Niter Kibbeh – Ethiopian Spiced Butter

This delicious spiced clarified butter is amazing with eggs, popcorn, sauted vegetables of all sorts, lentils, kitfo, on toast, mashed potatoes, hash browns — pretty much anything. All the spices make it a powerful antioxidant as an added bonus. There are many ways to spell niter kibbeh — I have seen it as nitr kibe, nit’ir qibe — there are also many ways to make niter kibe — everyone has their own favorite combination of spices.

Butter is traditionally made in Ethiopia from soured milk, not cream. The sour milk is placed in a clay churn or a bottle gourd (calabash). The churn may have previously been smoked with Olea africana. Besides imparting a distinct flavour to the butter, smoking the churn has a bacteriostatic effect. After filling, the churn is stoppered with a plug — a false banana leaf, or a piece of skin or leather stretched over the mouth and securely tied. The churn is then agitated — often by simply rolling it around on the lap until the butter forms. (Source)

This is how I like to make niter kibbeh which is mostly based on this recipe from Feel free to leave out any of the herbs and spices if you don’t have them.

Makes about 1 cup

  • 1 pound unsalted butter from grass-fed cows
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, pounded
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 t fennel seeds
  • dash grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp korseret* or lemon verbena
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 clove


Lightly toast clove, fennel, cardamom, cumin and fenugreek until the aroma fills your nose. Grind the spices.

In heavy saucepan, heat the butter over moderate heat. Stir and turn the butter so they melt evenly. Do not allow the melted butter to brown or bubble. Lower heat if necessary.

As soon as all of the it is melted, increase the heat and quickly bring it to all to a boil. A mass of small bubbles will form on the top. Stir in the “wet” ingredients: the garlic, ginger, and onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add the remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to a very low simmer.

Simmer on a very low heat for 20-30 minutes. Do not stir. The milk soilds will sink to the bottom.

Carefully strain the liquid through a clean cloth (cheesecloth). Repeat as necessary to obtain a liquid that is clear and free of spices and milk solids.

Pour the niter kebbeh into a clean jar with an airtight cover. Keep in the refrigerator and use as needed. Niter Kebbeh will turn solid when chilled. Will keep for three months in the fridge.

*Koseret is a herb not used much in Western countries. I discovered this information on this forum about ethiopian food. One of the members posted the following image and mentioned that Koseret is Lippia Javanica which is a type of verbena.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Char Brady

    This brings back happy times in the kitchen I’d my Ethopian girl friend… She used to have it in her refrigerator on hand for her cooking…
    This great tasting butter is one to remember … It was been at least 18 years since I experienced it but it is not one to forget… Yummy , kebbeh butter…

  2. Tiyana

    Hi! Do you sell the ethiopian butter? If so I would like to buy some.

    1. hellaD

      No I don’t but that is a good idea!

  3. Annie

    I wanted to say a PS to this. I met a woman on a train who had been a teacher in Ethiopia, and I mentioned your butter post to her. She said that all the village girls in Ethiopia smelled of butter, that they use it to oil and condition their hair. So I thought of you and your piece about Cleopatra, all the food/beauty overlaps.

    Re guest posts, thank you! Maybe if I ever wrote something I liked I’d show it to you….
    Take care. x

    1. hellaD

      Oh that is so amazing! I would love to smell of spices like that all the time, I would find myself so delicious 😉

  4. Annie

    Hello HellaDee, there’s noone like you for your time space health cookery vision and information. Thanks for this, am going to let it inspire me. That Moroccan cookbook I mentioned has a recipe for something that seems akin to a spiced beef fat as a way to preserve the fat as a future ingredient, and the spices I guess to perfume it, maybe do some disguising as well? Interesting though. Happy New Year

    1. hellaD

      Thanks Annie!
      Wow that is a wonderful compliment! You just made my day 🙂 I am gonna try to get that cookbook. It looks great. Such interesting recipes. Spiced beef fat! Let us know how it goes! Maybe you’d be interested in doing some guest posts? Happy New Year to you too 🙂

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