Smen, Moroccan Fermented Butter (an old North African Tradition)

Smen, Moroccan Preserved Butter

Smen, a preserved butter found in Morocco and other parts of North Africa, is a tradition that dates back centuries.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Moroccan Preserved Butter

How did Smen come about? Naturally, it was before the days of refrigeration that someone came upon the idea. The butter was heavily salted, stored in an airtight jar and left to ferment.

If you are new to North African cuisine, it may take some getting used to, with its pungent, rancid smell, very similar to smelly cheese!

In fact, an old Berber custom is to bury a sealed jar of smen on the birth of one’s daughter, and to dig it up on the daughter’s wedding day, to flavour the food cooked for the guests. How awesome is that?

You’ll find smen used in all manner of dishes in Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb region: in couscous, tagine recipes and even as a spread. Given its strong constitution, a little goes a long way! While I almost always have some homemade smen at home, I use it very selectively as it’s not very popular with the family!

Smen Square in Morocco

I have been lucky enough to have visited Fez in Morocco a couple of times and in the medina, you’ll find Qaat Smen, or Smen Square, where the production of smen goes back centuries.

You’ll find all sorts of preserved butter here, and so much better than the mass produced ones you find in large shops. There are some really old tubs here and surprisingly, the aroma and flavour isn’t as off putting as the slightly younger versions. They are more mellow and rather pleasant.

One of my favourites is the smen made with khlie, a type of preserved Moroccan meat. Basically, the preserved butter is made with the preserved meat, and it produces an amazing final product.

Moroccan Khlea and Egg Tagine
Khlea and Egg Tagine

Making Smen at Home

I learnt two different mathods to make smen at home. One is fermenting unsalted butter as it is, which is the method we’re employing today.

The other, is by clarifying the butter first, then fermenting it. The clarifying is the same method employed as when making ghee and niter kibbeh, the Ethiopian spice clarified butter.

Ethiopian Clarified Butter
Ethiopian Clarified Butter, Niter Kibbe

If you fancy trying some “smelly” Moroccan butter, here’s an easy recipe! I am giving you the simplest version. You could also add herbs to the smen by brewing about a quarter cup of strong oregano or mint tea and kneading the tea into the butter.

You can be as elaborate in your recipe as you like, within reason. I also love adding some chillies flakes to the mix sometimes.

Smen, Moroccan Fermented Butter

Smen, a preserved butter found in Morocco and other parts of North Africa, is a tradition that dates back centuries.
4.98 from 48 votes
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Course: Condiments
Cuisine: Moroccan (North African)
Keyword: ingredients, moroccan
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Fermenting Time: 30 days
Servings: 35 (about 35 Tbsp)
Calories: 102kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor

Ingredients

  • 500 g unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp coarse salt

Optional

  • 60 ml strong Oregano tea

Additional Ingredients you can use

  • chilli flakes
  • ground pepper
  • other herbs like marjoram, rue
  • crushed edible rose petals

Instructions

  • Mix the salt thoroughly with the butter. If using oregano tea, add it now, and knead the butter until it’s all mixed in.
  • Spoon into a clean jar and pack it in, pressing down to dispel any air pockets.
  • Seal tightly and store in a cool place for a month to let it ferment.
  • It should be ready after a month.
  • Once opened, store in the fridge and use within a month.

Nutrition

Calories: 102kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 31mg | Sodium: 201mg | Potassium: 3mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 357IU | Calcium: 4mg | Iron: 1mg
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14 thoughts on “Smen, Moroccan Fermented Butter (an old North African Tradition)”

    1. Hi Monica, any unsalted butter will do. If truth be told, you could also use salted butter, but since we are adding salt, it just makes sense to start without it.
      Having said that, one of my favourite butters is Brittany butter, that comes with salt flakes, I’ve used that a few times, successfully.
      As far as the brand is concerned, again, I’ve used a few different ones, and it really doesn’t matter much. Some of the bigger brands like Anchor and Yeos’s butter are pretty good for this. I’m in the UK and some local brands I like are Daylesford and Country Life.

  1. Hey,
    I followed this recipe exactly and my smen has been sitting for 6 weeks. it doesn’t taste fermented to me, it just tastes like salty butter…
    any advice is appreciated

    1. Hi Susie, I can only think that perhaps the temperature isn’t quite warm enough for it. If that is the case, I would stir the butter with a wooden spoon and leave it to sit, preferably somewhere warm, for a couple more weeks.

      1. Hi,

        Could you please be a little more specific about the temperature? The recipe says cool and this says warm.

        Thanks,
        Caroline

        1. Hi Caroline, apologies for the confusion. The reply in this comment was specifically for Susie because her Smen wasn’t fermenting.
          While the optimal fermentation temperature is something like 25-32 Celsius, when making smen, somewhere cool and dark like a kitchen cupboard is the commonly preferred method. Unless of course one wants to bury it out in the garden in the summer. It’s not unlike making kefir at home, which I just leave on the kitchen counter and use daily.

  2. Azlin,
    I’m new to Moroccan flavors and wanted to try this. Not being sure I will like it, I didn’t want to waste a whole pound of butter. So I made up a half stick of butter and put it in a very small Ball jar. It only filled the jar half way and I topped it with a small circle of parchment paper before screwing on the lid. Do you think it will be ok or should I do another half stick and fill the jar? Thanks.

  3. Samantha Osbourne

    Wow, this is a really great post! I have never heard of this and I am so glad to have found your blog, there’s so much information here, not to mention all the delicious recipes!

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