Everything You Need to Know About Tunisian Harissa (Chili Paste)

Tunisian Harissa

A visit to Tunisia is not complete until you have tasted Tunisian harissa! This popular Tunisian condiment is sometimes described as the national condiment of Tunisia. In fact, Tunisian harissa is becoming increasingly popular worldwide and many spicy food lovers are calling it the “new Sriracha”. Find out what the craze is all about! We put together this brief guide on everything you need to know about Tunisian Harissa.

What is Harissa?

Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste that is a popular condiment used in North African cuisine. The main ingredients in Tunisian Harissa are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, other dried peppers, garlic, coriander seed, and spices. Vegetable oil or olive oil is used for preservation. A blend of cayenne may be used to prepare an extra spicy harissa. Tunisian harissa is often made from the chilis grown around Nabeul and Gabes.

Tunisian Harissa
Tunisian Harissa

How to Use Tunisian Harissa?

In Tunisia, harissa is used to add an extra kick to just about anything. It is most commonly used to add an aromatic spice to meat (goat, lamb, fish) stew with vegetables and for flavouring couscous. In restaurants or at home, harissa is often served on a side dish with some olive oil to be used as a dipping sauce. Harissa is also a popular ingredient added in sandwiches and salads.

The Harissa Industry

Tunisia is the biggest exported of pre-made or prepared harissa. In 2006, Tunisia produced 22,000 tonnes of harissa using about 40,000 tonnes of chili peppers!

Within Tunisian, pre-made harissa can be easily purchased in any supermarkets or small shops. Pre-made harissa can be bought in canned forms or as paste in a tube. Alternatively, harissa can be bought in the form of grounded chili powder in the souk (market).

Recipe for Tunisian Harissa – Making Your Own Harissa!

You will find that each Tunisian family has their own recipe for making homemade Tunisian harissa. Some families prefer an extra spicy harissa while other families prefer a milder harissa. Homemade harissa often has a smoky flavour added which tastes different than the harissa served in Tunisian restaurants. This recipe for Tunisian harissa is a good starting point for making your own homemade harissa. Once you have made your own harissa a few times, you can begin experimenting with the quantities to create your desired flavour.

Preparation time is 10 minutes and you would need the following ingredients:

  • 10-12 dried red chilli peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin


Soak the dried chilies in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain. Remove stems and seeds. In a food processor, combine chilli peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Blend. Add remaining spices and blend to form a smooth paste. Store in airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top to keep fresh.

About the author

Joshua Mok is a cultural enthusiast and adventurer who can speak 6 different languages. Joshua currently lives in Tunisia and has firsthand experience with the language, people, and culture of North Africa. At Mosaic North Africa, Joshua is combining his business marketing expertise with his passion for travel to help others discover and enjoy the cultural and historical beauties of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

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