Spicy, earthy, and complex, Ajika (ah-JEE-kah) Seasoning is a peppery blend that’s predominantly found in the Caucasus, the mountainous region that stretches between Turkey and Russia. It is also called adjika, and ajika or adjika powder.
What is Ajika Seasoning
Certain seasonings are ubiquitous to the regions in which they’ve developed. Harissa Spice, for example, is unquestionably Tunisian. Awaze Sauce is made with the fiery spice blend Berbere, is integral to Ethiopian cuisine. Georgia—the country in the Caucasus Mountains, not the US state—has Ajika.
Ajika Seasoning is a blend of ground chiles that is peppery-hot without being overwhelming. It has a rich, earthy pungency and delivers plenty of garlic and the maple-like aroma of fenugreek. Its origins are widely disputed as it figures prominently in the cuisines of Georgia and its satellite republic, Abkhazia, as well as in the neighboring countries of Armenia and Russia.
In Georgia, Ajika can be found in multiple forms. It’s commonly eaten as a salsa, chunky, spicy, and fragrant with ripe red peppers. It can also be found as a thick, pâté-like pepper paste, or ground to a shelf-stable dry blend, like a Eurasian chili powder. Ajika is intimately linked to the idea of Georgian identity, and there are hot debates about which household, or farmer’s market stand, has the best Ajika in any given region. Ajika can also be found in a milder, green version, bursting with fresh mint and cilantro. It has been around for centuries in one form or another, capturing the bracing, rugged spirit of the region.
The Story Behind Ajika
It’s speculated that Ajika has been produced in one form or another in Georgia since the 15th century; its lengthy lifespan gives it cultural gravitas, but it also means that the story of its development have been lost to time. There are conflicting stories as to the origins of Ajika, which almost border on legend. Some sources claim it was developed as a salty and vinegary condiment, to preserve peppers for winter storage. Others claim it started as a seasoning of sorts; livestock owners, they said, would give their shepherds salt to feed sheep to make sure they got sufficient salt intake as they foraged. This is still in practice today, since sheep will chew a wide array of unsavory and potentially unhealthy substances in their search for salt. To dissuade the shepherds from taking the salt for themselves, livestock owners began adding hot pepper to the salt. Only that backfired, as shepherds embellished the peppery salt with other spices and herbs and created a regional specialty.
Territorial disputes are also a part of Ajika’s history. The word, ajika, means “salt”, and is taken from the ancient language Abkhazian. Abkhazian is spoken in Abkhazia, an arm of land nestled between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, and the use of an Abkhazian word for this product strongly supports the idea that Ajika was originally developed in Abkhazia. Abkhazia was considered a distinct region from other parts of the Caucasus until the Russian revolution of 1917; in that year, the Bolshevik Duma created a unified Georgia, with Abkhazia lumped into Georgia’s northwest corner. This was a tumultuous time, though. In 1921, Georgia’s constitution was rewritten to grant Abkhazia independence; by 1931, Joseph Stalin—of Georgian descent, and with a soft spot for his home country—reabsorbed Abkhazia into the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Abkhazians consider Ajika to be one of their cultural landmarks. Georgians recognize the role that Abkhazia played in developing Ajika, but in claiming Abkhazia as theirs, they also claim Ajika. In 2018, The National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation, an office within the Georgian government that protects and administers to that country’s artistic, historical, and intangible heritage, declared Ajika to be a product of Intangible Georgian Heritage. This is one step closer to getting it declared a UNESCO product of intangible heritage, which would cement Georgia’s claim to this rich, spicy seasoning on a global stage.
What Does Ajika Seasoning Taste Like
The aroma rises off the Ajika Seasoning first, ticklish from warm chiles, with the bittersweet, almost maple-like smell of fenugreek in the background. It has a rounded flavor; at first it is sweet, then the heat from the chiles comes in, with the gentle, floral bitterness of marigold riding along the top. Pungent garlic and earthy fenugreek occupy the low notes. The heat lingers until the end, which gets lifted by the citrusy flavor of coriander and the final gift of fenugreek, which turns sweet and rich at the end and makes for a mellow finish.
How Do You Use Ajika Seasoning
Ajika’s roots may be in the Caucasus, but it’s a versatile blend that can go just about anywhere. We love it on Shkmeruli, chicken that’s been pressed over high heat to mahogany brownness and then roasted and served in a milk and garlic sauce. It’s an outstanding garnish for hearty beef kharcho, a spicy, simmered stew thick with tomatoes. Khachapuri is a beautiful, boat-shaped Georgian bread stuffed with cheese and topped with an egg; it would be incomplete without a dusting of Ajika across the top. Russians love mushrooms, so sprinkle Garlic and Herb Mushrooms with Ajika at the end of cooking to give this dish an Eastern European twist. Give your fall soup a kick and add a teaspoon of Ajika to the onion saute in this Butternut Squash and Apple Soup, or try Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Apples, spiced up by a teaspoon of Ajika. Toss vegetables with Ajika and grill for Grilled Vegetable Pasta. It’s delicious over pizza, or mashed into the top of sweet potatoes with a drizzle of maple syrup and a touch of butter. Rub over Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork for a fresh new flavor for a classic dish. It is delicious over rich corn dishes, like polenta, grits, or chowder.
To use as a rub, we recommend using 1 tablespoon of Ajika Seasoning per pound of meat.
Ajika Seasoning has a hard-to-match flavor so it might be difficult to substitute; people have recommended harissa, with the addition of saffron and/or chamomile to mimic the floral quality from marigolds.
|Ingredients||Red bell pepper, Aleppo pepper, New Mexico Lumbre chile powder, garlic, coriander, tomato, fenugreek, sea salt, marigold.|
|Also Called||Adjika, ajika or adjika powder, ajika seasoning|
|Recommended Uses||Use as a rub, in soups, over beef, chicken, pork, or vegetables, roasted, or grilled|
|Flavor Profile||Spicy, with earthy warmth and floral and citrus high notes|
|Cuisine||Georgian, Caucasian, Eurasian|
|How To Store||Airtight container in a cool, dark place|
|Shelf Life||6-12 months|
|Country of Origin||USA|
|Dietary Preferences||Gluten Free|
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Serving Size1 tsp
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*