dawadawa is the sun dried and ground version of iru...I hope that you would be open minded enough to accept that because you have not seen it happen does not mean it does not happen. Thanks again for your comment...

    2. yes, dadawa is used when grinding the suya spice, not every suya spice contains dadawa its


    Hello, thanks for the information. Please can you tell me the igbo name for blackpepper as i urgently need it for FIBROID medication. I checked d picture online but i was not sure of what i was seeing. Tnx

    1. Black peppers are not indigenous to West Africa, we ONLY have varieties SIMILAR to them and in Yoruba they are called iyere or uziza seeds in igbo... (this info is based on my personal research findings). Hope this helps. Please find out more from places like Wikipedia and google search engine.

  3. please what is the difference between scent leave and African Basil? I'm confused.
    I love this article, bookmarked it already.

  4. can u tell me where can i find all these herbs in chennai or mumbai in india

    1. Priyabks, thanks for stopping by...I have never been to India so would be unable to say where you can get them...sorry...!

  5. Hi Sarah Lee, only just seeing your comment....oooppssy. But thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Cheers...

  6. Very helpful tip. Please what is the Igbo name for cumin pepper? Thanks.

  7. How can one source for these spices and herbs in Nigeria. I want to buy in large quantities.

    1. Hello

      I can supply you with qualitative potash, kuli- kuli, yaji, chilli powder, ground nut paste, green onions, onions, alligator pepper, ginger, garlic, okro and locust beans powder in large quantity. Just make the order.. It will be delivered

  8. hello there i find your information well are the only site that has nutritional facts for some vegetables trust me i checked, most sites talk of health benefits without details of protein, carb contents thanks for that.would very much like to know about bitter leaves too.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Amina. I post nutritional data for popular Nigerian food ingredients from time to time. Please subscribe to the blog so that you can receive all my new posts. Thanks for your interest and support.

  9. Hello funke.
    You really work hard towards whatever you post. Kudos. I admire your meticulous approach.

  10. Welldone for the good work Funke

  11. On behalf of every cooking woman without a grandmother, God bless you real good. This article is one in a million. Thank you

  12. Thank you for this great resource. Please provide ordering information as i would like to add some authentic spices to my collection. Do you recommend any cook books for igo cultures?

  13. You've done a good job taking your time to share this. Kudos and thanks for the insight.

  14. Your post is really helpful thanks. We appreciates you. Pls I will like to know the Yoruba word for " flaxseed " thanks

  15. FUNKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This post was mad helpful fam. Out here trying to out do myself and I believe this will put me in the right place. Thank you.

    1. am pleased you find it useful Uche...

    2. Thanks so much Sis this post is very informative and interesting as well!
      I feel like stocking these spices in my kitchen when I have one, because I have a passion for cooking!
      Love from here! Kudos for this detailed info.
      I'll love to see more.

  16. Hello, I have calabash nutmeg (Ehuru) for sale and am looking for buyers. If you are interested please call 08168649957. From Grafil Farm.

    Funke, Keep up the good work.

  17. Very insightful and well detailed piece.Thank for the informatio n

  18. Very informative. Thanks for this

  19. Enter your comment...what is the yoruba name for cumin help!

  20. Very helpfuland detailed.I was interested in Indigenous Nigerian spices and herbs in precolonial era,thank you.

  21. Nice one! This is excellent and so meticulously presented. Thanks for this amazingly EDUCATING blog. This is the kind of blog we should be seeing and not how one Actress was spotted on a "hot red dress" or how an Actor acquired a Range Rover that powers on ocean currents.. God bless you,Kooeosho!

  22. Oh whoa!!!mindblowing! Was writing my company profile on food export and came across this..twas really helpful dear.

  23. Well done, keep up the good work.

  24. Thanks a lot you have really help me #chef Mj

  25. Dadawa is not a part of any blend use for SUYA.
    Dadawa powder can be added to some YAAJI blends, based on personal preference and it is a delicacy blend indigenous to the people OF MAIDUGURI SOUTH EASTERN NIGERIA. I AM A NORTHERNER AND A FOOD ENTREPRENEUR.
    All the best with your food Journeys.

  26. Whoa!, I truly enjoyed reading your post; it is very informative, captivating, extremely useful and I'm now more knowledgeable and understanding. I thank you for the conscientious effort you have made in this article\post.

  27. Where can one get all these spice in large quantity in Nigeria

  28. Good and informative write up though with one or two corrections to make. Scent leave is not Beletientien at all. Scent leave if am correct is called Editing in yoruba which am also very very familiar with. They are completely different in appearance, texture, taste and smell. I grow both so I know I am an Urhobo by tribe and Beletientien is never used for stews or even suya for that matter. It is only used by the Urhobos, Itsekiris, Ijaws, Isokos and a few other tribes in the south of nigeria for Banga soup. Also Ataiko used in cooking Banga soup in the south south not alligator pepper. They are completely different in taste, though they may look alike sort of. Alligator pepper is peppery but not Ataiko which is primarily used in addition to o e or two other spices to cook Banga Soup in Delta state. Thank you.

    1. Basil, beletientien, scent leaves, mint, etc., are all from the same botanical family..... sadly I am yet to come across a scientific detailed report of how each specie has been identified/named (in the Nigerian context). This post was based on my most accurate "educated guess".

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