Ark of taste
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Hwajeh in Arabic is derived from the word Haja “need”, accordingly hawajeh in the culinary sense means “the needed dried herb and spice mix used to flavour the food in the Arab world”. Each region or area has their own variation of hawajeh with various contents and uses.

Local communities around Jordan use a mix of wild dried herbs in their hwajeh mainly to infuse the traditional ghee/samneh baladieh. However, hwajeh can be also used as a spice to flavour various traditional dishes. The content of the mix may differ from one place to another, nonetheless, Al-Balqa area is famous for its hwajeh, that will be described here.

Al-Balqa hwajeh contains around 20 wild dried herbs and plants. Since each family has its own formula of the herbs that use in different quantities, we will mention the main basic herbs that they have in common. Some might add more than 20 herbs and wild plants to their Hwajeh.

It is not clear at which point in history the processing of the Hawajeh started. The elder women interviewed stated that they have inherited the knowledge of collecting and processing wild herbs for this purpose from their mothers, who themselves inherited it from their own mothers, and they consider it as a family legacy. They also mentioned that each generation added new herbs to the families mix to give it their own touch.

The tradition of making this product is deeply rooted in the heritage of the area and encompasses its wide biodiversity. Collecting more than 20 wild herbs and plants and their flowers is not an easy task and requires a lot of knowledge to be able to distinguish those plants. These herbs are found in different geographies and different climates, some are harvested in mountains, near water streams, in the valley or plains. Collecting these herbs takes time and effort with taking several trips to be able to find the special herbs used in family recipes. Despite this difficulty, elder women in the area stated that they look forward to the season to collect the herbs, as it is a family activity when they gather in spring and go out to enjoy the beauty of nature while safeguarding a tradition that they inherited from their families.

Nowadays this knowledge is restricted to the elder women in the villages, those that possess the artisanal knowhow and the knowledge of wild herbs, a knowledge that is declining dramatically and in danger of disappearing. Despite its high relevance to the food heritage and culture, most of the younger generation are not interested in learning and keeping this knowledge.

The main components of hwajeh in Jordan are white sweet clover which is known as handagog in Arabic which grows wildly especially around Al-Salt city. It also contains green fenugreek which is known as helbeh in Arabic, they are mixed with ground curcuma or the local variety of safflower.

Al-Balqa has its own hwajeh which contains mostly green leaves, yellow and white flowers. The following are the main herbs mentioned by the women interviewed:

White Sweet Clover Flowers (Handagog) حندقوق,

Bay leaves (Waraq Ghar) ورق غار,

Wild Sage (Meramieh) ميرمية برية,

Dominica Sage (Khwaikh) خويخة,

Wild Rosemary (Ikleel Al-jabal) إكليل الجبل,

Bongardia flower (U’urf Al-Deek) عرف الديك,

Calicotome Leaves and Flower (Al-Qindeel) القنديل,

Hawthorn (AlNabag) النبق,

Common Chrysanthemum (Bisbas) بسباس,

Wild Fennel Flowers, (Shomer Bari) شومر بري,

Wild Coriander Leaves and Flower (Kozbarah Baryeh)كزبرة برية,

Silene Crassipes Flowers and Leaves (Smeanneh) سمينًة,

Green Fenugreek (Helbeh Khadra)حلبة خضراء,

Syrian Rue (Faejel)فيجل,

Indian Melitot (Mehalbeh)محيلبة,

Cress (Rashaad) رشاد,

Caraway (Karawya or Shwaimreh) شويمرة,

Pink Rockrose (Al-Lobaid) اللبيد,

Alyssum (Draihmeh) دريهمة,

Long-Beaked Strok’s Bill (Ibret Al-A’ajooz) إبرة العجوز,

Vitex (Shjairet Mariam) شجيرة مريم.

The fresh herbs and plants are collected throughout spring starting March until the end of May and then dried to be used for the rest of the year.

Once collected, the herbs are cleaned, dried completely, then grinded finely and mixed with ground turmeric or safflower. The mix alone is a light green bitter spice that has a distinctive strong smell. When used for cooking it gives a strong earthy flavour and adds a distinctive smell rendering the dishes their traditional flavour. The process of production is manual as it is traditionally done by women of household.

Processors sell this product directly to consumers from their own homes, others sell to local small spice shops, many locals produce their own hwajeh for self-consumption.

As they are processed and used by the local community, there is no official data on the quantity produced. Locals stated that the quantity they produce to sell to their community vary from year to year (one producer said on average 40 to 50 Kg are produced yearly).

In Al-Balqa’, hawajeh is used as spice to flavour many traditional dishes and it is considered as essential for flavouring for the Jordanian national dish Mansaf.

It is also an essential ingredient in the processing of the local ghee/Samneh Balqawieh, that Al-Balqa’ is famous for. What makes the Samneh Balqawieh special is the wild herb mix hwajeh, that gives to it its distinctive flavour.

Hawajeh is not used by cooks and restaurants, as a spice is normally restricted to households that still process their own herb mix or buy it from producers nearby.

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