Khmeli suneli is a spice blend that’s foundational to Georgian cuisine. It is to Georgians what berbere is to Ethiopians, five-spice powder is to the Chinese, garam masala is to Indians and Pakistanis, and ras el hanout is to Moroccans.
What makes khmeli suneli so unique is its melange of flavors, powered by what one might call the core three ingredients of Georgian cuisine: blue fenugreek (utskho suneli), coriander (kindzi), and dried marigold petals (kviteli kvavili or zaprana). You’ll find these very ingredients in the ajika paste or spice blend.
The taste of khmeli suneli is earthy, floral, and savory. This range in flavor also gives it versatility in use. Georgians use khmeli suneli to season meat in khinkali dumplings, flavor vegetables, and power hearty soups like kharcho.
There’s no single recipe for khmeli suneli. Recipes vary according to taste and purpose. (The term “khmeli suneli” itself means “dry spices” in Georgian.)
On top of the trio mentioned above, khmeli suneli ingredients can include over a dozen other herbs and spices: basil, bay leaves, black pepper, celery seed, dill, Georgian caraway (dzira), hyssop, marjoram, mint, parsley, summer savory (kondari), tarragon, and thyme.
As you can see, khmeli suneli can be pretty loaded with ingredients. The blend hits a lot of notes and does magic in soups and stews, where its complexity and range shine in fullness, giving you the strength of Georgia’s mountain people.
Where to Buy Khmeli Suneli
Khmeli suneli is available at ethnic Georgian and Russian markets in the United States.
The initial waves of Georgian immigrants who made their way to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have fully assimilated. But post-Soviet migrants from Georgian are clustered in the New York and Los Angeles areas. And you’ll have no problem finding khmeli suneli at a Georgian grocery store or market in neighborhoods like Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach area.
Kalustyan’s — located on the east side of midtown Manhattan — carries not only khmeli suneli but also two of its main ingredients: Georgian blue fenugreek (utskho suneli) and dried Georgian marigold (kviteli kvavili or imeretian saffron). If you’re adventurous or experienced, you can pick up the latter two and make your own blend.
Khmeli suneli spice blends are also available on Amazon. We recommend the khmeli suneli mix made by the U.S.-based Mariko brand. It’s reliable in quality and hits the mark on flavor.
If you’re looking for a brand from Georgia, Amazon has a number of options. Among them, we suggest you consider the khmeli suneli mix of the Georgian company Lucky Foods.
Amazon also sells larger one-pound packs. But if you haven’t tried khmeli suneli before, it’s best to start with a smaller pack, see if it suits your taste buds, and learn how to incorporate it into your cooking. If you end up loving it as so many have, then, by all means, go all-in with the one-pounder.