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Smen (also called sman, semneh, or sminn) is a traditional cooking oil most commonly in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is produced using the butter made from the milk of sheep or goats. The butter is brought to boiling point for about 15 minutes, then skimmed, strained into a ceramic jar called a khabia, and salted before it curdles. The resulting grease will then be aged, often in sealed containers buried in the ground. It is similar to ghee and niter kibbeh, but has a characteristically strong, rancid, cheesy taste and smell. The older the smen, the stronger - and more valued - it becomes. Smen is traditionally used in the preparation of tagines and kdras, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to find, and is being replaced by the untraditional groundnut oil.

Smen holds great cultural significance, particularly as an indicator of familial wealth. As such it will often be used as a token of honor for esteemed visitors to a household, akin to using the "fine china" or an especially prized wine in other cultures.

Berber farmers in southern Morocco will sometimes bury a sealed vessel of smen on the day of a daughter's birth, aging it until it is unearthed and used to season the food served on that daughter's wedding.


  • Z. Guinaudeau, Fès vu par sa cuisine. J.E. Laurent, Rabat 1958.


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