According to our maternal grandmother Béchira, her mother Zwïta was a lone child from a well-respected family and grew up in an environment filled with love, affection, and care from her parents. She was beautiful, charismatic, and tough. And if not intimated by her presence, the men of her home village of El Jem competed to earn her hand in marriage.
Zwïta’s home was usually well stocked with ingredients harvested from the family’s farm. Produce was transported by men in horse carriages and then processed at home by skilled women. The processed ingredients would then be stored in the bit el mouna; a large home pantry for storing the year’s reserves: semolina flour, couscous, mhamess (coarse hand-rolled and sun-dried couscous), spices, sun-dried fruits and vegetables, harissa, sun-dried tomatoes, pickled olives, olive oil, and cured cuts of lamb and merguez. The dishes prepared in Zwïta's home came out in a beautiful medley of colors, aromas, textures, and flavors because she was passionate about her craft.
In fact, she had a certain diligence about her cooking that shifted into an obsession; she was anal about things deviating from the best and developed her own way of doing things. The fruits of her tireless attention to detail and hard work came to life when helpers, family, and extended family gathered around for stories and laughter over Zwïta's delicious food, always served in generous portions.
This is the Tunisian way of life we have known through our mother and extended family and we are extremely proud of it. So much so that we feel that Zwïta is the perfect embodiment of our philosophy of bringing the best Tunisian flavors through tradition and creativity.
In its most basic form, true-to-origins harissa is a paste produced from rehydrated whole dried chilis ground up with garlic and salt. The classic and most common harissa version calls for coriander and caraway which are often incorporated together with olive oil. It’s a traditional paste that dates back to 17th century Tunisia. It developed and thrived particularly within Tunisian Jewish communities in Nabeul and the greater Cap Bon region. As it spread through generational know-how, harissa became partly, if not fully, responsible for Tunisia’s shift towards a spicy cuisine. It is used as a condiment but also often incorporated into many dishes. Harissa is 100% Tunisian in origin and its importance in Tunisian cuisine could not be overemphasized. To read more about the true story of harissa, click here
Very likely so... Pseudo harissas include the following:
• Any sauce that can be poured or drizzled. Harissa is a thick paste, not a sauce.
• Any product that contains tomatoes
• Sauces made with bell peppers
• Thin and grainy purées made with rehydrated dried chili powders
• Acerola berry pastes with chili flakes and spices
• Any sauce or paste that is green. A green harissa does not exist as sun-dried chiles are red, not green.
It should not come as a surprise that all of these products have vastly different recipes despite all proudly calling themselves ‘harissa’...
Yes, even the industrial Tunisian pepper sauce found in cans and yellow tubes is not technically harissa because it calls for fresh red peppers and has the consistency of a sauce or thin purée, which is not what true-to-origins harissa is. It is therefore more accurate to call it a harissa style sauce rather than harissa as the other ingredients remain the same; garlic, coriander, caraway, salt. In Tunisian vernacular, harissa was always meant to describe the true-to-origins sun-dried chili paste found in homes… until 1948, when the first pepper sauce and canning factory was founded in the Cap Bon. Their goal was to commercialize something similar in composition and flavor to harissa that could easily be produced on a large scale. They used the term harissa on their products but used fresh peppers instead of sun-dried peppers due to their higher cost effectiveness and thus higher profit margin from the higher water content naturally occurring in fresh peppers. With that being said, the sauce style was a massive hit and it is now pretty much ubiquitous in modern Tunisian cooking and eating. The success of the industrial harissa style sauce led to a slight dilution of meaning of the word harissa in Tunisian vernacular whereby it is referred to as harissa souri when talking about the industrial sauce and harissa diari (or arbi) when talking about its true-to-origins counterpart. Don’t get us wrong, a fresh pepper harissa-style sauce is delicious, but it’s just not technically harissa.
Absolutely not. In the past several years, there has been a surge in so-called “Moroccan Harissa” products, especially in the United States, where the culinary nuances of North Africa are not at all understood. This has sadly been taken advantage of by savvy business people behind the pseudo harissa products you see on the market today. Although Moroccans have recently superficially adopted the delicious condiment due to globalization, it is not at all an integral part of their cuisine and rather has deep rooted origins in the Tunisian region of the Cap Bon. Businessmen representing these “Moroccan harissa” companies are branding and marketing harissa as theirs because they know there is a market in the United States where many Americans are drawn to ethnic products, especially those associated with peppers and spiciness. Most people from the Maghreb, including Algerians and Moroccans understand that it is a Tunisian product with Tunisian origins and importance. These companies are simply capitalizing on the unprotected term harissa which has become a trendy buzzword in America associated with general Middle Eastern / Mediterranean / North African cuisine because they know that Tunisian cuisine is so underrepresented and that Americans wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. This culinary hijacking works in the United States because the culinary nuances of North Africa are not known or understood. It also explains why no (Moroccan) harissa, or pretty much any product that uses the word ‘harissa’ actually respects the true-to-origins recipe.
Uh no.... It’s not to say that the condiment did not get adopted in Israel but it was definitely not created or developed there, just like our couscous, chakchouka (shakshouka), and ojja. Tunisian Jews who escaped to Israel during the first wave in 1948 and during the second wave in 1967 brought with them their own culinary traditions and thus continued to prepare their dishes, many of which included Tunisian harissa; and it was therefore adopted by the other new Israelis who were exposed to our Tunisian cuisine from our old brothers and sisters who emigrated there.
No, they’re not; at least not any present in the current market. First of all, our harissa is the real deal. One of the driving forces behind our business is how flooded the market has become with fake and pseudo harissa products led by companies with no real attachment to the condiment and mainly interested in capitalizing on a trendy buzzword. If you tried and compared all the products you could find on the internet or supermarket shelves, you’d realize that they are all vastly different. That’s because none of them respect (and probably are clueless about) the true-to-origins recipe of harissa. Our true-to-origins harissa is a thick paste made up of rehydrated whole sun-dried chiles and garlic cloves ground up with salt. This version is mixed together with olive oil, coriander, and caraway and finished off with a splash of white wine vinegar to ensure shelf stability and food safety.
It can either be spicy or not, however spiciness is not the determining factor for the harissa’s quality.
White wine vinegar is added in our true-to-origins harissa because we want to ensure a shelf stable product that we can ship to you, no matter where you are in the United States. More importantly for us, it is about food safety and adherence to FDA regulations. Although it would be nice to not have to add any sort of preservative, we would be playing with your health as well as the food laws of this country, which is the last thing we want. Vinegar or lemon juice are actually often added to harissa when served as a condiment in order to thin it out a bit and add a touch of bright acidity. We felt like white wine vinegar provided the best flavor and aroma to accompany our harissa and that it was appropriate to add it in minimal amounts in order to ensure shelf stability and food safety while preserving the thick texture true-to-origins harissa calls for.
Since we are just starting out, we are mainly focusing on the quality, flavor, and safety of our products, therefore at this moment we are sourcing all our ingredients from local suppliers and distributors in Texas.
We are currently producing all of our products in an FDA-registered facility in Houston, Texas.
We have a bunch of fun ideas that we think you’ll love, although we can’t say much yet!
We will be shipping our products all throughout the United States at a flat rate cost of $9.50 to you for all orders under $50. We also ship to Canada at a variable cost (calculated at checkout) depending on the size of your order