Yemenite hot sauce

by Sarah on October 24, 2013

Yemenite hot sauce, schoog

Schoog (schug), the fiery hot sauce of the Yemeni Jews is no longer a culinary curiosity of a small ethnic group but part of Israel’s communal table.  This happened gradually, as Yemenite Jews began immigrating to the area in 1881, with the largest wave arriving during Operation Magic Carpet which brought nearly 500,000 Yemeni Jews to the country between 1949 and 1950.  Despite its fairy tale name hundreds died during the exodus, which some blame on the botched planning of the mission and subsequent settling in Israel.  Nonetheless, because of violence and repression against the Jewish community, they risked death en route rather than the precarious future in their home country.

Sadly, even after their arrival in Israel, the Yemenite suffered from discrimination by coreligionists who viewed them as a backward and uneducated mass. That was over 65 years ago. In time, as with all immigrant groups, the Yemenite eventually assimilated into Israeli society, their culture adding rich hues to the national fabric.

The Yemeni imprint on Israeli cuisine can be seen by a simple walk in a supermarket. Jachnoon- a rolled dough which is baked slowly overnight and malawach-a multilayered pancake are now sold in the freezer section near the borek and phyllo pastry. Worker’s diners which once catered mainly to the Yemenite community now attract a much wider patronage. Hawaij spice mixes both for coffee and stews are commonly found in spice stores across the country. And if you go to almost any falafel or shawarma stand, you’ll be asked “schoog?”  before the rest of the ingredients are added.

For many, schoog or Yemenite hot sauce is often used interchangeably with harif- Hebrew for hot- and a seamless part of the language. There are still a few, mainly of Yemenite heritage, who refer to this condiment as schook or bisbas. While there countless recipes, the sauce can be divided into two main sub-types. The red and often hotter version is made with shata peppers, a small and very hot Capisicum annuum cultivar sold dried and whole, often straight out of burlap sacks. This is mixed with spices such as ground coriander seeds, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cilantro and a copious amount of crushed garlic. The green version, as expected, is made with green fresh chili peppers and similar spices and herbs.

Spices for Yemenite hot sauce

Ready-made Yemenite hot sauces are sold by several companies, including big names such as Strauss and are usually found in the refrigerated section near the prepared salads. However, as all mass produced food products, they tend to be generic and lack the umph of freshly ground spices. The food processor or coffee grinder has taken over the mortar and pestle so it really is only a 5 minute job to prepare at home.

Here I present two recipes, including one from the cookbook The Yemenite Kitchen by Professor Avshalom Mizrachi, who specializes in folk medicine, nutrition and foodways of the Jews of Yemen.



200 grams green chili peppers such as Anaheim

100 grams cilantro leaves (coriander leaves), washed and patted dry

1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 teaspoon cumin, ground

1 teaspoon black pepper, ground

¼ teaspoon cloves, ground

3-4 cardamom pods



Chop the cilantro into large pieces, discarding fibrous stems and blemished stems and leaves.  Blend all the ingredients in a food processor. Add water to dilute the mixture if necessary. Store in a closed jar in the refrigerator.

Notes: For those who prefer a milder sauce grated tomato (without the peel) can be added.  To extend the shelf life, add the ground cilantro right before serving.

Yemenite Hot Sauce


Olive oil is not a traditional Yemenite ingredient. However, it is often used in Israel to cover the sauce to extend its shelf life.

This recipe is similar to the one above but changed slightly to what I had available.

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 bunch cilantro, washed and patted dry  (~1 packed cup).

3 green chili peppers such as Anaheim

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cumin

A pinch of ground cloves (3-4 ground cloves)

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup olive oil

Chop the cilantro into large pieces, discarding fibrous stems and blemished stems and leaves.  In a food processor add all the ingredients except for the olive oil. Pour the contents into a small jar and cover with olive oil. Store in the refrigerator.  Eat with everything!

For best results, it’s best to crush the garlic before adding them to the food processor for a smoother sauce.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Yael the Finn October 24, 2013 at 7:42 am

I looove shug!


Lori October 24, 2013 at 9:13 am

Oh wow, this sounds so good! It’s beautiful, too! I love your posts. They educate me so much on food culture.


Sarah October 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

Thanks Lori! I need to make another batch already :-)


Gayle October 24, 2013 at 9:56 am

Hi Sarah – I’ve never made my own schug, but it seems so easy with your recipes. Sometimes I see something labeled “green harissa” – do you know whether that is schug or something different?


Sarah October 24, 2013 at 10:01 am

I’m not sure, the harissa I’ve made (given to me by my Tunisian neighbor) was made with dried red chili peppers. Perhaps they use green peppers and Tunisian flavorings in green harissa (need to research this)


Sean October 24, 2013 at 10:09 am

I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (, a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!


Sarah October 24, 2013 at 10:32 am

Hi Sean, Of course I know about Punk Domestics, great site which I have been following via facebook for a long time. Would love to submit this post.


Eha October 24, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Fascinating recipe I intend to replicate this weekend provided the bushfires in my ‘backyard’ decide to behave! Thank you again for the learning experience!


Rosa October 28, 2013 at 12:53 am

Fragrant and surely very delicious!




Faye Levy January 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Hi Sarah,
Sorry it took me so long to find this interesting article.

My mother in law (born in Yemen) always made her zehug with small hot green chiles so that it was really hot. I guess a close one in the U.S. would be serrano chiles. When I use somewhat larger jalapenos, Israelis laugh and say it is zehug for whimps! Anaheim chiles are large and much milder than either of these and wouldn’t give enough pungency.


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