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Harissa (Arabic: هريسة | harîsa) is a Maghrebian hot chili pepper paste whose main ingredients are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers and spices and herbs such as garlic paste, coriander seed, or caraway as well as some vegetable or olive oil for preservation. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya and Algeria but recently also making inroads into Morocco according to Moroccan food expert Paula Wolfert. As with the European cuisine, chili peppers were imported into Maghrebian cuisine via the Columbian Exchange, presumably during the Spanish occupation of Tunisia between 1535 and 1574. Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in jars, cans, bottles, tubes, plastic bags and other containers.
Harissa is sometimes described as "Tunisia's main condiment", even "the national condiment of Tunisia", or at least as "the hallmark of Tunisia's fish and meat dishes". In Tunisia, harissa is used as an ingredient in a meat (goat or lamb) or fish stew with vegetables, and as a flavoring for couscous. It is also used for lablabi, a chickpea soup usually eaten for breakfast. In Algeria, harissa is commonly added to soups, stews, and couscous. In some[which?] European countries it is used sometimes as a breakfast spread for tartines or rolls. Harissa paste can also be used as a rub for meat or eggplants. In Israel, harissa is a common topping for sabich and shawarma, although other hot sauces like the Yemeni zhug or the Iraqi amba are also employed.
Tunisia is the biggest exporter of pre-made harissa. In 2006, the Tunisian production of harissa was 22,000 tonnes, incorporating about 40,000 tonnes of peppers. Tunisian harissa is often made with chilis grown around Nabeul and Gabès, which are relatively mild, scoring 40,000-50,000 on the Scoville scale. Another significant producer is Algeria's Annaba Province, which is also a significant consumer. According to cookbook author Martha Rose Shulman, pre-made harissa tastes rather different from that served in Tunisian and expat restaurants.
The exposure of the population from a young age to harissa is blamed for the increased prevalence of nasopharynx cancer (NPC) in Tunisia. The exact pathway is unknown, but laboratory experiments have shown that some ingredients in harissa may reactivate the Epstein-Barr virus, a viral cause of NPC.