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Georgian Five Spice: Khmeli-Suneli

Becky Johnson

The country of Georgia is nestled between the Greater Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges, and is surrounded by the Black Sea, northeast by Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan — and isn’t far from the Caspian Sea.  Georgia is very mountainous, as the Likhi Range divides the country into east and west. The climate of Georgia is diverse, which allows some of the finest wine grapes to be cultivated.  Georgian food and wine have evolved over the centuries, becoming an integral part of hospitality, adapting traditions from many other cultures along the way.

The spice mix Khmeli-Suneli is evidence of multiple cultural influences. Khmeli-Suneli is a mixture of ground fenugreek seeds, coriander, dill, celery, parsley, basil, savory and black peppercorns. Although it’s often referred to as “Georgian Five Spice,” Khmeli-Suneli can consist of many ingredients. This wild mix of spices and herbs makes for a complex and fragrant mixture of satisfyingly warm (although not spicy), nutty, grassy, aromatic and bitter flavors.  Khmeli-Suneli lends a pleasingly deep flavor to lamb, beef, chicken and roasted vegetable dishes. Georgians use Khmeli-Suneli to liberally flavor stews like kharchio and sauces such as Satsivi.

Khmeli-Suneli literally means “dried spices” (ხმელი სუნელები > khmeli sunelebi).  Try it in khinkali (meat dumplings), lobio, givetch or kharcho (stews) or on khachapuri (cheese, eggs and bread).

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