The bare, rocky and red-earthed valley at an altitude of 880 meters above sea level certainly sounds like an unlikely environment for a crop to grow happily. However it’s here, at the foot of the Anti-Atlas mountains in Southeastern Morocco that the nation’s fundamental ingredient, cumin thrives.
As the key flavour in tagines, couscous and soups, the area’s cumin is prized for it’s quality and intense aroma. The village of Alnif is dedicated to harvesting and processing the plant, where the women of the village plant at the end of January and harvest between the end of April and the beginning of May. It’s before the shrub has completely ripened, so it maintain most of its seeds. Cumin is cut manually with a sickle, tied into small bunches and allowed to dry in the shade. They are then threshed with a stick, and the seeds are stone ground. This is the only way of keeping its bright green colour.
The seeds are sieved several times, using a container made of woven palm leaves, to remove dust and fine straw. They can keep for up to two years and are stone ground when needed using a traditional mill. It’s an ingredient that is excellent in a whole range of dishes from vegetables to boiled and barbecued meats.