It is designed to season couscous, rice dishes, and meat dishes, particularly lamb. It can also be used in some sweet dishes.
The spice mix used in Ras el hanout varies by who makes the blend. It is similar in concept to curry powder, chilli powder, and Italian seasoning, in that any variation is possible and you really can call almost anything you want “Ras el hanout.”
For that reason, it is difficult to talk about how Ras el hanout tastes in general; you can really only talk about how a certain merchant’s or brand’s blend tastes. Generally, though, it is a range of flavours from earthy to floral, with sweet and bitter mixed in, with some spicey or peppery notes.
Usually, there will be anywhere from 10 to 20 to 100 spices and flavourings. Amongst other things, it can include: allspice, aniseed, ash berries, belladonna leaves, cannabis, cardamom, cayenne, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, cubeb pepper, galangal, ginger, grains of paradise, ground dried rosebuds and petals, lavendar, long pepper, mace, monk’s pepper, nigella, nutmeg, orris root, pepper, saffron, Spanish Fly, and turmeric. Sometimes, the list of ingredients is so long you find yourself just looking for what was left out.
Ras el hanout [راس الحانوت] means “head of the shop”, as in a spice merchant’s best blend, or blend of the best spices.
Some wags say that what it means is that it’s so complex, only the head of the shop is able to mix it.