Ethiopia Spicedoil

Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity

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Spiced Butter (Niter Kibbeh)


One of the more unique aspects of the Ethiopian cuisine is its ubiquitous use of flavored oils – there are few dishes that do not use them in some amount.  One of the most common is a clarified butter seasoned with onions, garlic and sweet spices like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  Clarified butter is especially appreciated in areas with limited access to refrigeration, as the process of heating freshly churned butter allows remaining milk solids to precipitate, leaving behind a cooking fat that will not turn rancid when stored at room temperature.  By cooking the butter along with these various spices, the resulting stable oil becomes an absolutely essential flavoring ingredient throughout the cuisine.

Remember that during fast days this ingredient could not be used.  As a result, Ethiopians also make a vegan version based upon vegetable oils such as Niger Seed, which was initially domesticated in the highlands, or various mustards.  Makes 3 cups


2 pounds salted Butter

2 tablespoons grated Ginger paste

4” quill of Cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground Turmeric

½ teaspoon Cardamom seeds

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Nutmeg

6 whole Cloves

1 cup coarsely chopped yellow Onion

3 tablespoons minced Garlic


Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil.  When the surface is covered with white foam, stir in all remaining ingredients.

Spiced2 Spiced3

Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes until the milk solids that gather at the bottom of the pan turns golden brown.  Do not stir.

Strain butter through muslin or several layers of cheesecloth into a quart glass jar, being careful to keep most of the milk solids and remaining water in the cooking pot. 

While still warm, pour the liquid oil into a glass jar.  Cap and store in the refrigerator.  The spiced butter will keep for at least 3 months.

If you prefer to make a vegan meal, simply substitute 3 cups of peanut or canola oil for the butter.  Heat these over low heat until a piece of onion will bubble when dropped in.   Add in remaining ingredients, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently for 45 minutes.  Remove from heat and strain hot oil through muslin or cheesecloth.  Let oil cool, and then place into a glass jar.  Cap and store in the refrigerator. 

You'll want to use a pungent yellow onion like Australian Brown and a complex, nutty garlic like Himalayan Red.