Niter Kibbeh (Ethiopian Spiced Butter)

    If you adore Ethiopian cuisine but can’t seem to get the flavor right at home, you might be missing the ultimate secret ingredient: Niter Kibbeh!

    It is a wonderful and uniquely delicious clarified butter that you will fall in love with.  And absolutely nothing compares to homemade niter kibbeh.  Once you’ve made it (it’s super easy) and tried it (it’s incredible) you’ll make it again and again!

    What is Niter Kibbeh?

    Niter kibbeh sometimes spelled Nit’ir Qibe in Amharic, or known as tesmi in Tigrinya, is clarified butter similar to the famous Indian ghee. It is an ingredient integral to Ethiopian cuisine and is made by clarifying butter that has been infused with herbs and spices.

    In the process of clarifying the spiced butter, the same process used to make ghee, the butterfat is separated from the milk solids and water and the result is highly aromatic and flavorful cooking fat.  This clarified butter has a higher smoke point and longer shelf life than regular butter.

    Origin Of Niter Kibbeh

    Because cattle rearing is so common in Ethiopia, it’s no surprise that there are so many dairy products. Clarified butter, also known as niter kibbeh, is a common ingredient in  Ethiopian cooking that adds lot of flavors.

    One of the most common uses of niter kibbeh is in Doro wat (or doro wett), Ethiopia’s national dish. It is quite adaptable and may be used in variety of cuisines. 

    Add dollop to your favorite stews, beans and lentils, sauces and gravies, vegetables and eggs, brown your meat or chicken with it, spread some on your sandwich…and then relax and enjoy your dinner.

    How To Prepare Niter Kibbeh

    The preparation of niter kibbeh is very simple but requires a wide variety of spices and herbs. Some are used as seeds, others are ground.
    For truly authentic niter kibbeh you would include two Ethiopian spices that are very difficult to find outside of Ethiopia:  Besobela and Kosseret.
    • Besobela is also known as Ethiopian sacred basil though it tastes nothing like basil.  It’s also traditionally included in Berbere, the famous fiery hot Ethiopian spice blend.
    • Kosseret is in the verbena family of plants and likewise has a very unique flavor.  There are no adequate substitutes for either.

    If you can find them, use about a tablespoon of each.  If you can’t, simply omit them.  The resulting niter kibbeh will still be incredibly delicious without them.

    Cardamom is another key element in niter kibbeh. However, most of us are not familiar with green cardamom. Rather, it’s korarima, fake cardamom, and Ethiopian cardamom, a  sort of cardamom that’s considerably larger and has a brown color. It also has a distinct flavor from green cardamom. The bad news is that finding it is practically impossible. 
    The good news is that you may use black cardamom from India instead. It more closely resembles Ethiopian cardamom in flavor than does green cardamom and is a vital spice in Ethiopian cooking.

    All the ingredients are then placed in a saucepan with a large amount of butter. The whole thing should be brought very slowly to a boil so that the flavors gradually develop.

    Once the butter is highly flavored, the foam, which has risen to the surface, is separated from the rest. This is what usually burns when the butter is cooked at too high a temperature. This foam is removed with a skimmer and the rest of the butter is strained through very fine cheesecloth to remove all impurities and residual spices.


    When it is ready, it is poured into sterilized glass jars and can be stored for several weeks. You can also freeze it and store it for several months using only the amount needed.

    It is preferable to make a large amount at the start because when the butter separates, a significant amount of the initial weight is lost. This separated residue can still be used in cooking. To do this, it will be necessary to favor very gentle cooking.

    Now that you know how to make this Ethiopian Spiced Butter you can make some phenomenal-tasting Ethiopian food right at home. I will recommend Doro Wat and Gomen Wat. Enjoy!

    Ethiopian Butter

    Hank Shaw
    Our spiced butter, called niter kebbeh, at the Ethiopian restaurant I worked at absolutely required four things (other than butter): minced shallots, toasted cardamom, fenugreek and turmeric. Oh, and one other thing — time. Slow cooking is essential to this concoction.
    Prep Time 10 minutes
    Cook Time 30 minutes
    Total Time 40 minutes
    Course Condiments
    Cuisine East Africa, Ethiopia
    Servings 16
    Calories 214 kcal


    • 1 pound unsalted butter
    • 2 minced shallots, about 1/4 cup
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
    • 12 to 15 crushed cardamom pods
    • 5 whole cloves
    • 1 piece cinnamon stick, about an inch long
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek


    • Toast the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in a dry pan over medium heat until they are aromatic, about a minute.
    • Cut the butter into cubes.
    • Toss everything into a heavy pot and turn the heat on low. Let this come to a bare simmer and cook gently for at least 30 minutes. We cooked ours at least an hour. It is vital that the milk solids do not burn. If they do, you have ruined the butter. Watch for browning, and when you see it, turn off the heat.
    • Strain through cheesecloth and store in a clean glass jar. It’ll last 6 months in the fridge, at least a week on the counter, and forever in the freezer.


    This recipe makes about 2 cups


    Calories: 214kcal
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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