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Oct 16, 2010 12:24 PM

Harissa - should it be so bitter?

I just picked up some harissa, it's a tunisian brand and comes in a's hot and very bitter. Should it be so bitter? The bitterness kind of obscures any other flavor. Should I try another brand or is this just what harissa is like? Please advise!

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  1. I've had canned harissas that are unpatalably bitter as well. I think part of it is the canning process and part of it is the bitterness of the types of peppers used in the paste. My homemade versions have also been a little bitter, which I suppose comes from the guajillo, ancho and other dried chiles I've used. I keep telling myself I need to love harissa because I generally love any spicy condiment but I have yet to find a brand that is worth buying or a version that is worth making again,

    2 Replies
    1. re: CoconutMilk

      Thanks CoconutMilk, that's exactly how I feel, like I'm supposed to like it. No matter, I used it anyway and it did not spoil the dish I was making, which was a winter root vegetable tagine. Next time I feel like trying harissa again I'll see if I like the jarred stuff more, you may be right about the canning process causing the bitterness.

      1. re: CoconutMilk

        I've only had European canned harissa which wasn't bitter and my Tunisian husband loved. I make my own and it's never been bitter. I always use dried jalapenos (japones) which makes for a super spicy harissa that is delicious. In Tunisia, to make homemade harissa (harissa arabi) they use red peppers that are dried in the sun and add a lot more salt than you would think is necessary.

      2. I use Le Phare du Cap Bon, which is Tunisian and comes in a tube. Not bitter and nicely hot and spicy

        1 Reply
        1. re: Harters

          I second the Cap Bon harissa (good for making spicy red coucous). I never get the Dea and only the Cabanon if my local grocer's are out of my brand.

        2. I've been using "Dea" brand Harissa paste (made in France) as a base for the sauce, using a recipe from The New Vegetarian by Colin Spencer, and I've never noticed a bitter taste. The recipe calls for 4 tsp of the paste to be mixed with over three cups of tomatoes, lemon juice, and lime juice (plus several spices and some sambal oelek) and comes out nicely hot and very flavorful. The other ingredients could mute any bitterness in the paste.

          Unfortunately, when I Googled "Dea harissa", I found a UK item from their Food Standards Agency stating that containers with a best by date up thru 21/1/2006 are "contaminated with the illegal dye, Sudan I." So I guess I'd better get some fresher stuff.

          1. I've had the DEA, which I did not so much care for - it's too finely ground, and has more heat than flavor. My favorite is Le Cabanon, another French brand in a metal tube (the label boasts, "En Tube!"). This is available from a vendor on Amazon. The cost of shipping for one tube is ridiculous, but I bought a dozen for not much more than $2 each, shipping included, or about half of what I paid for one tube at the Pasta Shop in Berkeley. It's a lovely condiment, and mixed with equal parts olive oil and mayonnaise it's a wonderful coating for fish, lamb, chicken or pork that you might want to quick-roast in a hot oven for dinner.

            1. make harissa yourself its easy. all you need is a blender and spices, olive oil, garlic.